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Premier League Recap Matchday 21

This is the final set of matches for the hectic festive season of the Premier League, and as it closes out, I feel a sense of relief much like the managers and players. As a football fan, I enjoy blocking out mornings and afternoons to watch elite English clubs duke it out, but I am gradually running out of time to enjoy them before reality sets back in. While I will miss the hectic four fixtures in two weeks, it is nice to see that this is its final rendition. Today’s football requires so much, and a winter break is what these players deserve because they are human just like you or I and they need breaks too.

With all the pleasantries out of the way, let’s explore the interesting slate of matches that saw Everton booed off at Goodison Park, Chelsea look stagnant, and a thrilling matchup of two Premier League titans.

January 1, 2019

Everton 0-1 Leicester City
This match culminated with Everton being booed of their home pitch after what can only be characterized as another dismal match for the Merseyside outfit. Everton have seen the misery piled on as Leicester were clinical once again when their chance game, and it is really a tale of two sides who are trending in opposite directions. Everton had started off well, but they have continued to falter over the last two months, and they were poor for the entirety of the match. Leicester continued a fine run of form and keep themselves in contention for a European place as they pick up another win. It cements their place in the top half of the table as they continue to enjoy their football as underdogs against some of the bigger names in English football.

Arsenal 4-1 Fulham
As an Arsenal fan, I rejoice that they were able to bounce back after a 5-1 defeat to first-place Liverpool. However, do not let the scoreline fool you about the state of this match. Arsenal looked tepid at the back, even with a changed back four, and were extremely vulnerable against Fulham on the counterattack where Fulham exposed Arsenal’s lack of pace. The only thing Arsenal did better was take their chances as they converted them with aplomb while Fulham squandered numerous opportunities. For most of the match, Fulham was resilient on defense, but the quality of Arsenal finally broke them down and exposed an improved defense under new manager Claudio Ranieri.

Cardiff City 0-3 Tottenham
Tottenham were in full control of the match, and the only thing that they didn’t have to show for it was a second half goal. Cardiff never really looked like mustering much in attack, and Tottenham took chances that they wasted earlier in the week against Wolverhampton. The win will keep Tottenham in the hunt for the title race, but they will need to maintain the consistency that they found in this match if they truly want to trouble the two sides that currently sit ahead of them.

January 2, 2019

Bournemouth 3-3 Watford
Defense was not really a factor in the first half of this match, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. This was a classic match for the neutral as there was an end-to-end nature to the match that persisted for the duration of the 90 minutes, and brought six goals. There was better defense in the second half after the first half drew to a close with four goals in six minutes. Both sides should be happy with a point given their recent form, but both sides were routinely exposed and their defensive frailties were at the forefront once more.

Chelsea 0-0 Southampton
This match was a dud for about 70 or so minutes before Cesc Fabregas was introduced into what could be his final Premier League match. He provided a much needed spark into the Chelsea attack, and there was a goal from Álvaro Morata that was wrongfully disallowed for offsides, but that was the best chance of the match. Southampton offered very little going forward, but they did manage to carve out a few half-chances that kept the match from being a completely one-sided affair.

Huddersfield Town 1-2 Burnley
This match was a bit of a scrum from the outset as there was very physical play from both sides throughout the match. Burnley managed to claw back from a goal down in order to secure the victory, but received a significant boost after Christopher Schindler was booked for a second time and sent off reducing Huddersfield to 10 men. The second half was dominated by Burnley who bagged a deserved winning goal, but will be frustrated that substitute Robert Brady received a straight red card in the 90th minute.

West Ham United 2-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton continue to compile impressive results as they managed to score twice in as many minutes to secure a lead before West Ham equalized with two Marko Arnautovic strikes in another two minute span. Both sides had great quality throughout the match, but West Ham should feel hard done after an obvious penalty claim was waved off by referee Chris Kavanaugh incorrectly. The result does move West Ham back into the top half of the table, and they should feel good about their match, even if they didn’t have the killer instinct to grab a winning third goal.

