EPL: What Next Season’s Contenders Need to Do to Improve in the Summer (Part 1)

With Chelsea having one hand on the Premier League trophy, those who fell short are already looking to new hope next season. A highly anticipated transfer window awaits in the summer, and there are improvements to be made for all the top clubs.

Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku is seen as a potential replacement for Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Goal.com)

For presumed champions, Chelsea faces quite a bit of uncertainty heading into next season. Rifts between manager Antonio Conte and striker Diego Costa have caused the latter to be linked with a move to China. Real Madrid is also reportedly interested in superstar Eden Hazard.

 

It is paramount that the Blues hang on to Hazard and find an adequate replacement for Costa if he leaves. Two options are Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata. Both are quick, strong and left-footed handfuls for defenders. Lukaku once played with Chelsea and a deal featuring Hazard for Morata and money has been rumored as a possibility.

Chelsea will also want to make sure they hang onto goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is seemingly always linked to leaving Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino will be searching for the final piece to his Spurs title puzzle. After likely coming up short back to back seasons, the Spurs need to sign players to upgrade the wing and midfield positions.

Despite a great second half to the season, Son Heung-Min is not a true winger, and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who has been linked to Tottenham, would be a great fit. He would add a pacy threat and could cross the ball into Harry Kane.

In the midfield, Moussa Dembele will turn 30 this summer. A young, dominant midfield presence alongside Dele Alli would boost the Spurs. The Monaco duo of Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko are options, as well as Nice’s Wylan Cyprien.

As far as departures, Kyle Walker has been linked to a move to Man City. While his departure would be a blow, the Spurs should be fine as long as they retain Kane, Alli, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp has continued to deliver results despite what many consider to be an underwhelming squad. Liverpool can perhaps improve more than any of their competitors with a good transfer window this summer.

Signing Virgil Van Dijk would sure up Liverpool’s woes at the back. (Photo by Sports Mole)

Klopp’s most glaring issue is at the back where Liverpool was repeatedly vulnerable. Alberto Moreno is not a true left back, and the Reds could use a solid center-back to pair with Joel Matip. Klopp is looking at Southampton duo Ryan Bertrand and Virgil van Dijk to fill the void. He also has his eyes on Burnley center-back Michael Keane.

Liverpool could also target a true striker this summer. While Roberto Firmino is great, he is not a true striker. Daniel Sturridge can’t stay healthy, and Divock Origi has been inconsistent. Romelu Lukaku or Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette could work in Klopp’s system.

The good news for Liverpool is that they aren’t expected to lose anyone major in the summer. If Klopp can be smart with his buying, the Reds could be really improved ahead of a likely Champions League campaign.

 

(Featured Image by Sportskeeda.com)

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Is Champions League Still Reachable For United Without Zlatan?

Manchester United’s quest for Champions League football next season took a massive hit when star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered serious damage to his ACL and PCL ligaments in Thursday’s Europa League tie with Anderlecht .

United are fighting the battle for Champions League on two fronts, in England and in Europe. Jose Mourinho’s side controls their own destiny for a top four finish in the Premier League. Thursday’s showdown with Manchester City will have serious table implications in addition to the heated derby atmosphere.

A difficult schedule still awaits, with visits to City, Arsenal and Tottenham still to come. Zlatan’s injury thrusts the spotlight on young Marcus Rashford and club legend Wayne Rooney at striker. Anthony Martial will also likely be given a chance to redeem himself for past chances not taken.

Manchester United will need Wayne Rooney to re-find his form of old.

Rashford has been significantly better in the last month and can give shaky backlines fits with his pace and work rate. Rooney and Anthony Martial both stepped up by scoring United’s goals in a 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday. If that trio continues to play well, it could even be an improvement over filtering the entire attack through Ibrahimovic. Liverpool’s loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday puts United in their best table position in months, making a top four dream very much alive.

In Europe, the Red Devils are in the Semi-finals of the Europa League. They must win the competition in order to automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League. Celta Vigo from Spain will prove to be a difficult test in the semis.

While they only sit tenth in La Liga, Celta have proved they can be giant killers by defeating both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season. Forward Iago Aspas is tied with Antoine Griezmann for fifth in La Liga with 16 goals on the season. Man U also lost defender Marcos Rojo to injury and will be shorthanded facing Aspas and the dangerous Celta attack.

