This has been one of the most exciting weeks in the premier league this season. Manchester City leads the league, but barely. Manchester United came back from the dead last week scoring three goals, two from penalties, to draw even with Chelsea. Meanwhile, the Blues are shaking their heads after blowing an amazing lead and wondering what else could possibly go wrong this season. This is definitely a two horse race, but the way Manchester City are playing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they stumbled down the stretch and opened this thing wide open. The game of the week this week is going to be phenomenal, and one you won’t want to miss. The American football season is over, so you have no excuse not to enjoy the other football.
Players to watch for Week 24 – 10 shots, 7 shots on goal, 2 goal, 1 assist, 1 yellow card, 1 red card (5 saves, 1 goals allowed).
Blackburn Rovers vs. Queens Park Rangers
While the drastic changes made by QPR have been slow to take effect, they are still head and shoulders above Blackburn. Blackburn has made improvements, but after their demoralizing 7-1 loss to Arsenal, it’ll be hard to find a reason to hold your head up. There are several things to watch for in this matchup; the ball will be constantly changing possession, Blackburn and QPR will play extremely aggressive and will leave each other with plenty of opportunities to score, Blackburn will score from a poorly defended set-piece situation, but QPR will open up the defense and score from the wing. This should be an entertaining match.
Prediction – Queens Park Rangers 3-2
Player to watch – Alejandro Faurlin – A defensive midfielder, the Argentine will have the tall task of keeping Yakubu for hitting the back of the net.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Wigan Athletic
Bolton had remained on the cusp of relegation for weeks and finally returned back to the bottom three with their loss at Norwich, while Wigan…well…we know about Wigan by this point. Wigan is destined to be relegated and Robert Martinez, although a fan favorite, will probably be shown the door. Bolton needs a win to establish legitimacy, while Wigan needs points to boost morale. This tug-of-war of mediocrity will ultimately come down to who makes errors consistently. Bolton cannot defend successful against any scheme, and Wigan fails to finish scoring opportunities. Look for Bolton to be aggressive and stronger in possession. Wigan will have to take advantage of Bolton’s weak defense and convert opportunities.
Prediction – Draw 1-1
Player to watch – Victor Moses – Moses is an attacking midfielder with no attack. He might have luck this week, but chances aren’t great. He has a bright future if he can find a way to leave Wigan.
Everton vs. Chelsea
Plain and simple, Chelsea blew it against Man U. You can make a strong case that the ref blew it on their behalf, but in the end, they had chances they couldn’t convert. Their backline got lax with a three goal lead and Andres-Villas Boas failed to make the necessary substitutions. Fernando Torres had the game won but his lack of confidence prevented him from letting loose. Chelsea has played to draws in their last three contests and their attack has looked anemic until Sunday. If they can just put the two elements together they could make a solid run. Everton have enjoyed Landon Donovan, but despite his best efforts, have only gone 1-3-2. Their defense remains the key to their success, but the Toffees are hoping to gain points in the short window that he has left. Chelsea will get off to a hot start, but they have a history of giving up big leagues.
Prediction – Chelsea 1-0
Player to watch – Fernando Torres – I have always been a fan of ‘El Nino’ but his struggles are too painful to watch. He needs to move to a different team and away from the spotlight. You still see flashes, but moving to London was the wrong direction.
Fulham vs. Stoke City
Stoke are on the beginnings of what appears to be a horrible losing streak. They have lost their last three matches by a combined score of 5-1. While not an astounding number, it shows insipidness of their attack. Fulham have benefited from Clint Dempsey scoring out of his mind. Dempsey has scored four goals in his past three games, bringing his yearly total to 10. However, Dempsey is their only scoring option and he can’t do it all, despite how easy he makes it look. Look for Stoke to play long ball; long passes and crosses. Fulham likes to control the ball in their own half and uses quick, short passes to bring the ball up the middle. Fulham will also use offside-traps to catch Stoke in the act. In the end, Fulham has a more confident and capable squad and will exploit the Stoke defense.
Prediction – Fulham 2-1
Player to watch – Clint Dempsey – Not just because he scored four out the last the games, but because he is an extremely dedicated and hard worker.
Sunderland vs. Arsenal
Arsenal finally overcame their mediocrity with a 7-1 decimation of Blackburn. However, there is very little that can be taken away from this match. Blackburn is pathetic on the road, and Arsenal basically rode on van Persie’s coattails. They have a much greater challenge when they face the Cinderella Sunderland club. Sunderland has outscored opponents 11-2, including three consecutive clean sheets in their past six matches. Sunderland and Arsenal have the same mentality when it comes to their attacking schemes, score from fast-break opportunities in transition. Arsenal is more adept at scoring due to the versatiliy of one Robin van Persie, and van Persie alone. Sunderland will look to take away RvP and essentially take away Arsenal’s attack.
Prediction – Sunderland 2-0
Player to watch – Frazier Campbell – It’s hard to believe he was on the shelf for such a long period after his one goal and one assist season debut. Here’s hoping for an encore.
