Watford v Everton
Both these clubs had new managers enter the fray in the summer. One – Walter Mazzarri – came in with little expectation. Quique Flores was a much-loved figure in the Watford set up and many fans were unhappy to see him walk. The aim for this season after his departure would simply be to avoid relegation.
And, with them currently sitting in eleventh place, seven points clear of safety, you could say Mazzarri has been effective thus far.
Ronald Koeman was appointed Everton manager after Roberto Martinez was given the boot. The Spaniard had totally lost the Everton fans and quite possibly most of his players. His tactics were utterly laughable and the club were going backwards under his tenure.
Koeman had shown and proved to everyone during his time at Southampton that he is a top-class manager, perhaps the right one to pull Everton in the right direction.
But right now the club sit eight, with just two wins in ten league games, and things have gone rather flat after a promising start to the season.
Many people have argued that eight position is possibly where you would expect a club like Everton to reside. But it’s not the amount of points they have dropped that is the real issue; it’s the manner in which they dropped them.
You look back to the defeat by Bournemouth, the 1-1 draw with Palace, the 2-1 loss to Burnley, the shambolic performance at Stamford Bridge, and you begin to understand why Everton fans are looking at the table now and lamenting the fact that they are not a couple of places higher up.
Everton have won just two of their seven away games so far, so this match will be an opportunity for Koeman to bag a win and get some positivity flowing through the team again.
Arsenal v Stoke
Arsenal managed to top their Champions League group midweek, with Bulgarian side Ludogorets doing them a massive favour by holding PSG to a draw at the Parc des Princes. But you look at the sides who will finish second in the other groups, and it may not seem such a massive achievement for Arsenal after all. Even if it is one of the lesser sides they are drawn against, it would not be a guaranteed route to the next round; remember Monaco?
However, it will be cause for positivity as Wenger and Arsenal prepare to welcome to the Emirates a Stoke side who could take some beating. It’s five wins in seven league games for the Potters, who had a worrying start and Mark Hughes’s job was very much on the line. But they’ve fought their way out of the bottom half of the table and now sit in ninth, just a point behind Everton and two behind United.
Here’s a stat; you have to go all the way back to August 1981 to find the last time Stoke managed to travel to Arsenal and not lose. That’s a period spanning fourteen games across all competitions, fourteen games that have all gone Arsenal’s way.
With the form Arsenal are in, you can’t see past yet another home win here to notch onto that record.
Burnley v Bournemouth
Burnley are on a mini-slide at the moment, having lost three on the bounce and scoring just one goal in that time. I tipped Sean Dyche’s side to go down this season, and frankly I haven’t changed my opinion. They are capable of big wins (see Liverpool) but are also susceptible to the odd pumping (see West Brom). I like Sean Dyche a lot. He’s a straight-talking no-nonsense manager who knows what he wants from his players. Sadly I just don’t see Burnley having what it takes to stay up.
Bournemouth claimed an enormous victory over Liverpool last weekend. It was an incredible game, and it was the best way possible to celebrate Eddie Howe’s one-hundredth game in charge of the Cherries.
Bournemouth have just one away win this season, but if they want to stay up, it will be the home form they will most want to keep in good nick. They’ve lost just two out of their seven home games, winning four and drawing one.
Hull v Crystal Palace
A big game in the context of the relegation battle that is nicely unfolding at the foot of the table. Were Hull to beat Palace, it would take them out of the relegation zone and bring them level on points with Pardew’s side. But that will be much easier said than done for a side like Hull who are struggling badly at the moment.
They’ve lost eight of their last ten league games, with that rather unforeseen victory over Southampton in November proving vital as it is just keeping them abreast of their relegation neighbours.
Palace on the other hand are not much better off. How much longer can Pardew keep his job? How long can this pattern continue, where they lose game after game, and then claim a rare win, Pardew wins the fans and owners back over, and then it’s back into another losing streak. Something’s got to give eventually, and this game could be the tipping point.
Should they lose this game, they’ll be right in amongst it at the bottom, and Steve Parish may decide that enough is enough.
Swansea v Sunderland
Another huge game down the bottom, but this one surely will be more racked with tension, as the two sides currently occupy two of the three relegation places, and a win for either team would be huge.
Swansea were utterly torn to shreds against Tottenham last weekend. They just weren’t in the game at all; it was a practice session for Spurs. That kind of performance will have worried the Swans fans deeply going into this match.
Sunderland and David Moyes however seem to be on the ascendancy, having won three of their last four and have managed to pull away from bottom spot, which is currently occupied by their up-coming opponents.
