We’re now a third of the way through the season and things are taking shape. A bit. At this stage last year, three of the top four were already in place. Third placed Southampton were eventually replaced by Arsenal, but the other slots didn’t change.
The relegated three were already in the bottom four. But the anomaly that gives everyone hope – and pulls the rug from under this intro – is Leicester. At Game Week 13 last season the team who are currently sitting third, just a point behind the leaders were rock bottom. Aston Villa for Champions League qualification next season anyone?
The weekend’s shenanigans get underway at Watford…
12.45 Watford v Man United
The last time Watford beat Man United I wore my hair in a mullet and had a poster of The Smiths on my bedroom wall. No, it wasn’t this season – it was 1986. Watford are doing very nicely thank you, but have scored just one goal and no points in matches v Top Four teams. LVG are United are not pretty, but they are efficient.
Score Prediction: fancy United to sneak it. 0-1
MVP Prediction: David De Gea could be the man. Again.
15.00 Chelsea v Norwich
Norwich sit a place above and a point ahead of Chelsea, with an identical recent record (four defeats from the last five). But this looks like the start of the big turnaround to me. Chelsea face Bournemouth, Sunderland and Watford in their next three at home after this. Make or break for the season, or Jose.
Score Prediction: Surely they will have enough. 2-0
MVP Prediction: Time for Eden Hazard to step up.
15.00 Everton v Aston Villa
Difficult to know what to expect from Everton this season, especially at home. If Remi Garde’s opener v Man City is a guide then we can expect an upturn from Villa, but anything more than a point here might be overly ambitious. After all, they have managed just a single point from their ten matches v anyone above the current bottom two.
Score Prediction: I fancy another plucky point for Villa. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Romelu Lukaku is the man.
15.00 Newcastle v Leicester
Newcastle’s back four will not have slept well this week, despite two recent clean sheets. The prospect of a full of beans Jamie Vardy fresh from an international break and with a goal scoring record in his nostrils will be as daunting for Toon as it is inspirational for Leicester. He’s likely to be the difference. He often is.
Score Prediction: McClaren will settle for a point. 2-2
MVP Prediction: Who else? Jamie Vardy.
15.00 Southampton v Stoke
Southampton are unbeaten in six, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets. If they can keep their manager and players until the end of the season it will be another good one. Stoke too have found their feet after a stuttering start. Four away clean sheets on the spin (three of them wins) suggests this will be closer than many think.
Score Prediction: But think Saints will edge it. 1-0
MVP Prediction: Sadio Mane gets the nod over Pelle.
15.00 Swansea v Bournemouth
Along with Aston Villa, these two are in the relegation zone of recent form. Swansea have lost three of their last four, failing to score in three of them. Bournemouth have an even worse rap sheet – losing their last five, including three blanks. Has the look of a six-pointer.
Score Prediction: Bournemouth’s cruel injury list favours the home side. 2-1
MVP Prediction: With Gomis out of sorts, Andre Ayew is the pick.
15.00 West Brom v Arsenal
West Brom are shipping more goals than we associate with Tony Pulis teams, conceding three in four of their six home matches. Arsenal’s away record is better than their home record – they’ve scored double Man City’s total on the road. None of this is good news for the Baggies.
Score Prediction: Looks straightforward enough. 1-3
MVP Prediction: Not always first choice, but Olivier Giroud has five in seven.
17.30 Man City v Liverpool
If I’m right about that last match, City could be playing catch-up by the time they take the field. Pressure is not always handled that well at City, but David Silva and Sergio Aguero are due back. Liverpool’s recent record v City is decent – three wins apiece with four draws – and there’s even talk of Daniel Sturridge being involved. Remember him?
Score Prediction: Got a feeling Liverpool can get a draw. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Phillipe Coutinho is becoming the man for the big occasion.
16.00 Tottenham v West Ham
Leicester aside, these are the PL form teams. Only goal difference separates them in 5th and 6th but two things favour Tottenham. Home advantage – three from five wins, with three clean sheets – and the absence of Dimitri Payet for their visitors. The stylish Frenchman has added goals (five), assists (four) and swagger to the Hammers and will be sorely missed.
Score Prediction: Tight, but Spurs for me. 2-1
MVP Prediction: All eyes on Alli, but I’ll go Christian Eriksen.
20.00 Crystal Palace v Sunderland
Sunderland will have worked hard on defensive drills over the last couple of weeks, but Palace will see this as a big chance to put their first wobbly period of the season being them. Goals have been a bit of a problem but they have a 100% record v teams below them (six wins) and just a single point v teams above (one draw from six).
Score Prediction: Can’t see Sunderland scoring. 1-0
MVP Prediction: Scott Dann is my man.
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt