Boxing Day never fails to deliver…
And nor do Arsenal. Just when the planets seem to be aligning… just when a path seems to be clearing… they remind you that they are as fragile as Vincent Kompany’s calf.
Leicester also lost. Defeat at Liverpool is no great shakes. But all of a sudden the the gung-ho Foxes seemed nervous. Perhaps Jamie Vardy’s tight hamstring is playing on minds. Or are they starting to take on the burden of expectation that good teams carry. It can weight heavy. Ask Arsenal.
Or Man United. It is threatening to drag their season down to mid-table. King Louis still reigns, but the Chelsea match – the last before the transfer window opens – is bound to be pivotal.
Wonder if Jose is taking in a match this Monday? He wouldn’t, would he…?
15.00 Crystal Palace v Swansea
Palace are punching their weight – for the most part beating teams below them and losing to those above. We can expect a move for a striker that would complete their jigsaw in January. But they don’t give enough away to give their visitors any hope. Swansea scrambled a much needed home win on Boxing Day but have only managed points from Villa in their last six away trips, which doesn’t look enough here.
Score Prediction: One will do. But I’ll go 2-0
MVP Prediction: Scott Dann offers plenty at both ends.
15.00 Everton v Stoke
I always think Roberto Martinez gets a bit of an easy ride. Lovely fellow that he undoubtedly is, like his Wigan team Everton are capable of lovely football but do flatter to deceive. Lukaku, Deulofeu and Barkley have all attracted plaudits, but only one team have conceded more goals at home. As a result they don’t win enough matches. Stoke don’t carry much goal threat on the road (only Newcastle carry less) but no team defends better.
Score Prediction: Another draw for Everton. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Back Xherdan Shaqiri’s box of tricks against heavy legs.
15.00 Norwich v Aston Villa
Six-pointer. Actually, Norwich might be slightly offended at that with the chunky gap between the two sides. But safe to say a home win and the fat lady will start her vocal warm-ups for Villa, despite signs of promise in recent weeks. Norwich are well capable of competing in the PL – earning respect v Arsenal, Man City and especially United. But too often their lack of goals means they fail to take home the points they should.
Score Prediction: Must win. But fancy 2-2
MVP Prediction: Wes Hoolahan should start.
15.00 Watford v Tottenham
Tottenham never thought they might be squabbling for European places with Watford, but they just might. Tottenham have been as solid away as at home, beaten just once and with similar points totals. So far Watford have lost all five matches v teams above them. But it is hard to resist them at home at the moment.
Score Prediction: Spurs will take a draw. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Harry Kane just pips Watford’s front two.
15.00 West Brom v Newcastle
West Brom’s curious habit of shipping goals at home – a PL topping 16 – when they have the second best defensive record away, will encourage Newcastle. They’ll need it mind, no-one is as toothless at Toon on the road. They’ve won two of their last four trips, one impressive (at Tottenham) one lucky (at Bournemouth). The others have been horror shows at Palace (5-1) and Sunderland (3-0). So I don’t know what to think.
Score Prediction: I’ll go 0-0
MVP Prediction: Boaz Myhill could get an overdue sheet.
17.30 Bournemouth v Arsenal
Total football all the way. Two teams who play the game the right way, both in good recent form – until the Gunners misfired badly at Southampton. Arsenal are probably the team most would like to see with the PL and Bournemouth are definitely the one that everyone wants to see stay up. Both have solid chances. But if they fail it will be blamed on the thing that makes them likeable - their willingness to sacrifice results over style.
Score Prediction: A feast on the eyes 2-4
MVP Prediction: Mesut Ozil will revel in the space.
17.30 Man United v Chelsea
This has got the feel of a bout between to once great heavyweights. Both looking for a big show to convince their fans – and themselves – they’ve still got what it takes. Aside from the chaos in the boardrooms, both clubs are having a crisis of confidence. Chelsea’s old guard has never looked so old, their new blood has curdled badly this season. United lack bite, direction and are in danger of losing their identity. All eyes on the after-match interviews here.
Score Prediction: Not enough winners on show. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Wayne Rooney looked more like his narky self at Stoke.
17.30 West Ham v Southampton
There are four wheels spinning out of control in an abandoned car park somewhere. They belong to Southampton and West Ham, having fallen off in the last six weeks. A line can be drawn between West Ham’s slump and the injuries to influential Winston Reid and Dimitri Payet. Southampton’s recent form is as mystifying as their demolition of Arsenal.
Score Prediction: Has the look of another draw for West Ham. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Shane Long’s pace ruined Arsenal.
Tuesday 29th Fixture:
19.45 Leicester v Man City
Has the look of goals. And lots of them. The PL’s two top scorers don’t care much for clean sheets, so don’t turn up late for this one. This could be won and lost at the centre of Man City’s defence. The fanfare that greeted Kompany’s return almost outlasted his return. Not sure what theepisode will do to Mangala and Otamendi. Two defenders who like to defend one-on-one. That will suit Vardy down to the ground, if his hamstrings hold up.
Score Prediction: Could be 3-2, 2-3 but I’ll go 2-2
MVP Prediction: Kevin De Bruyne is a touch of class.
Wednesday 30th Fixture:
19.45 Sunderland v Liverpool
The Christmas fixture list hasn’t been kind to Sunderland. An in-form Arsenal and Watford, a somewhat rejuvenated Chelsea and a trip to Man City would test a good team, let alone Sunderland. Facing Liverpool isn’t the task it was last month. Klopp’s team look short of width and goals, with work to do in the remainder of the season. Starting by sorting those who flatter from those who deceive.
Score Prediction: Quality will out. 1-2
MVP Prediction: Philippe Coutinho has more than most.
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