Following a full mid-week schedule, we move onto match round 17 and the final round of games before Christmas, and there are some great matches live this weekend.
The weekend kicks off with the league leaders Chelsea as they look to work towards an 11th consecutive league win against a Crystal Palace side in need of some points.
Super Sunday culminates with a great top 4 clash between Manchester City and Arsenal, with both teams wanting to keep applying pressure to Chelsea. There is also a fantastic match on Monday Night Football, as the Merseyside Derby takes place.
Crystal Palace v Chelsea – Saturday 17th December 2016 – 12.30 – Sky Sports 1
The league leaders kick off the weekends action, as they aim for their 11th victory in a row in the Premier League, as they take on Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. In order to claim the record that is currently held by Arsenal’s 2002 league winning team, they will need to win another 5 in a row. The blues latest triumph, on Wednesday against Sunderland, was a result that showed Antonio Conte’s team can grind out results when they have to.
Chelsea beat Sunderland 1-0, thanks to a 20 yard placed shot from forgotten man Cesc Fabregas, but they were made to work for the result. Thibault Courtois, who has only conceded 2 goals in his last 1,010 minutes of Premier League football, showed his quality by making a world class save from Sunderland’s Patrick Van Aanholt. It is easy to forget the contribution that Courtois has made to this Chelsea side, with the plaudits reserved for Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Victor Moses, but Courtois deserves his plaudits as well, and he made it 9 clean sheets for the season with the shutout against Sunderland.
During Chelsea’s winning run, Conte has had very little reason to change his team about. Cesc Fabregas has been a victim of this, but he has come back into the side in the last 3 games, and has a couple of assists and a goal to his name. Fabregas also feels he is now adjusting to Conte’s desired formation of 3-4-3 as well:
“I have a lot of players in front of me so I can pick passes between the lines, they run into space and I have protection behind me. I’m really enjoying it and I think it suits me a lot.”
Eden Hazard is Chelsea’s biggest concern after he missed the midweek trip to Sunderland with knee trouble. Conte has confirmed, however, the Belgian should be in contention to feature at the weekend. So Fabregas is likely to continue at the expense of Nemanja Matic
John Terry is also racing to be fit. If he doesn’t make the Palace match, he is expected to be ready in time to play against Bournemouth on Boxing Day. Kurt Zouma and Ruben Loftus-Cheek returned to the bench against Sunderland as unused substitutes following injury problems. Centre-back Zouma has not played since February 7 due to serious knee trouble.
Palace will not be relishing the prospect of playing the in-form Chelsea on Saturday afternoon. They have lost the last 7 of their 9 league games, the latest coming during Wednesday home loss to Manchester United. They were undone in the 88th minute by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and despite equalising with a fantastic goal from James McArthur, they were 2nd best throughout most of the game.
The result leaves the Eagles 16th in the Premier League table and just three points clear of the relegation zone, and things don’t get any easier with the visit of Chelsea. Indeed, the festive period is particularly tricky for Palace, who must also face Arsenal on New Year’s Day. However, Palace do have goal scoring power, and have scored 28 goals in 16 league games this season, with only the top 4 having scored more than that.
Jason Puncheon will return from suspension and will likely go into the side while Andros Townsend could be recalled to the starting line-up having been on the bench in midweek. However, James Tomkins, Bakary Sakho, Steve Mandanda and Jonathan Benteke are out until at least January. Loic Remy will not be able to face his former club as he too remains injured. Pape Souare and Connor Wickham may not play again this season.
West Brom v Man United – Saturday 17th December 2016 – 17.30 – BT Sports 1
2 in-form teams play one another in Saturday evening’s kick off, on BT Sport, as 7th place West Brom take on 6th place Man United at the Hawthorns. The 3-1 win against Swansea, which included a 13 minute headed hattrick from Salomon Rondon which was only the second of its kind in Premier League history, took the Baggies above Everton on goal difference. In fact, West Brom have lost just once in their last six league games.
