Chelsea’s coronation was all but assured with a professional victory over the Foxes on Wednesday night. Those critical of Chelsea’s stygian tactics were silenced by an excellent second-half display that was reminiscent of their early season dominance. Liverpool’s squad deficiencies were highlighted by a dreary visit to Hull on Tuesday. This seems to have left the Champions League battle all but fought, leaving the relegation zone as the true area of interest for the viewing public. Burnley and QPR are in must-win country while Leicester’s resurgence has dragged various clubs back into the relegation mire. Newcastle’s visit to Leicester is a critical fixture, especially considering that Villa and Sunderland have home matches this weekend. The devastating run of poor form on the part of the Geordies could yet still see one of English football’s most iconic institutions plummeting to the Championship once again.
This one is perhaps the tie of the weekend. Newcastle’s season has been approaching catastrophe for quite some time now. It seems inconceivable that they will get another point. Their loss against Swansea was the first time in the Premier League era that they have lost seven games on the bounce, with the likes of Perez unable to inspire legions of Geordie fans. Nigel Pearson’s Leicester side was soundly deconstructed in the second half by impending champions Chelsea, while fresh new injury concerns to Huth and King may necessitate a reshuffle. They are, however, a reenergized side on the brink of something truly special. I can’t imagine how Newcastle could possibly motivate themselves more than this season’s most arresting fairy-tale. Back Leicester at 9/10.
West Ham’s season has fizzled out dramatically, unfortunately leaving Sam Allardyce in an ambiguous position. Ordinarily, West Ham supporters would probably be perfectly satisfied with their position but their early season form seemed to suggest the faint allure of European ambition, augmented by the bizarre hysteria surrounding Russell Brand’s support of the club. Burnley need a win desperately as they seem bereft of ideas in front of goal at present. Danny Ings has lost his scoring touch while Sean Dyche seems unable to find an alternative solution to their genuine lack of goals. I don’t see Burnley winning this game due to a lack of potency in front of goal, but perhaps they may sneak a point against an equally staid West Ham. However, Under 2.5 goals seems the real winner here at 15/20.
Swansea face Stoke in a match that exemplifies the best of the Premier League. Both sides have forged strong individual identities in the most ruthless of leagues, with both sides likely to finish in the top half of the table. That is where the similarity, however, ends. Swansea’s focus is on delicate interplay while Stoke are still largely characterised by a more direct approach. Charlie Adam has evolved into a force at Stoke in much the same way as Shelvey at Swansea, which should precipitate curious head scratching at Liverpool. This should be an intriguing matchup that serves as a celebration of two firmly entrenched Premier League sides. I think both sides, embracing their solid Premier League status, will try to win this game and absolutely ensure a top half finish, which should see some entertaining football. Over 2.5 goals is the tip at 11/10.
QPR’s chances of survival may rely heavily upon picking up some result at Anfield this weekend. Charlie Austin’s missed penalty at West Ham could prove a bitingly cruel twist of irony for a striker who has almost single-handedly kept the London side afloat. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side has fallen off the rails in a dramatic way: the contractual furore surrounding Raheem Sterling injected a shot of sustained negativity into a side seemingly destined for Champions League football. Daniel Sturridge’s injury woes leaves no obvious goal threat for the Reds, which should obviously embolden a QPR side desperate for survival. Although Liverpool were shocking against Hull, I feel that QPR’s midfield will battle against the consistency of Henderson and Coutinho. Take the Reds at 7/20.
Tim Sherwood’s annoyingly egalitarian touchline revelries were put on hold this weekend by a late Fernandinho strike. In all honesty Aston Villa were rather unfortunate not to get anything out of the match and will look towards Everton’s visit with a degree of relish. Everton have been resurgent lately, buoyed by both the return of Kevin Mirallas and arrival of Aaron Lennon. Aston Villa are hoping to avoid the fate of Martinez’s former club Wigan, whose glorious FA Cup victory was followed by subsequent relegation. Everton are looking dangerous and will take advantage of Villa’s obvious nerves, but to what extent I can’t be sure. Grab the Toffees on the Double Chance at 9/20.
Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland side are in desperate need of goals as Southampton visit this weekend. Since scoring that utter blinder a few weeks back, Jermain Defoe has gone off the boil completely. Adam Johnson’s legal issues have reverberated throughout the club while their defenders still look laborious. Graziano Pelle has rediscovered his scoring touch of late, which adds a great deal of impetus to this excellent Southampton side. I expect Schneiderlin and Wanyama to dominate the midfield while Mane and Pelle combine up front to really throw Sunderland in the deep end. Southampton to win at 9/10.
Louis Van Gaal focused on his side’s lack of enthusiasm in the wake of an anaemic display against Everton last time around. Their defence has been obliterated by injury, which has seen the naïve McNair drafted into the heart of it. This is an area that will come under particular scrutiny in the transfer window. Luckily for Manchester United, West Brom have gone back into hibernation mode with survival almost secure. Tony Pulis, ever the pragmatist, will set his side out in typically counterattacking mode. This should invite a talented United side to all but secure a Champions League spot. United to win a tight encounter at 7/20.
The last time that Chelsea needed a win to secure the league was in 2009/10 against Wigan Athletic. They went on to win that game 8-0, romping away to their third Premier League trophy. While I can’t quite envisage such scoreboard pyrotechnics this weekend, I can’t imagine anything other than a convincing home win for Chelsea. Crystal Palace were abysmal against Hull, perhaps overly indulgent on Alan Pardew’s new brand of unyielding confidence. Pardew showed at Newcastle a propensity for streaks - much like Villa striker Christian Benteke. His managerial style has yet to reveal consistency, worrying signs for Palace in the upcoming seasons. I’m backing Chelsea to win both halves on the halftime-fulltime double at 9/10.
Spurs’ season is really a perfect distillation of what might have been. If they had two or three more players in crucial areas, who knows? Pochettino knows that he is going to have to be creative again in transfer dealings, perhaps avoiding some of the sub-quality continental guff that has become associated with Spurs of late. Perhaps a raid of some of the higher quality players currently residing in the league (Danny Ings, Benteke, Schneiderlin to name a few) would be a better tactic. Pellegrini (if it is indeed Pellegrini and not a certain recently dismissed resigned German manager) has a whole different set of difficulties to deal with. Manchester City demand success and the club need to make some big decisions surrounding the future of some of their established players. Spurs have improved against the bigger clubs to some extent, but something tells me that City will have too much quality, especially with Aguero still chasing the Golden Boot. City are 19/20 for the away win.
Arsenal’s soporific draw with Chelsea practically ended the Londoner’s belated title charge. They are, however, looking odds-on to secure second place with City’s diminishing form. Hull City’s injury ravaged season has been given a monumental boost by two thoroughly unexpected consecutive victories. They deserved their victory over Liverpool, with Elmohamady and Brady providing consistent threats on either flank. Arsenal’s improvement this season can be largely attributed to the greater backbone throughout the side, with Coquelin finally presenting Wenger with a stable defensive midfielder. This had led to an improved away persona which should bode well for this trip to Hull. Arsenal to win at 13/20.