With last week serving us with just eight league fixtures, all sides return to action this weekend and Martin King once again brings you a comprehensive preview of all ten Premier League matches.
The weekend that saw Manchester United crowned League Cup champions over Southampton – while Arsenal and Manchester City received some time off – produced winners in the shape of Chelsea, who beat Swansea City 3-1, Everton who won 2-0 over Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion, who just edged Bournemouth 2-1.
Crystal Palace got a morale-boosting 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur cruised to a 4-0 win over Stoke City, before Leicester City rounded the weekend off with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool.
Elsewhere, there was a 1-1 draw between Watford and West Ham United, before which Hull City and Burnley recorded the same scoreline.
There is likely to be a great contrast in mood around the ten Premier League grounds in this gameweek and where better to begin our predictions than at, what is now a very tense Anfield.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
These are the occasions Reds fans live for.
Under manager Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool have lost only once to a side in the league’s traditional top six and it is against their direct rivals that the Merseysiders often produce their most impressive performances.
However, what should be joyful expectation within the fan-base is now a feeling of hopelessness and pure dread.
Liverpool have lost three of their last five league matches and surrendered control of their top-four hopes in the process. The Reds were comprehensively beaten by Leicester City in the last of those three matches on Monday night, earning stinging criticism from a fan-base whose adoration is often as large as its number.
If Klopp’s current predicament is anything to go by, then a fresh squad courtesy of nearly two weeks without football will mean little to Arsené Wenger. The Arsenal boss would’ve taken note of Liverpool’s slump against the champions and will set his side up to be very cautious against their opponents’ free-flowing attacking football, as they look to make up for their last big encounter, a 5-1 defeat against Bayern Munich that sent their own fan-base into madness.
Though only a single point separates the Emirates side and their opponents, the Gunners do have a game in hand, which is a potential three-point advantage to their campaign for yet another top-four place this season. That said, they will be keen to add to that with a win against their under-fire rivals.
Games between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield are often a spectacle to behold. The last three results alone tell the story: 4-3, earlier this season, 3-3 last season, 2-2 before that and 5-1 in the 2013/14 season, whenever these two sides meet, the best as well as the worst is always on show.
At the rate that both sides are going at the moment, the scoreline could go absolutely anywhere but I’m going to back Liverpool to win this, not necessarily because anyone in red fancies them at the moment but because against the top sides you just can’t get near them.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal
Sunderland vs. Manchester City
Manchester City were in action against Huddersfield in midweek, beating the Championship side 5-1 in their FA Cup replay tie to progress to the quarter-finals.
The win represented another step in the right direction of what has been a stop-and-go campaign for the Sky Blues.
They are now unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions, with momentum for that place in the top four building well.
City next face Sunderland, a side against which they’re unbeaten in their last six meetings.
The Black Cats are once again in trouble at the bottom of the table after coming off consecutive defeats. It has been their dangerously leaky defence, as well as an apparent lack of battling spirit that has put them where they are and we’ve probably reached the familiar point in their season when the manager says something like, “We’ve got 12 finals from now ’till the end of the season.” – oh well.
I think Man City’s form and good record against Sunderland will play a pivotal role in ensuring that Pep Guardiola’s men walk away from the Stadium of Light with another win.
And we obviously mention them as top-four contenders but at the moment, I think City will have their eyes set on making their season look better than it’s actually been by ensuring a place in the top two.
Prediction: Sunderland 0-3 Manchester City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace
While the sides who would normally be considered their direct rivals have been ailing at the bottom of the Premier League table, West Bromwich Albion have been enjoying a very quiet season, with the Hawthorns faithful very content with their current place in 8th.
Two statistics, among others, that have been key to their success this year have been major components of their style of play in possession and set-pieces. According to Whoscored.com, the Baggies’ possession percentage is just 40.6%, whilst they boast 16 goals from set-pieces – the current most in England’s top flight – highlighting their aerial prowess and the fact that manager Tony Pulis puts little emphasis on ball possession and more on keeping his side disciplined and compact behind the ball (Liverpool could probably use that philosophy right now).
Their opponents Crystal Palace, on the other hand, achieved a much-needed win against Middlesbrough – only their second in five games.
Thankfully, it put them level on points with the 17th placed side and they can move out of the danger-zone with a result should Boro fail to get anything from their match this weekend.
Eagles striker Christian Benteke will have to start showing his worth on a regular basis if the club are to achieve their targets, though.
The Belgian, who was signed from Liverpool for £32 million, has found the back of the net nine times in the Premier League this season, but the last of those goals came eleven games ago. If manager Sam Allardyce can help get the best out of the striker, it would surely contribute a lot to his side’s survival bid.
Palace haven’t won at all at the Hawthorns in the Premier League, losing two of their three matches at Birmingham Road. Add to that the Baggies’ strong home record of late, which has seen them win their last four consecutive home games and on paper at least, a result is headed in only one direction.
My mind certainly agrees with what’s on paper. Pulis’ side has been strong as of late while Palace have been the exact opposite and I think they will power-through to a win over the Eagles.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Crystal Palace
Leicester City vs. Hull City
This match presents a near-perfect opportunity for rejuvenated Leicester City.
The troubled champions put aside their woes, which were surely multiplied by the sacking of manager Claudio Ranieri last Wednesday, to produce a performance reminiscent of their quality last season, beating Liverpool 3-1.
Influential to their success last year was Jamie Vardy. The striker’s season has been nothing like what many view as his real breakthrough year. He had gone nine games in all competitions without scoring a goal up until he scored against Sevilla in the Champions League and his two goals against the Reds on Monday made it only seven Premier League goals for him this season – a huge decline in standard considering that at this time last season, Vardy had recorded double figures.