Their impressive run has been built on a strong home record, where they won their last three games and scored 10 goals during that period. In fact, Tony Pulis side have scored more goal’s than their opposition on Saturday, and only Crystal Palace have scored more goals outside the top 5. There recent home form against United has also been strong, and they have not lost in their last 2 encounters with the Red Devils, beating them 1-0 back in March.
As they find their goal scoring touch, Pulis defensive nuance has ensured that West Brom are not conceding goals either. Only five teams in the Premiership can boast a better defensive record than West Brom so far this term. The Baggies have now scored three or more goals in three of their last five games. With his hattrick against Swansea Rondon took his tally to 16 league goals since the start of last season. This is 11 more than any other West Brom player in that time.
If he can continue that form in front of goal either side of Christmas then it could go a long way to helping West Brom in a tricky double-header, with Arsenal to come after United as the Baggies look to improve their record of having picked up just one point from a possible 12 against sides currently above them in the table this season.
Pulls will be hoping that Jonny Evans recovers from a calf injury to face his former club, having been absent for the match against Swansea. Other than Evans, the Baggies have almost full squad to choose from, with Saido Berahino and Boaz Myhill the only other players that are currently unfit.
With their 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, Manchester United secured their first back to back wins in the Premier League since the end of August. For Jose Mourinho, the pleasing aspect of Wednesday’s result was the manner in which they won the game. Following a similar trend of other drawn games, to that point United had drawn 4 of their last 3 league games, United dominated the game, and created plenty of chances, but keeper Wayne Hennessey pulled off a string of fine saves.
However, the big summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combined to give United the win in the 88th minute. You could see what it meant to the players and the manager, as Mourinho raced onto the pitch at full time to celebrate with his players. This result means United are now unbeaten, in all competitions, in their last 9. Win 3 wins on the bounce.
One of the key aspects to the recent form of United, has been the 3-man midfield of Pogba, Michael Carrick, and Ander Herrera. The three-man midfield used by Mourinho is reaping the best out of Pogba, who feels at home in this system. With Carrick sitting deep and sprinkling passes all around and Ander Herrera doing the pressing work, Pogba is given the freedom to push forward and combine with the striker. Which saw not only Ibrahimovic benefit with an assist, but Pogba take his tally of goals to 5 for the season with the opener.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is unlikely to return to full fitness in time to make the trip to the West Midlands. There is further concern for United in defence, where Eric Bailly limped out of his second game back following a ligament injury in his right knee in midweek. Jose Mourinho made it clear after the Palace win that Bailly’s fresh knock came on his left knee rather than the previous damaged one, but after struggling through 52 minutes of action he is not expected to be rushed back into the fray on Saturday. However, Antonio Valencia will return from suspension, and will likely take Bailly’s place.
Chris Smalling remains unavailable due to a toe injury, while Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw are both thought to be fully fit despite not making the trip to London on Wednesday.
AFC Bournemouth v Southampton – Sunday 18th December 2016 – 13.30 – Sky Sports 1
Sundays lunch time kick off sees 9th place taking on 10th as Bournemouth take on Southampton.
This is a very intriguing tie as both teams are quite evenly matched, level on 21 points separated by a 2 goal difference. The form of both teams has also been very close, over the past 5 games Southampton have taken just 1 point more than Bournemouth, but the Cherries have just come off the back of a solid 1-0 win over champions Leicester.
The main difference between the 2 sides however is the attack and defensive displays this season.
Southampton have only scored 14 goals so far this season, only 17th place Middlesbrough have scored less. In fact they have only scored 4 goals in their last 8 Premier League games, despite attempting 101 shots in total in these games.
Southampton are the 6th highest team in terms of chances created this season (185) ahead of Arsenal in 7th yet they still have only managed 14 goals. This means on average it takes Southampton over 13 chances to score each goal. They aren’t the worst team in terms of shot accuracy though. At 44%, they are in 11th place. It just means they are often getting chances on target but are not clinical enough to put the ball in the net. They actually have the lowest proportion of goals per total shots in the Premier League this season at 5.7%.
