Arsenal v Newcastle
After last week’s thumping at Anfield, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will need to put their trauma well and truly behind them if they are to recommence their previously impressive run of form. With Covid complications now out of the way, Eddie Howe can at long last make his return to the Premier League in the Newcastle dugout. Their thrilling 3-3 draw last time out proved that the Magpies aren’t entirely toothless going forward, albeit against an uncharacteristically sloppy Brentford, but clearly there lie problems in defence.
Howe is no gaffer-tape gaffer, his sides play sophisticated football, and this will take time to implement. Despite any lift provided by that distinctive new manager smell, the Gunners should have more than enough to prevail in front of the padded seats of the Emirates in this weekend’s early kick-off. The absence of injured Granit Xhaka will hardly alter this.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 – 1 Newcastle
Crystal Palace v Aston Villa
Certainly one to tune into Match of the Day for, this looks to be an intriguing clash between two sides building up a little steam. Villa will hope they’ve turned a corner with Steven Gerrard’s arrival, winning last week for the first time since they toppled a woeful Man United almost two months ago. The combination of new manager and late goals seems the perfect recipe to revitalise an otherwise dwindling side.
However, in the Eagles they come up against worthy opponents, playing a brand of intelligent and dynamic football instilled by the impressive Patrick Viera, and with Odsonne Edouard in fine form in front of goal. Though Palace are one game away from a record unbeaten run, now would be a handy time to start converting some of these draws into victories. Should be an entertaining game if both sides line up in their preferred 4-3-3. Could go either way.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 2 – 2 Aston Villa
Liverpool – Southampton
For Southampton, this is as bad a time as any to visit Anfield. Having thrown away a one goal lead last time out away to Norwich, a team literally incapable of mounting successful comebacks, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will have to wait until December to pick themselves up, despite the anticipated return of Nathan Redmond.
They face a Liverpool team in full stride, having drubbed a decent Arsenal side and coasted past Porto with a half-strength eleven all in the last week. Van Djik, Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Jota to all return should Jurgen Klopp deem it necessary, and expect a resounding victory for the home side.
Prediction: Liverpool 4 – 0 Southampton
Norwich v Wolves
Under the much underrated coaching of Dean Smith, Norwich will hope to build on their entertaining comeback against Southampton last time out. However, as with any new marriage, it is not the honeymoon that counts, the real question is: will the kids grow up dysfunctional? I fully expect Dean Smith to develop highly articulate and independent-minded footballing offspring during his time at Norwich.
That said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and as with Howe at Newcastle, rigorous footballing systems take time to install. Perhaps then, the visit of this impressive Wolves side to Narrow Road comes a little soon. For gone are the days of Nuno Espirito Santo and drudging corpse of Mourinhoism. Under Bruno Lage, Wolves lie sixth in the table, and come straight from a brilliant victory against West Ham – perhaps the standout side of the season so far. The away side should prevail, but they may have to dislodge a few spanners from the works along the way.
Prediction: Norwich 2 – 3 Wolves
Brighton v Leeds
Graham Potter will be concerned about his side’s form. For perhaps the first time in his hugely impressive spell with the Seagulls, the cream appears to be curdling a little at the Amex. They are without a win in seven games, and their trademark positional system appears a little fractured. Remarkably, Marco Bielsa’s Leeds appear in a near-identical boat, albeit one rather further down the league table. This will be one of those games for the tactical nerds out there.
Two teams who will contest to control the game on their own terms, to dominate the ball; two teams who’ll play bold, vertical passing football; and what’s more two teams who really need a win. As with all games Leeds play against opponents not content to sit back and counter, Bielsa’s blitzkrieg man-marking system is bound to throw the whole thing right up in the air. There could be goals; there could be none. Either way it’ll be a fascinating tactical battle. Perhaps Leeds, a mere two points from the drop, need it just that little bit more?