Wolverhampton 0-2 Crystal Palace
This result should trouble fans of Wolverhampton following their previous 3-1 win over Tottenham earlier in the week. Wolverhampton never seemed to get out of first gear throughout the match, and were dutifully punished by Jordan Ayew in the 83rd minute. Luka Milivojevic netted a penalty to clinch a win for Palace in the 94th minute, and Palace have pulled away from the relegation pack with a comprehensive win of a team that has been inconsistent as of late.

Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester United
Manchester United struggled for most of the match to break down Newcastle, and the inability of Newcastle to capitalize on some earlier chances will surely haunt them after this result. Manchester United were able to net two second half goals to secure their victory in a result they always looked likely to take. Unfortunately for Newcastle, the lack of positive football was once again present even at home as they looked incoherent when they did send men forward. Surely, both sides will take positives from this game, but this could a result Newcastle look back upon an rue should they be relegated.

January 3, 2019

Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
This match was an instant classic with neither side looking content to settle for a point. City got on the board first half when Sergio Agüero found the back of the net from a tight angle before Roberto Firmino equalized for Liverpool in the 64th minute. The deadlock was broken again by Leroy Sane in the 72nd minute, and City held their lead against a late onslaught from Liverpool. The result means that Liverpool are no longer the only unbeaten side, but they were beaten by a Manchester City side that found a gear that had been missing for most of the season. The best news, the title race is back on as only four points separate these two sides.

The Premier League will return after a FA Cup weekend on January 12. Here is a look at the current table after the festive fixture season.

Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic Secures Dream Move to the Premier League

Christian Pulisic secured a dream move to the Premier League as Chelsea splashed £60 million to secure the American playmaker’s services from German side Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic will remain on loan with his former club until the end of the year, but he is expected to join Maurizio Sarri‘s men over the summer and challenge for a starting spot then.

This move is both good and bad for Pulisic as he will be leaving a Dortmund side that he has found it harder to break into due to the emergence of Jadon Sancho and the health of Marco Reus, but there are serious concerns about the game time he may receive under Sarri as his pricetag is no assurance of featuring regularly at Chelsea. There is also a positive for a Dortmund side that has been shaken by transfer sagas that have included now former players who would show up late or not at all for training sessions and would refuse to play. For them to be able to move Pulisic will bode well for both the player and the club in the end.

His move also raises concerns for his career that seemed to be heading down a path that would make him one of the best American talents to grace the world footballing stage. That has largely petered out following a dismal World Cup Qualifying campaign that saw teams gameplan against him and has been followed up with fewer and fewer minutes at the Signal Igunda Park under new Dortmund boss Lucien Favre. By no means does that mean that Pulisic is already a bust for Chelsea, but his big money move to his dream league will carry additional burdens.

The financial tag of his transfer will bring with it high expectations, and the unrelenting nature of the Premier League could take its toll. There’s also the physicality of the Premier League which has seen Pulisic nullified in the international stage before. Granted, Chelsea has a greater collective talent than the U.S. Men’s National Team, but many players have struggled to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League.

Pulisic is also not the first big money transfer to Chelsea, and greater players have failed to live up to the billing at Chelsea in the past. Currently, the squad has Pedro and Álvaro Morata who have largely under-performed following big money transfers, and Pulisic will have to force his way into the side either over the likes of Pedro, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Willian. The closest comparison I see is Loftus-Cheek who has had trouble breaking into the squad, but Willian limped off after 36 minutes against Southampton yesterday which could allow Loftus-Cheek to may a greater case for a position in Sarri’s Starting XI. Since Pulisic won’t arrive until the summer, competition for places in the squad could increase meaning that he will receive less playing time, not more.

The piece that this doesn’t account for is the national team. Unlike many of the major powers in international football, the U.S. Men’s National Team does not currently have the luxury of being selective on the basis of regular football compared to a country like Spain. This is especially true with Pulisic who has solidified himself as the top talent in the side despite not yet being 20-years-old. At this point, Pulisic and his country need him seeing regular football so that he can grow into the player he has shown flashes of becoming.

I hope that his dream move to the Premier League pays off, and he is able to live up to the price Chelsea paid for him. This move will hopefully secure him more regular football and a chance to really grow into the future of American soccer and pave the way for other American youngsters to ply their trade in the elite leagues of Europe.

