While we were away, Liverpool lost their invincibility, shortly after teaching Arsenal some harsh lessons in the winter fixtures, their conquerors, the champions are still very much behind with four odd points and can believe after watching Liverpool slip again to a cup crash at the Molineux, can we say the Reds are tired? Will they still win the league?
Let’s talk about top four, is it out of reach for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Manchester United? Oh! While we were on break, the boisterous Jose Mourinho was shown the exit door, no point flogging a dead horse, it was long overdue, he’s gone for good and the negative energy is gone with him.
Down the ladder, Crystal Palace seems to be safe, not yet trust me, six points is a lot and also nothing in football; Huddersfield and Fullham will need miracles to stay up, the mood at Craven Cottage has improved, but they still ship goals like no man’s business, Claudio Ranieri has lots to do.
Happy New Year folks, it’s time to hear from us on the predictions table, shall we?
Saturday 12th January
Westham vs Arsenal
The first of the lots for the weekend is a London derby between the highly unpredictable Westham and top four hopefuls Arsenal; The North Londoners have everything to play for as their fight for top four just got intense with the new version of Manchester United in town, just three points separate the Gunners from the Red Devils and a slip up will see OGS’s team catch up.
With an experienced manager in charge, an ex EPL winner, Manuel Pellegrini, he sure knows what to do to take on Unai Emery’s Arsenal but what version of visitors would he expect? Arsenal welcomed back Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, and Skhodran Mustafi back to active training in midweek and that should get them fired up for this, on the home side, they have to do without Marko Aurnatovic who wants out of the Hammers but they do have red hot Felipe Anderson and Javier Hernandez to call on.
History doesn’t favour the Hammers, they haven’t seen victory in this fixture in a long while, in fact, they have just one point in the last five encounters between the two, league top scorer, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang will look to continue the good work here.
Player to watch: Lukas Fabianski
Verdict: Arsenal to win
Burnley vs Fulham
Burnley knows exactly how to wow and embarrass fans at the same time, they’ve had great moments and really low moments, they know just how to defend well and can also ship hurtful goals, the one from Spurs’ Kristen Eriksen comes to mind for the latter.
Fulham are sliding down like they don’t care, they actually don’t have problems scoring goals, they have Alexander Mitrovic and Kamara who chip in goals, but what about their horrific defending? No team ships goals like they do, an average of three a game is no doubt a relegation standard but with the amount of money spent, one would still believe that a miracle will happen, but how?
It’s pretty even on records in the last five between the two with either side winning twice and a stalemate at Turf Moor a little over 10 years ago.
Player to watch: Chris Wood
Verdict: Burnley to edge this
Cardiff vs Huddersfield
Cardiff City Stadium
This is probably the most important fixture so far for the two, both languishing down the ladder, although a massive eight points separate the two, but they are both relegation favorites.
In terms of squad quality, depth and balance, they are both of championship quality, and man for man, there’s nothing much to choose between the two.
The highest goal scorer in Cardiff is a midfielder with four goals, Patterson, and the highest goal scorer so far in Huddersfield is a defender, Matthias Jansen with three goals, doesn’t that explain lots?
Cardiff went to Leicester and picked the entire three points on offer, their biggest points till date and a pointer that they can achieve big things with a compact performance, their biggest player however has to be their veteran manager, Neil Warnock, the very vocal Welshman knows exactly how to wittily pass his messages; interestingly it’s same for the Terriers, David Wagner is the only reason why they’re up and he just might not have much to offer this time.
Cardiff has the record between these two in the last five locked down, an emphatic four wins in five, scoring two or more in all of the four, it will be a very long afternoon for the Terriers.
Player to watch: Callum Patterson
Verdict: Straight win Cardiff
Brighton vs Liverpool
Brighton are probably safe from relegation, they amassed some big results and ten points off the drop zone is some good comfort; Liverpool have lost back to back games and a huge worrying sign crept in after they crashed out of the Emirates FA Cup at Wolves in midweek, they now must bounce back to make sure they don’t allow the pressure to kick in beyond where it is at the moment.
