The Premier League has a full weekend of fixtures after last weekend’s FA Cup distractions are out of the way…yes the FA Cup is a distraction hence why United decided to bow out to focus on more important things such as finishing fourth and the Europa League…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Anyways enough about the other cup (the only important one is the EFL Cup right?) it’s time to look forward to the weekends fixtures with the usual focus on whose out, facts & figures and random opinions. So sit back, read and let us know your thoughts and predictions.
Saturday 18 March
12:30 West Brom Vs Arsenal
Okay, so whats the betting on Arsenal scoring 4 on Saturday, winning with such ease that all of sudden all of the ‘Arsene Out’ banners are put away for another year and Arsenal go on a run of results which easily secure them a top 4 finish. I know I am hoping it isn’t the case as for United to get into the top four we need teams like Arsenal to fall to pieces but they’ve had their wobble, got knocked out of the Champions League at the same stage as previous years and progressed in a cup competition so normally this is where they go on a run and secure Champions League football again by picking up wins, especially against a team who you would expect them to beat. Just look at last year, once they were knocked out of the Champions League they went undefeated in their final 9 league games.
Both teams go into this game with 5 wins out of their last 10 league games and West Brom have picked up more points in their last 5 games than Arsenal have. Yet after beating Lincoln in the FA Cup you would expect Arsenal to start trying to pick up some momentum against West Brom. West Brom have lost both of their games in March, after having a good month in February, and I don’t think they will be able to turn their Spring form around just yet has they have only picked up a single point against a top 6 side so far this season.
West Brom will be going into this game hoping that Matt Phillips returns from injury as this would give Tony Pulis a full squad to pick from. Arsenal on the other hand could be without 3 players with Oxlade-Chamberlain & Kieran Gibbs both having to undergo late fitness tests and Santi Carzola out for the rest of the season.
15:00 Crystal Palace Vs Watford
In the first of these reviews I wrote I mentioned something about ‘Big Sam’ losing his magic and not looking like he may not be able to keep Palace up…they then went on to beat West Brom 2 nil so I wont make any bold predictions about them today. Palace are hovering above the drop zone and know they need to get a good run of wins under their belts if they are going to avoid the drop. Sam seems to have got his defence sorted as they have kept two clean sheets on the bounce and he knows more than most that not conceding is the first part of the battle in keeping a side up. The second part should come easy for Palace with the options they have going forward, yet Zaha, Benteke and Townsend need to get scoring more goals. Palace have had a few absentees with injury and will be hoping to have Remy, Flamini and Mandanda back from injury soon with Van Aanholt and Souare potentially back after the International Break.
Watford are on 31 points which seems to be the number of points which currently rules you out of being in the fight to avoid relegation, yet they will know that this can soon change and losing to rivals who are below them could soon see them sucked into the race to avoid the drop. Watford have picked up 12 points on the road and will be hoping to add to that, especially against a Palace side who have only gained 10 of their 25 points at home. Watford go into the game knowing they have lost Zarate for at least the rest of the season after he damaged his ACL at the end of February. They will be hoping to have Capoue, Pantillimon, Armrabat and Janmaat available this weekend, yet will still be awaiting the return of Kabasele, Watson and Pereyra who are out for the foreseeable future.
15:00 Everton Vs Hull
Everton have managed to turn Goodison into something of a fortress this season having only lost once in their 14 home games this season and will probably be able to continue this against Hull. The form of Everton has been very impressive with only one defeat in their last 10 games meaning they have managed to position themselves close enough to the European places to take advantage if someone (or a few sides) have a big slip up. Koeman goes into the game with the possibility of having Baines back in the squad, yet will be without McCarthy until after the International Break with Besic possibly back before the end of the season.
Hull have been much improved since the turn of the year and they know that the results against the top teams will be useful to help with survival however they go into this game knowing it will be a very tough game for them to pick up points. Hull have not been good on the travels, having picked up 5 points away from home so will probably struggle against Everton. As I have previously wrote, Hull have had problems with injuries and this has continued into this week with potentially 9 players still out injured.
