Stoke v Manchester City, Etihad Stadium, Sat 5, 12:45
This is an important game for City as they bid to pull away from their title rivals but at the same time, I feel this is a game where attack will come out on top of defence.
Stoke have kept a number of clean sheets this season though it doesn’t mean they have a superb back four. It means they have a goalkeeper in Jack Butland who is on top of his game – and playing better than any other shot stopper in England’s top division. City however are arguably the most offensively dangerous team in the league and its unlikely Butland’s heroics will be able to keep them out for the full 90 minutes if they are on their game. Couple that with the loss of their influential skipper Ryan Shawcross at the back and you feel City can get two or three here.
However, it’s not all roses and sunshine for the visitors who themselves have troubles at the back. Injuries are likely to rule out the pivotal captain Vincent Kompany and the equally important Joe Hart between the sticks. It is common knowledge that City minus Kompany equals an uneasy and frail defence while Willy Caballero is worse than Hart in virtually every department – which signals further problems. Southampton should have had more at the Etihad and but for poor finishing they would have; City got out of jail a tad in that game.
This isn’t a foregone conclusion for City by any means. Welcoming David Silva back is a huge plus for them though and the possibilities of him with Kevin De Bruyne are mouth-watering. So often this type of game would be a tight affair however for the reasons aforementioned, I forsee a number of goals and I think the visitors will outscore their opponents with the myriad of options that they possess.
Arsenal v Sunderland, Emirates Stadium, Sat 5, 15:00
A huge game for the injury depleted Gunners this as they welcome a Sunderland team on the back of two straight league victories.
They were a sinking ship under Dick Advocaat but since the Dutchman’s depature, Sam Allardyce has stepped into the fray and patched things up. Defensively they look far more resilient and in turn, it means they will be in a lot of games if they can hit teams on the counter. Crystal Palace is not an easy place to go but they went with a game-plan, stuck to it, and nicked three vital points. Last week they saw off ten man Stoke to round off an enormous six points out of six. Their confidence will be sky high at the moment.
Arsenal by contrast have been faltering. A 1-1 draw in the North London derby against Tottenham began a winless run of three league matches, including that disappointing 2-1 defeat at the hands of West Brom. This has largely been down to their bizarrely unfortunate list of injuries. Even now, they look like they’ll be without Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla for the Sunderland match, with doubts over Laurent Koscielny’s fitness as well. Their form up until a few weeks ago was imperious and they’ll be hoping they can return to that mould as soon as possible.
The thought process for the Gunners should be simple in that they cannot get anything other than three points, and they shouldn’t. Even without one or two key players, they should still have the quality in the final third to notch one or two past a resilient Sunderland.
Man United v West Ham, Old Trafford, Sat 5, 15:00
Louis Van Gaal has got a lot of criticism this season for his brand of football but the Dutchman should feel hard done by as his team are in touching distance of the top of the league and have their Champions League future in their own hands.
One thing you can say about this United team is that they are stubborn and very hard to beat. The West Ham of a few months back that couldn’t stop scoring would struggle to breach them, never mind them at the moment in the absence of the talismanic Dimitri Payet. It’s largely down to the rigid nature that they set up but also their solid back-four and world class goalkeeper.
The Hammers, as I have said, have slowed down a little since Payet’s injury. He really was the heart and soul of this team going forward and without him they look rather bare. Manuel Lanzini is one bright spark though with his flair and technical ability there for all to see. He can’t do it himself though and will need his teammates in the attacking areas to step-up.
This game should really serve as a pre-Wolfsburg workout before they make their trip to Germany in the crucial Champions League clash. West Ham were superb away from home as they brushed aside all the ‘big boys’ but that honeymoon period for Slaven Bilic is no more. Comfortable home win here.
Swansea v Leicester, Liberty Stadium, Sat 5, 15:00
While West Ham may be falling back into reality, Leicester’s incredible season shows no signs of coming to an end.
Jamie Vardy coolly slotted home his eleventh goal in as many games which took him past Ruud Van Nisterlrooy in terms of goals in consecutive matches, and put him at the top of that respective Premier League pedestal. He really is in scintillating form and is just what Swansea don’t need right now. Having said that, Leicester’s fantasy will, slowly but surely, come to an end and I think they might scrape those rails in Wales. If they want the Champions League they need to beat the out-of-form Swans but I’m not sure they will.
