The bell has sounded for the last lap of the Premier League season…
This seven days could prove key when the story of the PL season is told. Leicester’s 88th minute winner against Norwich… Tottenham’s second half turnaround v Swansea… and Arsenal spluttering to a spiritless, stroppy defeat at the Old Trafford creche. Titles are won and lost on such turning points.
Arsenal and Tottenham minds are bound to be straying towards the six-pointer at the weekend. But the distance between the Top Four could yet wider before then, with both the north London pair facing opponents who enjoy the fixture.
But it’s not all glamour – we start proceedings at Aston Villa, who may be lapped by the end of the season.
BUT, are still only two points worse off than Leicester were this time last season…
7.45pm Aston Villa v Everton
If Villa were a dog, they would’ve been put to sleep by now. Instead they must limp to the line before the rebuilding job next season. Their last home match was the six-goal drubbing by Liverpool. Everton arrive in good shape. Three away wins on the spin (all comps) without conceding underlines where they prefer playing – they have only lost a single away match this season, at Arsenal.
Score Prediction: Toffee off a baby. 0-2
7.45pm Bournemouth v Southampton
Bournemouth haven’t had any joy at home since beating Norwich, four matches ago. The excellent form of December and January that looked like lifting them into mid-table has fallen away dramatically. South coast neighbours Southampton have rediscovered their defensive mojo, with three clean sheets on the trot on their travels.
Score Prediction: Hard to oppose Saints. 0-1
MVP: The big man is BACK! Fraser Forster
7.45pm Leicester v West Brom
This is the first of a run of three cruel ties for West Brom. Man United and Arsenal are next up which could give the following matches with Norwich and Sunderland a six-pointer vibe. Leicester on the other hand look to have a very favourable run-in until the last three v Man United, Everton and Chelsea. But they could be champions by then.
Score Prediction: Too much fire power for West Brom. 2-0
MVP: Let’s go Riyad Mahrez.
7.45pm Sunderland v Crystal Palace
This is about as easy as it gets for Sunderland in their remaining six home games. If Big Sam is to pull it out of the bag – and Sunderland out of the do do – they can’t afford to let this match slip past without at least a point. Palace are much happier playing on the road, accumulating more away points than home. But they don’t look capable of more than one goal at a time.
Score Prediction: Tight, but 2-1
MVP: Yer man Jermain Defoe tends to step up about now.
7.45 Norwich v Chelsea
Chelsea look to have finally turned the corner they have been loitering on for the last few weeks. Coming from behind to beat Southampton in their current mood is the sort of thing that Champions do. Which they still are, remember. The resurgence of John Obi Mikel is one of the surprises of Chelsea’s season. Third and fourth choice centre-backs Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill look comfortable playing behind him and Pedro and Willian very fluid in front. All of which is bad news for Norwich. The 88th minute defeat at Leicester last week must feel worse than getting hit for three or four.
Score Prediction: Three in a row for Chelsea. 0-3
MVP: Willian. Who else?
7.45pm Arsenal v Swansea
Another tough north London assignment for Swansea. This could drop them back into the relegation mire just when they looked like clawing their way out of it. But their season will not be defined by their results at Tottenham and Arsenal, but more likely the next few v Norwich, Bournemouth and Villa. Arsenal’s defeat at Man United means they have used up all their ‘get out of jail free’ cards if they are serious about winning the PL title.
Score Prediction: Total football contest. Only one outcome. 3-0
MVP: This is the level Olivier Giroud is effective at.
7.45pm Stoke v Newcastle
Stoke look to have their game back after a post-Capital Cup semi-final defeat slump. They only face two Top Four teams in their 11 match run-in so can target another Top Nine finish (at least) to reflect their continuing PL progress. If Newcastle get relegated it will their away form that is to blame. Their losing streak has stretched to six, with just two goals to show. Stoke is no place to revive away form and it’s Leicester next.
Score Prediction: No messing. 2-0
MVP: Jack Butland will have one of his easier evenings.
7.45pm West Ham v Tottenham
Both these London rivals will see this as a chance to measure their progress this season. Both on a upward trajectory but whose is the steepest is up for debate. Honours are even over the last ten meetings – both have W4 D2 L4. Tottenham might have their minds straying to the weekend six-pointer with Arsenal, but likely to depend on which of the flair players have the better day.
Score Prediction: Nothing much in it. 2-2
MVP: Dimitri Payet looks like a Tottenham player. Bet they wish he was.
8pm Liverpool v Man City
Groundhog day at Anfield. But you never quite know what you are going to get from Liverpool from one match to the next. Or who will take the field for City, although they won’t be sacrificing the PL title for the Champions League. Not deliberately anyway. City need all three points here to stay in touch with the leaders, but it’s not a happy hunting ground. No wins in since 2003, 13 visits ago.
Score Prediction: City will take a point. 1-1
MVP: Philippe Coutinho gives Liverpool another dimension.
8pm Man United v Watford
Watford have lost their four away matches to Top Six teams, scoring just once. In fact they’ve only taken one point from all eight matches, but they will have bitter memories from the win United smuggled out of Vicarage Road earlier this season (Troy Deeney’s OG in the 90-something minute). United have won their last ten v Watford but Louis’ Lads might need a bit of child-minding v Deeney and Co.
Score Prediction: A share of the spoils. 1-1
MVP: Troy Deeney will have the bit between his teeth.
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