A slightly shorter blog post from me this week due to the EFL cup final involving Southampton and Manchester United.
Saturday 25th February
Chelsea vs Swansea
So Chelsea continue to roll on in emphatic fashion. Yes, they didn’t win in against Burnley, but they could have quite easily lost against a team who are as fearless at home. Also, can we just appreciate and marvel that was Robbie Brady’s freekick, to pull that off, under that sort of pressure, is just astonishing. Back to Chelsea, they have had plenty of time to recover from their FA Cup exploits against Wolves and return their attention back to the Premier League. The league leaders looked comfortable for the most part against Wolves and you’d very much expect them to continue this impressive run going. Antonio Conte will most probably revert back to his trusted line-up this weekend lead by Diego Costa. The man is just superb at his job if he worked at McDonald’s he’d have all the stars. The most impressive thing this year though is his attitude and his phenomenal work rate. His temper is vastly improved and the channelling his aggression is proof the of the incredible man-management skills of Antonio Conte.
Swansea will not be disheartened though and should go into this game believing that they can get something out of this game. They have been resurgent under one Paul Clement, who I did mention in my last preview by the way, but having seen them against they just look so much more organised without the ball and Chelsea will find it difficult to break down this dogged Swansea defence. It’s a tough ask for Swansea but good results don’t come without hard work as Paul Clement has reiterated to the press this week “How hard are we willing to work to make sure we are continuing to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season?”. A leader in it’s purest form.
I think Chelsea will win but maybe not as comfortably as some may think.
Crystal Palace vs Middlesbrough
Think this break in the fixture list came at just the right sort of time for Big Sam’s men. With less than desirable results against Everton and Stoke means that Palace are still in the relegation places and it’s now becoming a real possibility that Big Sam is staring at his first ever top-flight relegation square in the face. But as I said this break has given Palace a small amount of time out of the media’s spotlight and for Palace’s sake you’d hope, that has given them time to work on the things that have just not been going right up till this point. Cristian Benteke has looked very isolated leading the line and this is reflected in the fact that Palace had just one shot on target against Stoke and that was from the left boot of Patrick van Aanholt. Okay, they have looked better defensively and it may be encouraging for the manager but they need results and fast. With just 13 games remaining it’s now or never for Palace.
Palace will fancy themselves here with another team that is struggling to put the ball in the back of the net, although Boro did net 3 against Oxford in the FA Cup. Middlesbrough have looked quite solid all season epitomised by the Boro skipper Ben Gibson, who I have been impressed by this season. Boro have been making it tough for opposition teams to play against them this season but worryingly haven’t won a Premier League game since the 17th of December, they’ve only picked up 5 points from a possible 24. No one is expecting for them to pick up the full maximum 24 points but it will be concerning for Mr Karanka and his superiors.
It’s got a bore draw written all over this – I hope I’m wrong and it turns into a cracker.
Everton vs Sunderland
Everton are the in-form team in the Premier League at the moment. 4 wins and 2 draws in their last 6 games, picking up more than any other team. Mr Koeman has got them playing a good brand of football and they look very good to have a strong finish to the season and my goodness, will they fancy it this weekend. Although they did fail to score against Middlesbrough last time out in the league, Victor Valdes had a cracking game in between the sticks, last time they met Sunderland they won 3-0.
What the hell happened David Moyes and Sunderland! I started bigging you up and had a bit of hope for you then you go and lose 4-0, at home to Southampton who had only won once since Christmas prior to that! It just feels like 2 steps forward, 2 steps back with Sunderland at the moment. They need to get out of this cycle and start moving forward and out of the relegation zone. Considering how good they were against Palace and how ruthless they were in front of goal that day, they mustered one shot on target against Southampton. SO FRUSTRATING! But can they get back to winning ways?
No. I just can’t see it and Everton should be able to continue their hot streak.
Hull City vs Burnley
I really do think that Hull have a massive opportunity here to get themselves out of the relegation places. They have been performing well recently, they will feel quite aggrieved that they didn’t get anything from the Emirates and will feel pretty confident going into this game against Burnley. Lazar Markovic looked like a completely different player to the one that had fallen out of contention at Liverpool. He glided past Arsenal defenders and his turn of pace was only something I wish for. He was unlucky not to get an assist too. But Hull are looking very, very strong under Marco Silva and it’s hard to see this side not beating the drop. Although Paul Merson would disagree.
Burnley played their part in one of the biggest shocks in the FA Cup in recent years against Lincoln City. What took most people by surprise is that they lost the tie at home and we all know how good they are at home. Away from Turf Moor, Burnley are just not the same beast. They turn from Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (the guy from Game of Thrones) to well, me. It’s incredible really and I’m sure there is a space there for a sports psychologist to make some good money there, or a good dissertation topic – thank me later. I think that the way the two teams come into this match it makes for an interesting and potentially free flowing game (tight and cagey game incoming).
I think that Hull will win this one but Burnley won’t roll over without scoring at least one.
