Written by InhaleSports Contributor Josh Mason
Despite my absence, the Premier League season has ticked on and I hope you have been keeping up because there has been narrative here, there, and everywhere. Last time we spoke, Manchester City had won all their games, Chelsea had yet to lose, and Big Sam was still England’s manager (!!!!). But do not fret or feel too out of touch, for some things haven’t changed; i.e. Sunderland are still awful.
AFC Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur
What a week it was for Bournemouth who smashed Mike Phelan’s Hull City 6-1 in his first official game as permanent manager; he must have been longing for the days of caretaker status… Eddie Howe’s men have the ability to play beautiful football, as you know by now, but its their desire to play it every week that is admirable. People will be quick to focus on Wilshere, but they do have some great players throughout the team, with Junior Stanislas’ sumptuous footwork and Callum Wilson’s massive talismanic potential helping to spearhead the attack. They will come into this game against a slightly (read “really significantly) more resilient Spurs team, however. Since I’ve been gone Tottenham were going about their business in a subdued yet consistent fashion, until they stole the show against Man City with an utterly dominant 2-0 win, giving Pep his first loss. In addition, Son Heung Min won player of the month as he happily stepped into the shoes of injured Harry Kane, who has this week returned to training. Against West Brom they were held due to an exceptional Ben Foster performance, and ex-lillywhite Nacer Chadli; if you don’t believe in the former player curse, then I have no time for you. Bournemouth will try and play on the ground, but I think they will struggle with Spur’s high press.
Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough
Arsenal have looked the real deal in the past few weeks, with normal bogey team Swansea providing no match, and arch-rivals and serial conquerers Chelsea providing even less. The Chelsea performance from Arsenal was one of the best I have seen in a long, long time with the Gunners being absolutely clinical in taking apart the admittedly flakey Chelsea back-line; it was like watching a butcher skin a lamb, ruthless yet artistic. It is no surprise that these performances have coincided with Ozil and Sanchez looking elite, as you would expect, but what has happened to Theo Walcott?! Granted there are still times it seems like he couldn’t hit a barn door, like last week when he needed one more to get a hat trick, the fact that he even has the opportunity to get a hat trick is a major evolution from last year; maybe one day he will do it for England too… Boro on the other hand have really struggled with only one win this season, which was against Sunderland so I’m not sure what to take from that. They haven’t conceded substantially, but they just seem to lack anyone that can take over a game. Arsenal have a couple of weeks before November and their annual slump, so I think they will win this at a canter.
Burnley vs. Everton
Burnley’s results have been all over the shop recently and find themselves 14th and a point above relegation; par for the course, I would imagine. Everton haven’t won since mid September in the league, and last week escaped the Etihad with a draw thanks to an outrageous performance by Martin Stekelenburg. Romelu Lukaku is on one of his scoring streaks at the moment, and I fancy him to continue that, but I think the Clarets will get a point here thanks to their tenacity.
Hull vs. Stoke
After a miraculous start to the season, Hull have lost their last four league games and conceded 17 goals along the way. Last week new permanently appointed boss Mike Phelan broke up the Livermore and Davies center-half partnership and saw his team get trounced. With Michael Dawson out, I think he will restore Livermore to the backline. Stoke obviously started the season poorly but haven’t lost in three and appear to be improving as the games go by. I think Mark Hughes’ team will do enough to win this with the firepower and creativity they have up front, and it’s just really hard to see where any goals from the home side will come from.
Leicester vs. Crystal Palace
Claudio Ranieri’s men won midweek yet again and now have the best start of any English team ever in the Champions league, but their 9 points in that competition eclipses their current lackluster, domestic total of 8. Last year there was a certainty about Leicester, from who was going to start and how they were going to play, that is now gone. It appears the Italian really isn’t sure of his best team, or the best way to incorporate all of his new attacking talent, and when he has tried to play them all it has led to massive gaps in the midfield. The answer to that might to play Okazaki up tip, with the Japanese workhorse playing style giving them an extra body when they don’t have the ball, as well as some ingenuity when they do. The foxes rode their luck to get the win midweek and Palace will provide some worthy opposition. Pardew’s men lost last week for the first time in five, but they were competitive and should have come away with at least a point if it wasn’t for a shocking penalty from Benteke. The Belgian has slotted in well though, and will always be a threat when a decent ball is delivered into the box, with Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon being the likely suppliers. This will be a tightly fought contest with honors being even after the ninety.