Swansea City vs. Norwich City
This is truly a tale of two cities…that are exactly the same. Norwich and Swansea have practically the same record, goals, but Swansea has a slightly better defense. They have similar styles of play, non-aggressive, and take long shots. Their keepers are the pillars of their club. Basically, these two teams are playing a scrimmage against each other. The one difference I have found is that Norwich’s defense is more consistent, while Swansea’s relies on keeper Michel Vorm to bail them out. Swansea gives up an alarming amount of scoring opportunities, and though Norwich isn’t the greatest scoring threat, they can still challenge teams. This game will come down to how well Michel Vorm plays and how many times he has to bail them out.
Prediction – Draw 1-1
Player to watch – Scott Sinclair – Sinclair has scored all of his seven goals at home this season. He is the best chance Swansea has to ease the pressure on Vorm.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Newcastle United
Tottenham failed to capitalize on a chance to put pressure on the Manchester clubs, and played to a draw at Anfield on Monday. Newcastle has both Senegalese nationals back in the line-up and look incredibly dangerous. Newcastle have won four of their last five and outscored opponents 10-6 without Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse. Newcastle has overcome their mid-season slump and look to make a run into Champions League contention. Tottenham, despite what they tell the media, are resigned to the fact that they will not win the league and are just trying to maintain their position in the standings. Look for this to be a shoot out with Tottenham controlling the ball, dispossessing Newcastle frequently, and getting scoring opportunities in transition. Newcastle will play the ball on the flanks and funnel it into Demba Ba. Newcastle has a track record of playing poor transition defense, which Tottenham will abuse. This will definitely be an exciting match to watch.
Prediction – Tottenham 3-2
Player to watch – Gareth Bale – Bale has scored five goals and five assists in 11 home contests this season. The subject of boundless transfer rumors will definitely be playing at a high level for the remainder of the season.
Wolverhampton vs. West Bromwich Albion
There is very little to comment in regards to this matchup. If you combine their past six games, they have a record of 2-3-7. West Brom has a much better defense, but fails to convert scoring opportunities. The Wolves are struggling to stay out of the bottom and have allowed 11 goals in their past six matches. There is one caveat to this match-up; if West Brom gets ahead early, there is no doubt that the Wolves will come back from behind. West Brom is horrible at maintaining a lead and will give up scoring opportunities down the stretch. That being said, I think Albion has the better squad and will exploit Wolverhampton’s defense.
Prediction – West Bromwich Albion 1-0
Player to watch – James Morrison – Morrison has scored three goals and one assist in 11 road contests. In addition to the offense, he has an 83% pass completion rating.
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City
Manchester holds a slight lead over Manchester United, but this season is far from over. They will be determined to win on the road and maintain their ever-shrinking lead. They travel to Villa Park to take on a…unpredictable Villa club. Villa has been up and down all season and has lacked continuity. The arrival of Robbie Keane has provided a spark, but has not fixed their core issues. Darren Bent has failed to live up to his price tag, and they are desperate for offense. Now, there is a mutiny in the locker room, with players completely turning on manager Alex McLeish. Manchester City can score five goals in a game against a top five opponent, and then get shut down the next week against a mediocre club. It will be interesting to see which of these two teams show up on Sunday. One thing you can be certain of, the Sky Blues will shoot the ball from every corner of the pitch and exploit every weakness Aston Villa has on and off the pitch.
Prediction – Manchester City 3-1
Player to watch – Edin Dzeko – Dzeko has scored three goals in his past six contests. He is also one of the most consistent away strikers for Manchester City.
Game of the Week
Manchester United vs. Liverpool
After the determination shown in Manchester’s comeback against Chelsea, you would be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t consider the Red Devils the favorites for the league title. Despite being two points behind Manchester City in the standings, ManU have shown much more character and tenacity than their cross-town rivals. Liverpool got a big boost with the return of Luis Suarez from his 8-game suspension against Tottenham but failed to deliver as they played to a 0-0 draw. Liverpool is absolutely pathetic, and it is frustrating to see all that money and talent completely wasted. Soccer and Bravo fans will be delighted to know that there will be an added element of drama to this match, as Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez meet for the first time since Suarez’ racist remarks in their last meeting evoked the aforementioned ban. In addition to that, Liverpool manager Kenny Daglish and the ever-reliable sound bite machine Wayne Rooney have only fueled the fire with their comments. This will be an interesting match as all the drama will be played out before our very eyes. I realized I didn’t breakdown the numbers or provide crazy stats for this one, but it’s very simple. Manchester has a stifling defense and versatile attack…Liverpool has Andy Carroll.
Prediction – Manchester United 3-1
Player to watch – David De Gea – De Gea has a tremendous game against Chelsea last week, but will get peppered with even more shots this week. If there was a weak link on this club, he would be it. However, he is my favorite player on Manchester United because he reminds me of ‘The Cat in the Hat‘.