Swansea are playing rather poorly by their standards and have only won one of eleven matches (Aston Villa). They just look nervous and fragile in all areas of the park which is in stark contrast to their early season form. The prime example if Bafetimbi Gomis who got four in four during August but has since looked a shadow of himself with no goals or assists or meaningful contributions.
Yet I still feel there is something in this for Swansea. Leicester are on cloud nine and while they’re there they no doubt feel a sense of arrogance. Turn up to Swansea and get the three points. If you look at the form books that’s what should happen but you wouldn’t blame the Foxes if they admitted the success was getting to their heads a bit. A point a piece is probable here, and Jamie Vardy should be backed to continue that remarkable goal-scoring run.
Round up of the rest
Southampton v Aston Villa, St Mary’s, Sat 5, 15:00
Arguably the easiest match to predict the result of this weekend but of course this is the Premier League and it is known for its unpredictability. The Saints are moving along nicely after a sluggish start this season and Villa contrived to lose their must-win match last week. Home win for me!
Watford v Norwich, Vicorage Rd, Sat 5, 15:00
Clash of the two promoted clubs promises to be a decent watch. It’s tough to separate two teams that are well organised and don’t look too out of place in the top tier. Watford have the stronger goal-threats but Norwich will fight and scrap for the full 90 minutes. The points shall be shared.
West Brom v Tottenham, The Hawthornes, Sat 5, 15:00
The Baggies are a team few really want to face due to their tenacity and strong defensive setups. Four points against Arsenal at home and West Ham away is testament of their team’s abilities. Spurs drew with Chelsea last week but should bounce back and edge out West Brom on their own turf.
Chelsea v Bournemouth, Stamford Bridge, Sat 5, 17:30
Three matches unbeaten for the Blues. Could Jose Mourinho’s luck be beginning to turn? He’ll hope so and he should without doubt be extending that unbeaten run to four matches with a win over the Cherries. Bournemouth have showed great character this season but Chelsea should be too strong.
Newcastle v Liverpool, St James’ Park, Sun 6, 16:00
5-1, 3-0 (twice) and 6-1. It’s fair to say Newcastle have suffered a pasting or two this campaign and the pressure if mounting on Steve McClaren this weekend. Liverpool generally struggle against lesser opposition but should have more than enough to compound McClaren to more misery.
Everton v Crystal Palace, Goodison Park, Mon 7, 20:00
It’s a tough affair to call this one as Everton are pretty strong at home while Palace’s best matches come away from their stadium where they can adopt a counter-attacking style of play. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are in excellent form however so I’ll opt for a slender home win.
Team of the week
GK: Rob Elliott (New): Picking the ball out of the net has been his forte of late. Will be hoping that doesn’t continue.
RB: Adam Smith (Bou): Goal last week testament to his excellence bombing forward. Will have to be mindful of his defensive duties more this week however – if he plays.
CB: Craig Dawson (Wba): Has developed into a really impressive centre back over the seasons. He shall be looking to nullify Harry Kane’s threat in the box.
CB: Vigril Van Dijk (Sou): What a fine signing he has proved to be in helping to fill the void left by Toby Alderweireld. He may be the main figure in defence if Jose Fonte remains sidelined.
LB: Glen Johnson (Sto): He’s certainly never been a stranger to big matches and Stoke are welcoming a big opponent on Saturday. He’ll want to penetrate through City’s backline to support the forwards.
RM: Robbie Brady (Nor): What a player he has been since his £7 million switch from Hull. Has great technical ability that he’ll be hoping to utilise to breach Waftord’s barriers.
CAM: Mesut Ozil (Ars): In a season disrupted by injuries to his team-mates, Ozil’s performances have not dropped. He may only two goals but a staggering 13 assists make up for this.
CAM: Manuel Lanzini (Whu): Completes a very forward-thinking middle two for his impressive displays of late. Oozes quality, epitomised by the glorious equaliser he scored against Everton.
LM: David Silva (Mcy): One of the league’s most graceful footballers, Silva will add a new dimension to City. Remains the best passer in England and can make the impossible possible.
ST: Jamie Vardy (Lei): 11 straight games without not-scoring speaks for itself! He certainly should feel confident about extending that run to twelve with Swansea weak in defence.
ST: Harry Kane (Tot): Vardy might be getting all the plaudits but Harry Kane’s return to goals should be noted. He’s a key figure for his club and it’s important he’s available to finish off moves.
Manager: Steve McClaren (New): The owner spent a small fortune in the summer on players and although he accepts the difficulty of the league, he’d like to think the Magpies weren’t quite languishing where they are and playing as woefully as they have been. The boss must do better!