A win for Sunderland here and Bob Bradley will certainly start to feel the pressure. Hew Jenkins, the club’s chairman, recently admitted that he is to blame for the club’s demise. Selling the majority of the club’s shares to an American consortium was not a move welcomed at all by the fans, and their decision to appoint a fellow American – experienced though Bradley is – could spell the beginning of a tedious couple of years for the Welsh club, which could see the frequent appointment of new managers become a common occurrence.
If Swansea manage to lose at home to a side that couldn’t buy a win not too long ago, it may be time up for Bradley.
Leicester v Man City
It’s the champions against those touted as champions elect before a ball was kicked this season. But for Man City, a damaging home loss to Chelsea last weekend means they are now four points off the pace. Not only that but in the aftermath of the scuffle with the Chelsea players towards the end of last weekend’s match, they are now without Fernandinho who’s banned for three games and more importantly Aguero who is out for the majority of December with a four-match ban.
Okay, it’s just four points the difference between City and top spot; that could be made up in a matter of weeks. But if bad results continue, and especially if Chelsea continue their winning streak, the table could make for much worse reading come the start of the new year.
It’s hard to see Leicester being relegated. With the quality players they have – admittedly most of them are nowhere near top form at present – it’s just impossible to think they will even be engaging in a relegation battle. Things need to improve though, and a great way to kick start a revival would be by beating the team they so easily dispatched the last time they met on their road to the title.
Chelsea v West Brom
What a statement made by Chelsea last weekend at the Etihad. Probably the most exciting game this season, it was the second time in a week that Conte’s side had gone a goal down and come back to take all three points. They look a real force right now, and having now won eight league games on the bounce, it’s tipped the scales in favour of the Blues and many bookmakers have edged them as favourites for the title.
Much like the title-winning team of the 14/15 season under Mourinho, there doesn’t appear to be any weak link in the side. Many were sceptical of the return of David Luiz, but since he’s come in and been utilised by Conte as the centre of a formidable back three, the Brazilian has been solid overall and has kept club captain John Terry on the bench.
West Brom are on a bit of a roll themselves. It’s three wins in four for the Baggies, having not lost a game since the end of October. Another plus for Tony Pulis will have been summer signing Nacer Chadli recovering from injury and taking part in the 3-1 win over Watford last weekend.
That run will almost certainly come to an end this Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Conte and Chelsea are cruising right now.
Man United v Tottenham
You never want to say that any match in the Premier League is certain to go in one way or the other, especially given the unpredictable nature of the results that have occurred so far this season.
Having said that…
Man United have drawn six out of their last ten league games; Tottenham four in seven. And out of the twenty teams in the top flight, which two sides currently have managed the most draws to date this season? You guessed it.
This certainly won’t be a match either team will want to extract just a point from. It’s imperative especially from United’s point of view, given that Spurs are the team directly above them, and they are a considerable six points clear of them. City are currently in fourth, nine points clear of United, so Mourinho will want to start off this busy Christmas period with a positive home win.
Tottenham have actually won two of their last four Premier League visits to Old Trafford, which is not a bad record.
A win for Pochettino here would get his team back on track, especially after enduring a miserable return to the Champions League, having being dumped out in the group stages with a game to spare.
Southampton v Middlesbrough
It’s no major occasion this oen this be quite honest, but it’s twelfth against thirteenth in this mid-table clash and both sides have just one win in their last four league games. So improvements will be expected from both managers.
Aitor Karanka you could argue is for the moment the happier of the two. A rather dull but well-deserved 1-0 win over Hull last Monday evening saw Boro jump up a few places in the table. They are now four points above the drop zone and have lost just once in six league games. Pretty good going.
The problem for Claude Puel and Southampton is they can’t get a consistent run of good performances going. They haven’t won back to back Premier League games since September and they’ve won just four of their last ten. Last time out they suffered a shock hammering at the hands of Crystal Palace.
The Saints crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday, and depending on your overall view of the competition and its merits, that can be viewed either way.
Liverpool v West Ham
It was awfully naïve of Liverpool to let a two-goal lead slip not once but twice against Bournemouth last weekend. Yet having said that, throwing leads away is not something totally alien to them. I think Klopp will need to take a hard look at his defence as the January transfer window approaches.
If they want to be considered serious title challengers, they’ll need to drastically improve their back line and put an end to incessant goal-leaking.
Speaking of leaky defences, it’s Slaven Bilic’s West Ham who will travel to Merseyside this weekend. The Hammers have the worst defence in the league, having seen twenty-nine goals go past them. It was recently reported that Bilic’s time as manager is severely under threat, and that he may only have a handful of games to resurrect his side and pull away from the relegation zone which they now hover dangerously over.
Unfortunately for them, a trip to Anfield may not be the place to turn their fortunes around.
WRITTEN BY DAVID NEWMAN