19 April 2019
Part three of their curious recent trilogy is no easier to predict than that other two. But I doubt it will end 4-3. Difficult to know how Wednesday’s encounter will affect things. But the priority for City is keeping pace with Liverpool – who edged back in front last weekend. And in that regard the signs are good. Just one blemish on their home record this season – the odd 2-3 defeat to Palace. Otherwise, it is all wins. Tottenham don’t draw games either (just three between them all season), but three away matches v Top Five teams have yielded no points. As per. And their three home matches v Top Three only produced one point – their one draw was v bitter rivals Arsenal.
Hot Shot – Aguero (MC) – has a golden boot to shoot for.
Midfield General – Sterling (MC) – has a player of the year to shoot for.
Case for the Defence – Laporte (MC) – should be in the PFA team. Class act.
Both teams won impressively last time out, but if you think one single player will be thinking about anything other than their summer holidays – have a word with yourself. Bournemouth’s five-star performance at Brighton will paper over a few cracks. It’s just their second win in the last ten. The other was over doomed Huddersfield, so they might feel inspired enough to dredge one last effort out of the bag. But a Top Ten finish looks out of the question. Fulham have made a right royal mess of their season. This summer might well be as frantic as the last as they try to put together a team to compete in the Championship. This one won’t.
Hot Shot – Wilson (BOU) – has had a decent season. But he has fulfilled his potential.
Midfield General – Fraser (BOU) – 6th best midfielder this season. Outstanding.
Case for the Defence – Ake (BOU) – topped the 100pt mark last weekend.
Watford could’ve flown into this match if they had kept 11 players on the pitch and took something from Arsenal. Instead, they let the Gunners win their only away game v Top Half opposition and let a lot of the FA Cup semi-final wind out of their sails. It is likely to be soft-pedalling between now and Wembley, so don’t expect many 50/50 tackles or lung-busting runs from either team. Huddersfield will get more joy here than their next two – v Liverpool then Man United – so they might put an end to their run of six defeats (not their worst of the season). But hard to see more than a draw. A dull one.
Hot Shot – Neither team has a forward on more than 64pts.
Midfield General – With mavericks Deulofeu and Pereyra doubts, Doucouré (WAT) is the pick.
Case for the Defence – Foster (WAT) had a rare mare v Arsenal. But is on 119pts.
West Ham took a bit of credit for being unlucky not to beat Man United last time out. But they don’t deserve it. They will limp to the end of another patchy season, with a handful of ‘brave’ performances – usually against out of sorts big hitters – glossing over another under-achieving nothing season. And many of the players will already have their agents on the case looking for a move. Leicester are loving life under Brendan. Their form over the last four would put them in the Top Four, and in the Top Six over the previous eight. And with Wolves likely to be a bit moody, Watford a bit pre-occupied and Everton a bit rubbish – they look handy to finish as the best of the rest, in 7th.
Hot Shot – Vardy (LEI) – is a different player under Rodgers. A good one.
Midfield General – Tielemans or Maddison (LEI). Or Barnes (LEI).
Case for the Defence – Maguire (LEI). Why not. Could be a shout for a sheet.
Brighton are bang in trouble. Losing the 6-pointer at home to Cardiff was as disastrous as the 0-5 capitulation v Bournemouth was embarrassing, as the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final to Man City was pointless and as the 0-1 loss to Southampton was the sign of things to come. And it’s only going to get worse. It’s Spurs after this, then a last chance of points at home to Newcastle before a trip to Champions League-chasing Arsenal. And then a final day encounter with Premier League title chasers Man City. Wolves might not be the team they were before their FA Cup semi-final defeat either, but half that team will do here.
Hot Shot – Jimenez (WOL) – made a bit of an arse of himself with that mask stunt. Class though.
Midfield General – Moutinho (WOL) – has finished stronger than anyone expected.
Case for the Defence – Doherty (WOL) – has been one of the stars of the season.
Rafa is one of a few that could make a genuine case for being manager of the season. They’ve got better as the campaign has gone on – slipping past Chelsea and Tottenham into the Top Six based on form in the last 12 matches. It could’ve been better too had they not been mugged at home to Palace the other week. Their away record has been the key – they have taken points from every team outside the Top Six. Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhüttl deserves credit too. The Saints looked to be marching down a couple of months ago, but they have also played their way into the Top Five Form Table over the last 12. Both will be happy to play out a score draw here I would imagine.
Hot Shot – Rondon (NEW) isn’t full of goals but fills than No 9 shirt.
Midfield General – A brace last time out gives the nod to Redmond (SOU).
Case for the Defence – Dúbravka (NEW) is second only to Rondon on FPL pts.
Everton’s recent impressive run came to a juddering halt in their easiest match of the year, as predicted on this page. They stumbled to a 0-2 defeat at Fulham, but with nothing to play for and no big night out in London to distract the players, some of them might even fancy turning up for this one. United have lost five of their last seven – admittedly two of those were at the hands of Barcelona, and another three were away from home to decent sides (Arsenal and Wolves twice). But with a real scrap developing for the two Champions League places still available, this is a big game. City and Chelsea in the next two are even bigger. If they win here that is.
Hot Shot – Hmm. Lukaku (MU) might be the call v his old club.
Midfield General – Martial (MU) is more trustworthy than Pogba.
Case for the Defence – Digne (EVE) will fancy United’s right side.
Arsenal have been almost note-perfect on home soil this season. Only Man City have won there, only Liverpool and Wolves left with anything. Their last seven home wins (all comps) have generated 19 goals with just one going the other way. So, this should be an end of season formality. Palace have taken just 5pts from 11 clashes with the Top Six and have secured Premier League privileges for next season, despite being 1pt shy of the magic 40pt mark. But that can wait until another day. This is about Arsenal’s tiredness from a Thursday night trip to Naples and goal difference. Which could yet decide the Champions League places.
Hot Shot – Aubameyang (ARS) – top gun for Arsenal this season.
Midfield General – Mkhitaryan (ARS) carries a more significant goal threat than Ramsey, which is just as well, cause the Welshman is out.
Case for the Defence – Just six sheets for Leno (ARS) but a big chance of a seventh here.
Game of the week. If Jurgen looked at the run-in fixtures at the start of the season, he would’ve written ‘3pts’ in red pen by this one. But the context has shifted in recent weeks. Cardiff’s win at Brighton on Tuesday has defibrillated their season back to life after three defeats on the spin seemed to have issued the last rites. They are likely to need two wins and perhaps more – which means something out of this match, or away to Man United on the final day. And with Liverpool fresh – or rather, a bit stale – from another big night in Europe and THE glamour tie with Barca to come, this might be Neil Warnock’s tipping point match.
Hot Shot – Mendez-Laing (CAR) – aw c’mon, give the boy a break
Midfield General – Camarasa (CAR) – part of the 100pts club. Behind only…
Case for the Defence – Etheridge (CAR) – who is only 3pts behind Man City’s Ederson.
Chelsea have produced some of their best football of the season in the last month. Certainly, the best since the early months, when they looked like they might make it a three-horse race for the title. Seems a long time ago now, but they were unbeaten until last November if your recall…
Much of the recent good form – and early good form – has been inspired by Eden Hazard. Which must be bittersweet for Chelsea fans, as you can’t help thinking ‘swan song’. The cynical might even suggest the word ‘audition’. But getting his team into the Top Four won’t do his price any harm. And – like Man United at Everton – they need to win this to set up the Champions League 6-pointer next Sunday.
Hot Shot – Higuain (CHE) looks a stone overweight but should be too clever for Burnley.
Midfield General – Hazard (CHE) is the man.
Case for the Defence – Azpilicueta (CHE) has stepped up in the last month.