I hadn’t realized there was another full slate of matches on Tuesday and Wednesday! It’s really time for teams at the top and especially at the bottom to throw everything they can at getting the win. Draws are not enough from here on in, so no more parking that bus. I don’t have time to find music and do all the things I usually do, but here’s a quick runthrough of those games.
Burnley play Stoke at Turf Moor. The Clarets could claim to have been a little unlucky to lose to Spurs on Saturday. They were certainly in the game and caused a few problems for Spurs’ defence, while Stoke were losing at Leicester. I think it’s time for Burnley to get another home win here.
Watford, victors over Sunderland, host West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies took a point at Old Trafford on Saturday with a dour defensive display but will be more open at Vicarage Road and will hope to get the win. I think they will.
Arsenal face West Ham at the Emirates. The Hammers had more possession, won more duels, had more successful passes and had more shots, but still managed to lose at Hull. I can’t see them doing any better here, despite the Gunners’ malaise. This is surely three points for the Gunners.
Southampton, coming off that boring draw against Bournemouth, face Chelsea-killers Crystal Palace. Palace now have four wins in a row and have no need to fear anyone in their current form. However, I can’t believe the Saints will allow them an easy time. I rather think this will end up a draw.
Boring, boring Manchester United may actually come to life again with the return from suspension of Ander Herrera and particularly Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They face an Everton side that was strangely subdued at Anfield on Saturday. The Toffees are lucky to not be without Ross Barkley, who really should have been sent off for that potentially leg-breaking tackle on Lovren. I can’t believe Everton will be that poor in this match, although unless they can shore up their defence a little they could be in deep trouble against Zlatan. A draw wouldn’t surprise me but I think United at home are a tough nut to crack and will probably squeak a win.
Liverpool take their excellent form into another home match, this time against Bournemouth. They’ll probably be without Sadio Mane but with Philippe Coutinho showing his considerable talent again the Reds should be good enough to get the win.
And Sunderland, perhaps in their last season in the Premier League for a while, travel to Leicester to play the revitalized Foxes. David Moyes, my vote for least inspiring manager in the Premier League, has to get his team up quickly if they’re to have any hope of surviving. Perhaps they could lure Craig Shakespeare away from Leicester ;-). Leicester’s belief is back and so is their ability to win games, so I think they’ll make it five wins in a row.
Swansea City at home to Tottenham Hotspur
The Swans are flirting with danger right now, just one point out of the drop zone and sporting a -27 goal difference. They only have eight games left while some of their rivals at the wrong end of the table have nine, so they need to turn this around immediately.
I watched their match against Middlesbrough on Sunday and frankly they should have won that game. What sticks with me most though is the frustration so obvious on the face of Gylfi Sigurdsson. He tried to take a quick corner and had to hold off because his team-mates were sauntering up the field instead of recognizing the opportunity with the Boro defence not set. He had a number of terrific crosses with nobody really attacking them and then looked disgusted at the end of the match. That suggests to me that all is not well in the Swansea dressing room.
It’s not that they’re playing especially poorly or that they’re not putting in the effort. I keep thinking that if they could score the first goal in a match the boost that would give them would result in them going on to score more.
Doing that against this Spurs defence will not be an easy task. Spurs have conceded only 21 goals in 29 matches so far and are in the mood to chase Chelsea as hard as they can. The return fixture at White Hart Lane was an embarrassment to the Swans, as they meekly surrendered five goals without any reply.
This time Spurs will still be without Harry Kane and Danny Rose, lost Harry Winks to injury on Saturday, and have doubts about the readiness of Victor Wanyama. However they have more than adequate replacements at every position.
Presumably Kyle Walker will be back at right wing-back and Dembele will be in midfield. If Wanyama’s not available I’d like to see the three-man defence consist of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and ?? – Davies, Wimmer, Carter-Vickers? – with Dier moved up alongside Dembele. Please, anyone but Sissoko. But Pochettino will decide.
I think this will be a good footballing game with plenty of entertainment but not too many goals. Spurs’ midfield is very strong and should be able to control the tempo but the loss of Kane will again affect their ability to make the most of their opportunities, unless Janssen can start to find the net. But I expect Spurs to have enough quality to win.