Iago Aspas has tormented opposing defenses all season.

United will likely play similarly to the way they did against Anderlecht. Expect Mourinho to be conservative in the opening away tie and attack back home in Manchester in the decisive second tie.

 

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Is Chelsea’s Title Run Under Threat?

With Chelsea seemingly strolling to its second title in three years, recent attention has been cast on the race for the top four as well as the relegation battle. The Blues were stunned 2-1 at home against Crystal Palace on the weekend, but bounced back on Wednesday with a victory over Manchester City by the same score.

Tottenham stand as Chelsea’s lone obstacle to a second title in three years.

Tottenham stormed back late to defeat Swansea City and maintain a seven point gap between them and the Blues. So, with eight games left in the season. Do fixtures favor the chasers?

CHE  (71 pts)             TOT (64 pts)

@Bou                          Wat

@ManU                       Bou

Sou                            @Lei

@Eve                         @Cry

Mid                             Ars

@Wba                        @Whu

Sun                            Mun

Wat                            @Hull

 

Tottenham face Arsenal in addition to the Manchester United match-up both sides have. Fortunately for Spurs, they host the Red Devils, while Chelsea must travel to Old Trafford. Chelsea have two very easy match-ups on the slate when they host Sunderland and Middlesborough.

While the Blues have arguably the easier schedule, and a nice point cushion, there are difficulties left. In addition to the visit to Old Trafford, Chelsea must also play at Everton and West Brom. Both sides are in the top 10 and pose serious threats to Chelsea.

It is still quite a long shot that Chelsea let the title slip through their fingers. In a year with many notable collapses in sports, the traps are there if Chelsea are not careful.

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Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 27

Solid recent play has maintained helped Chelsea maintain a double digit lead in the Prem as we round into March. While the Blues have excelled, other top teams have struggled, which has lead to a tight race for the top four.

Two of the teams firmly entrenched in the top four race are Arsenal and Liverpool, who meet this weekend in a critical match-up between two sides who have had less than encouraging starts to 2017. This match-up headlines a weekend full of potential traps for teams toward the top of the table to trip on.

Liverpool vs Arsenal

 A rematch of Liverpool’s victory at the Emirates on the opening weekend of the season, both sides could desperately use three points to jump-start their respective starts to the new year.

Liverpool are coming off an embarrassing defeat to Leicester on Monday, in which their defense crumbled as Jamie Vardy had a field day retrieving long balls. Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane headline an always dangerous attack, but Liverpool’s defense is always a concern. Alberto Moreno is not a true full back and there is a lack of depth at the center back position behind starters Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. If Liverpool’s defense can bend and not break against the Gunners, then Jurgen Klopp’s men will have a good chance Saturday.

For Arsenal, it appears to be another season where they are simply fighting for the top four. Uncertainty over the futures of manager Arsene Wenger and stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil has put a damper on the Gunners’ season. Arsenal’s defense will be severely tested by Liverpool’s attack at Anfield on Saturday and Arsenal will need to take advantage of the hosts’ shaky defense.

Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1

 

Tottenham vs Everton

 Both sides are in stunning form domestically at the moment. Everton are yet to lose in the new year and Tottenham are coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Stoke City. Spurs’ faint title hopes are on the line every week now as they must get three points every fixture.

The hosts are very tough to handle this season when playing in the confines of White Hart Lane. Star striker Harry Kane is coming off a hat trick and midfielders Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have had masterful seasons. Spurs must be consistent for all ninety minutes and not let discipline cause dangerous set piece situations against a team that excels in scoring off of them.

Everton are nipping at the heels of Manchester United at the bottom of the “top six”. Romelul Lukaku shares the title of leading goalscorer this season. Ross Barkley brings creativity to the midfield and Joel Robles has been somewhat of a revelation in goal this season. Ronald Koeman is very good at getting his players prepared for big games like this one and these are the types of games that the Toffee’s will need to perform in if they want to be viewed as a top English side.

Tottenham 3 Everton 2

 

Other Predictions: (Home in Bold)

Manchester United 2 Bournemouth 0

Stoke City 1 Middlesbrough 0

Leicester 1 Hull 0

Swansea 2 Burnley 1

Watford 2 Southampton 2

West Brom 1 Crystal Palace 1

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 1

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First to Worst? Who is Leicester’s Competition in Relegation Battle?