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Premier League Predictions Matchday 21

Finally! The teams will have made it beyond the festive fixture period, and will be rewarded with FA Cup ties over the weekend with league action resuming a week later. Last week, I may have gotten some results right, but my predictions for the scores were largely off the mark. Let’s try and get better this time around.

January 1, 2019

Everton vs. Leicester City
Everton are coming off a dismal month of form and a bad away defeat to a Brighton side that is proving that they can be a Premier League mainstay in the lower half of the table. Everton have looked resurgent at times under new boss Marco Silva, but have still looked like a side that still lacks something in matches. Leicester also come in on the heels of a less than ideal defeat to relegation candidates Cardiff, but that came after two impressive victories over Chelsea and Manchester City. Leicester find themselves in contention for a European place this season, and will be looking to add to their points tally when they visit Goodison Park. I see this result as a must-win for both sides, but more so for the home team. As such, I see Everton fighting hard for a win, and finding a way to pick up a positive result following a negative month.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Leicester City

Arsenal vs. Fulham
Arsenal come back to the friendly confines of the Emirates Stadium after enduring two torrid matches on the road that they and I alike would prefer to forget. Arsenal have been able to score plenty of goals this term, and that should bode well against a Fulham team who has had very little in terms of defensive solidarity. Fulham enter the match on the heels of two positive results including a win over bottom side Huddersfield Town. Although they will be without Callum Chambers who is unable to feature against his parent club, they will still fancy their shot at a point against injury-ravaged and defensive error-prone Arsenal. Arsenal will ahve the higher quality, but they will be unable to find the elusive clean sheet.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Fulham

Cardiff City vs. Tottenham
This match wraps up the slate on New Year’s Day and Tottenham will want to get back on track following a poor second half display against Wolverhampton. Cardiff City are flying high after their wonderstrike sealed victory against Leicester City. In a home match against a top side, Neil Warnock’s men will be hoping to steal a point in an effort to boost their survival hopes. This is a game Tottenham will be keen to in, and should very comfortably given Cardiff’s usual negative football.
Prediction: Cardiff City 0-2 Tottenham

January 2, 2019

Bournemouth vs. Watford
If this fixture had come two months earlier, Bournemouth would probably fancy their chance of victory far more than they do now. Lately, their defensive record has been poor, and they have only gotten three points in all matches since December 8. Watford’s recent form has been more encouraging, but they did lose the reverse fixture at home 4-0. Watford also rotated their squad with their eyes on this match seeing an opportunity to secure three crucial points on the road. However, Bournemouth will turn it around, but there will be plenty of goals for the neutral fan.
Prediction: Bournemouth 3-2 Watford

Chelsea vs. Southampton
Chelsea were far from their peak form over the weekend, and will be keen to earn a dominant victory over a Southampton side who will be without their captain due to his red card over the weekend. Chelsea have been playing well, and this is normally a fixture I would view as tricky for them, but they have shown a new attacking prowess under the guidance of Mauricio Sarri. Southampton finally look to have a recipe that could work for them going forward, but they have yet to remedy the defensive fragility that has them in the relegation scrap. They should take pride for most of the football they played against Manchester City, but will have to avoid switching off at the back if they hope to contain Chelsea. I still think a draw against the cards will happen as Southampton will attempt to control the damage against the attacking threat of Chelsea who have had trouble breaking sides down this season.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Southampton

Huddersfield Town vs. Burnley
Huddersfield come into the match without talisman Aaron Mooy, and have not really looked like a side that could survive the drop this season. They may show a greater attacking impetus at home, but they lack the quality to beat many of the teams above them. Burnley found a second gear last weekend at home, but have had a very Jekyll/Hyde season thus far. They have struggled to keep goals out, but still don’t possess the consistency in attacking power that allowed their approach of defensive pragmatism to work last season. I really don’t know how this one could end because I see a few different scorelines that are possible, but I will stick with my gut.
Prediction: Huddersfield Town 0-0 Burnley

