Written by Rhys Paul
Slowly bigger gaps are beginning to appear between those competing at the top of the Premier League and those at the bottom. December is a notoriously busy period for clubs and the fixtures will soon begin to pile up as Christmas approaches, so teams will be eager to register as many points as they can before 2016 is out. Week 14 offers an intriguing set of fixtures, not least because some teams are becoming increasingly desperate for a win. There are several match-ups that have the potential to be very evenly-contested and they could swing either way.
Manchester City and Chelsea kick things off in what is arguably the most eye-catching fixture from a neutral point of view. Sunderland find themselves bottom of the table again, but they can at least take consolation knowing their opponents, Leicester City are only five points above them and in something of a rut themselves. Tottenham will hope to make ground on the top four as they host a Swansea City side riding high after last week’s late thriller against Crystal Palace who themselves take on Southampton. Stoke will seek to continue their rise up the table with a win over Burnley, whilst West Brom and Watford will both seek to return to winning ways at the expense of the other. Arsenal travel to West Ham in Saturday’s late kick-off in what seems the most predictable result of the weekend given the form of the two teams. Sunday sees Bournemouth attempt to hold Liverpool’s attacking prowess and Everton clash with Manchester United in a contest that usually entertains. Middlesbrough and Hull feature on Monday night with only one point separating the two promoted teams at this stage of the season.
Of those games, these are the three I believe you should keep your eye on this weekend:
Manchester City vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 12.30pm)
Can anybody stop Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 Chelsea? He is set to name an unchanged line-up for the seventh consecutive week. In that time Chelsea did not concede in six and stormed to the top of the Premier League. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have rediscovered the form of two years previous and Victor Moses has been a rejuvenated figure this season. Ending Tottenham’s unbeaten record last weekend will have also done
Pep Guardiola’s City have not been quite as dominant as some people had predicted, but they are getting wins under their belt. They can leapfrog Chelsea with a win against the West London side and that is certainly in their capabilities with Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan expected to return to the starting XI. There still appears to be an over-reliance on Sergio Aguero – as evidenced with their narrow win over Burnley – but, with a player of his talent in their ranks, City are always in with a chance.
City have made the most changes to their starting XI this season. On the contrary, Chelsea have made the least. Both systems have so far done the job, but it’s clear that one of the managers is still trying to discover his best team. They should both be up there by the end of the season regardless of the result, but it is hard to separate the two on this occasion. Chelsea are winning with more style and dominance at the minute, but City are doing what they can to grind out results.
Prediction: Draw (1-1)
Sunderland vs. Leicester City (Saturday, 3pm)
Two teams who need a win. Leicester are floating dangerously close to the relegation zone with people even beginning to tip them to do the unthinkable once again this season – albeit at a different end of the table. Jamie Vardy is looking more like a one-season wonder with each passing game and Riyad Mahrez continues to be the only one who exerts the quality of last season, but even that comes in flashes. They’re shipping in more goals than their attack can counter-weigh and that is a very dangerous combination.
Sunderland are slightly unlucky to find themselves holding up the rest of the table (again). Obviously any team in that position deserves to be there, but two consecutive wins were undone by a 2-0 defeat at Anfield. They did not necessarily perform badly and it was no surprise that Liverpool’s quality triumphed in the end. Jermain Defoe and Victor Anichebe have been key to Sunderland’s few successes and any hope of victory will likely depend on their respective performances.
Leicester are due a win, if only just to drag them away from the teams below them and put to bed the growing number of critics believing the drop is on the cards for the defending champions. Sunderland are forever destined to occupy the relegation zone, especially at this time of the year. Saying that, Leicester’s dodgy defence could suffer at the hands of the Defoe-Anichebe combination.
Prediction: Leicester win (2-1)
Everton vs. Manchester United (Sunday, 4pm)
This is game which both teams should view as winnable. United were many people’s favourites for the title, but under Jose Mourinho they have made their worst start to a Premier League season. They have continuously struggled to find any consistency and that has been reflected with their inability to string together more than a couple of wins since the opening weeks of the season. The form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba seems to be crucial to their success, however it is surely time for Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to be given a prolonged run in the team. Wayne Rooney’s absence through suspension is unlikely to have much of an impact.
Similarly, Everton’s early season form has derailed in recent weeks with the club winless in three league games. Romelu Lukaku continues to go missing at times, so maybe it is no surprise that his last goal(s) came in Everton’s most recent victory over a month ago. Even then, Ronald Koeman’s men have won just once in their last eight. James McCarthy is expected to be back and Yannick Bolasie continues to create chances for his teammates, so an upturn in fortunes should be on the cards in the near future.
In spite of a few recent victories at home, Everton’s record against United is woeful and Lukaku’s record against United is equally as woeful. I do think United need the win more than Everton and it is the type of game where I can see United scraping a win. It will definitely be close, but United just edge it on sheer necessity.
Prediction: United win (1-0)
What fixture stands out for you this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!
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