Martin King has a look at the Premier League fixtures this weekend.
The 2016/17 season’s most recent international break is more likely to have left football club fans disgusted, outraged and even calling for its abolition in mid-season on multiple media platforms.
Therefore, it’s perhaps most fitting that time brings some calm to the storm, with the return of league football. Enter the Premier League, which makes it’s return to screens worldwide this weekend, all of which are in the homes of some excited and very expectant fans.
The previous round’s action was curtain-raised by West Bromwich Albion, as the Baggies beat sorry Arsenal 3-1. League leaders Chelsea edged out Stoke City 2-1 while Bournemouth beat Swansea City 2-0.
Sunderland and Burnley played out a goalless draw and there were plenty of goals as Everton beat Hull City 4-0 whilst an own goal was required for Crystal Palace to beat Watford 1-0.
Leicester City continued their resurgence with a huge 3-2 victory over West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur beat Southampton 2-1, Manchester United enjoyed a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough before Manchester City and Liverpool closed the weekend off with a 1-1 draw.
Yet another hot round of action, that is opened up by a derby, awaits us this weekend and what better way to look ahead to the possibilities, than with the 30th gameweek of the prediction game?
Read on for my verdict on the upcoming matches.
Liverpool vs. Everton
For the second time this season, Liverpool fans are looking forward to what should be yet another thrilling episode of the Merseyside derby.
This, after a dramatic stoppage time goal by Sadio Mané won the Reds the reverse fixture 1-0 in front of Goodison Park, taking their all-time win record in this fixture to 116 victories, compared to Everton’s 82.
Whether it’s by that figure or even mentally, Liverpool are usually the dominant side on these occasions, however, Saturday just threatens to present a much different Everton side, at least if the recent form book is taken into consideration.
Ever since that defeat to their neighbors in December, the Toffees have lost just one of their 12 Premier League games, recording an impressive eight wins and three draws.
That consistency has seen fans and some experts make a solid case for them attaining a European football qualification spot but both parties will be well aware that getting past a few top-six clubs, one of which includes their Merseyside rivals, is required to achieve that.
Both sides will certainly be reeling from respective injury woes ahead of this match, as Liverpool will be without influential midfielders Adam Lallana, who suffered a thigh injury whilst on international duty and Jordan Henderson, who is reported to have missed a training session heading up to Saturday’s match.
Everton, meanwhile, are without Seamus Coleman while the likes of Ramiro Funes Mori and James McCarthy are also reported to be out of the derby with injuries. Either way, none of that will matter when the Merseysiders take to the pitch, as a tense affair full of major talking points is expected.
I don’t (no, I never) go against Liverpool on derby day. Everton’s form hardly even bothers me. The Reds will win this one.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Everton
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
Look around England’s top flight this weekend and you probably won’t find a more pressure-filled game than this one.
For Arsenal, it’s been four league defeats in the past five games. The Gunners have slipped out of the top-four into sixth place and are in grave danger of missing out on Champions’ League qualification, which would certainly see a number of their top players leave the club and manager Arsene Wenger lose his job.
Manchester City, on the other hand are on a campaign to solidify their place in the top-four but have dropped points in each of their last two games and a trip to the Emirates won’t make things any easier.
I expect a real grudge match, I think we are always certain to see some real attacking football whenever these two sides meet, however, rather than winning I think both sides will be much more cautious of losing, which might see each play it safe and avoid being too adventurous in attack.
The Citizens have only won once in their last ten matches in North London, however, the state of affairs at Arsenal doesn’t convince me they will keep that record healthy.
Either side can win it but I’m just going to predict an entertaining stalemate.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City
Southampton vs. AFC Bournemouth
Premier League fans from the South Coast of England will again be treated to an intriguing clash between two of the region’s top clubs, as Southampton host Bournemouth.
In the eyes of more than a few, the Saints are the bigger club between these two but Saturday’s late kick-off presents a clash between two equals, where the season’s tally of points is concerned.
Southampton and Bournemouth sit tenth and eleventh respectively on 33 points each, with goal statistics separating them – although the Saints have two games in hand on the side beneath them.
That said, Claude Puel and Premier League manager of the month Eddie Howe will be positive of their side’s chances of winning this match, as another entertaining attacking display is expected from these two talented sides.
Both have won only two of their last five games so this really could go either way, however, with Bournemouth still searching for their first win over their neighbours, I’m going to predict that Southampton take this one home.
Prediction: Southampton 2-1 Bournemouth
Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace
With two impressively ground out away wins on the bounce, Chelsea’s title-chasing train is again picking up speed and creating some distance with the chasing pack.
When the title is won, as it will be unless a miraculous turn-around in form occurs, the Blues will surely look upon their respective 2-1 wins away at West Ham United and Stoke City as some of their most important, for it is then that they displayed their most important title credentials to a tee.
Crystal Palace, on the other, have been challenged to display their survival credentials for most of the season and it may have taken a long while but three successive wins have positioned them perfectly in 16th, four points above the relegation zone and with a game in hand.
