Harry’s Picks: Week 209 min read
Chelsea to continue progress
Chelsea were undone by a Duncan Ferguson-inspired Everton last weekend when they were surprisingly beaten 3-1 at Goodison Park. However, they bounced back to beat Lille on Tuesday 2-1 to qualify for the knockout stages in the Champions League and still find themselves in the top four in the Premier League with a cosy five-point cushion over the chasing pack.
They have a good opportunity to maintain that advantage when they host Bournemouth this Saturday afternoon. The visitors are dropping like a stone and are just the solitary point above the relegation trap door.
Well-beaten 3-0 by champions-elect Liverpool on their latest outing means that’s now five consecutive defeats for the Cherries and they could well find themselves in the bottom three places after this round.
Speculation surrounding manager Eddie Howe has surely been a distraction and with his team low on confidence, it looks likely they will have to wait at least another week before securing any competition points.
Chelsea were boosted by the news that their transfer ban has been overturned, so the Pensioners can dip their toes into the market in January again now.
Despite the youngsters doing the club proud, manager Frank Lampard will be cautious not to burn out his promising stars and a couple of recruits may just help the team secure the top-four finish they are targeting.
With London derby fixtures against Tottenham and Arsenal to follow before the year ends, three points would be most welcome and I fully expect them to collect.
Blades have cutting edge
Sheffield United bounced back from a half time deficit to win 2-1 at Norwich last Sunday and entertain another fellow promoted team in Aston Villa this weekend.
The Blades have certainly made the best impact of the trio and will be more than happy with a current eighth position and a seven-point gap over the drop zone. Manager Chris Wilder has used his experience to develop a team that are difficult to break down and work extremely hard, and these tactics have certainly impressed the fans.
Without breaking the bank, they made some useful recruits during the summer and have exceeded even their own expectations so far.
Aston Villa were thumped 4-1 at Villa Park in the Midlands Derby against a rampant Leicester which once again exposed their defensive weakness. They are one of a number of clubs anxiously looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone and its only goal difference keeping them just above that dreaded area.
Admittedly, they have had to endure a tough recent set of fixtures but a trip over to Sheffield won’t offer any reprieve, and they may have one eye on their League Cup clash next midweek with Liverpool who will field a second-string.
Crucial home PL fixtures with Southampton and Norwich follow so it would be no surprise to see Villa target those easier on paper trio of matches. Another large partisan South Yorkshire crowd will roar their charges on to success and maintain top half hopes.
United hitting form
Manchester United enjoyed their best win of the season against close rivals Manchester City in the champions’ own back yard and with eleven points obtained from their last five top-flight matches, the Red Devils have moved into fifth and within touching distance of a top-four place that looked to be well beyond them prior to their improved run of form.
Marcus Rashford has played a significant role during this wonderful spell and with ten PL goals is in the race for at least a place in the Golden Boot award.
Confidence is such a key element in sport and suddenly United are playing some eye-catching football and their fans now believe 2020 can be a successful one. A 4-0 romp in the Europa League against AZ Alkmaar on Thursday will see them in fine fettle for the weekend.
It will be interesting to see if caretaker gaffer Duncan Ferguson can inspire his troops after a fantastic debut 3-1 win over Chelsea. Having a man with so much passion for his club really worked wonders and the fans are fully behind their former star player.
It will be a big ask to back up last weekend’s effort and they visit Old Trafford at the wrong time with the hosts in such splendid form. I expect a battling performance but the Reds to prove too strong at the conclusion.
Robins flying high in the Championship
Leeds United and West Brom are beginning to pull clear at the top of the Championship and already look well-placed to secure the two automatic promotion berths.
The race for the playoffs continues to look extremely wide open and Bristol City are one of many clubs in that particular battle. The Robins are still proving a little frustrating – after a pulsating 2-1 win at promotion rivals Fulham, they were beaten 2-1 by another London outfit Millwall just three days later.
However, other results were fairly kind so they are still heavily involved in the fight for the PL prize. Opponents Blackburn are another inconsistent type sitting around mid-table but as a more unfashionable club, they are often underrated.
It’s hard to be overconfident with most clubs in the second tier but Bristol are a sleeping giant with a great fan base and manager Lee Johnson will not want to miss the opportunity of finally delivering top-flight football.
Hatters go to Deepdale in deep trouble
Preston are the final team in the playoff places and following a crucial 2-1 win over Fulham in midweek will be hoping for further points at home to lowly Luton who are finding life difficult following back to back promotions.
Incredibly this latest victory for the Lilywhites actually stopped a rotten run of four straight losses and shows just how competitive the race for promotion is in the championship. Deepdale is a fortress for the hosts and only second-placed WBA have left with maximum points this season.
Eight home victories is the best form any team in the competition can boast so this will be crucial if North End are able to stay in the playoff zone. I am confident the hosts can maintain their terrific home run.
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