West Bromwich Albion – Leicester City
So, I’m back to being confused about Leicester again. Are we supposed to keep cheering on Shakespeare since Leicester are no longer going to be relegated, or do we finally realise that it may have just been a honeymoon period? After all, they haven’t won a match in a nearly month (and that was against Sunderland). But, if we start questioning them, we’d have to assume that the players did down tools under Ranieri, which would make them mercenaries like everyone else in the top flight, which would destroy the good will behind last season’s magnificence, which would have me questioning if I can ever win my local hot dog eating competition. After all, I’ve never eaten more than two in a row, and the reigning champion ate seven in a minute last year. NO. I will win this competition, because Leicester ARE great and represent the underdog, and therefore Shakespeare IS the greatest manager of all time. Glad that’s settled.
Southampton – Hull City
In the wake of N’Golo Kante’s (delayed) PFA Player of the Year award last week, Claude Puel issued a challenge to Oriol Romeu – claiming that the young midfielder could eventually emulate the Frenchman. In response, the ex-Chelsea man scored against his old team in midweek. Of course, he was a bit pants for the other 89 minutes as Southampton collapsed to a (flattering) 4-2 loss. Puel’s men could really use an easy fixture to regain some momentum. It’s a good thing they’re not coming up against a reinvigorated bottom half side trying to stave off relegation.
Stoke City – West Ham United
As many have pointed out, Stoke are living in a strange alternate reality. As the English Premier League moves on from the days of unqualified ex-pro management and limited ambition (I mean, if Leicester can do it…), the Potteries seem to be stuck in the glory days of 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson and Anderson are still dominating the league, David Cameron represents the conservative branch of political thought, and Mark Hughes is still considered a progressive manager. Can you think of a better explanation for the complete lack of protest against what will be there 374th consecutive 9th place finish?
Sunderland – Bournemouth
David Moyes is really showing us a new side in response to the FA charge for his #bantz against the BBC’s Vicki Sparks. Not only has he amped up his rhetoric about believing in himself – might be a little too late to not get used to losing, mate – but he’s also started to believe in his team. After months of moaning about the quality in his squad, not to mention freezing out good players like Khazri, he seems to have suddenly turned a corner. He’s now convinced that his players are brilliant, their performances are magnificent, and that results will eventually pick up. Now, on the surface, this might seem a little crazy, but Moyes clearly has a plan. After all, if all those moves are working for Mourinho at Old Trafford, why wouldn’t they work at the Stadium of Light?
Crystal Palace – Burnley
While most of us would look at this fixture and go “it’s better than hanging out at the neighbour’s ‘get to know you’ barbecue”, there is one man who will be absolutely drooling at the prospect of Burnley’s trip to Selhurst Park. Sean Dyche, he of potential English management opportunities every purple patch, will have been dreaming of the day he finally gets to meet Sam Allardici, the grand old footballing man of complaining about those damn foreigners coming over and stealing our British jobs. Undeterred by the fact that most pundits and neutral fans actually rate him and want him to be given a higher posting, Dyche has been on a one-man crusade to complain about his poor lot in life. Finally, he’s going to get a chance to play against the man who rode that particular niche all the way to the shortest full-time position as England manager.
Manchester United – Swansea
In the modern age of football, it’s so easy to become saturated with the overwhelming amounts of information that’s constantly thrown at us – from the exact cost of Raheem Sterling’s mother’s house to the diameter of Ronaldo’s thighs (seriously). That’s why Manchester United’s injury crisis brings us such a great opportunity to delve into the unknown. Who’s going to start in midfield on Sunday? Will it be Axel Tuanzebe, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Matty Willock or James Pereira? Bet you don’t know if I made up any names in that list. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that there are even rumours that Wayne Rooney might start! If only United had a non-Carrick holding midfielder with top-level experience (preferably German or French). C’est la vie.
Middlesbrough – Manchester City
Thursday night’s 0-0 draw with cross-town rivals Manchester United seems to have finally broken Pep Guardiola. After months of dealing with tabloids and idiotic questions about formations from smug journalists nicknaming him Fraudiola, the ex-Barca man seems to have finally had enough. Asked what he made of the derby in a post-match presser, he responded by pointing out the score and laughing a little maniacally. Although to be fair, it’s hard to tell if this mini-breakdown is because of the constant media consternation or as a result of the weekly internal crisis the Spaniard has to face as he claims that Claudio Bravo put in yet another brilliant performance.
Everton – Chelsea
Ever since their surprising collapse at Old Trafford, everyone has been predicting Chelsea’s fall from grace. Despite consecutive wins since, the talk hasn’t really died down since they were more efficient than domineering in the FA Cup semifinal (the less said about Southampton’s performance, the better…). So, they come to Goodison with the country willing them to lose (which seems to have become a bit of a national past time in England ever since Jose moved over in 2005) and facing arguably the best striker in the league. If that wasn’t bad enough, Lukaku will be motivated by playing both his ex-employers and potential future ones. Is this going to be the Belgian’s breakout moment coupled with the re-ignition of the title race? No, because the Chelsea side is the most boringly perfect side ever, who having been walking the title since September. This is our collective karma for what may have been the greatest season in Premier League history last year.
Tottenham Hotspur – Arsenal
Here we are, our over-hyped, under-delivering match of the week. However, this is no Manchester derby as both sides love to attack having served absolute feasts in the recent past. After all, only Liverpool do boundless attacking and reckless defending better than Spurs and Arsenal. Or they did, at least until Poch rocked up to London and start telling people that defensive organisation was worth it. Bloody foreigners, coming over and ruining our game. Anyway, this has some serious potential as a DVD-worthy classic for Spurs. After all, it might be the last derby at White Hart Lane combined with a chance for them to finally end the menace of St. Totteringham’s day for the first time in the Wenger era. With all of that at stake, combined with a quite ridiculous home record, surely Spurs are favourites on Sunday?
Watford – Liverpool
This is such a finely placed match for Liverpool. The wrong set of results over the weekend could suddenly decimate their confidence and send them into a tailspin from which they might miss out on next season’s Champions League. They desperately need all of Leicester, Bournemouth, Stoke, West Ham and Palace to lose, or there may be no hope on Monday night. What, you thought I was talking about City’s or United’s fixtures? Have you not being paying attention? The only thing that matters to Klopp’s team is the position of their opponents. The Hornets are finely placed in 10th place, but could easily drop down into the lower half of the table – which would all but guarantee their victory over Liverpool. Oh wait, I just noticed that West Ham and Stoke are playing each other. Well, Thursday nights can be fun too.