Premier Premonitions – So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You

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So long, it’s been good to know you. A term that applies at least to Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hull City, White Hart Lane, and Claudio Ranieri, possibly to Arsene Wenger, surely to David Moyes, hopefully (please, please) to Jose Mourinho, and definitely to me. Yes folks, this is my last Premier Premonitions. I’ve been writing this for three-and-a-half years now and I need something different. But I’m going out with a bang, or at least with a musical special that I hope has something for everyone.

Before I start dissing clubs and people in my usual style I’d like to start with some mentions of managers I think deserve respect. Mauricio Pochettino is definitely up there for me as a Spurs fan, but so is Antonio Conte for the job he’s done this season at Chelsea. Arsene Wenger, for all his troubles this season, deserves a lot of respect for what he’s done for Arsenal over the years, and to be fair we should also acknowledge Sean Dyche at Burnley, Craig Shakespeare at Leicester, Paul Clement at Swansea, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, and Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. I didn’t include people whose idea of building a team is going out with their employer’s very large cheque book in hand.

All games this week are played at the same time, 10 am ET or 3 pm in the UK on Sunday, in case other results are important to certain teams. Of course given smartphones and instant news everyone knows what’s happening in the other games anyway but the idea is good.

Let’s start with Burnley hosting West Ham. Burnley have been pretty good at home and pretty awful away all season, hence their lowly position. The Hammers have been pretty miserable while settling in to their new home, hence theirs. Certainly being at Turf Moor favours Burnley but I rather think the Hammers will step up and earn yet another draw.

Up at the King Power Stadium Bournemouth visit Leicester City, where Jamie Vardy will once again be the fox on the run. Leicester have found themselves again under Craig Shakespeare and have had a much improved last part of the season, while the Cherries continue in their inconsistent but entertaining ways. Adam Smith has blossomed into an excellent full back with pace but I don’t think he’s fast enough to catch Vardy or perhaps Mahrez. I think this will be a home win.

Stoke head South pretty well as far as they can go on land when they visit Southampton. To me Stoke have epitomized mid-table mediocrity this season, with not much going for them other than effort and sometimes winning ugly. If ever a team needed a shake-up this is it. The Saints have not been much better in terms of results but have played far more entertaining and enterprising football. Claude Puel has them at least going in the right direction and if they can hang on to him and some key players I think they’ll do much better next season. I certainly expect this to be a home win.

Bottom of the table Sunderland travel to top of the table and already champions Chelsea. Antonio Conte and the Blues have done a great job this season and are sitting on top of the world. Meanwhile Sunderland are going down, maybe way down unless they make some radical changes. They’ll certainly go down to defeat in this match.

Relegation-bound Hull City end their Premier League stay with a visit by Tottenham Hotspur. Hull have played some very decent football this season but have had a huge amount of injuries to contend with coupled with a bunch of individual mistakes. Their loss to Crystal Palace last Sunday was typical of how they took the game to the other team and ended by shooting themselves in the foot, more than once. I hope that they can come on back soon, although that may be difficult since they’ll probably lose a couple of their best players. Spurs are confirmed in second place and have no pressure so can play with freedom. This could, if persistent rumours are correct, be Kyle Walker’s last game for Spurs as he walks out the door singing Money (That’s What I Want). Perhaps Pochettino will rotate his squad somewhat and give Janssen, Nkoudou, Sissoko and Wimmer an opportunity to play. Whatever he does – even if he leaves out Harry Kane I expect Spurs to win this in style.

Manchester United finish their disappointing season by hosting Crystal Palace. Palace of course are delighted to be still here and will enjoy playing a non-pressure game at a fine stadium like Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho, I expect, will be moanin’ about something at the end of the match no matter the result. He’s such a cry baby. Mockery aside, I think United are strong enough to win this.

