The big game this week comes at the Emirates. Arsenal look to recover quickly from a 5-1 thrashing, when they play a Manchester United side who have their Champions League hopes slipping away at rapid speed, after dropping more points. The two teams who benefited from Arsenal and United’s failings last weekend were Liverpool and Fulham, and they play each other at Craven Cottage. Fulham look to come off the bottom, while some Liverpool fans are daring to dream of mounting a title challenge, now just six points off top spot. The goals have dried up for Newcastle lately, and they will look to put that right, when they host away specialists Tottenham.
Cardiff vs. Aston Villa
Cardiff undid their victory over Norwich by falling apart in the Welsh derby, and they are three points away from safety. You might have thought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival would give them a big boost, but four league defeats from five means they have gained no momentum from the change of regime. This season, the Bluebirds have been very poor when defending against counter attacks down the flanks, and that is where Aston Villa can cause problems. The pace of Agbonlahor, in particular, will be a threat to Cardiff. If they can break well, Villa might just pick up a fifth away win of the season. 1-2.
Hull vs. Southampton
Hull have only lost three times at home this season, as Spurs recently became another top team to drop points at the KC. Goals from Long and Jelavic saw the Tigers win 2-0 at Sunderland on Saturday, which was an important result, after they were without a league win since the turn of the year. Southampton, on the other hand, are doing well in both league and cup. They have not been beaten since defeat to Chelsea on New Years’ Day, scoring sixteen goals in those seven games. Artur Boruc made a couple of mistakes in their draw with Stoke, but he is one of the Premier League’s better goalkeepers, and will gain Southampton more points than he loses. 1-1.
West Ham vs. Norwich
After looking all over the place at the back in January, West Ham have now kept three consecutive clean sheets, as the return of centre-backs James Tomkins and James Collins from injury has helped. Now arguably their best defender, Winston Reid is back in contention, but Allardyce might be tempted to stick with the pairing that has worked so well of late. They play a Norwich side who know how to keep a clean sheet themselves. The Canaries kept three from their last four, and have just become one of just four teams to avoid conceding against Manchester City this season. You sense there might not be too many goals in this one. 1-0.
West Brom vs. Chelsea
Two points from four games, and a drop from fourteenth to eighteenth, is hardly the ideal start for Pepe Mel as manager of West Brom. It is surprising that the club sold Shane Long without replacing him, because the Baggies have been struggling for goals since the start of the season. Despite Arsenal being top for most of the season, and Man City’s at times unstoppable attacking play, Chelsea have always been my tip to win the title. They went top for the first time since August with a 3-0 win over Newcastle. Eden Hazard will get all the credit for his hat-trick, but Cahill and Terry are forming a great centre-back partnership, which Roy Hodgson might want to think about. Chelsea’s defence have only conceded twice in their last eleven games, so you cannot see West Brom getting any joy trying to break it down. 0-2.
Arsenal vs. Man Utd
David Moyes’s episode at Manchester United is turning into a horror show, and becoming almost painful to watch. You want to see British coaches succeed in the Premier League elite, but by the time Moyes has learnt his lessons, the pressure on him could be too strong. Against Fulham, United were constantly swinging crosses in, there was no sense of plan B, and had they won that match it would have papered over the cracks to some extent. But this match will be a case of which team can recover from their disaster quickest, because Arsenal lost 5-1 at Liverpool on Saturday. Their defence is not particularly bad in terms of consistency, but it still has tendencies to fall apart under pressure from time to time, and lacks leadership in the big games. Arsenal can end Manchester United’s hopes of a top four finish with a win here. 2-1.
Everton vs. Crystal Palace
After recent defeats at Champions League rivals Liverpool and Tottenham, Everton will now find it difficult to get fourth, but they have won each of their home games since Boxing Day. Even with a number of players, including new signing Lacina Traore still injured, they should beat Crystal Palace. The Eagles have lost more away games, ten, than any other side in the Premier League, including five of their last six, although four of those defeats were against sides in the top five. A positive for them was that two debutants scored in the win over West Brom, most notably youngster Tom Ince. Ince was very highly-rated at Blackpool and this could be a chance for him to work his way towards the plane to Brazil. 2-1.
Man City vs. Sunderland
After looking like an unstoppable attacking force in January, Manchester City have been found out by Chelsea and Norwich, who both managed to keep a clean sheet against them. The absence of Fernandinho has had a lot to do with that, he has that ability to break up play and pass it short to the more creative players, which City have benefited from greatly. Sunderland fell to a home defeat to Hull, which was a result nobody quite expected, given their recent run of form. Adam Johnson had a rare poor game, up against Maynor Figueroa, and he will get much less time on the ball when playing his old club. Man City should resume their habit of winning at home. 2-0.
Newcastle vs. Tottenham
Goals are now becoming Newcastle’s problem, and a major concern for Alan Pardew. They have not scored in six of their previous seven games. Loic Remy will complete the last of his three match suspension, and his return could be key for Newcastle. They have had sixty-one shots in their last three matches, but not scored in any of them, which tells you a lot about their finishing. Their visitors, Tottenham, are very strong away from home, with just two defeats on the road this season. They kept themselves three points away from fourth place after victory over Everton. With Emmanuel Adebayor looking back to his best under Tim Sherwood, Spurs will get a tightly-fought victory. 0-1.
Stoke vs. Swansea
If you had offered Stoke fans four points from Manchester United at home, and Southampton away, they would have taken it gleefully, particularly after a run of four defeats. Both Peter Odemwingie and Peter Crouch netted in the draw at St. Mary’s, and if either of them can build on that, it could resolve Mark Hughes’s need for a clinical striker. Swansea beat Cardiff 3-0 in their first game without Michael Laudrup, but it is questionable whether Garry Monk will be able to build on that, and do a better job than Laudrup long-term. When a new manager comes in, it is common for the players to perform better, but complacency could soon be a danger for the Swans. 1-1.