As Chelsea has maintained its stronghold atop the Premier League table, the excitement has been at the bottom. A fascinating and close relegation battle features six teams within four points of the bottom three. Among those teams are the defending champions Leicester City who have endured a miserable campaign thus far. The Foxes sit in seventeenth place just one spot above the relegation zone. The Foxes face a variety of different sides in their battle to stay up.

15. Swansea City (24 pts)

After two managers and a miserable start to the season that saw them sitting in last for the majority of the first half of the season, Frenchman Paul Clement has turned the side around. With three wins in six league games, the Swans’ current form could see them to safety sooner than later.

Midseason hire Paul Clement has ignited Swansea and taken them out of the relegation zone.

Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson is a class above everyone else on the team. Eight goals and eight assists show how much of a spark he gives to the attack. The aerial prowess of summer signing Fernando Llorente has also given Swansea a threat in the box. If Clement continues to coach inspired football, then Swansea could very well make their great escape.

16. Middlesborough (22 pts)

‘Borough’s four wins in the league this season is bottom in the Premier League. That pretty much sums of the season for the side as Middlesborough have consistently played defensive ‘park the bus” football in hopes of salvaging draws.

Their biggest problem is an inconsistent and uninspiring attack. 31 year old striker Alvaro Negredo is a poacher and has bagged six goals this season but the side lack creativity apart from inconsistent winger Adama Traore. Defensively, Middlesborough got a bargain when they signed goalkeeper Victor Valdes on the cheap. Valdes and a stout backline have kept Middlesborough in a lot of games this year and will need to continue to do so if they want to avoid relegation.

17. Leicester City (21 pts)

18. Hull City (20 pts)

The newly promoted Tigers started off the season well by stunning the reigning champs on opening day. Unfortunately for Hull, its been a bumpy ride then. As is the case with other newly promoted sides, Hull have endured major attacking struggles. Perhaps their best goalscorer Robert Snodgrass departed for West Ham in January. The second lowest scoring in the side needs to change that if they want to stay up.

The one positive for Hull is that two January signings have looked solid in defender Andrea Ranocchia and winger Lazar Markovic, formerly of Liverpool. It remains to be seen if the new signings can save the Tigers from relegation.

19. Crystal Palace (19 pts)

Apart from Leicester, Palace are probably the most surprising name on this list. With talented attacking players such as striker Christian Benteke and winger Wilfried Zaha and new goalkeeper Steve Mandanada, many fancied them to challenge for a Europa League spot.

Like Leicester, Wilfried Zaha (above) and Crystal Palace have underwhelmed this season.

However after several dull performances under former manager Alan Pardew, Palace are still struggling to put it all together under new manager Sam Allardyce. Big Sam has performed miracles to avoid relegation before but he will need to better utilize his players strengths. Still only a few months into his tenure at Selhurst Park, Allardyce is learning. But if Palace fans hope to stay up, adjustments must be made and they better hope Allardyce is a fast learner.

20. Sunderland (19 pts)

The only team below Crystal Palace is Big Sam’s former club, Sunderland. The Black Cats have been a one man show starring striker Jermain Defoe this season. The 34 year old Englishman is having a phenomenal season single-handedly carrying Sunderland’s attack. Having scored 14 of his sides’ 24 league goals, it isn’t hard to see why Sunderland did everything they could to keep him in January.

David Moyes has quite the job on his hand if he hopes to save Sunderland due to lack of funds. The inability to make purchases in January hindered Moyes’ plans for the club. He will need to improvise and get help from key players such as Defoe and center back Lamine Kone if Sunderland have any chance of saving themselves.

 

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Preview & Predictions: Matchweek 25

Following a dominating 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday, Chelsea still enjoy that comfortable nine point cushion at the top of the table. The only side showing any signs of catching them this season is Tottenham, who face a very real test against an albeit struggling, but desperate and dangerous Liverpool at Anfield. The relegation battle is very exciting however, as five team including Leicester could be in safe or in last at the end of fixtures this weekend.

Jurgen Klopp has been under fire as Liverpool have endured a brutal start to 2017

Liverpool vs Tottenham:

The weekends’ marquee match-up takes place at the home of the desperate Reds. Jurgen Klopp & Co. haven’t won in five matches and will not have it easy against a Tottenham side that is oozing confidence as they have jumped to second in the table.