15:00 Stoke Vs Chelsea
Stoke have had a pretty even split of results this season with 9 wins, 9 draws and 10 defeats so far this season yet against a Chelsea side who are so strong, you can only see this game ended as defeat number 11 for Hughes’ side. Stoke go into the game knowing that they are competing for a top half finish and a win could close the game on 8th place West Brom. Hughes goes into the game hoping that Diouf and Shaqiri will be back in action before long.
Champions elect Chelsea are getting so close to being crowned champions and they know that 3 points against Stoke will be just another step on their route to lifting the trophy at the end of the season. Conte will be hoping to continue the good form his side have shown with only one league defeat in their last 10 games and are looking like they may be on course to complete a league and cup double. They go into the game with only Moses doubtful after picking up a Calf injury.
15:00 Sunderland Vs Burnley
Every game is a massive game for Sunderland if they are going to survive in the Premier League this year and they need to make sure they are winning their home games if they are going to ensure they avoid the drop. However one win in their last 10 games does not fill you with confidence that they will turn this around and possibly have teetering on the edge for many years they may finally fall into the Championship. They go into this game possibly without 8 players unless Gibson and Pienaar manage to return.
The only hope in this game for Sunderland is that they are up against a Burnley side who have been appalling away from home, picking up just 2 points on their travels. Burnley, much like Watford, are being classed as safe yet know that if they start dropping points at home and their away form doesn’t improve they could soon find themselves being sucked into the fight for survival. Dyche will be hoping to have Defour back in the squad yet will still be withouth Gudmundsson, Long and Marney.
15:00 West Ham Vs Leicester
If you were to look up ‘mid-table Premier League side’ in the dictionary then the definition would probably be West Ham and I don’t think many would disagree that for the forseeable, unless they did a Leicester, they will not be challenging the top 6 sides nor will they be unduly worried about the drop. Bilic has had a topsy turvey season and I think both him and the club need some stability, however next season they will need to push on or risk falling behind sides like Everton, Southampton and West Brom. West Ham have had mix form at home this season as they try to make their new ground a home for their side. They could be without 6 players on Saturday, however they will be hoping to reduce this number with late fitness tests on Snodgrass and Antonio.
Leicester have had a massive week, their progression in the Champions League and up turn in the league form means that there is a chance that we could see the unlikely League winners of last year lifting the Champions League this year. However Shakespeare will know that for them to ensure this season is not a failure with a extremely happy consolation at the end of it they will need to maintain their place in the Premier League. Leicester have had back to back wins in the league however have not won away from home this season, something they will need to put right to help ease themselves out of the relegation battle.
17:30 Bournemouth Vs Swansea
Bournemouth impressed many last season with Eddie Howe showing why he is such a highly regarded manager who is often tipped for a future at a much higher level, however he will know that he has to ensure his side pick up a win against a rejuvinated Swansea otherwise he could be dragged into the relegation scrap. Bournemouth have okay at home but are up against a side who have picked up wins on the road, yet their last away win was against Liverpool back in January. Swansea will know a win will put them level on points with Bournemouth and Clement will be motivating his side to pick up points against those around them to try and ensure their Premier League status.
Both sides played last weekend in the League and whilst Bournemouth will be hoping that King keeps on his good form and scoring goals for his side yet will be hoping to do better defensively after coming through last week by the skin of their teeth in a game which they should have won decisively if it wasn’t for two missed penalties. Swansea on the other hand come into this game after a 2-1 defeat at Hull last weekend, this was a very bad result for the Swans as it meant that Hull moved up the table and closed the gap on those who are just above the relegation zone.
Bournemouth will be hoping that Arter and Stanislas come through late fitness tests for this game, whilst Swansea will be hopefully that Llorente recovers from a dead leg he received last week.