West Ham United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
West Ham come into the match off the back of a shocking away defeat after looking like a side that had finally found its identity. They will most likely attempt to assert their control over a weaker Brighton side, but they will most likely have to muster moments of quality at both ends of the pitch. Brighton are soaring after getting an unlucky point against Arsenal (they should have won, take it from an Arsenal supporter) and they controlled proceedings against a lackluster Everton. Chris Hughton has his men playing with better defensive solidarity which should give them hope in this match. I see a West Ham victory, but Brighton will give it all they have.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

Wolverhampton Wolves vs. Crystal Palace
Wolverhampton come into this match off the back of a brilliant second half performance where they had their way with Tottenham. There is no doubt that they will try and jump Palace from the opening whistle as they love to show their attacking potential in front of the home supporters at the Molineux. Palace enter the match looking far cries from the team that took down the reigning champions, Manchester City, and have played negative football recently. They will hope for a point against Wolverhampton, but could find tough sledding if they decide to let Wolverhampton attack at will. I see an entertaining match in this one, and Wolverhampton will have the better of the goal scoring action.
Prediction: Wolverhampton 2-0

Newcastle Untied vs. Manchester United
Newcastle enter the match having picked up an average result against Watford, but they will get burned if they approach this match with negative football. Rafa Benitez has instilled defensive quality into this side, but Liverpool demonstrated just how easily they can be broken down. Manchester United are flying high after a managerial change that has breathed an attacking impetus into the side that Mourinho tried to kill off. Manchester United have found goalscoring easy to come by as they have scored twelve times in their last three matches. If this was played before Mourinho got sacked, this is a draw, but right now Manchester United will pile the suffering on Rafa Benitez’s men.
Prediction: Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United

January 3, 2019

Manchester City vs. Liverpool
This is the best match of the lot, and it is fitting that it closes out the festive fixture period. Manchester City got back to winning ways agaisnt Southampton, but they will face a more resilient Liverpool defense. The reigning champions need all three points here if they want to apply more pressure to Liverpool in the title chase. This is the toughest fixture Jurgen Klopp has this year, and he brings his unbeaten side into the match in fine form. Liverpool will feel like they can score against anyone as they have bagged nine goals from their last two matches. Both sides will want all three points. However, it will be Manchester City who bring an end to the undefeated run of Liverpool, and reverses the deed from a year ago.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool

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Premier League Breakdown at the Halfway Point

It occurred to me this morning that the Premier League was the only league that I had not done a breakdown for. First, there is no convenient winter break as the Premier League ramps up around Christmas. Second, there has not really been a convenient point to write this because of all the other leagues going on their winter break at the same time. However, I will do my best to give a comparable effort on a halfway point breakdown, and then react to the weekend’s matches.

Liverpool are yet to lose in the league this season, and top the table with a seven point cushion over reigning champions Manchester City. The biggest upcoming fixture in the league is the second round between those two clubs, and it could be decisive in the title race for either side as it would allow either side to either extend the lead or claw back in the chase for the title. The top 4 is rounded out by Tottenham and Chelsea with Arsenal lurking in fifth and still within striking distance for a Champions League place.

The biggest surprise of the year might be Burnley who made it into the qualifying stages for the Europa League after finishing seventh in the league a year ago. They currently languish in eighteenth and occupy the final relegation place in the league. At this point, you may be wondering why Manchester United didn’t make the cut for biggest surprise. That’s because three seems to be a magic number for José Mourinho. He has won three Premier League titles and has also not made it more than three years at any club. This was his third year, and Manchester United are playing much better under their caretaker manager. They are currently in sixth trailing Arsenal by three points.