Liverpool have dominated most if not all of their recent defeats. Their failure to convert chances has been their downfall. Now, against the best defense in the league, Sadio Mane and Co. will need to be sharp in the final third. For Spurs, they also could improve their finishing as they have been reliant on penalties to get them three points this season. Dele Alli is the highest scoring midfielder in the league.

Liverpool are known to play well against big competition, expect them to give Spurs a tough test on Saturday.

Liverpool 1 Tottenham 1

Leicester’s star striker Jamie Vardy has been mostly quiet this season and will look to score against Swansea.

Swansea City vs Leicester City

A surprisingly big matchup this weekend in Wales. Leicester, following an embarrassing display against Manchester United, will likely be in the relegation zone if they lose this one. The same can be said for Swansea, who know what its like to be threatened by relegation this season. A recent spike in form under new manager Paul Clement has the Swans temporarily safe.

Leicester have the talent to succeed in this league, as they proved last season. Their stars have been quiet the entire year and that will need to change if the Foxes hope to avoid the drop. Jamie Vardy will look to end a seven game dry run against a team that has allowed the most goals at home this season in the Premier League.

For Swansea, they need to lean on their veterans to save them from relegation. Striker Fernando Lllorente is a proper threat in the air and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson plays at a Champions League level. If the Swans sure up at the back, they have the firepower up front to make Leicester trouble.

Swansea 1 Leicester 2

Other Matches

Arsenal 1 Hull 1: Hull in improved form and Gunners have been shaky without Wenger on the touchline.

West Ham 1 West Brom 1: Two sides in good form, expecting a hard fought draw here.

Man United 2 Watford 1: Watford are dangerous but United have confidence after thrashing Leicester

Middlesborough 0 Everton 1: Everton are very underrated and have enough to win at pesky ‘Borough.

Stoke 2 Crystal Palace 1: Palace will look to regroup after embarrassing outing vs Sunderland. Wont happen at stingy Stoke.

Sunderland 1 Southampton 1: Sunderland gained confidence last weekend. Lets see what they can do with it.

Burnley 1 Chelsea 1: Burnley one of the best home sides in the league will steal a point against league leaders Chelsea.

Bournemouth 1 Man City 2: City’s youth revival will continue at Bournemouth.

 

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Promising Premier League Players To Watch Under the Age of 21

The Premier League has long prided itself on having some of the greatest youth programs in the world. Some of the world’s greatest players rose to the top at a young age. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Gareth Bale (Southampton/Tottenham), and Wayne Rooney (Everton/Man United) are a few recent examples among the many quality players produced by the Premier League.

There is youth talent galore in the Premier League at the moment. Many managers have made a recent effort to get youth talent more involved and to start planning for the future. Here are some players who could be top dogs one day.

Alex Iwobi (Age 20), Arsenal/Nigeria

Alex Iwobi broke into the Arsenal first team last year and his promise has tempted Arsene Wenger to continue playing him. Iwobi is a winger with decent pace. He is very dangerous in one-on-one situations and crosses the ball effectively. If he can improve on his finishing, Iwobi will add another aspect to his already multi-faceted game.

Mason Holgate (20), Everton/England

Holgate is a very versatile defender who has thrived for Ronald Koeman when he has been called upon. With seven caps on the season, Holgate has amassed a 7.24 average match rating on WhoScored.com. This figure puts him third on the team. Holgate’s quickness allows him to get forward if he is playing at fullback, but he is also very strong and wise beyond his years for a young centre-half.

Tom Davies (18), Everton/England

Davies has exploded onto the scene in the last month. The previously unknown midfielder was impressive against Hull in December and put on a masterful performance in the Toffees’ 4-0 thrashing of Manchester City.

Davies shows tremendous poise in tight areas for someone his age. His goal against City showed he is a clinical finisher as well.

Ben Chilwell (20), Leicester City/England

The heir-apparent left back to the steady Christian Fuchs at Leicester, Ben Chilwell is highly coveted by many top teams across Europe. He is an outstanding dribbler who gives the Foxes a threat going forward when on the field. In addition to dribbling, Chilwell is also a prolific passer.

The one area in which he needs to improve before he is a regular starter at Leicester is his mentality. Too many times Chilwell has been caught out of position or put his team in a tough spot by trying an ambitious tackle. If he can stop mental mistakes, Chilwell has world-class potential.

