EPL preview: Liverpool, Man City in end-of-year battle for supremacy
After a break of just one day, the EPL returns today with match-week nineteen, the last round of matches for the year and the first half of the competition. Liverpool will host Manchester City in what will undoubtedly be the highlight of this round of fixtures. Ten games were played from the 26th of this month through to the 28th and another ten will be played from today through to Sunday.
Chelsea continued their winning streak with a 3-nil victory over Bournemouth on Monday to make it twelve wins in a row and set a new club record of consecutive league wins, while Manchester United picked up their fourth victory on the bounce with a 3-1 win over Sunderland and Arsenal left it late before seeing off West Brom. There were also wins for Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham to maintain the status quo at the top of the table, while Leicester City lost at home for the second time this season, after losing just once there all through last season.
This weekend’s round of matches will kick off tonight with Everton as guests of Hull City at the KCOM stadium. The toffees have moved back into seventh place on the log on the back of their recent form which has seen them win two of their last three games, after going on a winless run of five games. They will be trying to win consecutive away games for the first time since September when they come up against the struggling Tigers tonight. Hull City were beaten 3-nil by Manchester City on Boxing Day to extend their winless run to seven games and leave them at the bottom of the table. They have now failed to score in three consecutive matches while conceding ten in their last four. The last time these two teams met in the Premiership, Hull beat Everton by two goals to nothing to put an end to their four-match winless streak against the toffees. They will need a similar result to give themselves a chance of not entering the New Year at the bottom of the table.
Seven matches will be played tomorrow and it’s the final fixture of the day that will be the one the whole world will be eagerly anticipating. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will resume the rivalry they began in Germany when Liverpool welcome Manchester City to Anfield. They faced each other a total of eight times while they were in charge of the biggest clubs in Germany (Bayern Munich & Borussia Dortmund) and they could hardly be separated as they both chalked up four victories apiece (although it could be argued that Guardiola edged the battle as their final meeting ended in a draw, before Dortmund went ahead to win the game on penalties). Liverpool are on a run of three straight victories and with their home form in the league this season, few will bet against them making it four wins on the bounce. The Reds have dropped only four points at home this season as only Manchester United and West Ham have left Anfield with something so far this season. They currently sit second on the table and are just a point over tomorrow’s opponents.
Manchester City are also on a three-game winning run and have scored seven while conceding just once during that span. The citizens also have the second best away record in the league with seven wins from nine games and will need another strong away performance if they hope to get something from this trip to Anfield (they haven’t won there since the 2002/2003). They met thrice last season with Liverpool doing the double over City in the league, while City gained some measure of revenge by beating the Reds in the final of the Capital One Cup. This should be a goal-fest as both teams boast the best attacks in the league scoring a total of eighty-four goals between them while conceding forty-one. Kelechi Iheanacho was among the goals against Hull City and a repeat performance to round off what has been a fantastic year for him will put smiles on the faces of fans of Man City and The Super Eagles.
There will be six matches played before the Liverpool-Manchester City clash tomorrow and all six will kick off at the same time. Manchester United will host Middlesbrough at Old Trafford and the Red Devils are in scintillating form at the moment with four wins from four and it will take only a brave man to bet against them to make it five wins on the bounce tomorrow. It’s no surprise that their resurgence happened just when their Swedish goal merchant Zlatan Ibrahimovic rediscovered his scoring form. The Swede has chalked up twelve goals in the league this season with five in his last five matches. Henrikh Mkhitaryan announced his return to the team from a short injury break in spectacular fashion on Boxing Day by scoring a delightful ‘scorpion kick’ goal in the victory over Sunderland and should get back his starting shirt for this fixture. Middlesbrough are not very good travellers as they have won only one away game all season although they have been able to pick up points at the homes of Manchester City and Arsenal and will be hoping to put up a battling performance at Old Trafford.
Leicester are worlds away from where they were at this point last season and second home defeat last time out didn’t do them any favours as it left them just three points off the drop zone. They host a West Ham team on a three-match winning streak knowing that another loss will be terrible for them. Jamie Vardy will still sit out this one due to suspension and one of their top performers last season, Riyadh Mahrez, has been quite poor this season prompting his coach Claudio Ranieri to call him out on his poor form and asking for some improvement from the Algerian. The Hammers haven’t been able to get a win over the Foxes in their last six attempts and the last time they met at this stadium it was an exciting 2-2 draw, which might happen again tomorrow. Ahmed Musa who didn’t leave the substitute bench in their loss to Everton should play some part in this game.
Stoke City will travel to Stamford Bridge with the sole aim of not becoming Chelsea’s thirteenth victim in the blues winning streak. The Potters who are on a four-game winless streak will need to put up a much-disciplined performance than they did at Anfield if they do not want to become just another statistic in Chelsea’s record-breaking run. Their task will be made harder for them as Chelsea will have Diego Costa and N’golo Kante back in their ranks after both players missed their last game due to suspension, however, two goal hero from their last match, Pedro, will sit out this one after he collected his fifth booking of the season against Bournemouth. Victor Moses, who has been a regular, should continue starting for Chelsea, while Mikel Obi might just be packing his bags out of the team after this match as the transfer window will open on the 1st of January.
In other matches that will be played tomorrow, Burnley fresh off their win over Middlesbrough will host Victor Anichebe and his Sunderland side at Turf Moor, while Bournemouth will be hoping to pile more misery on manager-less Swansea and Southampton will be looking to make it a third loss in a row for West Brom when they host the baggies at St Mary’s.
Two games will be played on Sunday; in the first game, Watford will host Tottenham. Both sides have contrasting forms right now with the Hornets winless in three games while the Lily Whites are on a three-game winning streak. Watford have a terrible recent record against Tottenham losing six of the last six games against them in all competitions and with the forms of both sides, that trend doesn’t seem like ending on Sunday. Tottenham will know that Manchester United are breathing down their necks while the top four are threatening to run away from them, so they cannot afford to drop points in this game.
In the final fixture of this round, Arsenal will host Crystal Palace and it will be a renewing of the Arsene Wenger/Sam Allardyce rivalry. Arsenal were able to grind out a win over West Brom last time out and would need that kind of patience again to overcome this Crystal Palace side now rejuvenated by Big Sam. Arsenal have won three of their last four home meetings against Crystal Palace in the Premier League and another victory here isn’t unlikely. A victory for the Gunners will be very important as it will help them take advantage of any outcome from the Liverpool-Man City clash and help them maintain their slim one-point gap over Tottenham. Alex Iwobi should start for the Gunners in this fixture.
Two things will remain certain at the end of this round of fixtures; Chelsea will enter the New Year as the league leaders, while Manchester United will begin the New Year in the sixth position. It has been a fantastic year of football in the English Premiership and we all look forward to an even better 2017 in football and in our lives. I’ll return with more exciting EPL Previews next year and until then I want to wish you all A VERY HAPPY & PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!!!