After a week-off for the FA Cup the EPL returns for Week 26. Chelsea will hope to extend their lead at the top of the EPL with win over Burnley, but any slip up and Man City could close the gap with a win over Newcastle.
Elsewhere there is the London Derby between Tottenham and West Ham, while Southampon and Liverpool square off on Sunday in a game that could help decide who finishes in the Champions League Spots come the end of the season.
|Aston Villa v Stoke||0-1|
|Chelsea v Burnley||3-0|
|Crystal Palace v Arsenal||1-2|
|Hull v QPR||2-0|
|Sunderland v West Brom||1-1|
|Swansea v Man Utd||1-1|
|Man City v Newcastle||3-0|
|Tottenham v West Ham||2-0|
|Everton v Leicester||2-1|
|Southampton v Liverpool||1-1|
A correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point. Getting the exact score correct earns THREE points.
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Chelsea v Burnley
Chelsea maintained their lead at the top of the EPL with a hard fought victory over Everton last week. The Blues were not at their best, but still managed to bag a last minute victory thanks to a deflected shot from Willian.
They were less convincing midweek and actually fortunate not to lose, drawing 1-1 away to PSG in the Champions League. But not playing well and getting results is usually what champions do and Chelsea and their fans will not mind too much as long as they keep picking up points.
Burnley on the other hand just cannot seem to get the results to match their performances. The Clarets played tremendously well away to Manchester United, but still managed to leave without any points.
Chelsea welcome back striker Diego Costa who returns from a three-game suspension, while Oscar, Petr Cech, Juan Cuadrado and Kurt Zouma could earn recalls after being dropped midweek in the Champions League.
Burnley defender Stephen Ward is in contention for a place after recovering from a broken ankle sustained in December, but Dean Marney and Kevin Long are definitely out with knee injuries.
Burnley has not won a league game away to Chelsea since 26 April 1971, and with Chelsea top of the EPL and Burnley second from bottom one might expect that barren run to continue. However, Burnley play some neat stuff and posses one of the hottest young strikers in the EPL in Danny Ings—the 22-year-old has scored in five of his last six league appearances for Burnley.
Nevertheless, I expect the EPL leaders to have too much for the Clarets and too easily win this one.
Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Crystal Palace drew 1-1 with Newcastle last week but have failed to win in their last three home games. The Eagles started well under new boss Alan Pardew, but things now seem to have gone a bit stale for them.
Arsenal returned to winning ways last week with a nervy 2-1 win to EPL strugglers Leicester City. The Gunners started well and looked to be in thorough control of the game at 2-0. However, when Leicester scored they retreated deep and in the end were holding on.
Crystal Palace welcome back captain Mike Jedinak from an ankle injury picked up on international duty, while James McArthur may also return, but on-loan striker Yaya Sanogo is ineligible to play against his parent club.
Arsenal midfielder Jack WIlshere is fit again after three months out, but left back Hector Bellerin is a doubt, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to be risked.
Things just have not clicked so far for Palace under Alan Pardew, but they are still a tricky side to play against and will give any team a game, especially on their home turf. Arsenal weren’t convincing at home to Leicester, but all their star players are starting to return and when they get going they can create all sorts of havoc for opposing defenses.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 visits to Selhurst Park in all competitions (W6, D5) dating back to 1979. However, I think this will be a tough game for the Gunners, though I do expect them to just edge this one.
Swansea v Man Utd
Swansea lost 2-0 away to West Brom and have now won only one of their last seven EPL games. I don’t think it is a coincidence that their drop in form has happened at the time as Wilfred Bony’s departure—the Swans have scored just nine goals in their last 11 Premier League games and not more than once in a game during that run—and their failure to buy a quality forward during the transfer window could come back to haunt them.
Manchester United are still not playing well, but are still somehow getting results. The Red Devils were second best for long periods against Burnley last week yet still managed to win 3-1 and were not convincing in the FA Cup against League 1 side Preston North End. However, they do seem to have a lot of individual players that can score goals and that is getting them out of jail at the moment.
Gylfi Sigurdsson returns for Swansea after serving a suspension, while Wayne Routledge and Marvin Emnes are also available again after injury, though Kyle Bartley is out injured.
Manchester United could welcome back Robin Van Persie who missed out at the beginning of the week in the FA Cup game against Preston. Phil Jones also looks set for a return, but Michael Carrick remains out.
