Martin King returns to preview the upcoming Premier League fixtures after a midweek round of action.
The 31st round that was spread between Tuesday and Wednesday was headlined by league leaders Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City, before which Manchester United drew 1-1 with Everton, Burnley beat Stoke City 1-0 and Leicester City beat Sunderland 2-0.
Watford defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-0, Hull City thrashed Middlesbrough 4-2 and Liverpool drew 2-2 with Bournemouth.
Elsewhere, there was also a 3-0 victory for Arsenal over West Ham United, Southampton defeated Crystal Palace 3-1 while Tottenham Hotspur left it late to beat Swansea City by the same scoreline.
What is set to happen in the upcoming round may still be in the unknown but we can all be sure of yet another thrilling weekend, that we can take a quick look forward to with another round of predictions.
Stoke City vs. Liverpool
Perhaps the assumption that supporting Liverpool is the most frustrating job in the Premier League’s top six isn’t much of an assumption at all, it’s quite true.
Whenever the Reds are in with a chance to secure something great for their future prospects, be that a prestigious position or even a title, they most often blow their chances and it was very much the story in their draw with Bournemouth in midweek, a result which derailed their top four chase.
Up next is another ‘favourable’ trip to Stoke City.
Mark Hughes’ men are sure to be angry with themselves, having lost three of their last consecutive matches and with the Bet365 Stadium often proving to be a difficult ground for even the best teams in the Premier League, Stoke will be determined to ensure that Liverpool don’t have it easy this afternoon.
If the Reds hadn’t displayed their soft-centre against Bournemouth, I would certainly be confidently backing them to win this one. But they didn’t and I honestly don’t feel confident they will win this game.
I fear for them. Stoke is a tough, tough ground so I’m going to fearfully predict a defeat.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-1 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford
With five straight wins in the bag, Tottenham Hotspur are now just seven points behind league leaders Chelsea and things don’t look set to get any worse with a home clash against Watford.
Many observers reasonably thought they would struggle in the absence of top marksman Harry Kane, however, since then three wins have followed with attacking midfielders Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen influential in each, scoring a combined six goals between them.
Watford, meanwhile, have risen up to 12th with two straight wins and with 34 points plus two games in hand, the Hornets’ chances of survival look very decent.
Captain Troy Deeney found the back of the net for the tenth time this season, the perfect way to help his side bounce back from a terrible run of form that saw him score an own goal as Watford lost a match at Crystal Palace – the Englishman will surely be a pest for that Spurs defence to deal with.
Either way, Tottenham are the overwhelming favourites to win this match and especially after thrashing Watford in the reverse fixture, I’m going to predict another win for the Lily Whites.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Watford
AFC Bournemouth vs. Chelsea
Following their huge victory over Manchester City, the usual thing to say for Chelsea would probably be that “they managed to bounce back from their defeat” to Crystal Palace.
However, considering the Blues did play quite well against Palace, even being unfortunate not to receive a penalty for a bookable offence, it’s fair to say their good form only continued on Wednesday night and they will be looking to round their week off well with a trip to the South Coast.
Their hosts, Bournemouth, will have special memories of their win at Stamford Bridge last season and with boss Eddie Howe leading them to eight points from their last four games, the Cherries will be keen to give a good account of themselves enough to add to that tally against Chelsea.
Still, it’s difficult to see Chelsea slipping up on their journey to the league title, not least against a team from the bottom half of the table.
That said, I’m predicting a win for Antonio Conté’s men.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-3 Chelsea
Sunderland vs. Manchester United
Sunday’s first piece of actions comes from the Stadium of Light, where home side Sunderland take on Manchester United.
It very much seems as though the curtains are simply waiting for the backstage crew to close them on Sunderland’s Premier League status. Rock-bottom and ten points clear of safety, it is starting to become unimaginable that the Black Cats will survive this season and what makes matters worse is that opinion is not only shared by fans and experts, it most likely exists in the dressing room.
Manchester United’s, on the other hand, is one still filled with confidence over their UEFA Champions League targets. The Red Devils may have derailed their own chase with a draw against Everton in midweek, but they’re still five points away from a place in the top four with two games in hand.
Winning at the Stadium of Light will again be vital to achieving their targets and it is a task I think they stand a great chance of doing successfully.
Sunderland are hopeless at the moment, with five defeats in their last six games. I don’t think they will win this one, although I back them to put up a decent fight.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United
West Ham United vs. Swansea City
West Ham United are currently on-going a late season crisis that has seen them lose their last five Premier League matches, drawing them nearer to the relegation zone.
Indeed, manager Slaven Bilič has the backing of the club’s board but you can only wonder for how long if the Croatian’s side can’t improve their poor form.