Swansea vs. Watford
Swansea fought back strongly last week against Arsenal, but were unable to grab an equalizer, despite a few chances. Bob Bradley showed that he can motivate his players well, though he did make a puzzling decision to bring off start performer Barrow who had ripped Nacho Monreal apart all game. Watford weren’t too pleasing on the eye against Boro but did come away with both the win and a clean sheet away from home. Generally speaking, the hornets are one of the more enjoyable teams to watch with Troy Deeney defying logical perceptions of what a high performing athelete should look like, and Roberto Pereyra looking class in behind. These are the sorts of games that Swansea need to get points from, and I think Watford might have a tendency to underperform against lesser opposition. I’m not bold enough to go for a home win here, but believe the Swans will earn a point.
West Ham vs. Sunderland
West Ham finally won a game after going winless in September, and were even able to keep a clean sheet thanks largely to Aaron Cresswell, who will unjustly miss this game thanks to a sending off for two pretty harsh yellows. Without him this defense could go back into disarray, and they realy need Zaza to start scoring some goals. Positively for the Hammers, Andre Ayew returned to training this past week and they could really do with him back fast. Fortunately for the home side, they are playing Sunderland who are quite frankly, awful. To bar fair the black cats have been hampered by injuries, but they are so poor all over the pitch. I still think Moyes should be kept around if they truly want to rebuild, but they will lose this game. That being said, I still think their one redeeming light, Jermain Defoe, will score.
Liverpool vs. West Brom
If you missed the Monday match between Liverpool and Manchester United then you got lucky, as it was dire. Mourinho does such a good job of setting his teams up to not concede, but it is truly awful on the eye to watch, especially as a neutral. With that said, it pains me to say that I really enjoy watching the Reds under Jurgen Klopp. Their front line is just so eye catching, flashy, and fast that its no wonder they score so many goals, even though it’s strange to think that Sturridge is almost obsolete now. West Brom were unluckly not to get all three points last week, and have looked decent this year, which might be about as much as the fans can expect. Nacer Chadli has appeared to be a shrewd signing, and a good deal in todays market for only 13 million (only). Though they kept out Alli and co. last week, I can see Liverpool taking out their frustrations on Pulis’ side.
Manchester City vs Southampton
A game of two teams in opposite form, one good and one bad, this has the potential to be a really great game of football. Manchester City, who looked so, so good for the opening handful of games have since been shut down pretty strongly with a variety of tactics. Whilst Tottenham showed that pressing them can disrupt their gameplan, Everton showed that sitting back could also yield results (even if it did require some insane goalkeeping). The Citizens are still an incredible unit though, and should be even more powerful with Aguero back in the starting eleven if Pep does indeed reinstate him. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of De Bruyne as well, and with him back to proper fitness they will be a little more cutting edge. Southampton have played really well, with Charlie Austin proving his worth as a goal scorer with his bullish play style beautifully juxtaposed with the pacey Shane Long. At the back, they have a very underrated center back pairing with Fonte and van Dijk, that latter of which I consider one of the best center halves in the country. With injuries to Ryan Bertrand and Matthew Targett they could be very light at left back, which is rather scary when that individual will be coming up against Leroy Sane, Sterling, De Bruyne, Aguero etc. Man City need a win here to bounce back, and they will get one.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
This weekend’s biggest fixture is a homecoming for José Mourinho to Stamford Bridge following his sacking at the end of last year. Some are hyping up whether or not he will be hounded by Chelsea fans following the terrible performance of last year and the “betrayal” by going to United, though I think it would be naïve to think he wont be well-received. Chelsea put in probably their strongest performance of the season last week, dismantling champions Leicester thanks to a phenomenal game from Kante and the silkiest assist from Chalobah for Victor Moses, a man reborn. The Red Devils played sternly to get a result at Anfield, with Ander Herrera appearing to have done magnificently to adjust his game in the United midfield. Zlatan has been quiet recently, especially by his standards, but Pogba was able to put in a man of the match performance in a 4-1 drubbing of Fernabache midweek.
This is tactically going to be a very interesting game. Mourinho will likely play on the back foot, and this will be the first time Conte puts his new 3-4-3 formation up against one of his title rivals, and following resounding losses to Liverpool and Arsenal he needs a win here to make a statement. I would not be surprised if there was some argy bargy especially in regards to Costa, and any red card could really swing the pendulum and the result. Under the assumption that no one gets sent off and although I’m hoping to be wrong, I think both managers will set themselves up for a point, and a point will be what they get.