West Brom vs Bournemouth
West Brom are definitely one of the most solid teams in the league this year. What I think that is the most impressive thing about West Brom this season is that they are scoring far more goals and playing a much more attacking style of football, exactly what Baggies fans have been crying out for. The
y have struggled however this year against the 7 teams above them, 1 point from a possible 24 points and still have 6 games to play against these 7 teams. However against the teams below them in the table is a completely different story – the Baggies have been extremely efficient. They have lost just 1 game in 17, against these teams. That one loss just happens to be on this weekend’s opponents – Bournemouth.
Bournemouth are in desperate need of a win here otherwise, they will be embroiled in the relegation battle. They have lost 5 of their last 6 away games and have conceded over 2.5 goals in those 6 away games. Things are not looking very promising here for Bournemouth and will be sweating on the fitness of Jack Wilshere who picked up a knock against Manchester City. Already without Simon Francis, Bournemouth’s defence is looking very fragile and when coming up against a rampant, in-form West Brom; I really do fear for Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. Please don’t let me down, Eddie…
With West Brom in fine form, especially at home, 6 wins in their last 7 home games. It’s hard to look past West Brom. But Bournemouth have trained this last week at Real Madrid’s training ground so maybe Mr Zidane and Co have taught them a thing or two.
Watford vs West Ham
There’s not a lot of mouth-watering fixtures this weekend, but some rather important one’s in the middle of the table. A win for either Watford or West Ham would bring them closer to that top half of the table and away from the bottom half of the table. Firstly avoiding any sort of doubt of being dragged into a relegation battle and secondly the prize money from the final standings will also be extremely important for the clubs financial circumstances.
Watford continued their inconsistency against Manchester United and although started brightly were undone by mistakes and a slick United outfit meant the failed to keep their momentum going. I’m sure that Watford will be targeting this game as a game they can get a positive result out of and try building a run of form.
Saying that West Ham will also see this game as one they can also get a positive result from. West Ham showed some fighting spirit against West Brom that maybe they lacked earlier on in the season. For all the negative vibes surrounding the club they are not doing too badly, yes it’s not quite what they were promised when they moved to the London Stadium, which feels slightly like the Brexit campaign, West Ham are not in a terrible position. It’s good to see a man of Lanzini’s talent and in the absent of a certain West Ham traitor is flourishing.
The day’s late kick-off has the potential to be a good one especially with both defences less than impressive in recent weeks.
Sunday 26th February
Spurs vs Stoke City
For all the plaudits that journalists and fans have been giving Spurs, they just cannot do it at Wembley or during the week, can they?! This week the crashed out against a Gent side that is sat 8th in the Belgian Pro League which is a bit of a disaster really for a team boasting the talent that it does. Seriously Dele I cannot believe you even protested it, yes you didn’t mean it but it was a very poor tackle/ a tackle that a horrible middle-aged man playing Sunday league can only ever dream of. But that is a shed load of potential games off their schedule and can now focus their attention on the league and I’m sure Mauricio Pochettino will be demanding an instant response. They have only twice dropped points at home this year and White Hart Lane is clearly a ground that is very difficult to visit, against a team that has a very poor record when playing them.
Stoke have lost 4-0 in the last two meetings between the teams in the league and Spurs have scored over 2.5 goals in the last 5 matches against Stoke in all competitions. Just to add to Stoke’s misery they have lost 4 games their last 5 with that one game coming against lowly Sunderland, oh and I had forgotten to mention that their injury list is building. It’s not looking good for Mark Hughes’s men, is it? I guess this is where they need to show what they are made of and show some consistency but will they find it in this game facing a wounded Spurs side?
Well… no, I doubt it. Spurs are brilliant at home, as long as it’s not Wembley and they should win this one comfortably.
Monday 27th February
Leicester City vs Liverpool
There is so much to discuss with the departure of Claudio Ranieri and the decline of Leicester but I’m going to keep this short (I’m going to be writing a post about him soon). Two weeks ago the Leicester hierarchy had given him “unwavering support” but when you are that close to the bottom and with the money of the Premier League on the line, decisions, brave decisions have to be made. I don’t want to discuss this any further in this particular post but what I will say now is that now he has gone, the Leicester players need to start performing if any of them want to have any sort of job come pre-season. If they start performing now and winning games and keep themselves up then you can maybe start to understand why Ranieri needed to go. However, if they don’t and they do get relegated, then will the sacking of Ranieri have been worth it? But in terms of performances, they need to vastly improve, do Leicester. Not really the most ideal game for them to potentially jump start a recovery but you’ve got to start somewhere, I guess.
Liverpool, you couldn’t ask for a better game to get back into the swing of things. Leicester have failed to score in 6 games and lost their last 5. They have had a good break out in La Manga after their congested January fixture list and will be refreshed and raring to get themselves into that top four club. Sadio Mané looks like the catalyst for Klopp’s team at the moment and has sparked them back into life after his return from the African Cup of Nations. Furthermore, against Spurs, Liverpool looked a lot more defensively solid too which coupled with Spurs lack of penetration on the day, meant they recorded their first victory of 2017 and their first clean sheet in the league in 2017 too.
How will Leicester react now that they have parted way with Claudio Ranieri, will his sacking spark them into life? I can’t see it myself and I can see Leicester dropping into the relegation zone here and it then becoming a huge crisis.
Thank you if you got this far, I do appreciate it. Feel free to leave a comment or some feedback. This probably hasn’t been my best post ever but hey ho! Cheers, Skeelsy.