Agüero vs Costa this weekend. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
Man City vs Chelsea
Undoubtedly, the star game of the weekend. One the one hand, we have Chelsea: the leaders on a 7-game winning streak and with only one league goal conceded in the last two months. On the other hand: the Blues are going to Etihad, where City haven’t lost a game this season – and they’ve even took out Barcelona there. To make this tie even close – both teams in question have won their previous games 2-1 despite conceding the opening goals. Both are also having the most serious Golden Boot contenders among their ranks: so far, Diego Costa and Sergio Agüero have been leaving all other Premier League goalscorers in the dust.
Up to this point, all the evidence of form and potential by those teams pointed to a draw. However, there’s one thing that separates them. The finishing. City’s home draws against Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough saw them creating dozens of chances and failing to find the net again, again and again. The same pattern repeated last week at Burnley, where only The Clarets’ clumsy defending was the difference between a draw and three points for the visitors. Because of that, I predict Chelsea (10 goals from 24 shots on target in the last four games!) to narrowly take it. Expect a cagey game either way. Prediction: Man City 0 Chelsea 1.
Stoke vs Burnley
After a miserable start, Stoke have really slipped on the fifth gear recently. They’ve only lost once in the last eight Premier League games and convincingly beat sides like Sunderland, Hull and Swansea – which earlier on, were expected to be their direct rivals in a potential struggle to stay up. Now, with Joe Allen and Xherdan Shaqiri both fit, eligible to play and in a decent shape, The Potters can safely adjust their expectations and fight for the same mid-table finish they’ve always been able to achieve in the last couple of seasons. A home win against Burnley on Saturday could be a good second or third step.
— @SoccerAnswer (@socceranswer) November 27, 2016
Both teams are coming to this game without their star goalkeepers – as Jack Butland is still unfit following the ankle injury he sustained in March and Tom Heaton is recovering from a calf problem that ruled him out from the Manchester City game. Stoke also have more defensive absentees in Phil Bardsley, Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron – but the good result and sturdy defending they pulled off without those players at Watford should give them the confidence to do the same here. As of Burnley: they’ll probably park the bus again and boot it to Sam Vokes. But I doubt if that’s gonna be enough. Prediction: Stoke 1 Burnley 0.
Sunderland vs Leicester
Let’s face it: both of those teams are dire. Sunderland were kicking and screaming at Anfield last week but they’ve lost in the end and the only lasting impression they’ve left from that game has been stamped on Coutinho’s right ankle. After that game, Mackems are back to being dead last with 9 defeats in 13 league games. While this goes on, Leicester have ended the November with two draws, two defeats and zero league wins. And even though the title holders are doing great in the Champions League – this is more or less a do-or-die game for them; either they win it or condemn themselves to a relegation dogfight.
At the moment, Sunderland’s chances in this fixture look preferable. They’re at home, with at least couple player finding a half-decent form and Jermain Defoe still capable of bagging goals from very few chances his teammates are providing him with. At the same time, Foxes’ star duo of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy continues to disappoint and the absence of injured Kasper Schmeichel in goal directly translates into a far less organised defending from Claudio Ranieri’s lads. All in all, this will most likely be an extremely scrappy, narrow win for the host – and probably a game of five times more bookings than goals. Prediction: Sunderland 2 Leicester 1.
Bad memories: last year, Harry Kane scored an own goal against Swans.
Tottenham vs Swansea
No matter how you look at it, this is a must-win match for Spurs. So far this season, they drew way too many games to keep up with the leaders and embarrassed themselves in the Champions League. A home win against a relegation-haunted Swansea is therefore a must: if it doesn’t happen, Mauricio Pochettino and his lads will be doomed to a long battle with Manchester United for an Europa League spot. If it does happen though… with Harry Kane back to fitness and Christian Eriksen finally unlocking his goalscoring record, Tottenham could potentially enter one more epic Premier League race with their Arsenal nemesis.
Swansea are coming to White Hart Lane with some confidence gained in a crazy 5-4 victory over Crystal Palace – but how much confidence is it, really? For one, last week, they were trailing through almost 90 minutes against one of the worst Premier League teams this season, only to rescue all three points in the injury time. Also, the team still has not found it’s optimal defensive setup: so far, we’ve seen Federico Fernández, Jordi Amat, Mike van der Hoorn and Alfie Mawson rotating as the centre-back and the results were always appalling. Since Kane is back in contention, this match could follow that trend. Prediction: Tottenham 3 Swansea 0.
West Bromwich vs Watford
As usual, West Brom and their ultra-solid, safety-first brand of football are doing rather well in the Premier League this season. With Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips back in the team, they’ve just wiped the floor with Burnley at Hawthorns and picked up a draw at Hull – in both cases, after fairly good performances. With 17 points to their name already, they could be well on course to achieve their ultimate dream and further improve the record tally of 43 points they’ve reached at the end of 2015/16 campaign. On one condition, though: they absolutely have to win games like this one.
Still: it’s a strong candidate for one of the most boring games of the season. Because Watford are not far off from the insipid, super-defensive approach their Saturday rivals are perfecting. Walter Mazzarri’s lads have just swallowed a bitter pill at home against Stoke and they’ll be likely to dig in even further this week – just to stop the bleeding. Will we see out-of-form Odion Ighalo teaming up with Troy Deeney as their strike force? Or will Juan Zuñiga replace suspended Miguel Britos? Either way – expect a very quiet game in which hosts should have an upper hand (but maybe not enough to score another win). Prediction: West Brom 0 Watford 0.
