This coming weekend sees England’s top flight sides take a step away from domestic and continental cup commitments, to focus on the major business that is Premier League football, and with a full fixture list in waiting, Martin King returns to preview all the round’s action.
Only four league games headlined an FA Cup-focused weekend last time out, as Everton enjoyed a 3-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth edged out West Ham United 3-2 while Hull City beat Swansea City 2-1. The weekend was rounded off by Liverpool, who came from behind to beat Burnley 2-1.
At least six teams would’ve carefully utilised some time off due to a lack of involvement in domestic or continental competition, meaning there will be the small matter of games-in-hand to deal with for the rest of the season, which they will be determined to win. For those who are on schedule, though, it will be business as usual as they look to put some pressure on those who have fallen behind.
That battle continues this weekend with the 29th round of Premier League action and, starting with a clash in Manchester, we can look ahead to what could be with yet another round of predictions.
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
Red Merseyside and Blue Manchester.
Two of the strongest places in the Premier League, filled with some of England’s most passionate fans, one set driven by a history of glory, the other inspired by present success.
The distance that separates these two places may be just over 30 miles but whenever they come together, they clash to entertain.
Manchester City’s midweek defeat to Monaco in the Champions League came as something of a disappointing blip, given their recent run of form. The Sky Blues are unbeaten in their last six league matches and have achieved progression in the FA Cup, where they next meet Arsenal in the semi-final at Wembley. Whether critics blame manager Pep Guardiola or the City squad itself for their exit from Europe matters little, what is of great importance will be ensuring they return next season, that said, Guardiola’s main focus will turn to maintaining their Premier League form, starting with their huge top-four encounter this Sunday.
For opponents Liverpool, life is but a roller-coaster of emotions. The Reds were all smiles in training this week, where striker Roberto Firmino was present after sitting out their last match with a minor injury. The squad’s clear happiness is timely, as they’re fresh off two successive victories in the Premier League, which have given them some momentum, as well as a five-point advantage in the battle to finish in the top four.
However, Jürgen Klopp’s side will already know and be determined to avoid their gut-wrenching habit of taking two steps forward only to fall back by four, something which has all but summed up their season up to this point.
Still, Liverpool’s excellent record against the top sides cannot be ignored, but also on the line will be an individual’s against Man City.
For the Sky Blues faithful, the name and sight of Philippe Coutinho represents nothing but pure torment. Liverpool’s little magician has often saved his best for matches against City, boasting five goals in all competitions against the Citizens, so if there’s any occasion for the Brazilian to rediscover his form on, it’s Sunday.
Either way, a couple of goals and plenty of entertainment is surely guaranteed from this fixture, which Liverpool have won five times in the last six Premier League occasions.
Will Merseyside own Manchester yet again? I certainly think so. A result can go either way, but with City coming off a defeat and Liverpool’s record versus the top six in mind, I’m going to predict a Red victory.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool
West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal
This is a tricky clash for both teams – real ‘banana skin.’
On one hand, you’ve got West Bromwich Albion. In truth, fans of the Baggies have been amongst the most relaxed in the Premier League this season. That is because their side have been sitting quite comfortably in 8th position, displaying some good form and looking down upon what they’d normally be expected to endure in the heated relegation battle.
However, lately some tension has looked to creep in at the Hawthorns, as West Brom have suffered two straight defeats, with five goals netted against them to no reply.
On the other, you’ve got good old Arsenal. Nowadays pressure is all one can associate with being connected, in any way, to the London club. Three defeats in their last five league matches and a rather humiliating 10-2 aggregate scoreline exit in the Champions League to Bayern Munich has again sent fans into meltdown, with the ‘Wenger-out’ movement gaining more activists than it ever had.
That said, pressure is on both sides to appease their fans in this match, with the difficult part being that a good performance alone may not be quite enough. We’re very much in the period of results in this Premier League campaign, so I’m sure that is what both sets of fans will be expecting from their respective sides.
There will certainly be a few West Bromwich Albion fans in the top-six, who will hope that Arsenal slip up on Saturday for the sake of the top-four battle. But I just fancy the Gunners in this one.