Trips to Stamford Bridge have produced little glory for them, though. The Eagles have won just once at Chelsea’s ground since the Premier League’s inception and like a vicious dog unwilling to let go of its bone, I think Antonio Conté will be getting his side up for this fixture and demanding all three points.
That said and their undoubted quality considered, I can only see a Chelsea win in this match.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace
Watford vs. Sunderland
It’s nothing that Watford nor Sunderland need at this moment but it’s everything both clubs are going through.
For the Hornets, speculation surrounding manager Walter Mazzarri being surplus to the requirements of the Watford club owners has only intensified following three defeats in their last five games, the last of which saw captain Troy Deeney net an own goal to gift Crystal Palace a win over his side.
Sunderland’s season, meanwhile, is once again bordering somewhere between the miraculous and pure hopelessness. The Black Cats are without victory since February and their failure to get three points from a must-win match against Burnley last time out saw the gap between them and a position of safety grow to seven points.
I don’t even know what to expect from this match. Do both sides risk it all and go all-out-attacking in order to get a win or do they play it safe and hope to get something on the break?
Either way, it’s a must-win but I’m going to just put my money on a draw.
Prediction: Watford 1-1 Sunderland
Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough
Staying with the relegation theme, Sunday’s first piece of action takes us to South Wales, where Swansea City host Middlesbrough.
Back-to-back defeats see the home side looking to bounce back in front of their supporters, for the sake of boosting their survival bid.
That honeymoon period they experienced following the appointment of Paul Clement just seems to have gone out the window but the Swans will be determined not to let themselves slip into a crisis, making this match a must-win.
Every match is a must-win from now on for Middlesbrough, their season has just gotten that bad and although they experienced a period of encouraging performance in their previous match against Manchester United, they will know that lasting the duration of a match is important to them getting the right results.
I expect them to try and guard against the attacking threat of Swansea at the Liberty Stadium, where they can be so dangerous. Only four sides have managed to stop the Swans from scoring at home this season.
I don’t expect Boro to be the fifth so I’m backing them to win this match.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-1 Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Stoke City
Title-holders Leicester City will be returning to a well pleased and excited King Power Stadium faithful eager to maintain their good form.
The Foxes will be forgiven for feeling as though they could’ve done with the season going on and on, as their form book reads: three wins in three games.
Stoke City are yet again on course to finish their season in ninth place and a win will help them in their campaign, particularly given that it would be considered a good response to their previous game’s result, a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea. A defeat, though, would see them surrender their place should either one of Southampton or Bournemouth win on Saturday.
And it is the result I expect from this match for them. I just think that Leicester are in great form at the moment and the Foxes are usually very good at home so a good performance plus win for them is my verdict.
Prediction: Leicester City 3-1 Stoke City
Burnley vs. Tottenham Hotspur
With 13 points achieved from their last six league games, Tottenham Hotspur are one of the top flight’s in form teams.
The Lily Whites were disappointed to lose Harry Kane to long term injury heading up to the last round’s action but midfielders Christian Eriksen and Delle Alli stepped up to net a goal each on their side’s way to victory over Southampton. A similar burden will be placed upon them and the rest of Spurs’ creative force if they’re going to keep their good run going against Burnley.
The Clarets will be relieved to return to Turf Moor, as each of their last four matches were played away from home, producing just two points and having made it difficult for anyone visiting them, as well as taking points off Liverpool and Chelsea, Sean Dyche’s men will be keen to record a similar scalp over Spurs this afternoon
I see them making a tough match out of it. With Tottenham’s attack in mind, they will set up to be defensively compact and it may just be in this match that Spurs miss that bullish and aerially gifted centre-forward nature of Kane, in fact, I don’t see them winning it if that’s the case.
I think Burnley will steal a point.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion
With four points and two games in hand separating them and a Champions League place, Manchester United are still widely expected to finish in the top four and the Red Devils took a step closer to that by finally moving beyond what has been their usual position of sixth place to fifth, with victory at Middlesbrough.
Up next is a stern home test against West Bromwich Albion, a confident West Bromwich Albion for that matter.
The Baggies entered the international break on a significant high, having beaten Arsenal 3-1 and that win should surely see them fancy their prospects against United, who they will be looking to frustrate this afternoon.
Tony Pulis’ side are obviously set-piece specialists but they will be facing a similar side to them, as Man United don’t lack height and strength in their side, however, that should only make things interesting, especially with the ball in the air – this could be a real long-ball affair.
The favourites to emerge victorious will be United, even though José Mourinho has a handful of injury concerns, which West Brom can certainly exploit in this match.
Either way, I’m still going to predict a home win for Mourinho’s men.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Hull City vs. West Ham United
Hull City will first and foremost be hoping that their latest clash against West Ham United doesn’t end like the last one, which, based on chance creation, they deserved to win and yet still lost.
The Tigers will instead be looking to heap more pressurising weight on the Hammers, who are currently on a three-game losing run, which has seen manager Slaven Bilic’s position at the club come under media scrutiny.
I think that with Hull often making the most of their home matches under manager Marco Silva, this will be a match they have a great chance of winning and I’m going to back them.
I just can’t see West Ham doing it at the moment.
Prediction: Hull City 2-0 West Ham United