 

Demarai Gray (20), Leicester City/England

Gray has seen his playing time increase this season at Leicester following some promising performances early. Gray is a skilled dribbler and a very solid finisher for a winger. He is still improving his passing, prompting Leicester to play him at striker on occasion. His pace and size suggest Gray is better suited on the wing, where he can give opponents nightmares.

Kelechi Iheanacho (20) Manchester City/Nigeria

Like his Nigerian countryman Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho seized his opportunity when given substitute appearances under Manuel Pellegrini last season. New manager Pep Guardiola apparently sees the massive potential Iheanacho possesses as he has continued to keep him in the playing rotation.

Iheanacho is an excellent finisher with eight goals in 21 appearances this season for club and country. He also possesses a cannon left foot and is a threat from well outside the box. If Iheanacho can improve on his heading ability, he will be a complete striker who will be around for years to come.

Gabriel Jesus (19) Manchester City/Brazil

The most anticipated Brazilian youth since Neymar, Gabriel Jesus has already shown European fans what he can do since arriving in early January. After having a potential winner against Liverpool called back in his first appearance as a substitute, Jesus made history by becoming the first player in club history to score and assist in his Premier League debut.

Jesus is unique in that as a striker, he gets back and defends very well and threatens on the counter attack. He is still just 19, and mental lapses are not to be unexpected. If he matures with age and avoids injury, there is no reason he can’t fulfill his massive potential.

Marcus Rashford (19) Manchester United/England

Speaking of seizing their opportunity, Marcus Rashford did just that when Louis Van Gaal put him in the lineup last season. He became the youngest United player to score in their debut and has gone on to become a regular player for the side under Jose Mourinho. Seven goals in 29 appearances is solid for someone who is still a teenager. If Rashford can use his pace to his advantage and broaden his game, Man United could have their Zlatan Ibrahimovic replacement already waiting in the wings.

Dele Alli (20) Tottenham Hotspur/England

Dele Alli burst onto the scene in early 2016 after his wonder goal against Crystal Palace. Since then, Alli has shown he is not a one trick pony. His eleven league goals are the most in the Premier League among midfielders this season. Starting out as a defensive midfielder, Alli has developed an attacking threat to his game that has torched opponents. His two headed goals against Chelsea in January kept Spurs’ title ambitions alive.

Known to get a hot head on occasion, Alli needs to be more careful if he wants to stay out of the referees book. Overall, many could argue that Alli is the best young talent in the world and he certainly backs up that high regard with his play.

 

 

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FC Cincinnati Officially Running For MLS Expansion

FC Cincinnati owner and CEO, Carl Linder III, delivered Cincinnati’s proposal to MLS headquarters Tuesday. Joining 11 other cities in announcing their intention for one of the four expansion slots. This was a widely expected move for FC Cincinnati and many of the other cities.

One of the two big surprises were Phoenix, who currently have the newly re-branded Phoenix Rising FC in the USL. The other was Indianapolis, Indiana who is currently the home of the Indy Eleven in the NASL and also the Indy Eleven II in the NPSL. Phoenix was added to the running last week and Indianapolis was a shock addition on Monday night Jan. 30 (one day before the deadline).

A new soccer-specific stadium is most likely what will hinge on Cincinnati being awarded a MLS team. The biggest way to get a stadium passed would be to have it all privately funded due to the taxpayers already paying off stadiums for the Bengals and Reds. Also a list of potential sites was supposed to be provided to the Cincinnati City Council before the end of January, but most likely won’t be released to the public.

Even though Nippert Stadium has a large capacity and FC Cincinnati has spent $2 million to widen the playing surface to the FIFA regulations, it is still controlled by its main tenants the University of Cincinnati Football team.

Coming off a fantastic season on and off the field FC Cincinnati is considered to be a front-runner for a call up to the MLS. On the field, it ended prematurely in the first round of the playoffs, after a third place finish in the Eastern Conference, in front of USL playoff record 30,187.

In the stands it was an incredible season with a total attendance of 259,457, 17.3% of the league total. They averaged 17,296 in league games and setting a league attendance record in their second home game with 20,497 and breaking that mark two more times later in the year, capping the record at 24,376.

The crown jewel of the season was the friendly match against English Premier League club Crystal Palace where a sold out 35,061 crowd witnessed a Palace 2-0 win.