Crystal Palace vs Southampton
Palace are truly living the dream these days – and, by ‘the dream’, I mean ‘the nightmare’. Six league game defeats in a row; the second-worst number of goals conceded; zero clean sheets this season; the constant shifts from one, poorly performing goalkeeper (Mandanda) to the other (Hennessey); the shocking inability to defend basic set pieces; the lack of composure to carry good result until the final whistle… Yeah – Alan Pardew’s team is really screwed at the moment. To make things worse: they’ll enter the Satuday match without suspended Yohan Cabaye and injured Connor Wickham – their two half-decent outlets in those dark days.
— Sky Sports MNF ⚽️ (@SkySportsMNF) November 21, 2016
To make things worse: they’re up against Southampton. The Saints comfortably took out Everton last week. On Wednesday, they took out Arsenal’s makeshift team in the League Cup – and will be looking to do the same to The Eagles at Selhust Park. Even without their main creator, the injured Dusan Tadić, who broke his nose on international duty, Claude Puel’s players are more than capable to collect three points in London and force Alan Pardew into unemployment. If I had to make bets today: I’d say the hosts will come out all guns blazing, take the early lead, but then implode one more time. Prediction: Palace 1 Southampton 3.
West Ham vs Arsenal
Hammers’ struggles continue. They’ve just been outplayed by Manchester United in the League Cup despite fielding their close-to-optimal side. They’ve won only two out of their last 10 Premier League matches and are well-stuck in the bottom half of the table. Even the deadly skills of Dimitri Payet do not seem to work for them these days. And now, they have to take on Arsenal with Aaron Cresswell, Michail Antonio and Diafra Sakho all on the sidelines. With all those issues piling up, it’s more likely for them to lose badly than to actually pick up a single point from the Saturday game.
And Arsenal? If it wasn’t for Héctor Bellerín’s injury and Mesut Özil’s poor form, all Gooners across the world would have had every reason to be happy. Yes, the team full of back-up players has crashed out of the FPL Cup, but other than that, it did not lose a single game in any competition since the August opening fixture against Liverpool. It might not be enough to compete with the roaring form of Chelsea and Liverpool; it might not be enough to get far in the Champions League. But for this West Ham team, it should be enough. Even with Big Andy Carroll getting back to fitness and starting XI this weekend. Prediction: West Ham 1 Arsenal 2.
Another injury crisis around the corner? Up to this point, Coutinho has been simply fantastic.
Bournemouth vs Liverpool
The Cherries fought really hard at Emirates last Sunday, but lost – and much of the same could be expected here. Eddie Howe’s team has a brilliant fighting spirit and a lot of resilience – but most of the top-notch teams remain way beyond their reach. On Sunday, they will likely be without Charlie Daniels and Jordon Ibe, who were their main threats down the left wing this season. What is their plan going to be – defend 0-0 at all cost and rely on some set-pieces? Because that’s what Sunderland have tried to pull off not against Liverpool just couple of days ago. And eventually – they failed.
Fortunately for Bournemouth, Jürgen Klopp has his own problems. The Reds will have to live with Philippe Coutinho’s absence for several weeks – perhaps he won’t even play until the New Year’s Eve. Roberto Firmino is also carrying a knock and Adam Lallana is just about to return from his injury – all while a bunch of thickly-packed fixtures are around the corner. I fully expect Scousers to win this game anyway, but it will be their performance that shall tell how much they’ll suffer from Coutinho’s setback. Let’s just hope it won’t be that big of a deal – otherwise, Chelsea could run away with the trophy by the end of January… Prediction: Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 3.
Everton vs Man United
Last weekend, Everton looked very much traumatized by the 0-5 defeat to Chelsea – and I’m fairly sure they’ll carry that trauma to this week’s fixture too. The problem for Ronald Koeman is that even though his team can occasionally get a result, they’re all relying on Idrissa Gueye having one blinder after another and Lukaku having his shooting boots constantly on. When either of those assets falls short – there’s noone else left to carry that team. Especially Ross Barkley has not turned out to be the player capable of doing that: so far, he’s been so anonymous that even Yannick Bolasie easily outperformed him.
“Not good enough”.
Ronald Koeman has criticised Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 28, 2016
Meanwhile, Manchester United are jumping from game to game with no consistency whatsoever. They went to Swansea – and won easily. Hosted Arsenal – and drew what looked like a won game. Hosted Feyenoord – and won easily. Hosted West Ham – and drew what looked like a won game. Hosted West Ham again – and won easily… According to the pattern, this should be yet another bottle job by Paul Pogba and friends. But since MU’s recent results were worse than their performances and Everton are another team known for notorious failures – I’ll give José Mourinho and his the benefit of the doubt on this one. Prediction: Everton 1 Man United 2.
Middlesbrough vs Hull
The two lowest-scoring teams in the league meet in a clash of freshly promoted sides. Last year, in the Championship, Tigers might’ve destroyed Boro in front of their fans – but they were still beaten by an injury-time goal when they went to Riverside Stadium. It might very well happen again. Aitor Karanka has assembled a much stronger pack of players who might not be scoring too many goals but are very hard to break. 0-0 at Arsenal, 1-1 at Man City, 2-2 at Leicester – those are very respectable results for the northerners, whose only ambition is to stay clear out of relegation. For good or worse: they’re the favourites to win this weekend.
There’s not too much to say about their opponents. Hull have pulled off rather miraculous wins over Leicester and Southampton but have been otherwise very poor. With Abel Hernández suffering from a groin injury, Will Keane having a season-ending tear in his knee ligaments and Dieumerci Mbokani being suspended for the red card shown to him in a cup game – Mike Phelan’s team is out of guns. To be quite honest: in the state that teams is in right now, I don’t expect them to avoid relegation. Maybe after some January transfers… But for now, I think their fate is rather grim. Prediction: Middlesbrough 2 Hull 1.