Michael Bocking gets to grips with this weekend's Premier League & FA Cup action and gives us the lowdown on what to expect.
Michael Bocking gets to grips with this weekend’s Premier League action and gives us the lowdown on what to expect..
Everton V Bournemouth
Typically disappointing in their FA Cup semi-final last weekend, Everton have been one of the most underperforming teams in the league this year and face one of the most over-performing sides in Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. New billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri will surely want to give his blank chequebook to somebody with a better track record than Roberto Martinez this summer and outgoing Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini would be my recommendation. Bournemouth have played attractive, fluid and tactically astute football this season with a group of almost exclusively homegrown talent. Eddie Howe will be the next, next England manager if he continues to learn his trade so impressively. Prediction: Everton 2-2 Bournemouth
Newcastle V Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace have reached an FA Cup for the first time in 26 years after an impressive performance over Watford with Conor Wickham finally showing that he can actually be a decent footballer sometimes. Alan Pardew has done a remarkable job with Palace despite their disappointing league record in 2016; he should be praised for the relative stability he gives a club so used to bouncing up and down the top two divisions. Rafa Benitez has given Newcastle an agonizing glimpse of what could have been had they not experimented with Steve McClaren but it may be too little, too late. Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Crystal Palace
Stoke V Sunderland
Stoke are the embodiment of the perfect mid-table Premier League team with a combination of the hard-working players nurtured under Tony Pulis and the foreign, creative talent bought from abroad under Mark Hughes. They can play fairly well as a direct team but can also combine in the final third to create chances throughout the game against weaker teams. This duel threat is becoming popular in the Premier League with West Ham also thriving using this formula under Bilic this year. Sunderland, with Defoe, are becoming a more solid outfit and unless Newcastle perform a miracle, look the most likely to avoid the drop this year.
Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Sunderland
Watford V Aston Villa
Watford have had a disappointing finish to their Premier League season but the rumours surrounding their manager’s potential departure at the end of the year seem rash. Aston Villa thought that last season was the worst that it could get but new lows have arrived this year and the club are in real danger of dropping further down the leagues if they do not readdress the toxic atmosphere in the club.
Prediction: Watford 2-1 Aston Villa
West Brom v West Ham
Tony Pulis was a one-day only favourite of Arsenal and Leicester fans on Monday night after West Brom held Tottenham to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. They gave a strong, disciplined performance in the game and have a solid base for next season. Many will argue that they should attempt to broaden their attacking verve but this could lead to the dissolution of their defensive solidarity. West Ham have excelled this year and will look to expand long-term now they have moved into a big stadium; expect big sponsorship deals, transfer deals and pre-season tours.
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 West Ham
Arsenal v Norwich City
Whether Arsenal win their remaining games or not is irrelevant for most gooners at the moment given this season’s disappointing slide from February onwards and Jack Wilshere’s return is the only pinch of hope to see the season out with. Whether Wenger has earned the right to decide his on departure or the pressure will finally force somebody else’s hand is up in the air but the long goodbye is near its end. Remarkable that even now, many believe that Arsenal are only a top striker away from being the team that can dominant both in Europe and domestically. This overlooks the clear lack of any defensive leadership; questions should be asked of every player at the end of this season. Norwich are hanging on down at the bottom and their momentum from a month ago has dissipated. Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Norwich City
Swansea City v Liverpool
Swansea will undergo key changes this summer with several new players expected to come in as well as the question over the new manager set to be answered one way or another. They have performed admirably given the departures of some key names and their manager over the past 18 months. Liverpool have also undergone a revolution since Jürgen Klopp’s arrival and look to build on their European momentum by finishing 5th in the league. Klopp has already improved several players and with a whole summer to bring in his own and perfect his system next year could be a big one for the Merseyside club Prediction: Swansea 1-3 Liverpool
Manchester United v Leicester City
Leicester were fantastic in their 4-0 victory over Swansea last Sunday and will still be without Jamie Vardy this weekend in what promises to be a much tougher test for the Foxes. United have improved in the last two months and are fighting for 4th spot, with an FA Cup Final already in the bag. Riyad Mahrez has been incredible this season and deserves his PFA Player of the Year award, he will be excited about the prospect of facing a Man Utd team with weaknesses in both full-back areas, although the surprising defensive partnership of Smalling and Blind has been a success. With Wayne Rooney back in the side playing a deeper role, there are goals in this United team and Anthony Martial will be looking to build on his fine display in last week’s semi-final against Everton. Prediction: Man Utd 1-1 Leicester
Southampton V Man City
Southampton are another team that combined two styles of play; they began the season as a team you would associate mostly with attempting to keep possession and play out from the defence. However, they quickly switched to a more direct approach with the pace of Shane Long and the strength and aerial ability of Graziano Pellè utilized successfully and now put in more crosses than any other team in the league. Man City were held to a goalless draw against Real Madrid on Tuesday and although many have praised their performance, a draw against a Madrid team without Ronaldo at home was less than they would have wanted or should have expected. Prediction: Southampton 0-2 Man City
Chelsea V Tottenham
The biggest game of the weekend comes on a Monday night with Chelsea at home to second-place Tottenham and looking to put the final nail in the coffin of Spurs’ title hopes. Chelsea put four goals past Bournemouth last time out but have lost to Swansea, Crystal Palace and Stoke this season as well as winning only two games against the top seven. Spurs will be hugely disappointed after their draw last week and the scenes at White Hart Lane showed a group of players that had let an opportunity slip out of their hands. They will look to remedy this quickly and it should be reiterated that nobody predicted Spurs to finish 2nd this season. Pochettino deserves a lot of praise – and a fat new contract – for the huge leap in consistency whilst maintaining a youthful squad unlikely to suffer from departures in the summer. Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham