Following the focus on the domestic cup competitions, the Premier League returns this weekend with four games across the weekend.
Tottenham vs West Brom Saturday 14th January 2017- 12:30-Sky Sports 1HD
The first of these sees high flying Tottenham take on the impressive West Brom, at White Hart Lane. Both sides can move up the table with 3 points. West Brom can move up to 7th in the league with a win, whilst a 6th win in a row for Spurs will move them up to 2nd in the table and 4 points behind leaders Chelsea, before the rest of teams around them play.
Since Spurs lost to Manchester United on the 11th December, they have responded with 7 wins in a row, in all competitions, scoring 17 goals and only conceding 3. Giving them the meanest defence in the league, and only 2 goals behind Chelsea on goal difference. One of the catalysts for Spurs recent form has been England midfielder Dele Alli.
Alli has been in majestic form during Spurs winning run, scoring 7 goals since the run began. In fact, Alli has scored in every game that he has started, since his goal in the 2-1 win over Burnley. His second goal against Chelsea was his 10th goal of the season, and equalled his total for last season. Alli was deservedly man of the match against Chelsea, as his headed double, ended Chelsea’s winning run.
His goal scoring form his coincided with his move further up the pitch. Although he started the Chelsea game in the number 10 position, by the end of the game, he was playing as a 2nd striker next to Harry Kane. Alli’s advanced role is not particularly new. Last season, Mauricio Pochettino initially used him as a holding midfielder next to Eric Dier, but the Spurs manager soon realised that Alli was at his best without the burden of defensive duties and so he pushed him into Tottenham’s attacking trio behind Kane.
As a resulted, Alli ended up assisting Kane, more than any other set of team mates in the Premier League.
Pochettino’s move to a 3-5-2 set up, used in the wins against Watford and Chelsea, has liberated Alli even more from defensive duties. He is still pressing and running hard, but with everyone barring Kane behind him, he does not have to worry about tracking back.
Pochettino’s only current injury concern is Erik Lamela. Lamela has been out of action since later October with a hip injury, and was granted permission to return to former club Roma this week, to try to seek rehabilitation. The only other real call for Pochettino will be whether to stick with a three-man defence of Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, or revert to a back four.
The last 3 times that West Brom have played Spurs, the game has finished 1-1. They had Ben Foster to thank for a herculean effort in goal, that got them that result in October. West Brom have won their last 2 games in the league, but will be disappointed to have crashed out to Derby at home in the FA Cup. Especially having taken the leady through Matt Philips, only to lose the game 2-1.
Since his £8m move from QPR, winger Phillips has made a positive impact at the Hawthorns and needs to lead the team if they are to have any chance of gaining a place in the Europa League for next season. As well as getting a positive result at White Hart Lane. Phillips has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last 10 Premier League games (four goals, seven assists) and only Kevin De Bruyne (9) has provided more Premier League assists this term than Phillips (8). By contrast, he only assisted five goals in 44 Championship apps in 2015-16.
In terms of team news for West Brom, defender Jonny Evans should make a return for The Baggies after missing last week with a calf strain. Vice-captain Chris Brunt also sat out his side’s 2-1 FA Cup loss to Derby County, and is expected to recover from a knock in time to face Tottenham. However it is unlikely that Sadio Berahino will be fit in time for the game.
Leicester City vs Chelsea Saturday 14th January 2017- 17:30- BT Sport 1HD
The current Premier League champions play the champions elect in Saturday afternoon’s late kick off, as Chelsea travel to the King Power stadium to play Leicester. The form of both these sides couldn’t be any further removed from the form they showed in the 2015/16 season. Leicester are back to the more familiar surroundings of struggling around the bottom half of the table, and find themselves 6 points off the relegation zone, and haven’t won in their last 10 games.
Chelsea meanwhile are top of the table, currently clear of their nearest rival by 5 points, having won 13 of their last 14 league games, there winning run halted by Tottenham on the 4th January. At this point a year ago, Leicester were 17 points clear of their opponents on Saturday, at this moment in time they find themselves 28 points behind them.
Claudio Ranieri was this week awarded the coach of the year by FIFA, however Ranieri admitted he was struggling to unlock his players passion for the Premier League this week:
“I have a lot of passion and I think I’m good at getting that across to my players,” he told the club’s official website.
“You might say that I have the key to unlocking players’ minds, though not all of them.
“It pains me when I can’t make it happen… I think that’s the secret, because when you’re working at the highest level it’s vital that you show the players how much you love the game and that you convince them to do the same.”
He also pointed to Leicester’s good form as to why his players are struggling to repeat the heroics of last season
“It’s also true, though, that we maybe haven’t been as focused in the Premier League because we’ve been thinking that we’ll bounce back from every defeat without any problem.
“It’s been different in the Champions League. It’s a new tournament for us, and shorter too, which has helped us to focus.”
Things have improved recently for the Foxes, though, with just one defeat in their last five matches in all competitions and back-to-back Premier League clean sheets for the first time since April. Leicester have recent experience of beating title hopefuls too courtesy of their 4-2 triumph over Manchester City last month, although since that memorable result they have managed just one win in their last five league outings.
The visit of Ranieri’s former side does not come at the perfect time for Leicester, then, but they do at least boast home advantage, which has proved to be key for the Foxes this season. Eighteen of their 21 points having come in front of their own fans, including all five of their victories and only two defeats.
Leicester’s will be without Leonardo Ulloa, who is out with a thigh injury but Jamie Vardy returns after illness. Andy King is also expected to overcome a bout of illness to be available. The Foxes will be without Africa Cup of Nations-bound trio Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Daniel Amartey.
Chelsea bounced back from the loss to Spurs, to cruise to the next round of the FA Cup, beating Peterborough 4-1. If they are able to do the same in the Premier League then they could move eight points ahead of the chasing pack depending on results elsewhere.
Despite their defeat at White Hart Lane, Chelsea still boast the best away record in the Premier League this season with 22 points from a possible 30, while no team has conceded fewer goals on the road. Indeed, Chelsea have let in just three goals in their last seven away league games.
Antonio Conte will be urging his side to prove that the loss to Spurs was merely a blip, and the fact that they are currently nine points better off than eventual champions Leicester were at the same stage of last season should be comforting reading for any fans worried by the White Hart Lane defeat.
Conte has no injury concerns for the trip to Leicester, with a fully fit squad to choose from although Diego Costa will not be included in the squad following an apparent bust up with Conte over the players fitness. There are also rumours circulating that Costa has been the subject of an approach a side in China, apparently offering Costa £30m per year. I’m sure the fall out of this story will take up the back pages of the newspapers for days to come.
John Terry is suspended for the trip following his red card against Peterborough after seeing his appeal turned down by the FA, though the captain was unlikely to start anyway, as he has been moved to the role of squad player, following Conte’s switch to 3-4-3
Nathan Ake may be in contention for a place in the squad after being recalled from Bournemouth following his fine form on loan with Eddie Howe’s Cherries. Conte revealed that Marcos Alonso has been carrying a minor injury for the whole of the season, and Ake’s return may give him the chance to rest Alonso.
Kurt Zouma will also be pushing for a role after returning from a long-term knee injury with a start in Saturday’s FA Cup win. A number of high-profile players are expected to return having been rested in the FA Cup, this will include former Leicester player N’Golo Kante, who makes his first return to the King Power, since moving to Chelsea in the summer.
Everton v Man City – Sunday 15th January 2017 – 13.30 – Sky Sports 1 HD
We are in store for a great Super Sunday being billed as Manchester vs Liverpool as Everton take on Man City and Manchester United host Liverpool.
The lunchtime kick off sees 4th place take on 7th, in a game Everton will feel they have a great chance of picking up points. Everton are unbeaten in their last 3 league games wining 2 and drawing 1, an upturn in their form was needed following a very poor November. Man City have lost 3 in their last 7 games, the same amount as they had lost in their previous 24 games.
With that being said, Everton don’t have a great record against Man City in recent years, currently winless in their last 7 meetings in the league.
A huge miss for Everton will be Idrissa Gueye who is away representing Senegal at AFCON 2017. Gueye has made the most tackles in the Premier League this season and would have been invaluable against a team like Man City with boast such a talented midfield. Gueye has also completed the most passes this season for Everton and has the highest pass completion percentage of any Everton player. It could be a baptism of fire therefore for Morgan Schneiderlin, who will be set to make his debut and what a game to impress in.
One player who Everton will look to in order to take points off City will be hitman Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku is a fantastic asset Ronald Koeman has at his disposal and when on form can be unplayable. Since Lukaku’s debut for Everton in September 2013, only Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane have scored more goals in the Premier League. Lukaku is great at seizing on defensive frailties and will find the weak link in a defence and exploit it. In fact 3 of Everton’s last 5 goals against Manchester City in the League have been scored by Lukaku.
For Man City, they know the top 4 race is as competitive as it’s been all season and the cracks in the cool demeanour of Pep Guardiola were for all to see, with his grumpy and unwarranted abrupt post-match interview following the tight victory against Burnley in City’s last league game. This is something that could rub off on the players as the walls start to close in the top 4. Going into this game, City could start in 5th place with Arsenal expected to pick up 3 points away at Swansea on Saturday.
A great 5-0 win against West Ham in the FA Cup last week however, could kick start a swagger to City’s play, similar to that at the start of the season.
City have a wealth of talent in their squad many of which are capable of winning a game with an individual piece of brilliance. Keven De Bruyne has been in great form this season, and has the most assists of any Man City player and has also created the most chances. Raheem Sterling has been much improved, directly involved in 9 of the 41 goals Man City have scored in the league so far this season. This is one more than he achieved in the whole of his first season at City, a sign of the progress he’s made.
More importantly for Man City however, is the returning Sergio Aguero who hasn’t yet had a run in the team since returning from his 4 match ban. Aguero did however score in the last Premier League match against Burnley and again in the 5-0 thrashing of West Ham in the FA cup so he will probably see a return to the starting line up in the league. He such an important player for City, and has been ever since he joined back in 2011. In that time he has had a hand in 139 goals in 164 Premier League appearances for Manchester City.
This match will be fantastic for the neutral as Everton look to build on recent good league form with the aim to drive a bit of space between them and West Brom who are hot on their tails, and for Man City, the way they cope with the possibility of being outside of the top 4 will all add to the interest of this game.
Man Utd v Liverpool – Sunday 15th January 2017 – 16.00 – Sky Sports 1 HD
No doubt the biggest game of the weekend and one of, if not the biggest game of, the Premier League calendar takes place on Sunday afternoon as bitter rivals face off; as Manchester United take on Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Man United have been in great form recently winning the last 9 games in a row in all competitions, their best run in nearly 8 years. They are unbeaten in 15 and have drastically reduced the points difference between them and the top 4 in recent weeks. Whilst over this period they have remained in 6th place for much of it, they are only 1 point behind Arsenal, and only 3 behind City and Tottenham. A win on Sunday would reduce the gap between them and Liverpool to only 2 points, United will be right back amongst it in the battle for a top 4 finish.
It seems a world away from the match at Anfield earlier on in the season, where Liverpool were in near unstoppable form and United were happy with an away 0-0 draw. You feel this game will have a different look and feel altogether.
Jose Mourinho has finally started to settle on a core nucleus of a team, something that wasn’t the case when the two clubs last met. One thing that has ignited this run is the midfield combination of Carrick, Herrera, and Pogba. All 3 have been in great form of late. Pogba is starting to show why he’s such a highly rated player, his range of passing is second to none.
Along with the midfield settlement, the form Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been fantastic. He already has 18 goals in 28 games this season (if you include the Community Shield), and 13 in the Premier League level with Alexis Sanchez, and only 1 behind Diego Costa. 13 goals in his first 19 Premier League appearances is the same record as Dwight Yorke and Robin van Persie. Only Ruud van Nistelrooy had scored more in his first 19 games for the club. He is a major player who scores important goals and United will hope he will make a return to the starting XI, having missed out in the midweek EFL Semi Final against Hull City through illness.
Another bonus for Mourinho’s United, alongside the settled midfield and form of Ibrahimovic, is a defence that seems makeshift, yet have performed immensely in recent weeks. In the run of 9 consecutive wins, United have only conceded 3 goals, a sign that whilst Mourinho is enjoying the chance to be a bit more attacking, his belief of a strong team based around a solid defence still holds true.
United will hope Marcus Rojo recovers from a knock but still remains a doubt.
Liverpool haven’t had the best start to 2017 it would be fair to say, with 2 draws and a defeat, all to teams they’d probably be expecting to beat. Klopp’s decision to rest key players last Sunday against Plymouth backfired, as they could only manage a 0-0 draw and a as a result earned themselves a replay, to be played 3 days after the game on Sunday. The decision to rest players, with the EFL Cup Semi Final in mind also didn’t play out, with Liverpool losing the first leg of the Semi Final to Southampton, which now leaves the club in a poor run of recent form, not quite the confidence booster that helps going into games of this magnitude. Jurgen Klopp himself stated that if they play against United as they did against Southampton, they might as well save the petrol money!
Whilst 2017 hasn’t started great, they are still having a very good season, they are unbeaten in their last 6 league games, and currently sit 2nd in the league with the highest number of goals scored. If you offered Liverpool fans this at the start of the season, most would have bitten your hand off.
An added pressure or incentive depending on the Liverpool player’s frame of mind will ride on the outcome of the Chelsea vs Leicester game on Saturday afternoon. A Chelsea win, will mean Liverpool will know they need to beat United, as an 8 point gap between them and top spot would be really hard to overturn. It also means United will only be 2 points behind them. Chelsea dropping points however could also add to the pressure Liverpool put on themselves as they will desperately want to close the gap at the top. Mourinho will know this and will look to unsettle and perhaps grab an early goal, something Liverpool must be wary of.
Liverpool don’t have a great recent record at Old Trafford, Liverpool losing 11 of their last 14 visits in the Premier League and will be hindered in no small way by Sadio Mané’s absence due to his involvement in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. The Senegal forward has been involved in 13 Premier League goals this season for the Reds scoring 9 goals, and creating 4 assists.
One bonus for Liverpool however is the return of Phillippe Coutinho, who made a substitute appearance in the EFL Cup Semi Final mid-week. This is a great boost for Liverpool, as he is one of the league’s top midfielders. Whist he won’t be fully match fit having missed so much time, his ability from dead ball situations always makes him a threat.
Another player who can step up in the absence of Mane, is Adam Lallana who has had a great season so far. Lallana has been involved in 14 Premier League goals this season more than any other English player.
Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson face late fitness tests but are both likely to make the match day squads if not start.
Manchester United v Liverpool is a game that captures a worldwide audience and very rarely lets you down as a spectacle. As both teams are in need of 3 points and both so close, it adds an extra dimension to this match.
On top of all of this, if Wayne Rooney plays a part it will be his 450th Premier League game, becoming only the 21st player in Premier League history to reach this landmark. What an occasion for him to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s United goal record, and as a betting man I wouldn’t put my money against it.
Other Premier League games this weekend:
Burnley v Southampton
Hull City v Bournemouth
Sunderland v Stoke City
Swansea City v Arsenal
Watford v Middlesbrough
West Ham United v Crystal Palace
Next Bet Wins TV Accumulator
If you fancy a 4 fold accumulator across this weekends televised games, our friends at Nexbetwins.co.uk have come up with a little something. Remember these prices come from Bet365
Tottenham to score over 1.5 goals against West Brom 1/2
Chelsea to score over 1.5 goals against Leicester 8/11
Over 2.5 goals in the Man City vs Everton game 8/11
Over 5.5 cards in the Man United vs Liverpool game 11/10
All adding up to a nice 8/1. Certainly worth a punt.
By Michael Thatcher and Rich Lee @RichLee2202