Swansea City, surviving when it looked certain for a while there that they were doomed, get a visit from Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. It’s interesting watching the Swans to see how well they can play when they have some confidence. Of course there’s always Gylfi Sigurdsson with his brilliant corners and free kicks that have led to so many goals. West Brom are finishing the season in a fairly decent position but without ever being a team that anyone other than their hardcore supporters want to watch. I think it has a lot to do with Pulis and his liking for that magic bus he employs so often. Despite their relative league positions I think Swansea are the better team and will get the win.

Watford at home to Manchester City

Watford did a remarkably good job when playing Chelsea on Monday, losing 3-2 because of a fairly late goal. Granted, Chelsea had made a number of changes, but it was still a noteworthy performance by the Hornets. Mostly this season they’ve had their wings clipped, and of course it’s hard to take being grounded when you’ve once had wings.

Since they lost Odion Ighalo to the Chinese Super League they seem to have lost their verve. Perhaps too much is being placed on the shoulders of Troy Deeney who, no matter how good he is, cannot possibly carry the load himself.

Etienne Capoue, who started the season so brilliantly, has dropped off quite a bit but on his day can be an excellent player, both for his tackling and his shooting. Tom Cleverley seems to have got a new lease on life at Vicarage Road and has been a pretty good asset, yet somehow the team still lacks quality. Of course if they had a young quality player they’d probably lose him, if not domestically then to the Chinese Super League, who can make multi-millionaires out of average players at this point.

City of course are not totally secure in their Champions League position and would really like to finish third so they don’t have to suffer the ignominy of going through the qualification round. Perhaps Guardiola has learned that even though money talks it doesn’t guarantee success, in the Premier League at least.

It’s easy to make cracks about City, given the money they’ve spent over the last few years and then bringing in the “Best Manager In The World!” and yet failing to win anything and struggling to maintain a Champions League place, but when they’re on they play beautiful football.

The pressure to succeed in every match in every competition every season has made it enormously difficult for successive managers to bring along young players, with the result that the team largely consists of aging mercenaries (and some young mercenaries, to be fair, but they’ve already proved their ability elsewhere).

There’s no doubt City will be up for this and will not be playing squad players, since they need the points. Since it will be a physical game I expect both Toure and Fernandinho to be in the line-up to dominate that midfield, provided there’s another fit right-back to free up Fernandinho from that position. Silva and De Bruyne are capable of opening up any defence and in Jesus and Aguero they have terrific – although small – frontmen who can score goals.

I’d be very surprised at any result other than a resounding City win..

Prediction: City win 3-1

Liverpool at home to Middlesbrough

Liverpool finish their season in the best possible way, with a home match against relegated Middlesbrough. It should, you would think, be a straightforward home win and they will probably need it given the late charge Arsenal are making at the moment.

Liverpool have had a pretty good season considering their squad depth and injury problems, but they’ve managed to draw with Sunderland and lose against Hull City, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City, so their record against struggling teams has not been that good.

Two of their key players are Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane, both of whom have missed large chunks of the season and will be unavailable for this match. On the other hand, Daniel Sturridge is fit and hungry for goals and Philippe Coutinho has found his touch again, so this is a potent team. James Milner deserves to be recognized with that Respect song for his contribution to the team and the rest of the defence seems to have remembered how to defend and have been doing it very well recently.

As for Boro, as I already said they’re going down. They started the season playing fairly attractive football but under Aitor Karanka became more and more defensive, to the point where they were allowing fairly few goals but, with that strong defensive emphasis, scoring even less. Steve Agnew tried to turn it around but it was so ingrained by that point that his cause was hopeless.

Since Steve Agnew took over in March, Boro have played ten league matches, managing just one win, 1-0 over Sunderland, and three draws, one of them 2-2 against Manchester City. They’ve scored 8 goals in those matches while conceding 20, not a recipe for success.

The team is aging and will definitely be retooling next year in the Championship, so quite a few players will be looking to impress potential suitors or perhaps – for the younger ones – trying to show why they should be first team starters. But to no avail, I expect.

