Liverpool – Everton
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for Wayne Rooney – first he’s dropped from the England squad, and then he’s been pretty heavily linked with the Toffees. Although, I have to say, the move doesn’t make much sense to me. The benches at Goodison really don’t look that much more comfortable than the one at Old Trafford. Anyway, back to the game at hand – considering Liverpool’s immense record in important matches, who else thinks their last victory of the season is going to be an absolute whopper over their Merseyside rivals?
Chelsea – Crystal Palace
Antonio Conte’s all-conquering spine has been a little decimated over the international break with Costa, Courtois, Moses and Hazard all accumulating niggly injuries. Oh, and John Terry too, but we’re done pretending he’s important, right? Nevertheless, they’re all expected to be available for Saturday’s match, which fits so neatly into this season’s Chelsea narrative. Seriously, when was the last time a title winner wasn’t also extremely lucky with injuries?
Manchester United – West Bromwich Albion
United went into the international break in bullish form, having not lost a match since October and finally climbing up the table for the first time. Nevertheless, this isn’t exactly a vintage side, despite the quite ridiculous names on the team sheet. That’s why it must have been so heartening for fans to see Chris Smalling and Phil Jones roaring about United’s ambition after sneaking into fifth place. Well, at least until they both managed to get injured. Speaking from personal experience, this is such an inspiring time to be a United fan.
Leicester City – Stoke City
Leicester seem to finally have their mojo back under Shakespeare (who is odds on for the England job when Southgate inevitably leads the Three Lions to a group stage defeat in 2018). However, while most pundits will be backing them to rest some players before their midweek European quarterfinal (!), I can’t see them making too many changes. I still can’t believe I typed that sentence considering there is still a decent chance that the Foxes could still go down. What is happening at that club?
Watford – Sunderland
Watford must be absolutely delighted with their team so far. Despite sacking Quique Flores last season, they’re on course for another steady, midtable finish this year. On top of that, they’ve managed to revitalize the supremely talented M’Baye Niang AND signed Tom Cleverley to a five-year deal from Everton! I’m sure that’s going to be an absolutely brilliant move, that no one will regret when the Englishman is eventually loaned out to Championship strugglers and reigning European champions Leicester City next January.
Burnley – Tottenham Hotspur
This is an incredibly tricky match to call. On the face of it, it should be simple with Pochettino’s men swiping aside Dyche midtable stragglers. However, when you factor in Burnley’s ridiculous home form, the picture becomes muddier. Then you throw in the fact that Arsenal are so incredibly horrible this season, and you realise something real quick – Tottenham’s annual collapse is going to have to be much earlier and more drastic than usual for them to meet the regular St. Totteringham’s Day deadline. I mean, how else is Wenger going to justify keeping his job next season?
Hull City – West Ham United
I’m not sure what to make of this one. Silva’s men have given themselves a decent shot at staying up, while Bilic is doing his best impression of Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Well, minus the impressive FA Cup win. So, Roberto Martinez at Everton then. Either way, West Ham’s firepower should be able to overcome their defensive shortcomings – not to mention being away from the rabidly dull Olympic Stadium – and they should pick up at least a point.
Southampton – Bournemouth
I’ve just noticed that Southampton are exactly tenth in the table, and that may be the most perfect place for them. Given the absolutely crazy upheaval they’ve had over the last few years in terms of players and staff, it’s absolutely magnificent that they’ve managed to capture the most boring position in the league. The last club to manage that feat was Newcastle United under Pardew, though they may have stumbled across some excitement in the ensuing time. Meanwhile, Eddie Howe has reclaimed his, uhm, claim to the English throne managerial position with successive wins before the break. No doubt, Shakespeare is going to break his heart in a couple of years.
Swansea City – Middlesbrough
Despite all the talk of a Paul Clement-inspired revolution in Wales, Swansea’s only wins since January have been against Burnley away from Turf Moor (where they’ve picked up two points all season!), and a pre-Shakespeare Leicester City. In fact, if the newly appointed Steve Agnew can conjure up some goals from a Boro side that really should be doing better in that department, the Swans could quite conceivably fall back into the relegation zone. Maybe Bob Bradley and Francesco Guidolin weren’t the problem after all, eh?
Arsenal – Manchester City
This really has to be Wenger’s last chance at the Emirates. After years of being derisively called Barcelona-lite, Arsenal now have a chance to take on and beat what is quite possibly Pep Guardiola’s worst ever side. I mean, if a team containing Bendtner could be a peak Barcelona side, surely this Arsenal side can beat a struggling Manchester City team at home? Then again, everyone but Arsenal Fan TV seems to have figured out that this is all one big elaborate experiment by Wenger to see how much he can get away with (before obviously asking for a raise in his impending new contract), so obviously the Gunners are going to capitulate at home. Which will be followed by a nine-game unbeaten streak to finish in the top four.