Prediction: Tottenham win 2-1
Chelsea at home to Manchester City
Chelsea, having been shocked out of any complacency by their surprising loss to Crystal Palace, will surely be looking to take all three points here and firm up their position at the top. They certainly can’t afford to lose while Spurs win, since the gap would then be down to only four points.
I don’t expect to see any panic moves from Antonio Conte after that loss. His system of three defenders has worked well ever since he introduced it and there’s no reason why it can’t continue that way. Perhaps Willian will come in for Fabregas or Pedro but there are really no other changes to be made.
City are playing nice football but without getting the results you would expect given their personnel. The attacking setup favoured by Guardiola has resulted in only nine goals in their last six Premier League matches, a statistic that surprises me. Perhaps more surprising is that this throw-caution-to-the- wind approach has only allowed four goals to be conceded. It may of course have something to do with the quality of the opposition – Swansea, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Stoke, Liverpool and most recently Arsenal, who scored two of them.
It was interesting watching Yaya Toure on Sunday. He came on at half-time and looked pretty poor for his first ten minutes or so. Then he found the pace and settled down and started to look like a quality midfielder again, involved in everything. Of course he had the benefit of playing alongside Fernandinho, for my money the best defensive midfielder in the league at the moment, so managed to get away with a few mistakes that could have been costly.
I expect Chelsea to take the game to City and press high up the field, especially on the full-backs. Meanwhile Costa will be trying to get one-on-one with either of John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi, annoying them and hoping to draw fouls in dangerous areas. Meanwhile Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling will be looking for opportunities to use their pace to get behind the Chelsea defence.
I suspect many fans will be hoping for a City win, since it would keep the race for the title open for a little longer and perhaps make for a down-to-the-wire finish. Some others, notably Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal fans, will be hoping for a Chelsea win. But I don’t think either group will get what they want.
Prediction: Draw 2-2
Hull City at home to Middlesbrough
Now down to the bottom, where Middlesbrough have their second six-pointer in four days. They drew with Swansea on Sunday, which would have been considered a decent result earlier in the season but is just not enough at this stage. Meanwhile Hull took care of business with their gritty 2-1 comeback win over West Ham.
Hull are, in my opinion, the only one of the bottom three likely to escape relegation. Since the appointment of Marco Silva as manager on January 5th they’ve played ten league matches, winning four and drawing two. That record all season would have them sitting in 9th place at the moment with 42 points. They’re currently one point behind Swansea, four behind Crystal Palace and five behind Burnley, so have every chance to escape. But they must win this match.
The difference is belief, and it shows in their attitude. They’ll compete for balls they would earlier have quit on, they’ll take shots when they would have been trying to pass the responsibility to someone else. In fact they’re quite entertaining to watch at the moment.
Andrea Ranocchia has provided anticipation and determination to the defence and has helped Harry Maguire show what he can do. Andrew Robertson has stepped up his game and uses his pace to great effect on the left side. N’Diaye, Clucas and Huddlestone have stiffened up the midfield and provided defensive cover, and Grosicki and Niasse have been a boon up front.
Boro have also changed managers, although more recently. Steve Agnew took over the reins from Aitor Karanka on March 16 and has changed his team’s style of play for the better. Boro’s defensive record has been excellent all season but they’ve lacked adventure, resulting in scoring only 20 goals in their 29 matches. Not that they’ve started scoring yet but they are certainly creating more opportunities.
Their most exciting player – nothing to do with his ridiculous haircut – is of course Adama Traore, although perhaps I should say half a player. Going forward with the ball at his feet he’s wonderful to watch, his speed and skill taking him past defenders all too easily. But his awareness of his team-mates, his tracking back, tackling and sometimes passing are sadly lacking.
Can Middlesbrough turn things around at the KCOM? I doubt it, with the mood the Tigers are in. I could certainly see them grinding out yet another draw, probably goalless, but I think Hull will get the win.
Prediction: Hull win 2-1
Thanks for reading and I hope you missed the music – I hope to have some more for you on Thursday. Feel free to disagree with my predictions and leave a comment or two – we appreciate it.
Tottenham Hotspur Contributor
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