Having only lost once to West Brom in their last twelve Premier League meetings, they will be keen to add to that record with a win.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-3 Arsenal
West Ham United vs. Leicester City
It is a blessing that has been far from the reaches of Leicester City. Ever since a glorious 2015/16 season, that saw them defy the odds of millions to raise aloft the Premier League title, the Foxes have endured a season of despair, even losing the man whose “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” helped awaken the giants inside of each player.
Now, under new yet familiar management, Leicester have returned to their old and devastating best, putting through a reminder to the rest of the league of who they were and still are: champions.
Up next is a golden opportunity to cement their form in a trip to West Ham United.
Out of luck and out of form, West Ham’s mood is more likely the opposite of Leicester’s. Slaven Bilić’s men are without a win in four league games and are coming off two consecutive defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Bournemouth respectively.
You would think that at home is the perfect place for them to bounce back, however, the Hammers haven’t exactly made their new stadium a fortress. Of their 14 games at the London Stadium this season, they have only managed five wins – West Ham are also without a home win in three attempts.
Leicester should, therefore, fancy this. The Foxes won the reverse fixture by a single goal but given their current form, it’d be fair to expect more than one goal from them in this latest clash.
I’m predicting a Foxes win.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-2 Leicester City
Stoke City vs. Chelsea
Chelsea set themselves up for a possible league and cup double victory on Monday night with a win in the FA Cup quarter-finals over Manchester United.
The win was a continuation of their excellent run of form this season and they can take another step closer towards lifting at least one major trophy with a result against Stoke City.
Whichever way you view it, this is a difficult test for Antonio Conte and his men. Stoke hold an unbeaten record at the Bet365 Stadium this year, not to mention some decent results which have put them in the running for yet another mid-table finish in the Premier League.
Against the top sides, though, the Potters have experienced little glory. Stoke have taken just three points from three draws, two against Manchester United and one, most recently, against Manchester City. Chelsea will surely be banking on that, amongst other things, as a reason to be confident they will get a win.
And I will back them in that, as I foresee a tough, physical encounter which their quality will get them out of with a win – don’t write off a draw, though.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
Sunderland vs. Burnley
“It could be tougher than Liverpool” is the view from Ashley Barnes on Burnley’s trip to Sunderland.
The Clarets striker had silenced the Kop with a seventh-minute opener in his side’s last game against the Reds, adding to that a very ‘ugly’ performance. However, with Liverpool fighting back to win the game 2-1, ensuring that Burnley remain winless away from home this season, Barnes has called for his side to improve on their prospects with victory against the Black Cats.
David Moyes’ men have fallen back into that familiar hole of relegation danger again and this time, it looks deeper. Three straight defeats have seen the gap between them and a place of safety grow to no less than six points. Still, the club could afford to congratulate striker Jermain Defoe on a return to the England National team during the week, but the focus from both will quickly turn to improving their own form with a win against the Clarets.
To have any chance of doing that, though, Defoe and co will need to find the back of the net again, as in their three defeats they failed to score even a single goal.
All things considered, this is set to be an ugly, old affair. It’d be easy to go for a Sunderland win with Burnley’s away record in mind but I just think both will fight it out for a draw.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 Burnley
Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United
After three-and-a-half years together, Middlesbrough and Aitor Karanka have parted ways.
The Riverside club sacked their manager in midweek after a run of ten league games without a win, that has seen them drop down to 19th place on the table, three points adrift of safety.
In truth, everyone is obviously aware of their struggles but I don’t think sacking Karanka was really the perfect solution. Boro are the league’s lowest scorers with 19 goals this season, meaning their squad clearly needs some reinforcements so unless the team itself had a problem with Karanka, I don’t see how getting rid of the Spaniard mid-season is going to solve their issues.
On the other hand, every gameweek must feel like a step back to square-one for Manchester United. They’ve made some progression in the Europa League with victory over FC Rostov but they’ve just not been able to move beyond sixth place in the Premier League.
More than just results elsewhere not going their way, though, it has been the Red Devils’ failure to get maximum points – even when their rivals slip up – that has derailed their season.
However, with the top four race heating up and a two-game advantage on United’s side, they will want to make good use of it by avoiding anything less than victory.