Liverpool must be up for this match. Victory will ensure a Champions League place no matter what Arsenal do, and the Anfield atmosphere will be red-hot. I think this will be played at a very fast pace, which suits Liverpool far more than it does Boro, and the Reds will be rampant. Once Liverpool get ahead and Middlesbrough have to come at them it will be all over as the Reds exploit their pace to get behind the defence.

Prediction: Liverpool win 3-0

Arsenal at home to Everton

As I write this Arsene Wenger is probably singing I’m Still Here and feeling a little sad at the reaction of some Arsenal supporters to him after all he’s brought the club. Who knows, a win in the FA Cup Final and he could be still here this time next year.

It must be frustrating for him to see this team apparently just going through the motions and then suddenly firing up and showing what they could have been doing all season instead of just the last three weeks. They’re making quite a charge at the moment and putting a lot of pressure on Liverpool in particular in the race for that last Champions League spot.

But truth be told they’re counting on a miracle. Their fate is no longer in their own hands and they have to hope Liverpool falter against Middlesbrough, a forlorn hope I believe. But anything is possible in this game, as we’ve seen so many times this season.

Alexis Sanchez is one player who could never be accused of going through the motions. He’s a little undisciplined at times but he always gives everything he has in his tank. Unfortunately for the Gunners there’s some big money interest in him that may well see him play elsewhere next season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another who’s given his all but he’s injured and won’t be available for this match.

The Gunners have a very good squad, if they can all get it together, and there’s no reason to think they can’t given their recent form.

Everton are another of those teams that can play excellent football but too often can’t put it together. I really thought at one time this season that they were serious challengers for a Champions League place but alas, they’ve fallen off the pace and can’t now qualify for the Europa League.

Romelu Lukaku has had an excellent season but has too often been isolated up front. At one stage Tom Davies and Ross Barkley were coming through from midfield and, if not scoring themselves, were taking attention away from Lukaku and giving him a little more freedom, but that seems to have lessened.

In fact Everton’s major problem can be seen in their list of goalscorers. Lukaku has 24 league goals this season, followed by Barkley at 5! That’s too much dependence on one player, not a recipe for success. Two potential troublemakers for any defence, in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman, have been allowed to join the England Under-20s team in the Under-20s World Cup finals, leaving not too much attacking prowess on the bench.

I think this will be a close match as Lukaku’s power and strength comes up against Arsenal’s excellent central defence while at the other end Mason Holgate will be severely tested by Sanchez. Granit Xhaka may find himself up against Ross Barkley from time to time, and of course anything can happen when you put two short fuses together, and then there’s Morgan Schneiderlin, another immovable rock.

Physicality in the middle, sweet skill at either end – that about sums it up I think. But I think Arsenal, with their advantage in the net, will have enough to take the points.

Prediction: Arsenal win 2-1

Here’s a list of all the songs:
So Long It’s Been Good to Know You – Woody Guthrie
Respect – Aretha Franklin
Fox On The Run – Sweet
Winning Ugly – The Rolling Stones
Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Howling Wolf (London Sessions)
Going Down – Freddie King
Come On Back – Benny Carter
Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
One Of Our Own – Morrissey
I’m Still Here – Tom Waits
Moanin’ – Bobby Timmons
Cry Baby – Janis Joplin
Brilliant Corners – Thelonious Monk
Magic Bus – The Who
Once Had Wings – Monkeyjunk
Money Talks – AC/DC
I’m Goin’ Down – Bruce Springsteen
I’m Still Here – Jem and the Holograms
Countin’ On A Miracle – Bruce Springsteen
The Big Money – Rush

Well that’s it for me. Thanks for reading and I hope you find something you like in all the musical links here. As always, feel free to leave a comment or two – we appreciate it.
Martin Wills
Tottenham Hotspur Contributor
Twitter @SpursMartin
Header image of Antonio Conte courtesy of irishmirror.ie

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Martin Wills

Martin "The Gentleman" Wills is our Tottenham contributor and lead writer of "Premier Premonitions", online every Thursday.

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