This weekend see’s the return of a full Premier League schedule after the FA Cup quarter finals last week. There are 5 live games across the weekend starting with Arsenal as they face a tough task away at West Brom in the weekend’s early kick off and is rounded off with a huge game in the top 4 as Manchester City host Liverpool.
West Brom v Arsenal – Saturday 18th March 2017 – 12.30 Sky Sports 1 HD
The weekend kicks off with a very interesting game, and perhaps a game Arsene Wenger could have done without given the chorus of protests against him and the club of late. A comfortable win against non-league Lincoln City in the FA cup was just what the doctor ordered following their demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich but away at West Brom is a very tricky game.
Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job at West Brom this season and has gone about his work quietly. His West Brom side are currently 8th in the league and already have the magical 40 points this season, let’s hope now they are already safe they don’t just tail off as the season progresses.
Tony Pulis has won only once in his last nine Premier League matches against Arsenal, although that win did come in this fixture last season at the Hawthorns. West Brom’s home form is pretty good and can be a very tough place for teams to visit. They have won seven of their last nine league matches at The Hawthorns. One concern for Tony Pulis however will be the fact that they’ve lost their last 2 league matches, defeats away at Everton and a poor 2-0 defeat at home against Crystal Palace. Both James Morrison and Matt Phillips will miss the game through injury.
For Arsenal and in particular for Arsene Wenger they are in need of all 3 points. Currently in 5th place, even a win would not move them into the top 4. However with Liverpool and City facing each other on Sunday this will be a big opportunity for Arsenal to get amongst the pack.
The atmosphere at the club has gotten worst with every week, social media has played a big part in that. There was a rumoured fly over in with a Wenger Out banner due to happen during this game but has had to be called off due to bad weather.
Arsenal have lost three of their last four Premier League matches which has helped to manifest this ill feeling towards the manager. This is the same number of defeats as they had suffered in their previous 32 matches in the competition.
But Arsenal do have a good record against West Brom losing just one of their last 12 Premier League games against them.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs are both doubts for the game and will face last assessments to see if they can be included, meanwhile Santi Cazorla remains a long-term absentee.
You’d expect Arsenal could have big problems defending West Brom set pieces and Tony Pulis will look to take advantage of their physical presence. In fact since he took over in 2015, West Brom have scored 48% of their goals from set pieces more than any other team in the Premier League.
AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City – Saturday 18th March 2017 – 17.30 BT Sports 1 HD
The late kick off on Saturday afternoon is a clash between two teams not yet safe from the dreaded relegation zone placed 14th and 16th respectively.
Bournemouth are unbeaten in their last four games against Swansea, winning three of those matches so will be confident going into this game, especially being at home. Bournemouth have not had a great start to the year taking only 1 win in the league in 2017, which was in their last game against West Ham. They could however win back-to-back league matches for the first time in a year, and need to continue to build on the least couple of results.
This game could be full of goals, Bournemouth have actually scored more goals this season than Man United however they have the joint 2nd worst defence in the league. The worst defence is held by Swansea City.
A big issue for Bournemouth this season has been their inability to hold and maintain leads which has cost them dearly. They have dropped 18 points from winning positions this season, more than any other Premier League side, which has put them in a precarious position in the league. A huge positive for them however is the form of Joshua King. The front man has scored nine goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances and is in fantastic form. He has scored more in his last 10 ten games then he did in the previous 48 in the league. He also has 3 goals in the 3 games he’s played against Swansea so will probably fancy his chances to net again.
Tyrone Mings is still suspended and Junior Stanislas is unlikely to feature, a doubt with a groin injury.
For Swansea, they have conceded 61 league goals this season, the most in the division and have only kept one clean sheet in their last thirteen matches and I can’t see them maintaining a clean sheet against Bournemouth.
Whilst Swansea have struggled to get a good run of consecutive wins going, they have won 5 of their last 10 games, things have improved under Paul Clement. Central to Swansea is Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson has assisted the most goals in the Premier League this season with 11 assists which is quite remarkable when you consider the amount of quality midfielders that play in the Premier League. But he’s not just a cute midfield player, he has also covered more ground (318.2km) than any other player in the Premier League this season. He is integral to Swansea getting anything out of the game.
This could turn out to be one of the games of the weekend, Swansea usually go for broke and either win or lose only taking 3 draws across the entire season so far. When you add into the fray the poor defences both clubs have, and the form of players like King and Sigurdsson it could be the one to watch to watch.
Middlesbrough v Man Utd- Sunday 19th March 2017 – 12.00 BT Sports 1 HD
Its an early start for Sundays league action, something we know has upset Jose Mourinho as they travel to Middlesbrough who have just sacked manager Aitor Karanka.
It’s a baptism of fire for caretaker manager Steve Agnew who’s first challenge is to take on Jose Mourinho’s in form Man United.
However it could be a good time to meet Man United who have been in the thick of it recently with a congested fixture list. You could see the accumulated fatigue in the FA Cup quarter final on Monday night against Chelsea, not helped by the fact they were playing with 10 men for the majority of the game, but in the 2nd half they were pretty much out on their feet.
This was also the case on Thursday night as Man United laboured to a 1-0 win against Rostov, Jose Mourinho making it apparent and plain for all to see how tired his players are by passing a banana onto the pitch to Marcus Rojo. But that has been a mask for United all too often drawing games they should be winning. United have a big squad and perhaps haven’t rotated as much as they could have with players like Lingard, Fosu-Mensah, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Young not seeing as much game time as they could have.
Man United will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera will all miss the trip, however Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial could both return, adding a much needed boost to the United squad.
Manchester United’s current 17-match unbeaten run is the longest in the Premier League this season and have a very good away record. They share the leagues best defensive away record along with Chelsea, conceding just 12 goals and have only conceded four goals in their last seven away games.
Middlesbrough on the other hand are winless in 10 league games since Christmas, failing to score in seven of them. With Man United’s defence quite strong of late its hard to see how they will score especially when you consider they have only scored 19 all season the lowest in the league.
A draw or defeat on Saturday would ensure they equal the longest run without victory in the Premier League this season.
It’s hard to see Boro wining this game although it’s not unusual to see a team perform well when a manager loses their job, just look at Leicester City. But I don’t think this will be one for the show reels and can see it being quite a slow game with few chances created. Boro will defend deep and well organised as United have struggled to break teams down when they set up in that way. I think United will take the 3 points which will take them to their 600th win in the Premier League, becoming the first side to reach that landmark. However it’s one of those games where if it ended a draw you wouldn’t be surprised.
Tottenham vs Southampton Sunday 19th March 2017- 14:15- Sky Sports 1 HD
Tottenham play Southampton on Sunday, with the big question being, how will they cope without Harry Kane? Kane came off in the FA Cup quarterfinal tie against Millwall, after just 6 minutes, with an ankle ligament injury. It’s not clear how long the 19 goal striker will be out for, but Spurs will have to once again get used to life without Kane. Spurs average more than two goals per league game this season when Kane is in the team. That went down to 1.2 when he was out for the ten weeks at the start of the season.
Yet Tottenham go into the Southampton game, with a number of in-form attacking players. Christian Eriksen has also provided the breakthrough in two of the last five games, against Gent and Millwall, and his strike on Sunday was a little reminiscent of Kane’s opener against Stoke — an instinctive, low finish in a packed penalty box.
Meanwhile, Dele Alli has scored in each of his last three games and Son Heung-Min’s first of three goals against Millwall came from outside the box — just the kind of ambition and technique he might need to produce again if Spurs are struggling to get in behind their opponents in the coming weeks.
Spurs have taken a Premier League-high, of 38 points at home this season, winning 14 and drawing two. They have conceded fewer home goals (seven) than any other Premier League team, while creating the most scoring chances (212). The last time they played Southampton they dismantled them 4-1, and Spurs have only lost 1 in their last 10 games. Even without Kane, Spurs home form is so good, that they would be looking to keep pressure on Chelsea at the top.
Other than Kane, Spurs have no fresh injury concerns, and Kyle Walker and Victor Wanyama will face late fitness tests.
Southampton are also missing their main striker, Charlie Austin faces a battle to get back into the Saints team. Austin is still the club’s top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions, despite having not played since he dislocated his shoulder against Hapoel Be’er Sheva in December. He had to have surgery for that one leaving him with an extended period of rehab and recovery to get through. Southampton were also the last team to inflict a home defeat on Tottenham, which was back in May last year.
Claude Puel’s men are on a roll after back-to-back away league wins – in which they have scored four on both occasions. Last time out Saints defeated Watford 4-3 in a blinder of a game at Vicarage Road and prior to that, they won 4-0 at Sunderland. Southampton also have the in-form Manolo Gabbiadini, who has netted six goals in his first four Saints appearances.
Since the change back to the 4-2-3-1 formation at Sunderland, Southampton have netted ten goals in three games, with Gabbiadini, Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse forming a formidable attack. That offensive spearhead will be hoping to make it an unlucky 13 for Tottenham, as they have won 12 games in a row at White Hart Lane.
Southampton must do without Alex McCarthy, Virgil van Dijk, Matt Targett, Jeremy Pied and Charlie Austin, while Jake Hesketh is a minor doubt.
Manchester City vs Liverpool Sunday 19th March 2017- 16:00- Sky Sports 1 HD
In what is undoubtedly the game of the weekend, 3rd place Manchester City take on 4th place Liverpool with just 1 point separating the 2 teams. It has been another tough week for Pep Guardiola in what has been a baptism of fire in England. The Spaniard was brought to the Etihad to win the Champions League and make City a force at the European level of the game. However, for the first time in his career, a Guardiola side were knocked out at the last 16, as City succumbed to a 3-1 loss to Monaco and went out on away goals.
So his attention turns to making sure that City qualify for next year’s competition, something that is far from guaranteed at this stage. However, a victory over Liverpool would put 4 points between the sides. City have also had a good run in the league as of late, having won 4 of their last 5 league games, drawing a blank with Stoke at the Etihad, their only blemish. But, City will be aware of how well Liverpool have played against the top 6 teams this season. Liverpool ran out 1-0 winners the last time these 2 teams met back on New Year’s Eve, and they have yet to lose against any of the top 6 this season.
Guardiola will also have to try to figure out a way of playing from the back, as Liverpool like to play high pressing football under Jurgen Klopp, and this is what undid City the last time the 2 teams met. Depending on how results go, City could find themselves in 4th place by the end of the weekend.
Vincent Kompany is likely to miss out for Man City while Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan are long-term absentees. City might want to change up their back 4 as well, following another lacklustre performance against Monaco.
The back to back league wins over Arsenal and Burnley, were the first for Liverpool in 2017, it also gave them some breathing room between 4th and 5th place. Despite the victory over City at Anfield in December, Klopp was under no illusions about the challenge facing his side on Sunday:
“For it’s the most difficult team to play, City. I know the image in the country at this moment is a little bit different, but it’s real football and it’s difficult to defend them. A lot teams felt it already. But when you can win the ball there are few spaces which maybe you can use. We know what we have to do there.”
“We will try everything to do the right things. It could be a fantastic game to watch — good news.”
With City 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea in the title race, Klopp said Guardiola needed time to adjust to the challenges English football poses.
“The squad and Pep Guardiola at Barcelona was the perfect model for a win-win situation — all these ideas and these players who can, obviously, fulfil all the plans you have. It was an outstanding combination,” Klopp added.
“People who know more about Bayern Munich would say that’s another really good generation that they had — good players at the best age and all that stuff.
“I am not in doubt about his quality. Maybe a few other people are, but I’m not. I respect him really a lot and I can say it’s quite difficult to play his teams.”
A positive result against Pep Guardiola’s side would prove to be even more meaningful for Liverpool, given that the Anfield club has had an alarmingly inconsistent season.
While City are currently enjoying an 11-game unbeaten run, Liverpool have won just four of their last 14 outings across all competitions.
Liverpool have been hampered by injuries, however. Influential captain Jordan Henderson will miss the tie with a foot injury, along with Daniel Sturridge (calf), Ovie Ejaria (ankle), Danny Ings (knee) and Adam Bogdan (ACL). Roberto Firmino is a doubt because of a thigh injury, though he did recently attend a light training session.
Centre back Dejan Lovren, meanwhile, is back to full fitness ahead of the trip to Manchester, after playing a full hour for the U-23 team. The Croatian has missed his side’s last five matches, which included defeats to Hull City and Leicester City.
Other Premier League Fixtures:
Crystal Palace v Watford
Everton v Hull City
Stoke City v Chelsea
Sunderland v Burnley
West Ham United v Leicester City
By Michael Thatcher and Rich Lee