Swansea are looking to complete their first ever “double” over Manchester United in the EPL after they beat the Red Devils at Old Trafford on the opening game of the season. But the Swans are struggling at the moment, whilst United have only lost once in their last 19 games. However, the Red Devils haven’t played well in most of those games and seem almost to be getting lucky in every game and that’s why I expect this to be a draw.
Man City v Newcastle
Man City thrashed Stoke City 4-1 away to keep chase with EPL leaders Chelsea. The EPL champions looked back to their free flowing best with Sergio Aguero almost back to his old self. The Argentinean had looked rusty in recent weeks after two-months out with a knee injury, but last week he scored two and made another.
Newcastle got a good 1-1 away draw to Crystal Palace last week and seem fairly settled under interim boss John Carver. The Magpies started the season poorly, but then went on a terrific run and have now slowed a little. They currently sit eleventh and I expect them to be there about come the end of the season.
Manchester City could hand January signing Wilfred Bony his debut, while talisman Yaya Toure is also likely to return to the starting line-up.
Sergio Aguero has a back injury though should still play, but James Milner is definitely out with knee problem.
Newcastle’s defensive troubles continue with Paul Dummett ruled out for three months. Midfielder Cheick Tiote is definitely out, while Remy Cabellais a doubt.
Man City have not been at their best recently, especially at home where they are without a win in their last three (D1 L2). However, they looked back to their best last week and with Sergio Aguero starting to find his form again and Yaya Toure back from international duty I expect City to dominate and easily win this one.
Tottenham v West Ham
Sunday’s action kicks-off with a Derby, as north Londoners Tottenham host east Londoners West Ham.
Tottemham’s recent good run came to an end last week with a 3-2 away loss to Liverpool. The north Londoners came from behind twice, but finally succumbed to Liverpool thanks to a Mario Balotelli goal. That loss means Spurs are now three-points off a Champions League place, however, the performance of Harry Kane was once again a highlight and the young forward looks certain to have cemented himself a place in the next England squad.
West Ham got a good 0-0 draw away to Southampton last week in the EPL, but were then thrashed 4-0 by West Brom in the FA Cup. They managed with injuries to key players against Manchester United and Southampton, but the FA Cup game against West Brom appeared to be one game too many and they will not be looking forward to their trip to north London.
Tottenham have no new injury worries and could name the same side that lost to Liverpool last week.
West Ham’s defensive situation looks to be on the mend with Winston Reid, Matt Jarvis and James Collins all available after recovering from injuries. However, Andy Carroll remains out with a knee problem.
Tottenaham have been in terrific form recently and even though they lost to Liverpool they played well. They lost a bit of ground last week in their pursuit for a Champions League spot and will be desperate not to lose anymore ground.
West Ham have been having a terrific season and were in the top four just a few weeks ago, but they seem to be running out of steam at the moment. The Hammers won at White Hart Lane last season and a couple of weeks ago I might have backed them to maybe steal a win again, but with their drop in form and injuries to key players I think they will struggle on Sunday.
Southampton v Liverpool
Sunday’s final game could be the game of the weekend, as two clubs with ambitions for Champions League soccer battle it out.
Southampton drew 0-0 with West Ham last week allowing Manchester United to leapfrog them into third and Arsenal to move within a point of fourth place. The Saints have not been at their best since beating Manchester United, but somehow or another have been grinding results out to stay in contention for a European spot.
Liverpool’s resurgence continued last week with a good 3-2 win over Tottenham. The win moved them to within four-points of Southampton and a Champions League spot. The return of Daniel Sturridge seems to have not only given the team a different dimension, but also lifted their spirits. Indeed, Mario Balotelli, who was struggling for goals, now has two goals in his last two games.
Southampton are boasted by the return of midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, but Matt Targett is a doubt with a head injury.
Raheem Sterling is in contention for a start after recovering from injury, but Steven Gerrard is still out with a hamstring problem.
The two clubs have a fairly even record in recent meetings with Southampton wining five and Liverpool four of the last nine meetings between the clubs—though Liverpool have won the last two meetings.
Southampton are unbeaten in their last nine EPL games, though they have only won one of their last nine EPL home games. Liverpool are also in good form and are the only EPL side yet to lose in 2015.
This game should be a pleasant one on the eye, as both teams like to play high tempo attacking soccer. However, I feel neither side will want to lose this game and I don’t expect either to commit too many players forward and that’s why I’ll go for a draw.