This is not helped out by the fact that leading goal scorer Charlie Austin is out with a shoulder injury and will remain out for some time.
One thing Southampton do have however a good defence, conceding only 15 goals. Only Tottenham and league leaders Chelsea have conceded fewer.
For Bournemouth, the story of their season is the reverse. The actually have a respectable amount of goals scored so far this season on 22, the same as Man United. Only 2 teams outside of the top 5 have scored more.
The problem Bournemouth have is at the back where they have conceded 25 goals, the highest of all the top 10 teams and 10 more than Southampton.
In fact Bournemouth have made the 7th highest errors at the back this season and have the 9th worst defensive record.
One good sign for Bournemouth is the growing form of Jack Wilshire who has created the most chances for the side. He has also played more minutes so far this season than he had on the past 2 season combined which will only add to the influence he has on the pitch.
I can see this being a very tight game, a story of whose strong points come out on top, the team with the better attack or the team with the better defence?
Man City v Arsenal – Sunday 18th December 2016 – 16.00 – Sky Sports 1
The 4 o’clock kick off has the potential to be game of the weekend, as 3rd placed Arsenal are hosted by 4th placed Man City. The last 6 Premier League meetings between these two sides have produced 24 goals, an average of 4 per game so we could be in for a treat.
Man City have had a bit of a slippery patch of late, especially compared to the start of the season. They have lost 2 league games in the last 3, included a disconcerting defeat at the hands of the erratic champions Leicester City. In fact they have actually only won 4 of the last 10 league games, losing 3 in that period. Pep Guardiola’s side have already conceded more goals after 16 league games this season then his Bayern Munich side did all of last season a true sign to how competitive the Premier League is.
A problem City are having at the moment is their defensive frailties, the young John Stones having a poor couple of games recently. Man City are the 5th highest in the league for defensive errors this season. This is something Arsenal will be keen to exploit.
The mid-week victory against Watford was much needed for City who were in danger of a Christmas melt down with Tottenham hot and their heels. This set things up nicely for the clash with Arsenal who themselves lost to Everton mid-week, that might start to cause a little bit of self-doubt in the North London club.
With Sergio Aguero suspended, City will look to Kevin De Bruyne to make them tick and offer that attacking threat. He has created the most chances of any City player so far this season resulting in 8 assists.
Arsenal have been in great form this season yet still with every little slip up, groans of discontent ring around social media by a fan base who get the feeling they’ve seen it all before, and seem as if they are waiting for the season to fall apart. Prior to the mid-week defeat at Everton, Arsenal hadn’t lost in the league since the opening day of the season, yet only 4 wins from the last 8 matches has moved them to 3rd place in the league, 6 points behind Chelsea.
But for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, this game is massive. To lose 2 league games in a row at the busiest time of the season could create a knock on effect that impacts into the New Year.
Good news for Arsenal however is the fact they haven’t lost consecutive Premier League away games since April 2014. Arsenal are also unbeaten in their last 6 games with Manchester City in all competitions.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez will be the forefront of Arsenals’ threat who has taken on much of the burden of expectation this season. He is has been in great form, and is Arsenals top goal scorer this season, as well as the top assister. Sanchez has scored 41 goals in 81 Premier League appearances for Arsenal. The only players to reach 41 goals quicker for the club in the Premier League were Thierry Henry and Ian Wright a truly remarkable stat for a player who has only been thrust up front this season.
Both teams will go into this game knowing that a win is a must as they look to keep pace with leaders Chelsea. But they also need to look down as Tottenham take on Burnley at home, you’d expect 3 points from Spurs that would put them above City if they were to lose and only 1 behind Arsenal if City take all 3 points.
This is always a game fans look to when the fixtures are announced, both teams play fast attractive football and have some great intelligent skilful players in their respective squads. The competitiveness of the league this season add extra spice to this encounter, City knowing that a trip to Anfield is also on the horizon, it’s all coming together for the type of drama the Premier League is famous for.
