Martin King brings you the 34th Gameweek prediction piece with Liverpool looking to continue their Champions League qualification with a win over Crystal Palace.
With the world of football once again witnessing the entertaining action of the UEFA Champions League in midweek, cup football continues into this weekend, as the FA Cup will once again work its magic at Wembley Stadium.
But, appealing as that may be, our focus is instead on the continuation of the Premier League.
This weekend sees us focus largely on the bottom-half of the table, where the small matter of mid-table places and the rather pressing issue of survival lie to grab our attention.
Last weekend’s scores saw Tottenham Hotspur beat Bournemouth 4-0, fellow Londoners Crystal Palace drew 2-2 with Leicester City, before Manchester City cruised past Southampton 3-0.
Watford edged out Swansea City 1-0, there was another two-all draw between Sunderland and West Ham United, before Stoke City and Everton record the same 3-1 result over Hull City and Burnley respectively.
Liverpool ground out a 1-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United defeated Chelsea 2-0 before the weekend was rounded off by a 2-1 victory for Arsenal at Middlesbrough.
Read on then, to find out who I’m tipping for this weekend.
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace
For Liverpool, the past two games have very likely brought a sense of redemption back to the Melwood-based squad.
For long periods this season talks of their inability to overcome the Premier League’s lesser lights have hung above their heads like dark clouds, undermining their otherwise brilliant campaign and dampening their fiery confidence.
However, a 2-1 victory at Stoke City followed by a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, both achieved in dirty fashion surely serves to instil in them a voice of confidence that says they can compete with the bottom-half sides – something which the Reds will need to do if a place in the top-four is to be secured come the end of the season.
Refreshed and reinvigorated is how this weekend’s opponents Crystal Palace are likely to be feeling. The Eagles, after a largely unfruitful spell of one win in eight matches since switching managers, are finally experiencing the ‘Big Sam’ effect, as they’ve recorded five wins from their last seven league games, form that has seen them lifted out of relegation danger into 15th on the table.
Any trip to Anfield is tough for anybody, but Allardyce’s men travel to Merseyside knowing they’ve won twice in as many of their most recent visits to Liverpool and that particular statistic will likely be the one that fuels their confidence towards a third big win.
Reds manager Jürgen Klopp may have yet another difficult time choosing his starting line-up, as the German recently confirmed that three of his defensive players in Jöel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Lucas Leiva are struggling for fitness.
Either way, should his more attacking men pass their late fitness tests, it should be enough to earn Liverpool a home win, however, rule a Christian Benteke-lead Palace out on your own peril.
The Eagles will surely be a dangerous outfit to play against but I just think Liverpool will win this one.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace
West Ham United vs. Everton
West Ham United could’ve made it two wins in two last week but for a late goal by Fabio Borini, which earned Sunderland a desperate point.
At this stage of the Hammers’ season, thirteenth with five games to go and three points away from that magical forty-point total, I think it’s safe to say they’re not going to go down. Sure, they haven’t been at all that good in the past month or so but the Premier League has far worse sides than them.
That said, their focus surely remains on giving their loyal supporters something to cheer about and after collecting four points from their last two games, Slaven Bilič’s men will want to earn more as they host Everton this afternoon.
It’s pretty much been a matter of ‘normal service resumes’ for the Toffees, after their second defeat in the Merseyside derby this season. Two wins at home and a draw away have followed and with Leicester City’s midweek Champions League exit meaning good news for them – a seventh-placed finish will be enough to earn a Europa League spot – Ronald Koeman’s men will continue playing with the confidence that a place in Europe next season is a definite possibility.
I expect them to once again be on it for this match, which I think they will just edge a win out of.
West Ham will likely put up a fight as they’ve done over the past two games but I’m backing Everton’s quality to get them out on top of this clash at the London Stadium.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-2 Everton
AFC Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough’s efforts against Arsenal on Monday night were truly commendable but, in truth, that match alone really summed up their entire season back in the Premier League.
“All heart and no quality” is how I dub it and before your mind goes off about how harsh that is, consider how many times they broke out in attack against the Gunners at the Riverside Stadium, only to fail in producing the right end-product and how it’s been the same in almost all of their matches this year.
Add to that these two facts: Boro stand alongside Manchester United in having drawn the most games in the league this season (12) and are still the English top flight’s lowest scorers with 23 goals in this campaign.
If they go down, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying but only for a lack of quality.
They come up against a Bournemouth side with plenty of that in attacking areas. The Cherries were picked apart at Tottenham last week and that loss made it two on the spin but their Saturday afternoon clash at home gives them a good chance to rectify that.
Sadly enough, a good chunk of quality has been omitted from Eddie Howe’s squad, as on-loan midfielder Jack Wilshere suffered a fractured leg during the week – an injury that rules him out for the season.
Either way, I still expect Howe to pick his side up from that, as they look to have a decent finish to the season. I think it will start against Boro with a win.
Prediction: Bournemouth 2-0 Middlesbrough
Swansea City vs. Stoke City
Tough times for Swansea City.
After their loss to Watford, Paul Clement’s men have now suffered five defeats in their last six matches, conceding nine goals along the way.
Perhaps that’s the problem? As revered as they may be for their talent in front of goal, the Swans do tend to be too generous at the other end, as evidenced by their ‘goals against’ tally of 68 (the highest in the Premier League this season).
The South Wales club host Stoke City, who will be keen to exploit that defensive weakness once more after bouncing back from four straight defeats with a victory against Hull City.
Should they display a clinical touch in front of goal then I don’t see why they can’t win this match. I actually fancy them to but I just think Swansea’s home advantage may earn them a point.
Prediction: Swansea City 1-1 Stoke City
Burnley vs. Manchester United
Manchester United needed extra-time to secure a spot in the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, beating Anderlecht 2-1.
I just wonder if there will be a threat of tired legs to deal with, as they next face a tough trip to Burnley.
Still, without an away win this season, Sean Dyche’s men still rely heavily on Turf Moor being a source of inspiration and their fortress for success.
Of their last seven games at home, Burnley have won an impressive five, losing one and drawing the other and having already taken a point off United earlier this season at Old Trafford, they will fancy themselves to either replicate or better that result.
I certainly fancy them to get something from this game. Man United may be fatigued from their Europa League match and José Mourinho will probably make a string of changes to his line-up.
Either way, Burnley will be buzzing to return to Turf Moor so I’m predicting a draw.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Manchester United
Hull City vs. Watford
Watford have been on something of a streak at home this month, winning and keeping clean sheets in all three of their games, therefore a trip away from Vicarage Road presents a stern test of wills, given their recent record on the road.
Ever since their huge 2-1 victory at Arsenal, the Hornets have lost all three of their away matches, failing to register even a single goal.
Hull City will be hoping that comes into play at the KCOM Stadium, as the Tigers are in need of a win following two straight defeats away from home. They still sit just above the danger zone in 17th, two points clear and Marco Silva’s men will be hoping results elsewhere go their way because winning this match would build a gap between them and their rivals.
It’s obviously set to be tough but I think they will have enough to grab the three points. Watford have been disappointing away from home so I’m going to back Hull to win this match.
Prediction: Hull City 2-1 Watford