Brighton have depended largely on team play and compact defending, they are frustrating to say the least, and the duo of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk aren’t only solid at the back, but they’re also dangerous on set plays.
Liverpool are still the team to beat in England, don’t think about it, they will beat anyone anyday, their high pressing play will terrorize the best of teams, but what happens when Virgil Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alison are injured? Add to that a loss of form or injury to Mo Salah and you just might have a Bournemouth side in this Klopp sheets.
Liverpool have won every of their last five against the Seagulls, this isn’t expected to be different, it will be fun to the neutrals but not so much for Chris Houghton.
Player to Watch: Mohammed Salah
Verdict: Liverpool to win
Leicester vs Southampton
King Power Stadium
Leicester are the new giant killers, they dusted Manchester City, unbelievable, went to Stamford bridge and Goodison Park and returned with all the points on offer, they did reminded us of how unpredictable they are with the loss to Cardiff, one the bookmakers didn’t see coming but they won’t be a very interesting hosts for Southampton at all.
The last two games at the KP Stadium between these two have ended in goaless draws, this might head towards that direction too, they have different motivations and will both follow their dreams the way they know how to.
Talking tactics, these sides are similar, not much flair would be on display of course except some moments of brilliances from few individuals like Nathan Redmond and Demarai Gray, but expect efficient runs and crazy long balls in the directions of Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin; Both teams will play in the middle, inside runs and fierce tackles, the Saints will not go down, at least not this season and don’t be shocked if they do avoid defeat here.
The Foxes have been the better of the two on records over five fixtures, but Southampton did record an emphatic 3:0 success in January of 2017, their only win in five where they lost twice and fought out stalemates twice.
Player to watch: Jamie Vardy
Verdict: Saints to win or draw
Crystal Palace vs Watford
Palace are defying odds, they look like a team that wants to fight for everything, results on some funny occasions do hurt after giving so much but they will forever cherish their performance in the win over Manchester City at the Etihad, one that remains forever golden in their race this season.
Watford were menacing in the first half of their 3:3 draw at Bournemouth, they managed to lose an early two goal lead and when they were 3:2 up, they still conceded from a Ryan Fraiser tap in, that must be one game to learn from, on tenacity and carelessness.
This game is between a team that wants to keep up momentum and push for a mid table finish and the other that wants to completely steer clear of the relegation zone, what a game this would be for the neutrals, imagine Wilfried Zaha running at Sema and whoever Jarvi Gracia calls on to play on the right flank and Delofeu charging at Wan Bissaka and Van Aanholt on the other end…
Palace will rely on their records on this ground against the Hornets and go all out, they have won the last two at Selhurst while the other three of the last five between these two had two stalemates and one Roberto Peyrera inspired win for Watford earlier in the season.
Player to watch: Roberto Peyrera
Verdict: Watford to win or draw
Chelsea vs Newcastle
Chelsea must win here, or else they won’t be taken seriously even in the top four race. The Blues have been very edgy of late, top striker issues persist as Olivier Giroud struggles for fitness and Alvaro Morata remains a subject of transfer amidst confidence crisis, he did score twice in their success over Nottingham Forest last weekend but fired blank in their midweek loss in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinals at Wembley.
Newcastle are basically fighting against relegation this season, they have nothing in that squad to compete and are basically just surviving on the tinkering abilities of their manager, Rafael Benitez; they gave everything in their 2:0 reverse at home to Manchester United, but they will need to strengthen in this current window to have hopes of finishing above the relegation zone.
Chelsea bossed the last five between the two, winning four of the five except for the heavy Toon Army victory at the tail end of last season in what nailed Antonio Conte’s coffin.
Earlier in the season, it was a super late Marcus Alonso’s winner that handed the Blues the win, they shouldn’t have to labor that much here.
