After a busy Boxing Day in the Premier League, it returns back to action for one final time in 2018 in the second to last matchday of its festive fixture season. Here is your destination for a breakdown and predicted result of this weekend’s fixtures.
But first, here’s the current table.
Saturday December 29
Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Everton
Brighton picked up a brilliant result last weekend at the expense of my Arsenal, and inched closer to securing their status in the Premier League for another season. The south coast club host their second straight home match, and should be relishing their chances of securing a point against an Everton side that have only won twice in their last seven Premier League matches. Everton have also not won back-to-back away games in the top flight since September of 2016. Given both sides’ defensive frailties, and the lack of a clear-cut winner between both sides, a draw appears to be the most probable result.
Prediction: Brighton 1-1 Everton
Fulham vs. Huddersfield Town
This is a clash between the bottom two in the table, and could provide a significant boost to either side. David Wagner’s men could be playing for his job, and he will want to do his best to prove to both the board and the club’s supporters that he can turn their dreadful form around. Huddersfield really need a result here on the back of five straight losses, but they will have to do it against a rejuvenated Fulham side who were a Conor Coady sliding save away from a 2-1 win at Wolverhampton last weekend. Fulham have looked a much better side of late as Claudio Ranieri is once again proving why he is a capable manager. However, his job is far from done, and a win here could prove to the fans that Ranieri was the right choice for the job, not to mention a greater cushion from the bottom of the table. There is really only one winner in this one, and it is the home side.
Prediciton: Fulham 2-1 Huddersfield Town
Bonus prediction: David Wagner wakes up Sunday morning to news that he’s been sacked
Leicester City vs. Cardiff City
If this contest was held a few weeks ago, it might be a different tune for Cardiff City. However, Neil Warnock’s men have come back to ground level more recently, and it shows in their results winning two of their last seven and being on the receiving of a 5-1 thrashing by Manchester United one week ago. Leicester will come into this relishing their chances against any side as they have inflicted losses on both Manchester City and Chelsea in their previous two matches. While that won’t guarantee success against the newly promoted Cardiff, Leicester has also had an excellent record against those sides, and has the advantage of being at home.
Prediction: Leicester 2-0 Cardiff
Tottenham vs. Wolverhampton
The reverse fixture at The Molineaux should be a candidate for match of the year as it finished 3-2 in favor of Tottenham, but Wolverhampton could have easily equalized and snatched a point. Wolverhampton come in having scuffled in their past two fixtures after winning the three before that. However Nino Espiritu Santo’s men should be full of confidence knowing that they can steal points from top opposition, as they managed to secure a 1-1 draw against Tottenham’s north London rivals, Arsenal. Tottenham will enter this fixture knowing that they can score at will, but they are also only one match removed from struggling to break down Burnley. That said, Mauricio Pochettino has his men playing at a high level since their defeat in the North London Derby 4-2 to Arsenal. In this match, I can’t see past Tottenham, but Wolverhampton should be able to snatch a consolation goal.
Prediction: Tottenham 3-1 Wolverhampton
Watford vs. Newcastle United
Newcastle United travel to Watford on the back of a draw and a humbling loss in which they played a very negative brand of football that seemed concentrated on not conceding goals rather than trying to score them. Taking this into account, Soloman Rondón should be rested for this fixture, and he has offered the main goalscoring threat for Newcastle this season. Watford played fairly well in their last match, but were outclassed by Eden Hazard (something I’m sure many Premier League teams could sympathize with). Surprisingly, they have struggled at home this season, but this is exactly the fixture that Watford would relish their chances in so that they could solidify their position in the top half of the Premier League table. However, I see goals in this for both sides, and think that both sides will play with enough attacking impetus to grab a positive result.
