It’s another huge weekend for the Premier League, made even more significant by Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho. His promise of this time being at Chelsea for the long term to build an empire ended up lasting less time than his previous tenure and the accusations of him being a short-term manager are unlikely to go away.
Chelsea Vs Sunderland
Much has always been made of his conduct, particularly this season and he’s a man that has always drawn attention, but this weekend that attention switches to the players he’s left behind and just how they react to his dismissal. Reports of various bust-ups with senior players were prevalent in a season where they have massively underperformed and perhaps how they play from hereon in will give a suggestion of whether there was any credence in those reports or not. They are at home to Sunderland on Saturday for what, on paper, should be a straightforward win, but nothing has been straightforward about Chelsea this season. On the back of another defeat on Monday night to Leicester, confidence is patently low for Chelsea and opponents Sunderland are beginning to look a more uncomfortable prospect under Sam Allardyce, making this a tough contest to call.
Arsenal Vs Manchester City
The biggest match of the weekend is the clash between Arsenal and Man City at The Emirates on Monday night. This has the ingredients to be a fascinating game with two teams that like to attack, but aren’t always too clever at defending. Arsenal seem to have got going at a good time, but injuries to Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez could really hurt them in such a heavyweight clash. City simply cannot shake the inconsistency bug and despite having such a star studded squad, much still rests on the creativity of David Silva, the goals of Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany to marshal the back line. However, Arsenal do have the enigmatic technical talent of Mesut Özil, who is in fantastic form at the moment and Olivier Giroud is back showing he’s the man to put away the chances Özil creates. So, despite Kevin De Bruyne being a real positive for City and just the kind of player to cause Arsenal problems, I fancy a home win, but no clean sheets.
Everton Vs Leicester City
Surprise Premier League leaders Leicester go from strength to strength, with headline makers Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy getting the lion’s share of the goals. The Foxes have been wonderful to watch this season, a real breath of fresh air and whilst the question for weeks has been when will the bubble burst? Many now are starting to wonder if just maybe it won’t and maybe they need to be taken more seriously as genuine title contenders now. In all likelihood, that’s a step too far, but regardless of how their season ends up, their attacking play is fun to watch and coming up against a possession based team like Everton, they could cause mayhem with their counter-attacks. Leicester are quite open when they’re attacking, so there will be opportunities for Everton to counter themselves and Romelu Lukaku is in a great scoring run himself, so this game could be a good one for the neutral and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it end a draw.
Watford Vs Liverpool
Liverpool’s visit to Watford could be an intriguing tie, as Watford are another of the unexpected over-achieving teams this season. They’ve won their last 3 league games and manager Quique Flores has made them tough to play against, but they also attack well, with Odion Igalho particularly impressive up front. Liverpool will hope to fare better than they did at home to West Brom this past weekend, again finding it difficult to break down teams who sit and defend deep in numbers. Familiar frailties with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet were costly for The Reds at home to West Brom, as were the lack of threat and movement from Christian Benteke up front. However, they could be buoyed by the way in which they battled to get an injury time equaliser and the fact that playing away from home seems to suit Jürgen Klopp’s side more and makes me lean towards a narrow away win in this one.
Newcastle United Vs Aston Villa
My final game under focus this weekend is the relegation clash that could be pivotal for both clubs involved, when Newcastle play host to Aston Villa on Saturday tea-time. Villa have been nothing short of awful this season and Tim Sherwood did a job so terrible, it was mind-blowing, before his inevitable sacking. New boss Remi Garde has one hell of a task on his hands if he’s to keep them up this year and a few smart signings in January will be vital, but they have to start putting some results together now there’s no better place to do it, then against a side who are also down there, scrapping for their lives too. Newcastle have a squad and manager that should finish mid-table, but they’ve looked disjointed at times and a real soft touch defensively. Unfortunately for Villa though, the Magpies followed up a great win at home to Liverpool with an impressive win away at Spurs last weekend, so form is certainly on Newcastle’s side, but they must show the same passion, desire and work rate against Villa, as they did in getting those two big wins against the big boys. Defeat could really see Villa cut adrift, but a win could give them a platform; equally for Newcastle, a win could take them well clear of the drop zone, but a defeat could drag them right back in to it and whilst the home side will rightly be favourites, I have a funny feeling this could be a scrappy draw.