A huge weekend of Premier League action lies ahead, as we move into the incredibly busy festive period. Ed Acteson has analysed each of Saturday’s seven Premier League matches and come up with some interesting angles. He reckons that a huge shock could be on the cards at the Etihad, where Man City take on the in form Leicester. If you agree with his selections, join either his £5,000 Pick 5 Syndicate or his £800,000 Pick 15 Syndicate.
Everton vs. Arsenal
12:30 / BT Sport 1
Two sides with European ambitions find themselves 16th and 10th respectively in the league as we approach the halfway point of the season. It is Everton who are currently four points and six places lower but these are two teams heading in completely different directions.
With one win in 12 across all competitions, no clean sheet in 14 and two or more goals conceded in their last eight, Arsenal’s defence is worse than Rebekah Vardy’s when challenged on her Instagram activity.
Everton have woefully underperformed this season but, since club legend Duncan Ferguson took temporary charge, he has put the fear of God into them and earnt four points against Chelsea and Manchester United as a result. An intimidating Scot called Ferguson having success in the Premier League, who would have thought it?
I can not and will not back Arsenal in any capacity in their current state, even after the appointment of Mikel Arteta. The draw tempted me but, given how bad Arsenal been, I’m taking The Toffees.
Aston Villa vs. Southampton
Consecutive wins against Watford and Norwich appeared to offer a glimmer of hope to Saints fans. However, back to back defeats against Newcastle and West Ham have put them firmly back in the relegation mire.
Fortunately for Southampton, this weekend they play the team who sit directly above them in the table, separated by goal difference, in Aston Villa.
Southampton have actually been marginally better on the road than at home this season, taking an extra point from a game less. With Aston Villa no great shakes at home, it promises to be a tight affair.
Three points separate the pair from Everton above them, meaning that a loss for either would create a three points gap to safety. With that in mind, I anticipate a very cagey game in which neither will take substantial risks. It looks a natural draw contender to me.
Bournemouth vs. Burnley
To say that very little separates these two is an understatement. 14th in the table hosts 12th. The 16th best home record takes on the 16th best away record. Each of them won their most recent game having lost the previous three.
Bournemouth desperately needed that victory over Chelsea last weekend to end a wretched run of form. Eddie Howe looked close to tears after they lost to ten men Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago, yet the Cherries have always had a tendency to switch between good and bad runs of form quickly.
It is with that in mind that I will be backing them here. Burnley have lost three of their last four away games, shipping eight in two matches to Spurs and Sheffield United. Bournemouth’s tendency to go on winning runs means they are worth supporting.
Brighton vs. Sheff Utd
Another unfair assumption was that they would be a Burnley-esque outfit who would make their home ground a fortess which teams hated visiting. Yet they are actually unbeaten on the road this season after eight games. The Blades have actually only won two of them and drawn six of their fixtures which is a fairly obvious indicator of their gameplan on their travels.
Brighton have only won three of their away games this season and were frustrated by arch-rivals Crystal Palace on Monday night. The injury-hit Eagles claimed a point despite being outplayed for large swathes of the game. The mental frustration of that result, coupled with two days less preparation for this game, should play into the hands of The Blades.
We know they’ll play for a draw. I reckon they’ll get it.
Newcastle vs. Palace
Fair play to Steve Bruce. When the Geordie took charge at St James Park he was written off in most quarters immediately, including by me. However, the Toon Army actually have more points at this stage of the season then they did last year under the hugely popular Spaniard Rafa Benitez.
Roy Hodgson is another manager who deserves massive credit. Despite a systematic lack of investment and a crippling defensive injury crisis, Palace are unbeaten in four and ninth in the table, above Arsenal.
Unfortunately for the former England manager, their injuries worries aren’t easing off. Palace look set to be without Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann, Patrick Van Aanholt, Gary Cahill, Jairo Riedewald, Joel Ward, Jeff Schlupp and Andros Townsend this weekend. Eight players missing, six of them defenders and the other two wingers.
It’s genuinely difficult to see who Palace will field in their backline this weekend with James McArthur probably dropping back and youth players under consideration.
Newcastle have their own injury worries and are also expected to be without up to eight players. For them the issues are at the other end of the pitch, with Matt Ritchie, Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and the hugely influential Jonjo Shelvey all out.
Palace are unbeaten in four but look vulnerable at the back. Newcastle have only lost one in four but don’t have the attacking resources to punish Palace. It’s a draw.
Norwich vs. Wolves
A credible draw against Leicester last week shouldn’t detract from the fact that Norwich have only won once in their last 12 matches, against an Everton side who were in full meltdown mode.
Wolves are enjoying a remarkable season in which they sit eighth in the table despite winning just five of their 15 matches, the joint lowest in the top 16. They have amassed points through nine draws so far this season, two more than anybody else.
Norwich have only drawn three games but two of them have come in their last four matches. The Canaries have been hugely unlucky with injuries yet, as their walking wounded have gradually returned to good health, results have picked up.
Unfortunately their talismanic striker Teemu Pukki suffered a foot injury last weekend and, although he is expected to be fit for this game, any reoccurrence would be disastrous.
I’m torn between Wolves and the draw here. Assuming that Pukki plays, I’ll take the draw although will probably include Wolves in my Syndicate as well.
Man City vs. Leicester
17:30 / Sky Sports Main Event
What a game to finish the day! If you were asked to predict candidates for the battle for second place before the season began, it’s unlikely that you would have mentioned either of these two sides for very different reasons.
Yet it is in fact City who are chasing Leicester and, with the Foxes currently four points ahead, defeat for Pep Guardiola’s men would make catching Leicester a difficult task and effectively end all hope of the overtaking Liverpool, if there remains any.
Leicester have been in imperious form this season yet they have also been something of a flat track bully. Their two losses came against supposed big six sides in Manchester United and Liverpool, they also dropped points against Chelsea. Of the five games in which they dropped points, three came away from home.
City have looked surprisingly vulnerable, dropping points in six of their 17 fixtures including at the Etihad where they have lost twice. They are ruing their failure to replace Vincent Kompany in the summer and, with Aymeric Laporte and David Silva ruled out plus Sergio Aguero and John Stones facing late fitness tests, City won’t be full strength again.
The oddsmakers, Twitter crowd and online polls will all tell you that City win this. Yet all the pressure is on Guardiola’s men who just haven’t convinced me that they are worthy of this kind of favouritism. I’m going for Leicester to cause another big upset.