Swansea City, meanwhile, are still struggling to keep their heads above the relegation waters following their defeat to Spurs in midweek. The Swans have slipped down to 18th on the table so a win in this match matters just as much to them.
I see a real grudge match coming up. I don’t think the match will be short of goals, though, as both sides have some good attacking talent in their ranks.
I’m going to predict a closely contested draw.
Prediction: West Ham United 2-2 Swansea City
Everton vs. Leicester City
A draw at Manchester United would’ve probably been a decent way for Everton to nurse the wounds of a defeat in the Merseyside derby and that they played well – never mind defender Ashley Williams’ handball towards the end – would’ve been an encouragement for Ronald Koeman’s men.
Their task doesn’t get any easier, though. They next confront an in-superb-form Leicester City, who visit Goodison Park on the back of five straight victories under new manager Craig Shakespeare.
‘Fearless’ is the word and nature that carried them through the 2015/16 season and as already mentioned, it may not have seemed existent for the most part of this season, however, it’s been very much within the Foxes in this final part of the season.
Everton, though, will have a good home record to defend, as the Toffees have won their last six games at Goodison but Leicester can take some confidence from their last visit to the blue half of Merseyside, a day which saw them beat Everton 3-2.
Still, I expect Everton to be up for the battle, they need to bounce back from failing to win in two huge games and so I think they will bring the fight to Leicester and I’m going to stick my head out and back them to win this game.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Leicester City
Middlesbrough vs. Burnley
Burnley’s home form will surely be the main reason they achieve survival this year, but always around the corner from a home tie will always be an away one and sooner or later they’ve got to address their poor form away from home.
A trip to fellow promoted side Middlesbrough offers the Clarets a good opportunity, though, and I’m going to take a huge gamble and back them to get their first ever win away from home this season.
I just think it’s been a very fruitless period for Boro. It hasn’t been for the lack of trying, though, as glimpses of their performance at Hull City in midweek prove but they’ve been struggling for end product and that can obviously change any minute but Burnley can also take advantage of that.
I’m going to predict a tight win for Sean Dyche’s men.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-2 Burnley
Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal
Crystal Palace failed to back their victory at the home of the league leaders Chelsea in midweek, losing to Southampton away from home.
That said, a return to Selhurst Park is timely, as it gives them a chance to build on their table position of 16th and return to the side that much-needed momentum and confidence.
The Eagles host Arsenal, who finally returned to winning ways against West Ham United.
Without sounding too harsh, I struggle to conclude whether that 3-0 victory was down to their brilliance or the Hammers’ terrible form. I don’t think Gunners fans will really care which one it is but I am convinced that with a challenge that puts their backs against the wall, they can still crumble and Sam Allardyce will be backing his side to ensure that happens on Monday night.
A piece of encouraging news for the North London faithful will also be that, according to manager Arsené Wenger, Alexis Sanchez is prepared to remain at Arsenal with the right contract offer. Either way, the Chilean will again look to be a menace, as his side seek to reignite their battle for a top-four finish.
Not unlike any of their rivals, there is great pressure on them to win their matches and they won’t be treating this one any different.
That said, I think Palace will be a tough team on Monday night, as they too will be keen to get more than a point from the match but I’m just swaying towards an Arsenal win.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal
West Bromwich Albion vs. Southampton
This is a difficult test for Southampton.
The Saints may have prepared for it well with a good win over Crystal Palace, however, West Brom are a different challenge at the Hawthorns.
It is a ground Tony Pulis’ men will be quite glad to return to, as ever since their 3-1 victory over Arsenal last month they have faced two games away from home and have only come away with one point, so they will be hoping for a bit of home salvation.
One thing that both sides will surely share in common is their satisfaction with not being directly involved in the relegation dog-fight. The Baggies have made 8th place their own this season, while the Saints’ win in midweek took them up to 9th.
I think they will play pressure-free from now until the end of the season but no one will be allowed to rest on their laurels and I think that is the message that will be preached in both dressing rooms this afternoon, as both sides try and go for the win.
I fancy them both but having to make a decision, I’ll go for a West Brom win as I fancy them at the Hawthorns.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Southampton
Manchester City vs. Hull City
This seems a pretty straight-forward affair on paper, in fact, Manchester City will be hoping that it is for the sake of their top-four hopes.
After a positive run of form, the Citizens have gone four Premier League games without a single win and will surely be desperate for three points, especially knowing their rivals could still slip up to their advantage.
Hull City, on the flip-side, have been bolstered by two successive victories which have yet again lifted them out of the relegation zone but the Tigers will know, just like anybody else that the battle for survival is far from over and staying encouraged plus applying themselves accordingly will be very important as they could find themselves dropping down into the danger zone a few more times before the season ends – it’s that tight at the bottom.
This is obviously a must-win for both sides but I think Man City, being the favourites, must take the three points here.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-0 Hull City