Written by Rhys Paul.
The Premier League continues to settle down and return to a sense of normality in the wake of the busy late December/early January fixture pile-up. For some, it will be the first time when the FA Cup could impact their performances in the league. For others, nothing less than a win will suffice if they are to achieve what is expected of them, or if they are to keep their heads above water.
Two teams competing at different ends of the table get this week’s fixtures underway as Liverpool host Swansea. Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs throw up five games which could go either way. Manchester United have a very good chance of finally moving above their neighbours across the city, but they will first have to get three points against a Stoke side hoping to further consolidate their position in the top ten. Similarly, West Brom host Sunderland in a contest that could easily be won by the side in more need of the points. West Ham look to be on course for better things and their trip to Middlesbrough will be a good indication as to how far they have come. Bournemouth and Watford have enjoyed solid seasons so far and little has separated the two in terms of points for the majority of the season so far. Crystal Palace are long overdue a win, but they face an Everton side on the back of a 4-0 victory against Manchester City.
Equally, City will need to respond, yet they will have to do so against Tottenham in arguably the standout fixture of the weekend. Southampton are also in danger of becoming complacent and the home game against Leicester appears to be a good chance for them to stop their winless run stretching to five. The same cannot be said for Burnley’s dismal away form as a trip to the Emirates against Arsenal hardly inspires confidence in a side who are yet to win on the road this season. The final game of the weekend sees top-of-the-table Chelsea host Hull in another game where title challengers meet relegation struggles.
Of those games, here are the three you should keep your eye on this weekend:
Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Saturday, 12.30pm)
Currently denied 2nd place on goal difference, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have rightfully established themselves as title challengers this season. Of all the chasing pack, Liverpool should feel the most frustrated that they are seven points behind Chelsea at the top. That is because it is Liverpool who have constantly dropped points in games they should be winning if they are to claim their first Premier League trophy and that is what makes the game against Swansea intriguing.
The Swans find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, but with Sunderland, Hull and Palace all facing teams in the top eight, any point(s) at Anfield could be big. Yet, they have managed to claim only a single point out of a possible twenty-one against teams currently in the top six. Whilst I have doubts about Paul Clement, he has faced a tough start to life in South Wales with Arsenal and Liverpool being the first two sides to welcome him to the Premier League. Liverpool haven’t been as exciting as the team that looked certain to win the league a few months back, but injuries have played their part and they will hit that sort of form again before the season is out.
Philippe Coutinho looks set to return for the first time since November and, along with Nathanial Clyne, that should boost both his teammates and supporters. It’s hard to look past the likes of Firminio, Sturridge, Lallana and the returning Coutinho. Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll look likely to make their Swansea debuts, but neither offers great encouragement, nor the ability to make the immediate impact that Clement has claimed he is looking for in his signings. Realistically, a point seems the only thing Swansea can hope for at Anfield.
Prediction: Liverpool win (2-1)
Manchester City vs. Tottenham (Saturday, 5.30pm)
For two teams who are only three points apart, they are currently enjoying contrasting fortunes. Tottenham, despite being Leicester’s closest challengers for the title before their collapse, continue to play with little pressure on them from outside of North London. In contrast, Pep Guardiola’s City find themselves scrutinised for every mistake and the recent 4-0 defeat to Everton had plenty of them.
After being outplayed and tactically outmaneuvered in the reverse fixture, Guardiola will probably take little comfort knowing he has to respond to such a heavy defeat against tricky opposition. Interestingly, the visitors are looking for their seventh league win a row – the same run that City were on before Spurs brought their unbeaten record under Guardiola to an abrupt end. If you believe football evens itself out, you should keep a close eye on this one.
In terms of team news, both sides have concerns defensively – albeit for differing reasons. John Stones has looked woefully inept as a defender and he looks worryingly exposed alongside Nicolas Otamendi. This is hardly anything new for City who have always struggled in the absence of Vincent Kompany. For Spurs, Jan Vertonghen looks set to miss the clash through injury, but Ben Davies is a more than capable replacement. City are in desperate need of a good win and all the pressure will be on them to claim the three points in front of their own supporters. That could play into the hands of Spurs and, if it does, it could deal a big blow to City’s fading title hopes.
Prediction: Draw (2-2)
Southampton vs. Leicester City (Sunday, 12pm)
A forgetful 0-0 stalemate between the two teams in October probably has you wondering why this fixture has been included as one of the three games to keep an eye on. It simply comes down to this being a game that both sides should be aiming to win and that should hopefully open the game up.
Four defeats in a row have seen the Saints slip down to 13th and a recent injury crisis has done them little favours. A downturn in form has unsurprisingly coincided with Charlie Austin’s injury, but Southampton could face an even tougher task against Leicester if Virgil Van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand are ruled out. Leicester, however, have offered very little all season. Star player, Riyad Mahrez is at the AFCON and – even though his form has been indifferent this season – his absence deprives Leicester of arguably the only player they have with the quality to win a game out of nothing. Jamie Vardy has struggled to make an impact this season, but he should certainly fancy his chances more if he finds himself not having to line-up against Van Dijk.
In recent weeks, Southampton have been let down by their defence. On their day, they have one of the most resolute, disciplined back-lines in the league, but they have failed to keep a clean sheet in the league for over a month. They probably won’t find any better opportunities to stop the rot than against a Leicester side who just seem to be there this season without really doing much else.
Prediction: Southampton win (2-0)
Let us know who your team faces and your predictions for this weekend’s fixtures in the comments below!
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