Written by Rhys Paul
Week 7 of the Premier League gets underway on Friday night and there are several fixtures that have the potential to be particularly interesting. Everton and Crystal Palace get things started in a clash between two of the league’s in-form sides. Can Ronald Koeman’s side continue their early push for a top four place? Or will Alan Pardew succeed in securing another three points for a side many believe have the potential to be this year’s Leicester? Liverpool and Manchester United face potential banana skins in the form of Swansea and Stoke respectively. The former have a good track record for springing a surprise whilst the latter are overdue their first win of the season. Chelsea travel to Hull with both sides hoping to respond to back-to-back defeats (funnily enough to the same opposition), although the West London club will be favourites heading into the contest.
David Moyes’ Sunderland remain winless and rooted to the bottom of the table, but West Brom offers the perfect chance for the Black Cats to claim their first three points of the season. West Ham also have a good opportunity to finally get their season on track by ending a run of four consecutive defeats at home to Middlesbrough. Defeat to Burnley brought Watford fans back to reality following strong victories over West Ham and Manchester United. Their opponents this weekend enjoyed a surprising victory against Everton last time out, so Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth will be buoyed heading into the contest. Leicester take on Southampton with both teams still hoping to be in contention for Europe by the end of the season. The former have so far struggled in their title defence, whilst the latter are finally up and running, largely thanks to the form of Charlie Austin.
Burnley host Arsenal in what should be a routine win for the visitors, although football is never that easy and Burnley have already claimed the scalp of Liverpool this season. There is also a top of the table clash between the only two undefeated teams in the league. Manchester City have been in irresistible form and will be hoping to make it seven-out-of-seven with a victory over Tottenham. Spurs have won three on the bounce, but this marks their toughest test to date and it will be a good indication of just how far they can go this season.
A top of the table clash, a must-win game and a fairly even contest on paper, feature in the three games you should keep an eye on this weekend:
West Ham vs. Middlesbrough (Saturday, 3pm)
Make no mistake about it, this is a must-win game for West Ham. It seems ridiculous to be saying such a thing so early in the season, but that is how dire the situation is in East London. After defeats to Watford, West Brom and Southampton, they are in desperate need of a morale boosting victory, particularly against a side they should really be beating. The fact the game is at home adds extra weight to the need for victory with fans needing a pick-me-up to help ease their own disappointment with the new stadium.
Middlesbrough have had a tough few games, but it has got to the stage where they will now be feeling they need to start winning again. They showed enough against Tottenham in the second-half last weekend to suggest they can survive comfortably, but they still look as if they’re gelling as a team. Ironically, both teams will view this as a winnable game and that should make it very open. That could prove to be the difference, especially if West Ham’s defensive and offensive woes continue.
I do honestly feel that if West Ham do not win this then they are in for a long, hard season. A win will set the team up nicely for Crystal Palace and Sunderland after the international break. Middlesbrough will certainly not be pushovers and they will be encouraged to expose the host’s defensive frailties once again. Nevertheless, it seems unthinkable to back West Ham for a win (and to only concede the one in the process), but my gut tells me that this will be similar to the Bournemouth game. Mark Noble noted that it cannot get any worse and I believe him, beginning with a much-needed win against Middlesbrough.
Prediction: West Ham win (2-1)
Tottenham vs. Manchester City (Sunday, 2.15pm – Sky Sports 1)
Arguably the standout game from the weekend, Tottenham and Manchester City put their undefeated records on the line against one another. Pep Guardiola’s flawless start to the season has seen City amass eighteen points out of a possible eighteen. They haven’t slipped up like Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool, and Sergio Aguero is back leading the line after returning from his suspension last weekend. Things look very good indeed, but the first mark on an otherwise perfect record came midweek against Celtic. Whether that will impact their league performance or not, Guardiola’s decision to field a strong side could come back to haunt him.
Tottenham have registered three wins on the bounce, but none of those teams pose quite the same threat as City. It remains to be seen how they cope without Harry Kane, even if Son Heung-min is in his best form since moving to North London. They will need to up their performance significantly if they hope to beat City. Kevin De Bruyne’s absence for City could also be costly and that does even up the playing field. He has played a huge role in City’s success so far this season and his game-changing ability can often be the difference between a win or dropped points when City are lacklustre.
This will be the hardest test for both clubs and it would not be surprising to see them share the points. However, I do believe that City have too much for Tottenham. Guardiola and Pochettino know each other well and I think that will show with Guardiola urging his City team to take the game to Pochettino’s men. I think it will be close, but an in-form Aguero will inflict a first defeat of the season on Tottenham.
Prediction: City win (1-3)
Leicester City vs. Southampton (Sunday, 2.15pm)
Leicester and Southampton are two evenly matched sides. They are likely to both be in contention for Europe, so this games represents a good chance for them to deal an early blow to the other. Saying that, they both head into the game on the back of two very different results and this is a game of contrasts.
Leicester were poor against a United side who had lost three games in a row. They did not look anything like the side that troubled the top teams last season. Southampton were comfortable 3-0 winners against West Ham, but it is a result which is flattering given the state of the Hammers at the moment. Jamie Vardy has struggled to replicate his goalscoring exploits from last season and that has arguably contributed to his team’s mediocre start to the season. On the contrary, Charlie Austin has finally started to find the net on a regular basis for Southampton with five goals in four games. Both sides are in Europe, but the demands of the competition seem to be affecting Leicester more than Southampton. The latter also remain under-estimated, whilst a lot more is expected of the Premier League champions this time around.
Leicester have suffered some big defeats, so the defence is clearly not up to the standards of last season. Southampton’s season is finally up and running, so they should be regarded as the favourites heading into the contest. With seven and eight points respectively, it should be close and, as such, I can see Claudio Ranieri’s men responding to the 4-1 defeat last time out with a hard fought draw with plenty of goals.
Prediction: Draw (2-2)
Are there any other games that are unfortunate to miss out? What are your predictions for these games? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Ungry Young Man