Here’s a look at the previous matchday and a breakdown of the matches.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 Everton
Breakdown: Brighton had a resurgent second half performance that paid off with a one-goal win. It also means that Everton continue to slide in the table after some early positive performances. However, Brighton walked out deserved winners and pull farther away from the relegation pack currently sitting 13 points above safety.
Fulham 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Breakdown: Fulham needed some injury time heroics to secure their winning goal, but it helps them pull back into the fight to avoid relegation. Huddersfield Town may feel a bit hard-done by the result as they were solid for most of the game, but they switched off at the end and were made to pay the price as they remain in the bottom spot.
Leicester City 0-1 Cardiff City
Breakdown: Cardiff managed to sneak a victory against Leicester who had recently felled Man City and Chelsea, but were jubilant after a wonderstrike by Victor Camarasa (watch here). Leicester missed a penalty late on, but were held in check by a resolute display from the Cardiff defense and didn’t do enough to deserve a point.
Tottenham 1-3 Wolverhampton
Breakdown: This match is beginning to look like a classic every time it occurs. Tottenham controlled proceedings for the first half, but it was the away side who would rule the second 45. Wolverhampton clawed three goals out in a fantastic second half showing, and deservedly won the match after Tottenham failed to give an adequate display.
Watford 1-1 Newcastle
Breakdown: It was a vitnage Newcastle display as the ever pragmatic Rafa Benitez had his men stoutly defending their prized goal. However, the resistance was broken with an 82nd minute equalizer from Watford who finally found the killer ball to make their statistical dominance in the match count. Benitez will rue the poor defending of his side, but a draw was a fair result for both sides.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
Breakdown (the word that also describes my state after watching the match): This was a real tough one for me to watch. Would you believe me if I told you that Arsenal led in this match? It’s true, but they were thoroughly and comprehensively defeated by a far superior side at Anfield. Arsenal’s defensive fragility reared its ugly head once again, and Unai Emery will have some serious thinking to do when it comes to starting the likes of Mustafi and Lichtsteiner again. If it were up to me, both men would be sold in January for whatever we could get.
Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea
Breakdown: Chelsea picked up a one goal advantage shortly after halftime and never really looked in danger of surrendering their advantage. Palace did saunter forward in numbers and created a late chance, but like most of the day, they could not muster the quality to nick a goal back and steal a point at Selhurst Park.
Burnley 2-0 West Ham United
Breakdown: This fixture gave us the reverse side of two teams that had been polar opposites coming into the match. West Ham looked like an unstoppable force after only suffering defeat in one of their previous six league matches, but were deserved losers to a superior Burnley side who frustrated their every move. Burnley picked up a much needed win, and this could be the igniting spark to propel them to safety.
Southampton 1-3 Manchester City
Breakdown: Southampton looked like a team who could have stolen a point as they neared the 45th minute, but they quickly broke down on defense and shipped two goals in three minutes. The reduction to ten men was an insult to injury as Manchester City coasted in a second half where Southampton committed themselves to damage control.
Manchester United 4-1 Bournemouth
Breakdown: Manchester United continued their dominance under their caretaker manager as they once again showed the world that attacking football is possible in the red side of Manchester. They easily beat a shambolic Bournemouth team whose defense has been left on the team bus the past two matches.

Current table

The relegation scrap looks like it will continue into the final month of the season with every team having a chance to secure a Premier League stay for next season. However, the omen for Huddersfield Town will be bad as they sit bottom and face the worst chances for Premier League Survival. Fellow bottom dwellers Fulham and Burnley will be disappointed with their league positions, but they have recently won matches that boost their chances of surviving the drop at the end of the year. Southampton have turned things around of late, but should still be in danger of relegation unless they can sort out their defensive frailties. Another side hovering near the bottom is newly-promoted Cardiff City who are far from out of the woods, and a squad that looks likely for relegation.

Predictions

Player of the Year: Eden Hazard
Top Goalscorer: Harry Kane
Most Clean Sheets: (anyone but Arsenal) Alisson

Final Table

Liverpool (champion and Champions League qualification)
Manchester City (Champions League qualification)
Chelsea (Champions League qualification)
Tottenham (Champions League qualification)
Arsenal (Europa League qualification)
Manchester United (Europa League qualification because one of the Top 4 sides will win the FA Cup)
Leicester City (Europa League Final Qualifying Round qualification due to FA Cup result)
Wolverhampton Wolves
Watford
West Ham United
Everton
Brighton & Hove Albion
Crystal Palace
Newcastle United
Southampton
Burnley
Cardiff City (relegated)
Fulham (relegated)
Huddersfield Town (relegated)

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Serie A Breakdown Heading into the Winter Break

The first half of the Serie A season wrapped up this past weekend, and it was full of action. Most of the season has been fairly straightforward with Juventus dominating proceedings over the rest of the pack, and the only Champions League place that has a healthy challenge is fourth which became closer with Lazio dropping points this past weekend, which allowed Roma and AC Milan to make up ground.