The Englishman will be looking to breach a now well-organised Hull City defence. The Tigers have found a defensive toughness under manager Marco Silva that has seen them make it harder for their opponents to get past them and it’s evidenced by the fact they’ve conceded five goals in their last five games, a decent average of only a goal conceded per game – which I think is good for a relegation threatened side, no matter how you view it.
A win for the KCOM outfit will also take them out of the relegation zone, should results elsewhere be in their favour while Leicester will surely be looking at this game as a big opportunity to build on their current 15th spot.
I sense there will be a great, great determination to do that, the Foxes won’t be keen to get back into their hole (get it?) and I’m going to predict a victory for them.
Prediction: Leicester City 2-1 Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton
Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed yet another 4-0 victory over Stoke City last week, with Harry Kane grabbing himself a hat-trick.
That put the Englishman level with both Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku in the Premier League top scoring charts and with the latter coming up against Kane’s side this Sunday, the race for the league’s golden boot is well underway.
Everton come into this match having extended their unbeaten run to nine games with their win over Sunderland last week, so the Goodison faithful will be relishing the prospect of making it ten with a result at White Hart Lane.
On their day they can probably match Spurs going forward but I think it’s from midfield to defence that this game will be won. Tottenham are strong in those departments, with the likes of Moussa Dembelé and Victor Wanyama both capable options and at the back Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping that centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are fit to feature.
Toffees boss Ronald Koeman also has reliable options at the back in Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori, whilst the dynamism and technical ability of Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin are key qualities.
With two of the league’s top-scorers in both sides, Spurs and Everton will be looking to cancel each other out and whoever thrives in doing so will certainly have a good chance at winning this game.
I fancy Tottenham. Everton haven’t tasted victory in this clash for eight games, not to mention their opponents are in strong league form, so I’m going for a Spurs win.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Everton
Watford vs. Southampton
Southampton return to Premier League action on Saturday, after their march to Wembley ended in disappointment, with a League Cup final loss to Manchester United.
It wouldn’t have been easy for manager Claude Puel to lift the squad’s spirits, given that they gave a good account of themselves but it needs doing, as they travel to a difficult ground in Vicarage Road.
Watford earned a draw against West Ham United there last week and will be looking to move into mid-table with a result. After a run of six defeats in eight matches saw boss Walter Mazzarri become favourite for the sack, the Hornets have improved upon their form, losing only once in their last six games.
They will rightly feel as though they can take advantage of Southampton’s disappointment in this clash and I’m going to back them to get a result.
Manolo Gabbiadini will surely have something to say about that, though, as the Italian now has three Premier League goals in two appearances for the Saints. Puel will be relying upon him to inspire his side back to form – which will surely do little to calm a few excited Reds fans on social media.
Prediction: Watford 1-1 Southampton
West Ham United vs. Chelsea
With eleven points earned from their last six games, West Ham United have risen up to ninth on the league table, putting their poor early-season form behind them.
The Hammers next host league leaders Chelsea on Monday and can, despite losing the reverse league fixture 2-1, take confidence from their last meeting with the Blues, a victory in the League Cup earlier in the campaign.
Antonio Conté’s men established a ten point gap between themselves and the chasing pack at the summit of the log with a win over Swansea City last week and will only be expected to extend it further with a win in this London derby.
I’m not going against that. I’m going to predict a win for Chelsea, although, I don’t see West Ham simply rolling over to play dead at their arrival, this will be a tough encounter.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-2 Chelsea
Stoke City vs. Middlesbrough
With just goal difference now separating them and the relegation zone, the fact Middlesbrough haven’t won a lot of games this season is surely starting to catch-up to them.
Boro have only won four times in the Premier League this year, with the last of those wins coming way back in December. I don’t think there’s any denying they’re in trouble and a clash at the Bet365 Stadium could make matters worse for boss Aitor Karanka.
Stoke City suffered a huge loss to Tottenham Hotspur last week, so they will be fuming with themselves. An encouraging factor will be the fact that the Potters are unbeaten in seven league games at home, so preserving that record with a win will be top priority.
Add to that the return from injury of winger Xherdan Shaqiri, as well as the availability of key men in Glen Johnson and Jon Walters and the odds are fairly stacked in Stoke’s favour.
I fancy them to beat Middlesbrough.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-0 Middlesbrough
Manchester United vs. AFC Bournemouth
Man United earned their first piece of silverware under manager José Mourino, winning the EFL Cup over Southampton.
That victory is sure to give them plenty of confidence in their other cup competition for the remainder of the season but even more pleasing to Red Devil fans will be their game in hand in the Premier League, which still gives them that elusive opportunity to finish in the top-four.
I think they’re certain to get a win in this game against an out of form Bournemouth, I can’t see anything less.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Bournemouth
Swansea City vs. Burnley
For a while, you thought Swansea were performing well enough to salvage something from their clash with Chelsea last Saturday but their opponents were just too strong.
Back to the drawing board for Paul Clement then and they’ve got a good opportunity to bounce back against a Burnley side with no away wins in the Premier League this season.
It’s sure to be all out attacking versus cautious defending, as the Clarets are unlikely to change their approach, while Swansea will be under pressure to dominate their opponents and win the encounter.
Thankfully, both are in relatively safe positions, with the Swans sitting in 15th and Burnley in 11th on the table, however that won’t stop either from giving their best in this match and I’m predicting a win for the home team.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-1 Burnley