Player to watch: Eden Hazard
Verdict: Chelsea to win
Sunday 13th January
Everton vs Bournemouth
This should be entertaining, Marco Silva under the heat against Bournemouth who just can’t stop shipping goals despite being sharp upfront, the 3:3 drama against Watford readily comes to mind.
Whatever it was that happened to Everton on day one of the year must be effectively analyzed, they didn’t play well, they were too casual like holiday hangover rested only on their shoulders, apart from a Lucas Digne square play that ended at the feet of the vastly inexperienced Jonjo Kenny, Everton offered nothing of note going forward in that horrific year opener.
Bournemouth are known to blow hot and cold, in split seconds, they were shambolic at the opening stages of their league game against Watford and then sprung to life and would wonder what would have happened if they had buried their late chances.
These two sides basically need wins to help their respective moods, the Cherries crashed out of the FA Cup after another loss to Brighton, they can concentrate on the league though, but wouldn’t they have loved to fancy their chances in the tournament?
Pretty even in the last five between the two, two pins apiece and a stalemate, presenting to us a game of high intensity if they both come to the party, let’s enjoy our Sunday afternoon.
Players to watch: Richarlison/Ryan Fraiser
Verdict: A score draw
Tottenham vs Manchester United
This is unarguably the fixture of the round, Tottenham, a title pretender, waxing strong and defying odds up against a rejuvenated Manchester United, another game to enjoy in the haze of the capital.
Whatever it was that happened at Old Trafford in August should be forgotten quickly, this is a brand new Manchester United, yes we know we said the same after Luis Van Gaal won some few games, yes we said the same when Jose Mourinho started out, but the confidence in the team, the attitude of the boys and the aura around say something special about this new atmosphere and the hopes are up again.
Manchester United dusted Newcastle, even though they had to be patient, they bided their time and Dubravka gifted Lukaku the opener, you must be fair to acknowledge the hunger of the big Belgian; they went further to beat Reading for their FA Cup opener, extending Ole Gunnar Solksjaer winning streak, matching Sir Matt Busby’s records of opening five games victory, that is under threat now as Harry Kane and Co won’t be kind to them.
The unavailability of Heung Min Son for the National Stadium tenants means a lot, he is probably the most dangerous of the lots, but with Dele Alli in red hot form, Harry Kane eyeing the golden boot and Kristen Eriksen on fire, United will not find Tottenham interesting on Sunday.
How will they line up? Romelu Lukaku is pushing for a start, three goals in three games, two as a super sub and you’d feel he deserves it, the bull will muscle his way back to the starting line up soon if not at Wembley on Sunday; United will keep it simple, attack fiercely and defend intelligently, Spurs will go all out too, this result means everything to them, a stalemate won’t be a bad result for either side.
The hosts have the better of the recent head to head records with three wins in five, but United of course have more wins overall.
Players to watch: Anthony Martial/Harry Kane
Verdict: Spurs to win or draw
Monday 14th January
Manchester City vs Wolves
By the time the Citizens kick off here, they could be seven points behind again and must win to close the gap, but remember their first dropped points of the season happened at the Molineux, home of the newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Citizens have been brutal of late, they shipped seven past their opponents in the FA Cup last weekend and rammed nine past Burton Albion few days later, the mood is electrifying at the Etihad Stadium and nothing seems to be capable of stopping them at the moment.
Wolves beat Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, a great feat, making it a complete haul of the scalps of the big boys; They got a point from City, Arsenal and United, beat Chelsea and Spurs, all in the league and also dumped the Kops from the FA Cup, that is massive and worthy of attention.
This game will only head one way going by what we have on paper, this City side will be merciless on Monday, but they have to remember that these guys sure know how to tame the lion…
On the head to head over the last five and current form, it’s pointing in the directions of the Citizens, Liverpool should be handed the trophy if it goes otherwise.
Player to watch: Sergio Aguero
Verdict: Straight win City
Strictly the writer’s opinion