West Bromwich – Arsenal
The Capped One takes on Le Professor in quite an intriguing match up. Pulis’ arrival on the Premier League stage all those years ago with Stoke precipitated Wenger’s moaning about how long ball football was ruining the spectacle of Arsenal’s annual glorious failure. Of course, Pulis never took notice as he kept ruining the Frenchman’s best laid plans through Rory Delap’s elastic throws (remember him? God, I feel old). Of course, now Pulis is trying to play some Wenger ball himself with a team of central defenders, so are we going to see him complaining about Arsenal parking the bus in a match the Gunners need to win? That would be a thing of beauty.
Sunderland – Burnley
Ah the competition of losers. If it were possible, I would bet on both these teams to lose this match. Burnley’s record away from home – a grand total of two (2!) points all season – is absolutely abysmal. Then again, Moyes’ defence is led by Joleon ‘I tweeted a picture of my billion pound car by accident’ Lescott. This really isn’t a match I recommend to any viewers, especially from Sunderland or Burnley. Why don’t you treat yourself by checking out your local fifth division team? The football will be better, I assure you.
Stoke City – Chelsea
Chelsea are going to be on a high after scraping past (10 man) United (at home) in the cup last weekend (as their opponents played thrice in a week). What do you mean I’m bitter about my team losing at the Bridge? How dare you, I am a thoroughly professional writer that has analysed the stats and come up with a prediction that is assured to be correct. I would bet the house on it if I were you. It is a completely objective prediction.
Crystal Palace – Watford
Allardici seems to finally have Palace playing to the standards he demands, with their play almost as smooth as a nice pint of Pinot. In all seriousness, their away victory at the Hawthorns was outstanding and a good follow up to their no-nonsense dispatching of Middlesbrough (let’s just forget about that match against Sunderland, for now). Considering the leakiness of Watford’s defence at the moment, I can see Christian Benteke having some fun this weekend. Well, that’s if he can somehow rouse himself into getting off the bench considering all his recent moaning.
Everton – Hull City
Speaking of discontent strikers, Koeman seems to have a real problem on his hands with Romelu Lukaku. Of course, the Belgian has regular form in trying to force a move away from Goodison in March only to declare his undying love for the club in July, but his manager should still be worried. Last season’s outburst led to a drought of Saharan proportions, as Everton dropped down the table and Martinez was led out the door. In theory, that shouldn’t happen again, but this is still a side with Ashley Williams as their leading defender. Without Lukaku’s goals, things could get ugly very fast.
West Ham United – Leicester City
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Leicester fan at the moment. After the ridiculous highs of last season, they’ve spent all season mired in a relegation battle as Ranieri’s sheen was starting to wear off. However, before fans could really get disgruntled, the owners told the Italian to get dilly-donged. That led to a lot of hand-wringing and moral outbursts, and yet Craig ‘headline writer’s wet dream’ Shakespeare has turned things around – even leading Leicester to an improbable Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid. So, my question now is, who am I angry with? Shakespeare and the players for undermining and usurping Ranieri? The owners for making a decision that has confusingly paid off? I hate nuance.
Bournemouth – Swansea City
Eddie Howe is back! English football can rest easy, as the Bournemouth manager led his team to a much-needed victory over West Ham last weekend, with Josh King scoring a hat trick (did you know he was Norwegian? Will wonders never cease). Even more pertinently for the English job, the Cherries were able to pick up the points despite missing two penalties! Has there ever been a manager better suited to England, or what? Although, in Southgate, England have someone who is finally willing to pick players based on form rather than club. Plus, he dropped Rooney from the squad. I’m confused again.
Middlesbrough – Manchester United
Despite Mourinho’s incredible achievement of becoming the United manager to ever win a trophy in their first season, many are questioning his leadership at the club, from fans to legends like Roy Keane. And, you have to say, United’s recent performances – unambitiously losing to Chelsea and scraping past Rostov – won’t have done the Portuguese any favours. Luckily, the Happy One (or has he gone back to Special?) came out with all guns blazing after the Europa league tie, by claiming that United will probably lose to Middlesbrough because of their tough match against the Russians. Oh.
Tottenham Hotspur – Southampton
Unlike Manchester United, who have played about 25 games since the League Cup final, Southampton have had a fairly easy ride of it. With just the one game since, a titanic 4-3 victory at Vicarage Road, Claude Puel’s men should be raring to have a go at White Hart Lane. In Gabbiadini, they have a player already shoving himself into the debate for best transfer of the season. How Spurs must wish they had landed a striker with their prowess anytime since Jermain Defoe’s departure, considering Kane’s recent injury. As it is, they’re left choosing between an out-of-position, flat-track bully in Son, and a Dutch backup that reminds me of a puppy – energetic and lovable but completely useless on a football pitch.
Manchester City – Liverpool
You have to say, Guardiola must be absolutely tearing his hair out at the prospect of this match. Well, if he had any at least. After a demoralising defensive display against Monaco – the highlight of which was six-goal conceding John Stones claiming the forwards should’ve done better – the ex-Barca man must’ve wished he had a nice simple match against willing opponents to get back on track. Instead, he’s got a game against the maniacal Liverpool, who are probably the only team in England who have a similarly attack-minded approach to Monaco. Add in the Reds infuriating record of astounding the top six while rolling over for the rest, and Guardiola might be looking at a season-ending match in March.