Thursday, 10 January 2013

My Premiership Predictions- gameweek 22

Hello scorers. Had a bit of a Christmas break from the predictions game but I'm back now, ready and eager for the second half of the season to begin. This weekend, we've got a crucial game in the relegation battle, with the rotting Villains against the battling Saints, whilst Wigan start the day in the drop-zone, but will be hoping for a draw between the aforementioned teams and a good result themselves at Craven Cottage.

Sunderland v West Ham and Norwich v Newcastle present perhaps less promise in terms of drama, but if Reading have any survival aspirations at all this season, then they simply must beat Steve Clarke's West Brom side.

With Chelsea's potential decline, the race for 4th may be about to become interesting. The jaded Blues have just lost 2-0 to Swansea in the cup and have a trip to tough-tackling Stoke, the Swans will try to build on that result but Everton will stay be favourites in their game on Saturday, whilst 3rd placed Tottenham play against another team to capitalize on Chelsea's poor showings in QPR.

There is without doubt potential for slip-ups in the title race, and I can't wait to see whether the 7pt gap remains the same come Sunday night. United have a north-west derby to contend with against Liverpool, who have won their last 3, and Man City make the trip down to London to play Arsenal, who are still fighting for that Champions League spot.

Joining the debate for these games, as always is Del, and Lee Price, who will be predicting for the first time. Lee is an avid fan of non-league football, a supporter of both West Brom and Weymouth. You can follow him on Twitter: @lee_price17. We also have Kingsley Bates, a Cambridge United fan who you can follow on twitter as well: @KingsleyBates and read his sports blog here: 'KFLB's blog'The final contestant is Carl Hudson (@jabbinho), a Newcastle United fan.

With 5 of us fighting to become the prediction winner this week, let's move on to the games:

QPR vs. Tottenham

Despite the gulf between the teams in the league, I've not had an easy time calling this one. QPR may be bottom of the table but they got a massive win at Chelsea in new year, the importance of which will stand the test of time. It's always important for a club where relegation is looming, that they can win a game no-one expects them to get anything from. That can give teams a big confidence booster, but we're about to see how they build on that, which will affect my judgement on whether QPR can yet stay up. At the moment I'd be inclined to say the gap is still too grand.

Tottenham are going very well at the moment- they've won their last 4 in all competitions but I'm not sure if they'll stay 3rd throughout the season. The festive fixtures have certainly worked in their favour, but this will be the last of their run of games against relegation-threatened clubs. Next week they've got Man United at home, before two tricky away games at West Brom and Norwich where they could slip up, and then of course soon the Europa League will be back. They need to make sure that they can take full advantage of this comparatively easy series of  games against the bottom clubs.

I'm sure Spurs fans will give Harry Redknapp a round of applause at the game for what he did for them, but I'm going with a Tottenham win. I think it'll be a close game and my decision wasn't as easy as the immediate table suggests it would be, but I think Tottenham have the quality and an effective enough system under AVB to edge this one 1-2.

Del says: 1-3
Kingsley says: 1-0
Lee says: 1-3
Carl says: 0-2

Aston Villa vs. Southampton

I'm not entirely sure where Villa go from here, to be honest. They keep leaking goals and until that changes, I don't know where their next win is going to come from. They got a draw at Swansea but for me, that skates over the fact that they were incredibly lucky not to concede 4 or 5 in that game, no exaggeration, the number of chances Swansea had.

In some ways I admire Paul Lambert for what he's trying to do there, in giving youngsters, and those who have come up through the lower leagues, a chance. What he's failed at is getting these players in a certain defensive order and shape, it doesn't look like they've worked on their organisation in training as much as they need to. Some of the players are running around like headless chickens.

Southampton are looking more competent at the moment. Three draws from their last three games against Arsenal at home, and a couple of away games shows that they can hold their own at this level. Their ability to score goals - having only drawn a blank in 4 matches this season - may help them in their relegation battle in the second half of this season.

This is the game that the young lads at Villa need to step up to the plate, and I've actually got a strange feeling they will. They lost to Bradford in midweek but it may be that not having long to prepare for this match may suit them, because they can get the result out of their system quickly and I think the response will be there. It's a brave call to make given Villa's current predicament, but I'm going to go with my instinct and say 2-0.

