Has the Premier League got any respect for the Cup? Sweet FA…
The Premier League has so far escaped scrutiny in the debate whether we’ve lost respect for the FA Cup. But scheduling midweek fixtures immediately after ties doesn’t help managers.
Nor does fielding weakened teams if you’re Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool have managed to book themselves another cup replay, precisely what they didn’t want. Still, it’s another start for Christian Benteke, I suppose.
Even Arsenal made changes (nine, no less!) for their tie with Burnley. But got away with it. Indeed, if they are serious about winning more than the FA Cup this season they have used up their quota of blips. Their current run of three without a win in the PL needs to end against Southampton…
19.45 Arsenal v Southampton
It’s a big, possibly season defining six weeks ahead for Arsenal: A top-of-the-table clash with Leicester, away trips to Man United and Tottenham and that lot from Barcelona chucking a Spaniard in the works. Draws v Liverpool and Stoke and defeat at Chelsea in their last three PL matches means there is no more wriggle room. Southampton have turned a corner in their last three – all wins and none conceded. But dropped points are unthinkable for Arsene.
Score Prediction: No slip ups. 2-1
MVP: Cliché warning! Alexis Sanchez will be like a new signing.
19.45 Leicester v Liverpool
This will be Liverpool’s 10th match of 2016 – that’s three more than their hosts – and they are starting to creak a bit. Plus, Jurgen Klopp seems to have settled on his default line-up. Jordan Ibe and Lucas have flip-flopped, but otherwise not much has changed in the last four PL matches. Leicester have a high intensity style to match Klopp’s more lauded one and it is the last thing Liverpool need right now.
Score Prediction: Leicester aren’t going away. 3-1
MVP: After a little breather Jamie Vardy looks sharp again.
19.45 Norwich v Tottenham
Norwich manager Alex Neil nailed his colours to the mast with his selection v Man City in the FA Cup. He knows where is bread is buttered and has his sleeves rolled up ready for a three-month relegation scrap. Tottenham is a tough assignment – they are four from four, with a plus ten goal difference – but the Canaries have had ten days to get the 5-4 v Liverpool out of their system.
Score Prediction: Hard to go against Tottenham. 1-2
MVP: Dele Alli had a break at the weekend.
19.45 Sunderland v Man City
After six unbeaten and scoring goals for fun – 15 during that period – this is the sort of match City choke on. It wouldn’t be the first time. Sunderland have won four of the last six home meetings, though not for a couple of seasons. With Liverpool, Man United and West Ham up next anything Big Sam can snaffle from this would be a bonus.
Score Prediction: City will have to work for it, but 0-2
MVP: Got to be Sergio Aguero, despite young Kelechi Iheanacho’s growing stature.
19.45 West Ham v Aston Villa
Already ten points adrift, Villa are certainly down. But to his credit Remi Garde has traced a pulse and is gamefully applying CPR. They are three unbeaten in the PL and can even quote a hard-luck storie in the draw at West Brom. West Ham look too ruthless to allow this to continue though. Enner Valencia’s goals have added to their threat and he will enjoy the hospitality on offer from Villa’s back-four.
Score Prediction: Stop. It’s Hammers time. 2-0
MVP: Dimitri Payet is still the man.
19.45 Crystal Palace v Bournemouth
Palace were the story of the season, briefly. But a couple of key injuries to Bakary Sako, Yannick Bolasie and Yohan Cabaye have proved difficult to contend with. Their desperate lack of goals – it’s just one in six now - highlighted by the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor. Bournemouth’s investment in goals Benik Afobe has already returned two. Another ten between now and May 15th and he will be worth every bean paid.
Score Prediction: Still can’t see where the goals are coming from for Palace. 0-1
MVP: Benik Afobe looks the difference.
19.45 Man United v Stoke
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Stoke. Two narrow cup defeats and a thumping at Leicester since their creditable draw with Arsenal will have taken a certain amount of wind from their sails. Ryan Shawcross is a big miss too. Luckily, a trip to Old Trafford holds no fear these days for anyone but LVG. The cup win at Derby was a step forwards, anything less than a win here will be another two backwards.
Score Prediction: Mark Hughes will want to flex some managerial muscles in front his former employer. 1-1
MVP: Anthony Martial is United’s biggest threat.
19.45 West Brom v Swansea
The Said Berahino sideshow seems to have been going on for years now, which can’t have done West Brom any good. It might help explain their skittish form, which has been solid at home – until Villa stole a point. Swansea are just three points behind their hosts before today, but look a team rejuvenated since jettisoning their bad apple Jonjo Shelvey.
Score Prediction: Probably the draw that neither wants. 0-0
MVP: Not who’s first choice keeper now, so Jonny Evans.
19.45 Everton v Newcastle
If I was to start this talking about underperforming players, cheated fans and flattering to deceive you might think I was summarising Newcastle. But for all the rose-tinted plaudits that Everton’s brand of football attracts, they are decidedly average. Their one PL win in their last ten came at Newcastle. Five defeats in six on the road suggests revenge is unlikely.
Score Prediction: Neither good enough to win this. 1-1
MVP: Romelu Lukaku is threatening one of his mid-season snoozes. Due one.
19.45 Watford v Chelsea
On the face of it, Watford’s wheels have come off since Christmas. But only the 1-0 defeat at Swansea will have caused any real concern. They are still punching at pretty much exactly their weight. Chelsea re much happier away from Stamford Bridge these days and have their clean-sheet mojo back. Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney are as big a handful as JT can probably remember in all his PL days though.
Score Prediction: Same as at Chelsea. 2-2
MVP: Odion Ighalo is still the 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