Martin King looks at the latest round of Premier League action and what to expect.
Two weeks ago, the Premier League left us buzzing with the entertainment of 24 goals across 10 games in the eleventh round.
In stepped the infamous international break, which in honesty hasn’t completely lived up to the quality put on display by one of the world’s top leagues (does it ever?). That means this coming weekend is on every football lover’s mind, calendar and to-do list as the English top flight returns to set up a busy festive season of Premier League football.
Round eleven was opened up by a 2-2 draw between Stoke City and Leicester.
Liverpool defeated West Ham United 4-1, before which there were respective 1-0 wins for Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Bournemouth and Huddersfield over Swansea, Southampton, Newcastle and West Brom.
Tottenham Hotspur added another 1-0 win to the record against Crystal Palace, as did Chelsea against Manchester United. Everton put together another late rally to beat Watford 3-2 and Manchester City enjoyed a 3-1 win over Arsenal.
With the next couple of weeks consisting of non-stop top-flight action, there will be plenty of drama and entertainment to whet the appetite, and we can start looking forward to the first bunch of fixtures with a round of predictions for gameweek 12.
Liverpool vs. Southampton
It has easily become a modern-day fact that whenever one speaks of football entertainment, Liverpool are always the focal point of conversation.
With 78 goals scored last season, the Reds continued to embrace that identity thanks to an attacking system masterminded by some of the quickest, clinical and most intelligent footballers the Premier League has to offer.
It is then surprising to witness the rare occasion of an opponent successfully keeping Jürgen Klopp’s men quiet, though, Southampton can rightfully claim to have achieved that not once but twice in last season’s league campaign.
The Saints travel to Anfield this Saturday to face a Liverpool side that sits fifth on the table, having recorded back to back wins before the international break.
Whenever these two sides meet, the ever-present topic of former players will always be in focus and it seems to favour Liverpool yet again, as former Saints stars Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana could likely feature in this match, whilst current player Virgil van Dijk is expected to put in a performance to have Kop tongues wagging yet again.
The Dutchman’s side is having a season that falls quite short of expectations at the moment. They sit in 13th, having suffered their fourth loss of the season to Burnley last time out, however, having frustrated their opponents this Saturday on a number of occasions in the past, Mauricio Pellegrino will hope that his team can repeat the trick.
With current form in mind, though, Liverpool are simply too hot to handle.
It may not be as straightforward a game as it was at the London Stadium a fortnight ago, though, I’m predicting a win for the Anfield side.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton
Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The weekend is opened up by a huge North London derby between old rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
I don’t think I remember a time in the past when Arsenal looked as unprepared as they do right now for this fixture. The Gunners, 6th, got beaten 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium last time out for their fourth loss of the season – no one in the league’s current top six has lost more games.
Compare that form to Tottenham’s current run and it continually becomes clearer who North London’s top club is. The Lily Whites are once again in the title mix, as they sit third, level on points with ssecond-placedManchester United, who are eight points behind current leaders Man City.
Spurs’ win over Crystal Palace was their fourth in five league games and it ensured that they’re well set up to go a seventh game unbeaten against Arsenal.
Harry Kane may have missed out on his country’s internationals due to injury, but the Englishman’s fitness will not be a concern ahead of this match, as he has been declared fit by manager Mauricio Pochettino – Kane has netted five goals in his four north London derby appearances.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will meanwhile face questions on his top striker Alexandre Lacazette’s involvement, or lack thereof, in games of such importance. The Frenchman has found himself benched for games against Liverpool and most recently Manchester City, to the disappointment of many Gunners fans, and will hope against a repeat of that come Saturday afternoon.
Otherwise, Olivier Giroud provides Wenger’s only serious injury worry for a match I see ending in a draw.
I don’t expect Spurs to go gung-ho from the first minute, as Arsenal, though wounded, can still be dangerous on the counter-attack. I think the Gunners won’t have it all their own way either as Spurs are a top defensive team, so I expect this to be a close affair.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Watford vs. West Ham United
Over the break, we witnessed the sacking of West Ham United boss Slaven Bilič, who was almost immediately replaced by former Sunderland manager David Moyes.
The Croat’s departure came after the Hammers had been thrashed 4-1 by Liverpool at the London Stadium, condemning them to a place in the relegation zone and despite Moyes’ failure to keep Sunderland up last season, the Scotsman’s experience is now heavily relied on to avoid similar fate for a club believed to be on the rise.
That task begins at the tough venue that is Vicarage Road.
Three games unbeaten have been followed by three straight defeats for Watford, the most recent of which must’ve been a bitter pill to swallow in their 3-2 loss at Everton.
Manager Marco Silva has been in the news this week thanks to the Toffees (who remain managerless) approaching Watford over his availability, so the last thing the Portuguese would want is for his team’s focus to be distracted by the reports, as this Sunday evening fixture presents a good opportunity to make things right with their form.
And it’s an opportunity I think they will take well.
I expect a much improved West Ham, as players will be chomping at the bit to impress new manager Moyes, but when all is said and done I think Watford will keep the three points at home.
Prediction: Watford 2-1 West Ham United
Crystal Palace vs. Everton
Looking at the league table and last round’s results, it can be seen clearly just how vital Everton’s win over Watford was to their season. With that victory they pulled themselves out of the relegation zone into 15th place, lose and they would’ve been four points off 20th.