Prediction: Brighton 3 – 4 Leeds
Brentford v Everton
That the West Londoners’ defence has resembled something of a kitchen colander, will no doubt be enough to’ve cause a few of the immaculate hairs on Tomas Franck’s coiffed head to stand on end in recent weeks. Much like the teams contesting
Saturday’s late kick-off, Brentford’s well-oiled positional machine has been malfunctioning somewhat of late. However, when they welcome Everton they welcome a side with problems at both ends: similar leakages at the rear, and absolute constipation above. Controversial appointment Rafa Benitez is yet to endear himself to Goodison Park, and the Toffees are winless in six. Expect Brentford to win a cagey affair. Not a game worth missing your Sunday pork and gravy for.
Prediction: Brentford 1 – 0 Everton
Burnley v Tottenham
Even a manager of Antonio Conte’s quality might not be enough to excavate the rot at the heart of Tottenham Hotspur. The squad is imbalanced and laced with clumsy mediocrity, while the talisman has succumbed to an apathy typical of those trapped in contract bondage. Perhaps the source of suffering, though, lies elsewhere in the club. Perhaps it resides within the domed, spherical head of a certain chairman with a penchant for auto-mythologizing about negotiation-genius.
Regardless, Spurs are far from out of the woods. Though they ought to beat this dogged Burnley side, a game requiring such mental and physical toil as one at Turf Moor may well prove beyond their means. I predict a Burnley upset, though once again, this won’t be one to sacrifice your creamed cabbage and potatoes to catch.
Prediction: Burnley 1 – 0 Tottenham
Leicester v Watford
Ever since his infamous media-rant shortly following his sacking from the club, the notion of Claudio Ranieri returning to the King Power Stadium has always been an amusing one. Despite the poor season (by their high standards) that Leicester have been experiencing thus far, there seems little evidence to suggest that they won’t have the last laugh against the man who took them on such a legendary Premier League-winning journey in 2016. That said, Brendan Rodgers’ side has shown a remarkable ability for shooting itself in its proverbial, collective foot since the start of the campaign, so who can really say for sure…
Prediction: Leicester 2 – 1 Watford
Manchester City v West Ham
Having claimed the scalps of Liverpool and Leicester in the league, and United and City in the cup, David Moyes’ cockney brigade currently occupy fourth place in the table. That said, beating a side as slick as City on their own patch will take quite some doing, and even their performance of the season will not be enough should Guardiola’s reigning champions find so much as second gear.
After a masterly performance in midweek, where they utterly outclassed PSG, the citizens will be confident of putting on a show for the Etihad faithful, no matter the competence of Moyes’s side. It says a lot about the coherence of a team that they arguably play as attractively with Kevin De Bruyne sidelined due to Covid, as they do with him pinging the ball around from the half-space. Slick City once again.
Prediction: Manchester City 3 – 0 West Ham
Chelsea v Manchester United
A strange thing happened this week. The powers that be at Old Trafford made a decision that seemed slightly more considered than had it been made by a spoilt 6-year-old: they appointed Ralf Rangnick as their interim manager. What’s that, you say, a non-celebrity, non-feel-good, non-marquee-name? You heard. Now, this is bound not to last.
No doubt as soon as the next famous yet perhaps over-rated manager (*cough* Pochettino *cough*) can be coaxed to Manchester, you can bet that poor cerebral Rangnick will be packing up his bags, ideas and integrity before Rio Ferdinand has tweeted a single cliché.
But for the time being, Man United have somehow given themselves a shot at, if not progress, at least arrested decline. All this is very well and good however, but will it give them a shot at getting some points from their Sunday afternoon trip to Stamford Bridge?
Almost certainly not. It hardly requires great skills of the imagination to envisage what happens when Thomas Tuchel’s ruthless, grim-faced killers come up against a the following: 4 x highly skilled yet fundamentally selfish attackers who refuse to put a shift in off the ball; 5 x midfielders and defenders who specialise in panicked and violent error-making; a keeper who will make half a dozen world-class saves in the first half before letting in a howler in the second; and Luke Shaw. It will be a slow death for Man United this Sunday. Expect Chelsea to play with their food, while you digest yours.
Prediction: Chelsea 1 – 0 Manchester United