The Top 4 is virtually a lock for the top three sides as Juventus, Napoli, and Inter all have secure cushions above the rest of the pack. Lazio currently hold the pole position for fourth place, but only hold a point over fifth place holders AC Milan and a two point point advantage over sixth place Roma. The battle between these three teams should be interesting because Lazio has a recent history of being the most consistent performer among the three sides. Both Roma and AC Milan have struggle for consistency this season, more so the latter, and all three will want to lure potential summer signings with the lure of Champions League football next season.

The biggest surprises of the season have to be Atalanta who finished sixth last season along with a run into the knockout rounds of the Europa League where they almost defeated Borussia Dortmund. This season, they currently languish in eighth place and were eliminated in the final Europa League Qualifying Round on penalties against FC Kobenhavn. Sampdoria are another side who are playing well, and who have posed serious threats to the top teams in Italy. They currently sit in seventh, and should be a contender for one of the European spots in the league.

Before I get into the future predictions, let’s recap the action from the prior matchday.

Last Matchday Results and Breakdown

Juventus 2-1 Sampdoria
Breakdown: Juventus got a Cristiano Ronaldo double that was sandwiched by a converted penalty for Juventus. However, it was Ronaldo’s second, also a penalty that secured the victory for Juventus. Sampdoria did manage to muster a solid effort for a second, but it was disallowed due to VAR.
Chievo Verona 1-0 Frosinone
Breakdown:Emmanuele Giaccherini Chievo Verona managed to take all three points in this match against 10-man Frosinone after they had a man sent off in the 58th minute. While the two bottom teams had very little to separate them, managed to scrape a goal and give his side the full share of the spoils.
Empoli 0-1 Inter
Breakdown: Keita BaldéInter finally got the fruit for its labors in the 72nd minute when broke Empoli’s tough resistance. Both sides did a decent job creating chances, but the quality of Inter was able to show through on a day where they were not at their most clinical given that they controlled the match for large spells.
Genoa 0-0 Fiorentina
Breakdown: This was a match where both teams just lacked the killer edge that would have secured all three points. Possession and shots were fairly equal, as were the chances created by both sides. Fiorentina will most likely be least satisfied with the single point, but both sides will be happy to have gotten something from the game.
Lazio 1-1 Torino
Breakdown: Both sides saw themselves reduced to ten men late on which sealed the fate of the match as a draw, but both sides got a goal that was deserved. Lazio had much more going forward and equalized in the 62nd minute, but ultimately lacked the clinical nature in their finishes that would have secured a home victory and given them a larger lead over fifth place AC Milan.
Parma 0-2 Roma
Breakdown: Roma secured a comprehensive victory, and finally got their two deserved goals in the second half. Parma offered very little going forward and looked more interested in keeping goals out rather than actually scoring goals. This match helped Roma climb back into the European places, and close the gap heading into the winter break.
Sassuolo 2-6 Atalanta
Breakdown: Atalanta secured a comprehensive victory over Sassuolo, headlined by a hat trick from substitue Josip Ilicic. Sassuolo did manage to score twice, but were overcome on day where the road team could not miss the back of the net. Both sides have great attacking initiative, but it was the clinical side of the Atalanta who shone the brightest.
Udinese 2-0 Cagliari
Breakdown: This was another match where both sides were reduced to 10 men, although it had little effect on the outcome which boosts Udinese’s chance of survival. The home side dominated proceedings against Cagliari and will move into the winter break on a high note following a deserved victory.
Napoli 3-2 Bologna
Breakdown: This was a cagey affair at times, but the quality of Napoli was what shone through at the end of the day. Bologna fought valiantly pulling equalizers back twice, but they were undone by the brilliance of Dries Mertens late in the match. The result fortifies Napoli’s position in second although the title race may be over.
AC Milan 2-1 SPAL
Breakdown: Things did not look good for Gennaro Gattuso’s men early on as they fell behind just thirteen minutes into the match. They did manage to equalize three minutes later, and managed to get enough of a hold on the game to knotch a 64th minute winner. This match may save Gattuso from a sacking until after the winter break, but they never really established control in a home match they should have been all over.