Image courtesy of Tana Weingartner of WVXU

The blueprint that FC Cincinnati seems to be following is that of Orlando City SC who played in the USL from 2010-2014 and set attendance records along with solid average attendances over their four years in the league before moving to MLS in 2015. Solid ownership and a plan for a stadium in a soccer crazy environment was able to get a team to the MLS, Cincinnati can repeat this process.

Assuming FC Cincinnati gets a stadium, there is a decent shot that the MLS could come to Cincinnati but it will be very tough. St. Louis and San Diego both had their NFL franchises leave and have a large hole in their market of the professional sports world.

Also, the close proximity to the Columbus Crew won’t help.

Due to the outstanding ownership group and rabid fan support last year, with having already sold 9,000 season tickets for the season, it doesn’t look like FC Cincinnati going anywhere soon. But like most things in US professional sports, things will be decided behind the scenes instead of on the field.

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Premier League Matchweek 23 Preview and Predictions

A rare midweek slate for the Prem offers some enticing match-ups this week. Headlined by Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield, Arsenal and Manchester City also have tough games.

Something to watch for will be if some managers opt to rest a few starters in preparation for another slate of games this weekend. However teams like Chelsea, with matches against Liverpool and Arsenal are likely to play their full lineup in both matches.

Liverpool vs Chelsea:

Jurgen Klopp’s men have endured a horrible recent run of form. Three consecutive home defeats in the last nine days has seen the Reds exit both domestic cups as well as falling back in the Prem table.

However, Liverpool have a reputation for performing very well against good sides while underperforming against lesser teams. The team has suffered from the absence of dynamic wimger Sadio Mane who was representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. It doesn’t look like he will be able to start as he missed training due to travel problems.

The good news for Klopp and Co. is that they will have Roberto Firmino, who managed to get a drunken driving court date pushed back 24 hours. At home, Liverpool will not make it easy on the league leaders.

Chelsea sit eight points clear of second at the moment and have recovered nicely since losing at Tottenham a few weeks back. The Blues have arguably their most important two game stretch of the season this week (@ Liverpool, vs Arsenal). If they can manage four points from these games, Conte would be satisfied and it would make it unlikely for Chelsea to fall back.

Leading goalscorer Diego Costa and the talented Eden Hazard will look to have a field day against an underwhelming Liverpool defense. But can Chelsea’s own defense hold against Liverpool’s dynamic and versatile attack?

Liverpool 2 Chelsea 2

 

West Ham United vs Manchester City:

Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus is expected to feature against West Ham.

The post-Dimitri Payet era begins at West Ham with a brutal matchup against a desperate Manchester City. Despite Payet causing distractions for much of the past month, West Ham have actually been in a good run of form. Slaven Bilic has guided the Hammers to 10th after flirting with relegation early in the season.

Even sans Payet, West Ham is not short on talent. Michail Antonio can defend while being a threat going forward from the midfield and Andy Carroll is a threat in the air and has been in a good run of form.

For the visitors, three points are paramount if City want to get back on track as they battle for a top four spot. Guardiola and Co. thrashed West Ham 5-0 here a few weeks ago in a cup tie and will look to build on that performance. West Ham’s struggles defending on the wing means that young wingers such as Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and the new kid in town Gabriel Jesus could be in for big games.

West Ham 1 Manchester City 2

 

Arsenal vs Watford

Arsene Wenger is suspended for the Gunners’ match against Watford following his altercation with an assistant official vs Burnley

The second place Gunners will be doing a bit of scoreboard watching on Tuesday as a home victory and a Chelsea loss at Anfield would move Arsenal to within five points of the leaders. Such a result would reignite the title race for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger will have to watch the match from the stands as he is suspended from the touchline for his antics during last week’s match against Burnley.

The Gunners will be expected to win as they have arguably the league’s best player the season in Alexis Sanchez (20 goals and 7 assists in all competitions). Combine that with Mesut Ozil, who just oozes class and it isn’t hard to see why the Gunners are expected to win this match.

Watford have been miserable recently, but possess the players and they ability to play ninety tough minutes against anyone. Troy Deeney is Mr. Watford and the captain enters the match coming off a good performance against Watford. If Deeney finds the net and Etienne Capoue can navigate the midfield easily, Arsenal will have a game on their hands.