Prediction: Watford 2-2 Newcastle
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Why? Why did my Arsenal have to pick up Liverpool at Anfield after some sluggish form and a disappointing draw against Brighton? Am I paranoid, or does this have another one of those shambolic Arsenal displays at Anfield that causes me to turn the match off after the 60 minute mark? Alright, I am going to attempt to write this without watching Daniel Sturridge roll goal-after-goal past Wojiech Szczesny in a match that finished 5-1 Liverpool. Arsenal are beginning to look like the side that was so susceptible to its own confidence under Arséne Wegner, and one of the reasons that Arsenal fans wanted him replaced. Following a run of 23 matches unbeaten where Arsenal looked like they couldn’t lose, even if they rescued late draws, a defeat to Southampton seems to have crushed us like the injury bug currently is. However, they did manage to hold Liverpool in check for most of what played out to be a fair 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture. Liverpool come into this match unbeaten in the Premier League and off the heels of a 4-0 demolition of a hapless Newcastle. Liverpool also have a squad with enough depth that could allow them to rest certain players and still look coherent in this match despite only a few days’ rest from their Boxing Day triumph. As happy as it would make me to write out that Arsenal would be the side to end the unbeaten run and maintain their record as the only side to finish the Premier League season unbeaten (the greatest triumph of Wegner’s reign), I don’t see it happening.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Arsenal
My Heart’s Prediction: Liverpool 1-5 Arsenal (a little payback for Wegner)
Sunday December 30
Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea
Chelsea rebounded last time out by dispatching of Watford 2-1 after a shock defeat to Watford. Mauricio Sarri has restored attacking football to Chelsea and appears to be getting the best out of Eden Hazard and his Chelsea side as he looks to restore them to the Champions League places in the Premier League. Meanwhile, an Andros Townsend wonderstrike helped down Manchester City 3-2 at the Etihad, and Roy Hodgson has his side edging towards safety for another season. However, they looked like a much different side last time out against Cardiff where they never seemed in a hurry to score a goal and take all three points. I see a comprehensive victory for Chelsea in this fixture as Palace simply won’t have enough in the tank to hang with the top of the table side.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 0-2 Chelsea
Burnley vs. West Ham United
West Ham come into this match having dispatched of Southampton 2-1, and look like the side everyone thought they could be when Slavan Bilic guided them into the Europa League Qualifying stage. Now, firmly on the other side of a David Moyes cameo for José Mourinho’s hit strategy “Park the Bus and Hoof it Forward in the Final Five Minutes,” Manuel Pellegrini has his side playing near the level their squad should be. Conversely, Sean Dyche seems to have lost his magic touch when it comes to building a side that is incredibly hard to break down, and can nick a last minute goal with one of their three large strikers. Burnley sport the second-most conceded goals and are languishing in the relegation places with no end to the misery in sight. This match should be a comfortable West Ham win, and Sean Dyche will likely join David Wagner in the unemployment line.
Prediction: Burnley 1-3 West Ham
Bonus Prediction: Sean Dyche gets sacked after the match, and gives another Mourinho-like press conference where he blames everyone but himself for the form of his team. Too bad Mr. Dyche can’t demonstratively show reporters how many Premier League titles he’s won (watch here)
Southampton vs. Manchester City
Manchester City enter this fixture on the back of two straight losses, and that is something Pep Guardiola will be keen to fix. Expect Manchester City to exert tons of effort in a high press in order to pounce on a Southampton defense that has been repeatedly exposed this season. Southampton have turned things around under Ralph Hasenhüttl securing two vital wins against Arsenal and Huddersfield Town that have helped them pull out of the relegation fight. However, Southampton have yet to address the frailties that they have at the back, and could be in for a tough fight against Manchester City. I see a big win for Manchester City in this one as they simply need it or they could take themselves out of the title race.
Prediction: Southampton 1-4 Manchester City
Manchester United vs. Bournemouth
Bournemouth have found their recent run of matches extremely difficult winning one and losing the other four of their last five. Their defense has not helped as they have conceded more frequently, and it has caused the side to slide down from the top half back into the bottom currently sitting in twelfth. Manchester United have been the complete opposite as they have picked it up under caretaker manager Ole Solskjaer who has proven to United faithful that they can actually play attacking football and bag loads of goals in the process. At Old Trafford, they should relish their chances given that Bournemouth shipped five goals to Tottenham in the midweek. The only winner of the match is United, and the fans who have tickets to this match, of course.
Prediction: Manchester United 4-2 Bournemouth
As always, feel free to point out where I might be wrong in the comments, and even leave your own predictions.