Sunday 19 March
12:00 Middlesbrough Vs Manchester United
Middlesbrough have parted company with the manager who got them promoted. I do always feel a sense of sorrow when this happens yet the financial implications of staying in the Premier League totally out weigh any sentiment you may have, just look at what happened to Ranieri. The board, I am sure, will be hoping for a reaction, however leaving it so late means that whoever takes control for the next few months will have to act fast to get to know the squad and work out a way to get this side out of the drop zone. The biggest problem for Middlesbrough has been scoring goals, they have scored the fewest league goals so far this season in the top flight, however they are strong at the back and have conceded the lowest number of goals in the bottom half of the league…all this means is they lose a lot of games 1-0, which at the end of the day is still a loss. Gestede and Espinoso could both be available on Sunday, yet the biggest importance is not who is playing but finding a way to score goals before it becomes too late.
Manchester United, I feel, can rightly claim to have a bit of fatigue, however you do have to question why there hasn’t been more rotation by Mourinho. Lingard, Shaw, Carrick, Fellaini, Jones and Fosu-Mensah have not been used much in this ‘busy’ period of games and players could have been rested, changed in and out, without, as Jose keeps saying, him playing Nicky Butt’s under 23 side. I do understand that rotation is not always a good thing yet in theory against Rostov a side which had the six players listed above starting should have been able to pick up the win against a side who are only 6th in the Russian League. Anyways, Jose gets paid to make these decisions and I am sure he will have to make changes to accommodate injuries to Pogba and possibly to Blind, especially with Rooney and Martial still doubtful for the weekend. United are currently the only side in the Premier League to be unbeaten in their last 10 league games, however their downfall this season has been drawing against sides who in theory they should be beating. They will know if they still want to make the top 4 then they can not afford to drop points this weekend.
14:15 Tottenham Vs Southampton
Tottenham appear to have got themselves quite comfy in the top 4, yet it will be interesting to see if they can stay there now that their top scorer Kane is out for potentially a good amount of the remainder of the season. Spurs will be hoping that Walker, Dembele and Wanyama are fit to play and that they can continue their good form of only one defeat in their last 10 league games. The most important thing for Tottenham this season has been their home form and they are still the only side not to have been beaten at home, they will be hoping that this record remains in tact come 4:15pm on Sunday.
Southampton will be hoping that Gabbiadini keeps on his scoring run if they are to keep their place in the top half of the league. They will be without Austin and more importantly Van Dijk, who was a rock at the centre of their defence at the start of the season. Southampton have not drawn a game in their last 10 and have lost more than they have won, with 6 defeats to 4 victories and I cannot see them picking up points against a Spurs side who have the bit between their teeth and players who can score when the main striker is out in Ali, Eriksson and Son.
16:30 Manchester City Vs Liverpool
A side managed by Pep has never gone out of the Champions League last 16, until this week and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping his Liverpool side can break another Pep record and become the first side to complete the league double against a side managed by the former Barcelona and Bayern manager. Klopp has somehow managed to do enough to avoid the same criticism’s that have faced managers of Liverpool and other ‘big’ clubs in England yet you do wonder if his side miss out on Champions League football will the fans remain patient.
If I was asked to choose a side to win this game I would pretend I hadn’t heard the question and insist that the only result which is allowed is a draw, especially as this would be a good result for United and for ensuring the race or the top 4 stays interesting…after all we don’t the season to be a foregone conclusion with 10 games to go.
City go into the game with 4 league wins in their last 5 games and and have only lost one game at home all season. Their biggest problem at the Etihad has been drawing games at, having drawn 5 out of their 13 home games. City have no new injury worries with just Jesus and Gundogun out fill next season.
Liverpool have lost 4 games on the road this season and are in a mixed match of form with 3 wins and 2 defeats in their last 5 games. Klopp goes into the game hoping that Origi and Firmino get through late fitness tests whilst he will definitely be without Sturridge, Henderson and Ings.