Del says: 1-0
Kingsley says: 2-1
Lee says: 1-1
Carl says: 0-0

Everton vs. Swansea

I personally don't understand why Moyes played a partially-injured Baines against Cheltenham. They've got some important Premiership games coming up in their quest for getting into Europe, in my view, the purpose of the cup is to give fringe players a chance and let's face it: Everton probably would have won anyway. 

I reckon January will be a tough month for Swansea. They got a wonderful win at Chelsea in the first leg of the cup semi-final, but I think they could become swept up in the euphoria of that win - understandably so - and face a bit of a hangover from that in this game. With 4 domestic cup matches being played this month for Swansea, that could affect their preparation and fitness when they play hardworking teams like Everton and Stoke, so they could be about to drop a couple of places in the table.

I don't think a slightly lethargic Swansea team will be able to deal with the high-tempo at which Everton play, so I can see a surprisingly comfortable afternoon for the Toffees. Jelavic to grab himself a brace and help the hosts to a 3-0 win.

Del says: 2-0
Kingsley says: 1-1
Lee says: 2-0
Carl says: 2-2

Fulham vs. Wigan

People were talking about Fulham as potential relegation candidates when they went 7 games without a win, but I was never worried about them. I thought this particularly because when Berbatov is playing well, Fulham tend to play well. He links up play brilliantly and his movement is world class, which has been a big factor in Fulham having the best goal difference of all of the bottom 14 teams in the Premiership.

Wigan are in the relegation zone at the moment, but I think they'll defy the odds again and stay up. They may have the second worst 'goals against' record in the league, but when I watch them play, at times some of the football they produce wouldn't look out of place at an established European side, like Shakhtar or Ajax. It's so quick and can be effective- they always look confident and capable of creating chances. 

I think this could be a good game for the neutral and I foresee plenty of goals. Having said what I've said about Wigan, given Fulham's attacking prowess, I would worry for the Latics defensively. I reckon the Cottagers will outscore them in a 3-2 thriller.

Del says: 1-2
Kingsley says: 2-0
Lee says: 0-0
Carl says: 1-0

Norwich vs. Newcastle

I was impressed with Norwich for the manner in which they dispatched Championship outfit Peterborough in the FA Cup last week. I did predict a Norwich win, but with injuries to the likes of Grant Holt and Steve Morison for them, now 4 defeats on the bounce and the game being played at London Road, I thought it might be closer than it turned out. 

It was probably a good thing for Newcastle that they got knocked out of the FA Cup last week. With a smallish squad, several injuries, the latter stages of the Europa League forthcoming and now with Demba Ba leaving, the possibility of a relegation battle, the last thing they needed was more games.

With Ba gone and Cisse out of form, I'm not entirely sure where they're going to get their goals from in this game. Chris Hughton has got his Norwich team fairly organised, though that hasn't been as much the case in recent matches, but I think they're capable of keeping a clean sheet here. However, with  the injuries to first choice strikers, Norwich won't win this game by more than 1-0.

Del says: 2-0
Kingsley says: 1-1
Lee says: 1-1
Carl says: "0-2 Toon of course, Cisse with a brace!"

Reading vs. West Brom

Reading have been in my 'down' list for most of the season, and them beating West Ham 1-0 doesn't change that. The signing of young gun Hope Akpan from Crawley suggests to me that they are already building for the future, and preparing for life in the Championship- if they were serious about doing everything they can to stay up, they would have made an effort to sign more experienced players. In many ways Reading look resigned to relegation.

If West Brom want to ensure that they can finish the season in the top half, they may need to aim for maximum points in their next two matches. After a run of very winnable games during this winter period, they've soon got to play the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Chelsea who ought to provide stern tests for the Baggies and I would expect those games to move them down a peg or two in the table.

I just think West Brom are a bit better a team than Reading, and they have respectable ability in every department. They are reasonably well organised, have a good work ethic and have two or three players going forward who can do the damage. That will probably be enough against a team like Reading, who are of Championship calibre, particularly in defence- I can't see any way back for them. 0-2.

Del says: 1-2
Kingsley says: 1-0
Lee says: 0-2
Carl says: 2-1

Stoke vs. Chelsea

This will be a very hard game for Chelsea. At the time of writing, they've just lost 2-0 at home to Swansea in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg, which will be tricky to recover from. The matches have been coming thick and fast for them- since going to Japan for the Club World Cup, they've always been playing both at the weekend and in midweek, and there haven't been any matches in which Benitez has completely changed his team around.