Arsenal 2 Watford 1

 

Other Matchups:

Manchester United 3 Hull City 0: Hull’s miserable defense will be exploited by Zlatan, Pogba and Co.

Sunderland 0 Tottenham 2: Sunderland have not improved in January window while Tottenham remain in good form. Dele Alli to score.

Bournemouth 3 Crystal Palace 2: Youth trumps experience as Eddie Howe’s Cherries edge out Sam Allardyce’s Palace in an exciting one.

Burnley 1 Leicester City 1: Burnley are really good at home but Leicester have to turn it around at some point.

Middlesborough 0 West Brom 1: Low scoring affair predicted here as ‘Borough park the bus. Im thinking ninth-place West Brom eek it out.

Swansea 1 Southampton 1: The Saints are the better side but home field and improvements under a new manager earn Swansea a point.

Stoke City 1 Everton 1: Another big game as two of the best sides outside of the top six duke it out. Everton to steal a draw late.

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Weekend Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 22

Another weekend of important matches is nearly upon us in the Premier League. This slate of games has potential to shake up the table quite a bit. The marquee matchup of the weekend is between a red hot Tottenham Hotspur side and desperate Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City. Manchester United faces a test to stay relevant. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all face manageable games, which they must take advantage of.

 

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Man City Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been heavily criticized in recent days. He will need to be stellar in between the sticks on Sunday against Tottenham.

The difference in current form between the two sides could not be larger. Tottenham are winners of seven straight in the league dating back to last month. They are also enjoying second spot in the table on goal differential over Liverpool. As for City, they have lost two of their last three including an embarrassing performance last weekend at Everton. City’s slim title hopes and fading Champions League aspirations are on the line this weekend.

The key player in this match will be City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo was brought in from Barcelona to replaced the out of favor Joe Hart. His play has been heavily scrutinized as he owns the worst save percentage in the league this year. Tottenham is playing too well to not get their chances, but can Bravo make enough saves to keep City in it? Man City’s attack has also stalled recently and must get back on track. Although it won’t be easy against league-best defense. Can City break through? Maybe, but it won’t be enough for three points at home.

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

 

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to get on the score sheet against Stoke City.

 

The Red Devils travel to Stoke this weekend in what is always a tricky match to get three points from. Stoke have long prided themselves on tripping up title contenders late in the season and derailing their hopes. If Mourinho wants to keep any chance of a title this year, United must get three points from this match.

One thing to watch for will be who controls the aerial game. This match features the top two aerial sides in the Prem according to WhoScored.com. It is not hard to see why, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stoke’s 6’7 striker Peter Crouch featuring in the game. In the end, it will come down to what it always has this season for United, finishing chances. Mourinho’s men will dominate possession, but can they score enough?

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 2

 

 

 

Chelsea vs Hull City

 

Chelsea will reportedly welcome back star striker Diego Costa to the lineup.

 

The Blues have built a seven point lead for themselves already in their first year under the guidance of Antonio Conte. They managed to win last week despite the absence of Diego Costa and the drama surrounding his situation. Costa will reportedly be back on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this weekend against Hull City. The Blues will be heavy favorites to continue to build on their impressive point total.

Unfortunately for Hull, a David and Goliath story doesn’t seem to be in the cards this weekend. The Tigers have only taken four points away from home all season and Chelsea have taken 29 of a possible 33 at Stamford Bridge. Look for Chelsea’s attacking trident of Costa, Eden Hazard, and Willian/Pedro to feast on one of the worst defenses in the league. Unless Conte’s men show up horribly under-prepared, I would expect no problems for the hosts here.

Chelsea 4 Hull City 0

 

Other Matches: 

Arsenal 2 Burnley 0: Burnley is worst in the league away from home, and Arsenal don’t seem in the mood to drop points at the Emirates.

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1: League-worst Swans are badly undermanned defensively to deal with Liverpool’s attack.

Middlesborough 0 West Ham 0: Two stingy, conservative defenses play to a stale mate with no Dimitri Payet to guide the Hammers.

Bournemouth 1 Watford 1: Interesting match up, thinking Watford sneaks one in here to salvage an away point.

Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2: Everton look good were very impressive last week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lay an egg here.

West Brom 1 Sunderland 0: West Brom are very sound defensively and aren’t in eighth for no reason.

Southampton 1 Leicester 1: Maybe a bit optimistic for Foxes to get an away point sans Mahrez and Slimani.

 

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