The Sacked One…
Jose Mourinho’s last match in charge featured three significant factors, in my (not very humble) opinion…
He conceded that the Top Four was out of reach. Which, of course, prompted unflattering comparisons to Sherlock Holmes. The truth is Chelsea would probably need to win 16 of their remaining 22 matches just to squeeze into the Top Six.
He also accused the players of ‘betraying’ him/ his tactics. The extent of this betrayal will be revealed in the remainder of the season. A fit Eden Hazard v Sunderland (after an unconvincing hobble) would suggest it. A Top Six finish would confirm it.
Finally, he hooked John Terry after 51 minutes. The first thing the incoming manager needs to learn about Chelsea is no-one stays long without JT’s say so. No-one.
Anyway, the second post-Jose era begins at home to Sunderland…
15.00 Chelsea v Sunderland
The run of three home matches against Bournemouth, Sunderland and Watford looked to Jose like a chance to stage a revival. But losing the first, then at Leicester and it was revolution. Chelsea’s one win in seven is their worst form of the season. Sunderland’s mini-revival has derailed with two losses on the bounce, but Sunderland will revel the opportunity to put the boot in.
Score Prediction: Big Sam to cash in on the chaos. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Willian is Chelsea’s biggest goal threat.
15.00 Everton v Leicester
It might not seem like it but Everton have actually been pretty consistent this season. They lose v Top Four (L3), generally beat teams below them (W5 D3) and draw with mid-table (D5). So they should lose here. Leicester are getting better – seven wins from nine and the Chelsea scalp is their first v a bigger hitter.
Score Prediction: Everton love a draw. 2-2
MVP Prediction: No surprises. Riyad Mahrez. Armband.
15.00 Man United v Norwich
Things are going from bland to worse for United. But so far they have been able to rely on keeping clean sheets at home – six from seven so far. Now if they can just score one of those ‘goal’ thingies… Norwich also struggle in front of goal and only Villa have been worse in recent weeks.
Score Prediction: One will do. 1-0
MVP Prediction: Guillermo Varela could be a snip at £4.2m for PL.com managers.
15.00 Southampton v Tottenham
You’ve got to think that Mauricio Pochettino will be loving the timing of this return to his former club! Southampton have lost four of their last five after winning six of the previous eight, plummeting to their lowest PL position for a couple of seasons. Tottenham were knocked off their 14-match unbeaten pedestal last week too. But look capable of launching another here.
Score Prediction: More gloom for Saints. 0-1
MVP Prediction: Toby Alderweireld should enjoy this too.
15.00 Stoke v Crystal Palace
Since adding flair to the team and playing three upfront, Stoke have become rock solid at the back, keeping five clean sheets in their last six. They are not full of goals (just four in the same period) and happier on the road. Palace too would be transformed if they can add a goal scorer in January, but can get something here.
Score Prediction: Hate to say it, but 0-0 for me.
MVP Prediction: Jack Butland is England’s No 1 according to his fans. And PL.com.
15.00 West Brom v Bournemouth
Both teams will be feeling full of themselves at the moment. Both four unbeaten, both with big fresh scalps – Arsenal and Liverpool (barring a 96th minute equaliser) for West Brom, Chelsea and United for Bournemouth. The Baggies defensive record – worst in the PL at home, 4th in the PL away makes this difficult to predict. But…
Score Prediction: 2-2 would probably satisfy both parties.
MVP Prediction: If he plays (75% chance) Josh King is in great nick.
17.30 Newcastle v Aston Villa
After beating Liverpool and Tottenham, this is probably the game that Newcastle choke. But then again, it is Villa. Performances under Remi Garde have improved slightly, but nowhere near enough. They carry a bigger goal threat on the road than at home. But Newcastle will feel thay can fill one of the relegation places that threatened them only two games ago.
Score Prediction: Must win for Newcastle. 2-0
MVP Prediction: Georginio Wijnaldum could end the season a Toon favourite.
13.30 Watford v Liverpool
If it wasn’t for that pesky Leicester, Watford’s first half of the season would be lauded as truly remarkable. They punch at EXACTLY their weight – they lose to Top Six teams, beat Bottom Six and mainly draw with those in between (D4 W2). Liverpool are more of a puzzle. Suspect a couple of ill-fitting pieces might be replaced next month.
Score Prediction: The numbers say draw. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Odion Ighalo has scored more than half of Watford’s goals.
16.00 Swansea v West Ham
Just one win in 13, including five defeats in the last six has spiralled Swansea perilously close to the relegation zone. The defeat snatched from the jaws of a draw at Man City last time out was a body blow. On the bright side, West Ham are also without a win in six and a goal in two. It’s easy to draw a line between Dimitri Payet injury and their collapse, so I will.
Score Prediction: I fancy the Hammers remain in slightly better shape. 1-2
MVP Prediction: Manuel Lanzini should be back to add creativity.
20.00 Arsenal v Man City
Arguably the PL’s best and undeniably the moodiest teams. Both are notorious scatty around Champions League matches, but both should kick on in the league before getting tangled up again. City welcome Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aquero back to add clean sheets and away goals – both scarce in their absence. Alexis Sanchez could feature for Arsenal to compliment five in six Olivier Giroud.
Score Prediction: Good news for Leicester methinks. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Big game, so Kevin De Bruyne.
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