José Mourinho’s men won the reverse fixture against Middlesbrough 2-1 at Old Trafford and yet I think Boro will look back upon their performance and take some encouragement from it as they look to replicate it in front of their fans, this time hopefully earning themselves a better result.
United look strong on paper, though. I think Boro’s best hopes lie in a draw but I’m going to predict a Man United win because they need and are more capable of attaining it.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 0-2 Manchester United
Crystal Palace vs. Watford
Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce has called for his side to show their best form between now and the end of the season, following two successive wins.
The Eagles sit just a point above the relegation zone and are still pushing for survival, so there’s no better place and time to continue their run of form and please their manager than at Selhurst Park this Saturday, against Watford.
Two defeats in the past three matches for Watford have continued a poor run of form that has seen them win only two of their last twelve league matches and with the club owners quite infamous for their lack of hesitation when it comes to sacking managers, it is already believed that failure to top last season’s points tally will result in boss Walter Mazzarri losing his place at Vicarage Road.
That’s all speculation for later but for now, I think Crystal Palace have a great opportunity to earn themselves three points in this match.
Form, momentum and the South London faithful will be on their side and I’m going to back them to make it count.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 4-1 Watford
Everton vs. Hull City
Everton bounced back from a 3-2 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur with a comfortable win over West Bromwich Albion last week, which added to a great run of form at Goodison Park.
Ever since their late loss to Liverpool in the Merseyside derby last December, Ronald Koeman’s men have won all five of their games in Merseyside and there’s a decent chance they will continue that with a win over Hull City.
The Tigers travel to Goodison still desperately in need of points to lift them out of the relegation zone, as well as cement a position of safety under manager Marco Silva. A win in their last game against Swansea City helped them in their campaign, putting them just a point adrift of safety and the KCOM Stadium outfit will be keen to take their chances well in this match in order to add to that while hoping that the sides above them drop points for their sake.
Seventh-placed Everton, meanwhile, will also be hoping that Manchester United drop a few, as they are now just two points adrift of the Red Devils, sparking some hope of a return to Europe next year.
Koeman’s men are in a good moment and I don’t see them spoiling it in this match. I really fancy them to win this one, with contract-rebel Romelu Lukaku giving the Hull defence a day to forget.
Prediction: Everton 2-0 Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton
Oh, what a shame for Harry Kane!
England’s top striker suffered an ankle injury in Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup quarter-final win against Millwall last week, with post match reports confirming he is expected to be out for at least six weeks.
He was doing so well, though. Kane had scored five goals in Spurs’ last two league games, taking his season tally up to 19 goals alongside Everton’s Lukaku in the race for the Premier League golden boot.
That said, fellow strike teammate Son Heung-Min is likely to be his replacement, the South Korean scored a hat-trick in Tottenham’s 6-0 win over Millwall.
They host a Southampton side who have responded to two straight defeats with two straight wins. The Saints sit just on top of the bottom-half of the league table and can edge closer to 9th placed Stoke City with a win in North London.
Saints star Nathan Redmond received his first England senior team call-up in mid-week. The 23-year-old has scored five goals and notched up a single assist in the Premier League this season and the Saint Mary’s faithful will be backing him to use that as confidence to add to his tally, starting at White Hart Lane.
But, with Spurs on a club record run of nine consecutive home wins in the Premier League, a win for their opponents this Sunday seems quite unlikely.
That said, even though coping without Kane shouldn’t be easy, I’m going to back them to end their week with a win.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Southampton
AFC Bournemouth vs. Swansea City
While Bournemouth improved on their season’s prospects with a thrilling win over West Ham United last week, Swansea City slumped to a defeat at Hull City.
That made it three defeats in their last five games, with just two wins acquired from that run and they travel to the Vitality Stadium looking to bounce back from their slump and continue their rise up the table.
Bournemouth, though, won’t be pushovers. The Cherries have already beaten their opponents 3-0 in the reverse fixture and will be looking to do the double over Paul Clement’s men, which would also help them in avoiding some late trouble at the bottom end of the table.
When I take into consideration the ability that both these sides have, I think this could be a thriller. I certainly see goals in it but I can’t separate these two.
I’m predicting a draw.
Prediction: Bournemouth 2-2 Swansea City