Onward Christian soldiers. But he’s not making much progress…
The future looks bright at Liverpool. None of us doubt the verve and nous of Jurgen the German and the academy kids showed the right amounts of guts and class to see off Exeter in the FA Cup. But the present still looks a bit of a muddle though.
You can’t help wondering if comparisons to another Belgian powerhouse employed across Stanley Park add to Benteke’s burden. Romelu Lukaku looks a quicker, sharper, more complete centre-forward – and has three years on Christian.
Where would Liverpool be with his 19 goals this season? Who knows. But they are at Norwich on Saturday…
12.45 Norwich v Liverpool
Norwich have exactly the same record after 22 matches as they did when they were relegated a couple of seasons ago. It’s not all bad though – they are unbeaten in five at home, keeping clean sheets in three of them. Another chance then for Liverpool’s stuttering front players to get their act together. Or not.
Score Prediction: A repeat of the Anfield draw. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Surely Jordan Ibe played his way into the team on Wednesday.
15.00 Crystal Palace v Tottenham
It’s all gone a little bit wobbly at Palace. Five without a win ain’t good, five without a goal is desperate. They need their big hitters back, sharpish. Plus a January goal scorer would do the world of good. Tottenham follow up beating Leicester’s reserves (in the Cup) with two more away games in quick succession. They enjoy an away day though – three wins from four, could easily become five from six here and at Norwich.
Score Prediction: Can’t recall a Spurs side so sharp. 0-2
MVP Prediction: Dele Alli was held back to pull the strings here.
15.00 Leicester v Stoke
Their side v Tottenham suggests that the Top Four has become a priority for Leicester. The top guns will be back again, but they still look short of the zip (and goals) from a month or two ago. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy need a couple of big performances to win over a few wavering PL.com managers here, methinks. First of four tough away trips in three comps in 11 days for Stoke.
Score Prediction: Has the look of another draw. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Jamie Vardy is due one.
15.00 Man United v Southampton
When United impressively beat Saints to go top of the table in September, it seemed to say they were back! They weren’t. LVG has solved one of his problems though, finding a position for Memphis De Pay – the bench. His late arrival has been instrumental in their last three results. Southampton’s season has been almost as disappointing. This time last year they were flirting with the Top Four. A measly 5pts v Top Half teams this time around has realigned their ambitions.
Score Prediction: An end to end goal fest. Not. 1-0
MVP Prediction: Stick with the streaky Wayne Rooney.
15.00 Sunderland v Bournemouth
We’re going to have six-pointers most weeks from here on in. Bournemouth come fresh from an excellent win at Norwich. Benik Afobe’s debut strike will delight everyone concerned after four matches with just one goal to show. Big Sam will have this match targeted for points for the home side though, with City, United and Liverpool up next.
Score Prediction: The draw that neither wants. 1-1
MVP Prediction: Jermain Defoe is the best bet.
15.00 Watford v Newcastle
The wheels have come off Watford. With people wondering if the Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney partnership is a busted flush. The lack of goals in the last two matches will concern as much as the run of four defeats. But one was enough to beat Newcastle in the Cup a couple of weeks ago. Newcastle have strengthened since then, taking 4pts from Man United and West Ham. Their away form still needs fixing though.
Score Prediction: Toon still a little lightweight at the back. 2-1
MVP Prediction: Georginio Wijnaldum looks to have found his feet.
15.00 West Brom v Aston Villa
Based on the last six matches there is not a lot between these. Remi Garde will need more time and more players to slow Villa’s descent, but he has at least found the brakes. They only seem able to score one goal at a time though. Which might not be enough against a West Brom team whose home form is tidy.
Score Prediction: Neither quite good enough to win this. 1-1
17.50 West Ham v Man City
West Ham’s defeat at Newcastle – their first in ten - was a shock. But might say more about Newcastle’s improvement than a Hammers demise. It was then win at Man City that first hinted at their current Top Six status and they are unbeaten in six at home. City are yet to beat a team from the Top Seven in six attempts. But look full of goals.
Score Prediction: As does this. 3-2
MVP Prediction: Can’t look beyond Dimitri Payet. I love him.
13.30 Everton v Swansea
I’ve used this column to jab a finger at Roberto Martinez a few times. But – affable and pleasant and handsome as he very well may be - he and his Everton team flatter to deceive. They have won just once v a Top Half team (in 12 attempts) this season, which isn’t very good. Lucky for them Swansea are rightly in the Bottom Four, having lost four of their last five. A surprise win over Watford and even more surprising new manager might give them a boost.
Score Prediction: No excuses for Blues. 3-1
MVP Prediction: Romelu Lukaku will be happy to be back at Goodison.
16.00 Arsenal v Chelsea
Beating Arsenal in September might well end up Chelsea’s only high point this season. Never mind that it was against nine men and required an own goal, a win is a win these days. The eight goals shipped in their last four at home will mean Chelsea will be happy to travel. But Arsenal will be even more happy to greet them – winning their last six at home (all comps). Three of the last four meetings at the Emirates have been 0-0.
Score Prediction: Can’t see another. 2-0
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