Fulham vs. Liverpool
There is a thirty-point gap between these two clubs, with the side bottom of the table up against the side occupying fourth place, who just beat Arsenal 5-1. Even though Fulham rescued a draw against Man United, the stats do not look good for them. They can take some hope from the fact that Liverpool are not as strong on the road as they are at home, and have only won twice away since September. Fulham, much like they did in their draw at Old Trafford, may have to spend long spells soaking up pressure. If they push forward and try to press Liverpool, the chances are they will get completely beaten for pace, so it will need to be a disciplined, team effort from the Cottagers. Much of this depends on whether Liverpool score in the first half. If Fulham are chasing the game in the latter stages, they could get caught out on the break. 0-3.
On Tuesday night, the Lancashire Derby takes centre-stage, but Burnley and Bolton need three points for more reasons than simply local pride. Down south, Brighton and Leeds’ play-off chances will be tested in a clash at the AMEX, and a bit further west there’s a key relegation clash. Yeovil, currently six points off safety, have what you’d think will be a must win game against Millwall, who languish just outside the drop zone.
Brighton vs. Leeds
Both teams had their play-off ambitions restored after a narrow win. Brighton saw off Doncaster late on thanks to a goal from Leandro Ulloa, his first since Boxing Day. But they are still frustratingly inconsistent. If you look at their last nine league games, it reads: won three, drawn three, lost three. Four of their next five opponents are, like themselves, just a few points off the play-offs - big games for Oscar Garcia's side. That starts with Leeds United. The Whites ground out a 2-1 win at Yeovil, in blustery conditions at Huish Park, and the result keeps them just five points off Reading, with a game in hand. You might have thought Ross McCormack would struggle as the lone striker, without target man Matt Smith playing in front of him. However, four goals from his last two games suggests it has not been a problem, and a player of his quality could help Leeds pick up a result down at the AMEX. 1-1.
Huddersfield vs. Nottm Forest
Unlike the aforementioned Bolton, Huddersfield are looking strong at home, having won half of their matches at the John Smith’s stadium. Thanks to Adam Clayton’s late strike, they picked up another home win against Wigan, which ended a sequence of four straight defeats. Nottingham Forest dropped two points at Blackpool, in a match where they scored with their only shot on target. Having been 1-0 up for most of the second half, they let their lead drop after a lapse in concentration, when defending deep at the end. Billy Davies’s main problem is that his side find it difficult to see wins out. In five of their eight away draws this season, and on three occasions since the turn of the year, they had the lead in the second half but still dropped points. With Huddersfield’s decent attacking options, that could be a problem. 1-1.
Sheff Wed vs. Wigan
Wigan have games in hand, but given they have only won twice on the road, forthcoming away trips to Brighton, Forest, Ipswich and QPR will not give Rosler too much confidence of rebuilding momentum. Neither will a game against Sheffield Wednesday, who stretched their run to eleven games unbeaten in all forms with a great win at Reading. Their position of seventeenth in the table, bears no accuracy on the threat they will pose to their Greater Manchester visitors. Benik Afobe looks capable of replacing Connor Wickham, albeit providing pace rather than Wickham’s type hold up play - the Arsenal loanee scored, and won the penalty for Chris Maguire. Wednesday’s momentum, or Wigan’s proven quality? A draw is the best bet. 1-1.
Watford vs. Birmingham
In twenty-four games this season under Zola, Watford had four clean sheets. In eleven games under Sannino, they have already kept five. It does not take a genius to guess what the new manager’s priorities are. Watford looked well organized in their draw at Leicester. Ahead for most of a match away to league leaders, inevitably they were going to have little of the ball, yet they still reduced the Foxes to just three shots on target. Birmingham put in a similar performance at Charlton, and came away with a fifth away victory since mid-November. A midfield trio of Lee, Huws and Adeyami worked hard to deny space for their opponents going forward. Federico Macheda’s brace means he has now scored three times for Birmingham in one hundred and twenty minutes of game time. Macheda could give Blues a much-needed cutting edge in front of goal, but Watford have only conceded once at home since Sannino took over, and they may keep another clean sheet. 1-0.
Yeovil vs. Millwall
Yeovil’s 2-1 defeat to Leeds on Saturday perhaps summed up their season. They put their opponents under a lot of pressure towards the end of the first half, missed a penalty, and ultimately did not have the experience and leadership to hold onto the win. Goalkeeper Marek Stech may be partly at fault for the goals, but in both cases the defence were ball-watching, and showed no intention to block the ball or close down. This is a vital game for the Glovers, against a Millwall side who let in three or more goals in a game for the twelfth time this season, when they lost 3-1 at Burnley. On the other hand, from four games against fellow bottom five teams, they have only conceded once. That goal came actually against Yeovil at home, on the opening day of the season. The Lions’ defence should be prepared for this relegation clash, while midfielder Ed Upson returns to his old stomping ground. 0-1.
Bolton vs. Burnley
When these teams played each other on the opening day, you would have expected them to be in opposite positions this season, yet Burnley are competing for promotion while Bolton are flirting with a second relegation in three seasons. Burnley won 3-1 against Millwall on Saturday, thanks partly to two goals from Danny Ings, but credit must go to right-back Kieran Trippier. He picked up another two assists to earn himself the man of the match award, and is arguably one of the most underrated players this season. The Clarets have a tough run of fixtures coming up, with three away trips in the next four weeks, and their only home games will be against Forest and Derby. Bolton threw away a two goal lead at home to Bournemouth last time out, and they have still only won twice at home this season. 1-2.