No time for resting in the Premier League, just keep on running! Three high-pressure matches in a week with so much at stake has to take a lot out of the players. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few injuries today from over-stretching those tired muscles. At least they’re young 😉
As always when the season is reaching the end, there’s a lot to play for in many of these matches and no obvious winners as the teams in danger suddenly find determination and resolve. Let’s see how well I do this week.
Southampton go on the road to the Greater Birmingham suburb of West Bromwich, where they’ll face the Albion. Tony Pulis teams are always good defensively but the Baggies also have some pretty good attacking players. The Saints’ form has been on and off all season, so it’s possible this will be an on day and they’ll get the win, but I doubt it. I think this will be a draw.
Leicester, with their poor away record, travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. Many of the Toffees will still be smarting from Ronald Koeman’s tirade over their play against Liverpool, although their play against Manchester United was much better. They’ll be without Ashley Williams, who picked up a rather unfortunate red card, but Phil Jagielka is in terrific form. I expect Everton to keep the Foxes out and get the win.
Watford managed to get a win at home over West Brom on Tuesday but I think they’ll find it harder against Spurs at White Hart Lane. Victor Wanyama should be available and there are rumours, unlikely I think, that Harry Kane may be ready to play some part. Whoever plays I think Spurs have too much quality in depth and will take the three points.
Stoke have picked up precisely one point from their last four matches and having Liverpool visit doesn’t offer too good a prospect of them turning that miserable streak around. The Reds are playing pretty good football at the moment, even without Sadio Mane, but have trouble against teams in the lower half of the table. With Stoke now in 12th place that could be an omen. A draw wouldn’t surprise me but I think Liverpool will be good enough to win.
Swansea takes its fading survival hopes on the road to the London Stadium, where they’ll play West Ham. Despite the Swans’ travails this season they’re only five points behind the Hammers. They played very well against Spurs on Wednesday while the Hammers, after a reasonable start, caved in against Arsenal and are now on a five-game losing streak. Alfie Mawson looks better and better and I think Swansea may keep their hopes alive with a win here.
Bournemouth, following their excellent draw at Anfield, host Chelsea. As a Spurs fan I’d like to think the Cherries can raise their game again and keep the Blues to at most one point but I doubt it. Eden Hazard’s form alone can take this Chelsea team past most others and he also has a pretty good supporting cast. It pains me to say so but I think Chelsea will win.
Manchester City come off their loss at Chelsea to face a resurgent Hull City at the Etihad. The Tigers have three wins in their last four matches while City have three draws and a loss in theirs, but those figures don’t mean a lot when you compare the quality of the two sides. I’d be very surprised if City don’t get the win here.
Middlesbrough at home to Burnley
This is another survival battle, as Middlesbrough try to pick themselves up after that loss to Hull and get some points on the board. Their strong defence, one of the best in the league all season, conceded four on Wednesday while trying to be more attacking. It certainly makes for more entertainmentbut doesn’t help get the wins needed to stay in the Premier League.
When they play three out-and-out forwards, in Rudy Gestede, Alvaro Negredo and Adama Traore, they leave themselves weaker in midfield and put more pressure on their defence, as happened on Wednesday. But on the other hand they must score to survive, which gives Steve Agnew some very difficult choices to make.
He has three defenders out injured, in Chambers, Fabio and Friend, and the backline of Barragan, Ayala, Gibson and Husband had a poor match on Wednesday, so perhaps he has no choice but to go for it and take his chances.
Burnley, after their win against Stoke, are becoming comfortable with only three more points needed to pretty well ensure safety, which they’ll surely earn at home where their form has been excellent. But their away form is different. In fifteen matches they’ve earned the grand total of three points, all from draws, leaving them as the only team in the league without an away win.
Can they get one here? Possibly they can but I think Boro, with their limited defensive options, will take the game to them as best they can. Adama Traore showed on Wednesday that he can be more disciplined in his play and set up opportunities for others and he’s capable of terrorizing any defence. Given their desperate situation I think Boro will keep on keeping on and scrape the win.