Current table

The relegation battle is already starting to take shape with Frosinone and Chievo Verona firmly rooted in the bottom of table. They both look likely candidates to go down. The battle for the final relegation spot is between SPAL 2013, Empoli, and Bologna, who currently occupy the final relegation spot. Although Bologna may edge closer to escaping the relegation zone, they have not shown the sufficient ability to get results against sides at home, and that will seal their fate.

Predictions

Player of the Year: Cristiano Ronaldo
Top Scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo
Most Clean Sheets: Samir Handanovic

Juventus (champion and Champions League qualification)
Napoli (Champions League qualification)
Inter (Champions League qualification)
Roma (Champions League qualification)
Lazio (Europa League qualification)
Sampdoria (Europa League Final Qualifying Round qualification)
AC Milan
Atalanta
Torino
Fiorentina
Sassuolo
Parma
Genoa
Parma Calcio 1913
Udinese
Empoli
SPAL 2013
Bologna (relegated)
Frosinone (relegated)
Chievo Verona (relegated)

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Serie A Predictions Matchday 19

Serie A closes out the first half of its fixture list tomorrow, and we have the breakdown and predictions for every match.

First, let’s look at the table.

Saturday December 29

Juventus vs. Sampdoria

Sampdoria come into the match off a fine vein of form, but their only reward is with the dominant club in Italy. Sampdoria easily dispatched of basement side Chievo Verona 2-0, and find themselves in fifth place entering the final match before the winter break. Juventus enter this match looking their usual dominant selves despite a slip-up last time out against Atalanta that saw them reduced to 10 men when Rodrigo Betancur was sent off for his second yellow card of the match. Any team that has Cristiano Ronaldo should enter the match favorites, and without an indication that he’ll be rested, Juventus will field a strong side albeit without Betancur who finds himself suspended for the match. Juventus walk out comfortable winners and take a healthy lead a the top into the winter break.

Prediction: Juventus 2-0 Sampdoria

Chievo Verona vs. Frosinone

Frosinone come into the match having held a struggling AC Milan to a draw last weekend, and hope that they can carry that same spirit into this fixture against Chievo who currently sit at the bottom of Serie A. Frosinone need to be taking all three points from this match in order to boost their chances of survival. Chievo come into this on the back of a 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria, and will know that they need to go for a win against another side at the bottom of the Serie A table. Chievo’s season has been a disaster all around as they were docked three points for fielding ineligible players, and have only recently managed to climb into a positive point total. Although my gut tells me a draw is the most likely result, I think this match has a winner in it for the away side.

Prediction: Chievo Verona 0-1 Frosinone

Empoli vs. Inter

Inter come into this match on the heels of a 1-0 victory over 9-man Napoli where they managed to knick a late goal. Inter has consistently been one of the better teams in Italy, and rightfully find themselves entrenched in third place in Serie A. Empoli enter this fixture after losing 3-0 last time out to Torino, and are in desperate need of points in order to secure safety for this season. Having one of the leakiest defenses in Serie A, it could prove difficult for them to stop Inter’s clinical attack. I see a draw in this match as Inter were pushed to the final whistle in their previous match, and this is the kind of fixture they have struggled in this season.

Prediction: Empoli 1-1 Inter

Genoa vs. Fiorentina

One week ago, Fiorentina got the better of AC Milan 1-0, and looked like a side that was making progress towards re-emerging as a top team in Italy. They then followed that up with a sloppy performance against Parma and fell to a defeat 1-0. Genoa come into this match having lost to a similar placed team, Cagliari, in a tight match. However, they overcame Atalanta one week prior by a scoreline of 3-1, which means that they are also a team that lacks consistency at times. Both sides have much that can be desired at times, but are eqaully matched for one another, so expect goals, but no difference between both sides as they get a fair point each.