Everton v Liverpool – Monday 19th December 2016 – 20.00 – Sky Sports 1
Lastly and certainly not least, match round 17 is capped off by one of the biggest games in the Premier League calendar, where form goes out the window; The Merseyside derby.
This fixture has everything, passion, goals, history and drama. The Merseyside derby has seen 21 red cards since the Premier League started, more than any other in Premier League history.
Whilst form should be left on the doorstep of a derby game, it is something that actually needs to be considered in this case given the difference between how the two sides have been performing of late.
Everton had been nose diving following a great start to the season, they only have 2 wins in the last 10 games, 1 of those coming against Arsenal on Tuesday, a game they really needed to win.
Given the quality throughout the Everton squad they should be aiming for a Europa League finish at minimum, but given how tight the league is at the minute, one defeat could demote them down as far as 11th depending on other results. The Arsenal win therefore probably came at the right time, stopping the winless streak of 6 games against very worthy opposition. This was just the kind of morale boosting win needed going into a game of this magnitude.
One thing Everton do seem to have this season is a great team spirit, willing to fight until the last minute; Ronald Koeman wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact the Toffees have won 11 points from losing positions in the Premier League this season, more than any other side. They have also scored a goal in the final 5 minutes in 4 of their last 5 Premier League matches. On 3 of these occasions the goal has changed the outcome of that match. This is something Liverpool will have to be careful about, especially as the defensive capitulation at Bournemouth will still be in their memory.
Romelu Lukaku has been involved with 12 of Everton’s 21 goals this season, just under 60% which shows his importance to the team. Only Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa have been involved with more goals for their respective sides.
However this is also a stat shared by one of Liverpool’s most improved players Adam Lallana. He has also been involved in 12 goals for Liverpool this season, scoring 6 and assisting 6. His form under Klopp has been much improved as he has more creative licence and the ability to interchange his position with other likeminded players.
Another player who has benefited from Klopp’s management is Divock Origi. He has scored in his last 5 games for Liverpool in all competitions, the longest consecutive scoring run at the club since the 8 games Daniel Sturridge managed in early 2014.
And this will be what Everton will have to deal with on Monday night. A team set up for fast paced attacking football, with the right balance of players to do it. The evidence is for all to see as Liverpool are currently the league’s top goal scorers with 40 goals. This means so far this season they have averaged 2.5 goals per game.
Liverpool also have the highest shot accuracy in the league with 52% with Everton in 2nd place with 50%, level with Spurs.
Defensively Liverpool, along with Everton have conceded the most goals out of the top 9 teams in the league. Goal keeper Loris Karius had made headlines recently for the wrong reasons, still finding his feet in the Premier league. Given a few high profile mistakes, Klopp reverted back to Simon Mignolet between the sticks for their 3-0 win over Watford. Will be interesting to see if he can keep his place in the side, especially given the hostile atmosphere they will encounter at Goodison Park, a factor that could be a bit much for Karius to deal with.
I find it hard to see how Everton will beat Liverpool given the form and confidence of both teams, especially considering Everton have only won 1 of their last 19 Premier League Merseyside derbies. With that said, I didn’t see Everton beating Arsenal mid-week, so they have proved once again on their day they can beat anyone. It’s time they need to go on a run, and beating Liverpool could be the start of that. Either way the result goes, we are in for a great game.
Other games this weekend:
Middlesbrough v Swansea City
Stoke City v Leicester City
Sunderland v Watford
West Ham United v Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley
Next Bet Wins TV Accumulator
If you fancy a 5 fold accumulator across this weekends televised games, our friends at Nexbetwins.co.uk have come up with a little something.
- Crystal Palace v Chelsea – Chelsea Win – 4/7
- WBA v Man Utd – Man Utd win – 7/10
- Bournemouth V Southampton – A red card in the match – 7/2
- Man CIty V Arsenal – A red card in the match – 3/1
- Everton V Liverpool – A red card in the match – 11/4
This fivefold is priced through Bet365 and comes in as a nice long shot a @178/1.
By Michael Thatcher and Rich Lee @RichLee2202