I would fear for them playing at a place like Stoke, I really would. The Potters are a relentlessly hardworking team that always provide a great physical threat, and the pitch at the Britannia is very narrow, so I wouldn't think that Chelsea's little magicians in Hazard, Oscar and Mata will get any time on the ball. Even if they do, they'll probably be worn out from playing so many matches in quick succession, that they can't do anything special with it, so Torres won't get a sniff.

For me, Chelsea just don't look like a settled team at the moment, partly because of all the uncertainty with Frank Lampard probably leaving, but also this culture of fear and panic that Roman has stupidly created by sacking so many managers. To be honest, it wouldn't be a real shock to me if Chelsea slipped up in this, in fact I can quite easily see them losing to Stoke, who I think will grind a lethargic-looking Chelsea team down. 1-0.

Del says: 0-3
Kingsley says: 0-3
Lee says: 1-3
Carl says: 0-0

Sunderland vs. West Ham

I can see this being the complete opposite to the Fulham-Wigan game. Neither of these sides are goalscorers, particularly with Steven Fletcher out of form for Sunderland, and both are quite compact. Sunderland have lost their last two Premiership games, but those were against big clubs and they did battle well to earn a replay against Bolton last week, so I certainly can't see a rot ensuing for them.

West Ham chairman David Gold has been taken to hospital with pneumonia, irrespective of how good a chairman he had been for Birmingham, I'm sure everyone will wish him a speedy recovery. On the pitch, the Hammers look in fairly good shape, having beaten Norwich 2-1 on New Years' Day, they would have beaten Man United in the FA Cup by the same scoreline had it not been for a late intervention from van Persie.

I'm going to go for a bore draw in this one. Sunderland, being at home and possibly with the lingering fear of a relegation battle, will come closest to winning it and if either side do, I'd expect it to only be by the odd goal. To me though, a goalless draw seems the more likely outcome.

Del says: 3-2
Kingsley says: 2-0
Lee says: 0-1
Carl says: 0-2

Man Utd vs. Liverpool

Man United have scored 17 goals in their last 6 Premiership matches- that's almost 3 per game and when you've got the confidence to go out and score that many goals, eventually the defence will sort itself out. I'm looking at the stats now and although he cost a lot, van Persie has already scored 16 Premiership goals- that's 30% of the goals United have this season, at important times as well, and he contributes considerably more in build-up play. He's become such an important player for them- that man simply oozes brilliance.

You can't really say that Liverpool are finding some momentum for their season, because they're developing a habit of winning two or three games, and then losing the next one. That may be frustrating for their fans, not being able to put a run together, but because they're winning most of their games they have been climbing the table, and are up to 8th now when they were about 12th a month ago.

Just a quick point on the Suarez handball incident- people are saying that "the integrity of the game has been damaged", but I would disagree. Until FIFA step in and make it punishable by a red card that a player dives or handballs etc., cheating will always be part of the game and we'll be having the same conversations until then. There's nothing we as fans can do about this,  and the reality is that players will always do whatever it takes to give their team an advantage at the elite level. It's a sad fact, but ultimately it's a true one.

Liverpool's form, and having a player with the quality of Suarez, means that they can go to Old Trafford and give United an interesting game, and of course anything can happen in a derby. However, United have a player equally as good as Suarez in van Persie, and better strength in depth surrounding him, so 2-1 to Man U.

Del says: 2-3
Kingsley says: 3-2
Lee says: 2-0
Carl says: 4-0

Arsenal vs. Man City

Both United and City have match in which they are capable of dropping points on Sunday, so it'll be interesting to see if there are any changes to that 7pt gap. Since thumping Newcastle 7-3, Arsenal have drawn their last two games in all competitions. They only managed a point at Southampton, Swansea forced a replay out of them in the FA Cup thanks to a late equalizer, so they haven't been able to really continue the momentum that their run of 3 straight wins before that brought them.

If Man City lost this and United won, I'd be prepared to declare the title race 'over', even at this halfway stage. I think United will have learnt from losing the 8pt lead last season, to make sure they never do it again, and Man City don't look very well motivated or have a manager with good enough tactical nous in Mancini, in my opinion.

Having said that, I reckon City will nick a win here. Arsenal arguably need the points just as badly in their quest for 4th place, and I don't think there'll be many goals in it, but I can see Dzeko being the supersub again this season, to give Man City a potentially important 3 points. 0-1.

Del says: 1-3
Kingsley says: 1-3
Lee says: 1-1
Carl says: 2-1

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