Those are matters on the pitch looking up (at least for now) but off it the club is still without a manager following the sacking of Ronald Koeman, however, there are definite candidates for the job, with Silva and Sam Allardyce recently being tipped to take over.
Whatever happens on that front, the Merseysiders’ trip to Crystal Palace presents yet another difficult but important task and with the Eagles’ enthusiasm under Roy Hodgson seldom producing a positive result, three points certainly isn’t an unrealistic target.
Still, I foresee that hunger and determination getting Palace a result in this game at Selhurst Park.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-1 Everton
Leicester City vs. Manchester City
Simply unbeatable is how league leaders Manchester City look at the moment.
Pep Guardiola’s men increased on their advantage at the top thanks largely to rivals Man United’s loss at Chelsea and their 3-1 victory over Arsenal and the Spanish manager will expect nothing less than the best again from his team, as they face Leicester City on Saturday.
Funny enough, following the sacking of Craig Shakespeare, Leicester have gone three games on the spin unbeaten, with former Southampton manager Claude Puel taking over midway to see the Foxes gain a new spring in their step.
Ahead of this tough encounter, the former Premier League champions will certainly add to their preparations a 4-2 victory over City last season at the King Power Stadium, a feat they will be keen to reach again.
Easier said than done, though.
With 16 goals in their last four matches alone, City are on a path of destruction I get the feeling that Leicester will be no exception.
I’m predicting a win for Man City.
Prediction: Leicester City 1-3 Manchester City
AFC Bournemouth vs. Huddersfield Town
For a side that lives and breathes attacking football, I thought Bournemouth displayed very good defensive quality whenever they needed to against Newcastle United last time out and Steve Cook’s injury-time winner put the cherry on top of the cake (pun intended).
Eddie Howe’s men now need to start racking up the wins in order to make a decent rise up the table from their current 17th place and have a good chance of doing that with a home clash against Huddersfield.
The Terriers meet the Cherries for the first time in this competition, coming off a morale-boosting 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
If Bournemouth play to their own strengths, there will definitely be an intense amount of pressure for the away side to be sharp defensively.
Although they’re very capable of doing that, Huddersfield will still be wary heading into this fixture, as ever since their 3-0 opening day victory at Crystal Palace, the Terriers have failed to win all four of their games away from home, losing three and drawing one.
That said, Bournemouth, being the favourites, have to seize their opportunity and I’m going to predict a close win for them.
Prediction: Bournemouth 2-1 Huddersfield Town
West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea
You very often have to think twice before ruling West Brom’s chances of winning a game out in this league, but coming up against an in-form Chelsea side and off the back of three consecutive losses, I don’t fancy the Baggies to win this game at all.
Chelsea would’ve been buzzing after overcoming the mountainous challenge of Manchester United two weeks ago and having thrown their name in the hat of title challengers, manager Antonio Conte will be demanding the sort of consistency that led them to win the title last season, starting with this match at the Hawthorns.
With a mostly fit squad to pick a starting line-up out of, I expect the Italian to be celebrating a fourth straight win come the end of this clash.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Chelsea
Manchester United vs. Newcastle United
Two defeats and a draw in their last five games have left Manchester United trailing their rivals and league leaders City by eight points, a stark contrast to the beginning of the season, which saw the two giants sit shoulder to shoulder atop the Premier League table.
The main demand then is simple: catch up.
The Red Devils return to action at home against Newcastle United, who, despite recently entering a disappointing run of form, have really done well to stay out of trouble on the league table – the Magpies sit 11th having won 14 points this season.
A trip to Old Trafford doesn’t promise much in the way of improving that points total, though. Only once in Premier League history have Newcastle beaten Man United in their own backyard, so manager Rafael Benitez will be fully aware of the challenge that confronts his side.
The Spaniard certainly knows what it’s like to win big at the Theatre of Dreams, but I think United are the clear favourites and will win this match.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle United
Burnley vs. Swansea City
Burnley are loving Premier League life at the moment.
The Clarets sit seventh thanks to a good run of form that has seen them earn three wins in five fixtures, the most recent of which was a 1-0 win away at Southampton.
I’m convinced they’ll continue their pleasing run with a 2-0 home win against struggling Swansea on Saturday.
Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Swansea City
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Stoke City
The Seagulls are flying.
Sitting in a rather surprising 8th place on the table, Brighton & Hove Albion take on Stoke City on Monday night, looking for their fifth win of the season to keep them far above the storm of the relegation zone.
For a manager who is clearly underrated, Chris Hughton deserves great credit for how this side is performing, as slowly and surely from the beginning of the season, Brighton have been developing into a Premier League club. A win against an experienced top-flight side in Stoke will surely reinforce that view.
Inconsistency has, as ever, been the Potters’ biggest enemy this season. Three wins have each been followed by frustrating draws and difficult defeats, something which needs to change if they’re going to improve their current 14th position.
This match is yet another first ever Premier League meeting and a very tricky one for Stoke, as Brighton have been a force at the Amex Stadium.
I’m backing the Seagulls to win this one. I really think they’re a confident outfit at home and can give any opponent a real go.
Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Stoke City