Prediction: Middlesbrough win 1-0
Crystal Palace at home to Arsenal
Two days ago I was thinking this might be another nail in Arsene Wenger’s managerial coffin, but it looks as though things may have changed. Palace on Wednesday lost at Southampton to two late goals while Arsenal, after a fairly even first half, sailed imperiously past West Ham in the second with some of their swagger back.
Palace played solid defence for 80 minutes against Southampton but then gave away two late goals as they lost focus and concentration, to leave them still in danger just three points above Swansea and one above Hull. They still have to play Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United after Arsenal, so they need to pick up some points somewhere.
They have a huge injury list right now with eight players definitely unavailable. These include four defenders – Dann, Souare, Tomkins and van Aanholt – as well as their best deep midfielder in Yohan Cabaye. Definitely not what you want when facing Arsenal.
The Gunners have had a miserable time of it lately with some pretty dispiriting results, but they turned that around in the second half against West Ham, finally starting to look like themselves. Ozil, the butt of much criticism following his rather uncommitted display against Manchester City, got it together and showed what he can do.
Right now they’re sitting fifth in the table, four points behind Manchester City with a game in hand and six behind Liverpool with two games in hand, so they have everything to play for. I still don’t understand why Olivier Giroud only comes off the bench these days but he often scores when he does, giving Arsenal a late challenge to a tiring defence. I can see this match being something of a grind, with Palace trying to play solid defence and keep Arsenal out. But I think the Gunners will take it towards the end, as Palace tire.
Prediction: Arsenal win 2-1
Sunderland at home to Manchester United
When I picked this match to write about I was thinking it might be super-important, in terms of both relegation and a top four finish. But it looks less so now. Sunderland’s truly miserable run, earning them just a single point from their last six league matches, has pretty well doomed them already. And United’s inability to finish has meant them dropping back compared to the other clubs at the top.
It’s not that Sunderland lack adventure. They attack well and are always dangerous with Defoe in the middle but somehow they can’t score at the moment. They hit the woodwork, or a hot goalie, or they miscue the shot and it goes wild. They really need someone other than Defoe to threaten the opponent’s goal and perhaps now Anichebe is back they’ll have that extra edge.
Their injury list is finally getting down to a more manageable size, with only four players definitely unavailable. But David Moyes has to find something – not desire, which they seem to have, but perhaps tactical sense – to give them even a small chance of escaping the drop. But I don’t think he’s capable.
As for United, Jose Mourinho must be gnashing his teeth at their inability to win matches they dominate. Against Everton on Tuesday they had most of the possession, more shots, more passes, better passing accuracy, and more tackles and yet only equalized because of a penalty for a handball by Ashley Williams as he tried and failed to head the ball clear.
To me this looks like a typical Mourinho team, one that wears down the opposition by constant pressure rather than one that opens them up by clever team play. The team depends on individual brilliance – and there are plenty of individuals with that brilliance – rather than clever passes and great movement. When it works it looks great, but when it doesn’t their only answer seems to be to bear down harder and keep on with the same style of play.
Who is the forward playmaker? That’s not Pogba’s game, it’s certainly not Fellaini’s (don’t giggle), and Michael Carrick plays a deeper role. Herrera and Mata might be the closest United have but they’re more industrious than clever.
I realize I’m going out on a limb here but I would not be at all surprised if the Black Cats took the game to United and managed to get a draw. United are by far the better team but they clearly lack something that makes me reluctant to pick them even though I probably should.
Prediction: Draw 1-1
Thanks for reading and I hope you liked the music. Feel free to disagree with my predictions and leave a comment or two – we appreciate it.
Tottenham Hotspur Contributor
Header image of Alfie Mawson courtesy of readswansea.com
Music by The Spencer Davis Group