Prediction: Genoa 2-2 Fiorentina

Lazio vs. Torino

Torino are playing well this season, which culminated in a comfortable 3-0 victory over Empoli last time out. As a side, they boast one of the better defensive records in Serie A and managed to hold Juventus to only one goal two weeks ago. Lazio is one of the unsung teams in Italy as they have produced some solid talent, but consistently manage to finish in and around the Champions League places in Serie A yearly. They currently occupy fourth and are coming off of two straight wins, and they are even in the Last 32 in the Europa League. I expect another solid outing by Lazio who will clinically dispatch of Torino, but it will be close.

Prediction: Lazio 1-0 Torino

Parma Calcio 1913 vs. Roma

The season so far from Roma has been a bit of a mixed bag as they have been a difficult team to predict due to their struggle for a consistent form. They managed to keep their match away against Juventus close, only losing 1-0, but they lost 2-1 to Viktoria Plzen despite fielding a more than capable team. Parma come home on the heels of a 1-0 victory against Fiorentina on the road which should give them hope against a Roma side that has struggled for road form. However, Parma may be concerned about their own form as they have only won one of their last five while managing home draws against two bottom table sides in Bologna and Chievo Verona. Roma should emerge victorious, but it may not be straightforward, and the scoreline will be a bit flattering.

Prediction: Parma 1-3 Roma

Sassuolo vs. Atalanta

Atalanta will come into this match feeling hard done with only a draw to show for their efforts against Juventus, but they did switch off on a late corner for Juventus who levelled through Cristiano Ronaldo. Atalanta did manage a victory against Lazio recently, and should enter this match as the favorites to emerge with all the spoils. Sassuolo find themselves in the middle of the table and are coming off of a 3-1 defeat to Roma last time out. Their recent form is encouraging, and it could yield them a much needed result against a team in Atalanta that is in the top half of the table. This match has a draw written all over it as both sides don’t have a tangible advantage over the other.

Prediction: Sassuolo 1-1 Atalanta

Udinese vs. Cagliari

Cagliari come into the match having only managed to grab a single point against three top seven teams, but they did rebound last time out by defeating Genoa in the middle of the week. Despite not travelling well to other sides, the last time Cagliari travelled to a bottom of the table side, they managed a victory defeating Chievo Verona 2-1. Udinese come into this match with an alright defensive record, but they have struggled for goals this season. They have only mustered a total of two goals across their past five matches which does not bode well for this match. Their record against similar teams is also poor as they could only manage a draw against Frosinone a week ago, despite being two places above them. Cagliari should emerge victorious, but will be made to work against an Udinese side who are eager to grab points.

Prediction: Udinese 1-2 Cagliari

Napoli vs. Bologna

Bologna enter the match having not won a league match since September 30, and not won any match since December 4. They also visit Napoli not scoring many goals, and conceding several which is a combination that has led to them occupying 18th place and the last relegation spot in Serie A. Napoli enter the match on the heels of a frustrating defeat to Inter that saw them reduced to 9 men, and saw racist chants hurled by Inter’s fans at center-back Kalidou Koulibaly. Napoli are a side that will be without Koulibaly and talisman Lorenzo Insigne after both were sent off against Inter, but still have lots of firepower to deploy in their stead. This will end in a comfortable Napoli victory.

Prediction: Napoli 4-0 Bologna

AC Milan vs. SPAL 2013

SPAL have managed to claw out some solid results in their last five fixtures, and held Napoli to only one goal away from home. SPAL should relish their chances against a shambolic AC Milan side, and will feel good about their ability to at least steal a point from this match. AC Milan have started to regress despite heavy investment in their squad over the last two summer transfer windows. Embattled boss, Gennaro Gattuso, could manage his last match for the Milanese side if he is unable to overcome SPAL at San Siro. His side have also only managed to score one goal in their past five matches across all competitions. This match will be nervy, but the quality of AC Milan will see them through to a positive result and the sparing of the sack for Gattuso, for now.

Prediction: AC Milan 2-1 SPAL

 

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Premier League Predictions Matchday 20

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.