The Premier League title may well be decided but the battles for European qualification and to avoid relegation are still very much alive and BetVictor brand ambassador Michael Owen once again casts his eye over this weekend’s vital Premier League fixtures.
Under 2.5 Goals
Norwich v Brighton
Norwich look doomed and this really is the last-chance saloon for their survival hopes. They lost the reverse fixture 2-0 in what was the first meeting of the two sides in the top division since 1983 and could well be the last for some time to come. As much as I admire the way that Norwich is being run, they look a Championship side and I think that’s where they will be playing their football next season.
Brighton were totally outclassed against Manchester United last time out but I’m not sure we should be taking that 3-0 loss into account. Brighton didn’t play too badly against a rejuvenated United side who seem to have moved up a few levels over the last few months. I think another three or four points will be enough for Brighton to survive but with games against Liverpool and Manchester City to come next, this could well be a tense nervy affair. However, I see them taking a big step towards survival with a narrow 1-0 win.
Vardy to score anytime
Leicester City v Crystal Palace
Leicester have struggled for form since the resumption of the Premier League and are yet to record a victory. In fact, had it not been for a surprise defeat for Chelsea at the hands of West Ham in midweek, they would have relinquished third place in the table which, for so long this season, looked to be the lowest that Leicester would finish.
Jamie Vardy has failed to score since the restart and is still looking for his 100th Premier League goal, But nonetheless, he is still leading the race for the Golden Boot and, like all good strikers, he will be confident of adding to his tally in this game.
Palace’s good run of form appears to have hit the buffers and back to back defeats mean that they are probably going to have to settle for a mid-table finish.
I fancy Leicester to get back to winning ways and for Jamie Vardy to reach his own personal landmark in this one and I’m going for a 2-1 home win.
Manchester United to win -2 goals on the handicap
Manchester United v Bournemouth
Manchester United are in great form and have looked a completely different side since the signing of Bruno Fernandes. He seems to have single-handedly taken the whole team up to a different level and they now look as though they could be in the shake-up at the top of the table next season.
Bournemouth on the other hand look totally devoid of confidence and endured a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Newcastle United in mid-week. I predicted a difficult season for Bournemouth way back in August and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind that they will be one of the teams to be relegated.
United brushed aside Brighton 4-0 last time out and despite Bournemouth winning the reverse fixture 1-0 back in November I see this being another chastening experience for the Cherries.
Wolves to win
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal
Wolves are the form team in the Premier League and this is a chance for Nuno Espirito Santo and his men to make a statement about their status and ambition. Chelsea’s midweek defeat to West Ham will have given Wolves a real boost in their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League and Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore will be champing at the bit to add to their incredible goals and assists tally – every opposition team knows what to expect when Traore gets the ball out wide and yet nobody seems to be able to stop the inevitable!
I mentioned last week that Arsenal are ‘flat-track bullies’ at home against teams from lower in the table and that was proven once again with a 4-0 trouncing of Norwich on Wednesday. However, they continue to look flimsy away from home and there are few tougher places to go at the moment than Molyneux.
I do think that Arsenal have a number of really talented players, but the one thing they seem to be missing is a consistent level of performance. That will be Mikel Arteta’s focus in the short term as he continues to mould the team into his way of playing.
Despite the reverse fixture ending in a 1-1 draw, I can see this being another good day’s work for the Wanderers that could see them nine points clear of Arsenal and up into that fourth Champions League qualification spot.
Chelsea to win and both teams to score
Chelsea v Watford
Chelsea will be reeling from their 3-2 loss away at West Ham on Wednesday evening after three straight wins since the restart. Frank Lampard is doing a great job at Stamford Bridge and will be looking for a positive reaction from his players. They have a relatively young squad who are still learning and the defeat will be an experience that Frank will hope they learn from quickly.
Watford are clearly not in great form and have really struggled since the re-start. I think they have a more talented squad than a number of the other teams in the lower reaches of the Premier League and they will no doubt be looking at some of their upcoming games against the likes of Norwich (H), Newcastle (H) and West Ham (A) as more likely to earn them some much-needed points.
That’s not to say that they’ll be taking this game lightly and Chelsea’s midweek defeat to another team near the bottom of the table will undoubtedly have given the Hornets some reason for optimism.
However, I fancy Chelsea to put their recent disappointment behind them and get back to winning ways with a 2-1 home win.
Burnley v Sheffield United
Burnley continue to amaze me. They have so many injuries as well as internal problems at the club with players out of contract etc but once they get on the pitch they just continue to do the business. They come into this fixture on the back of two 1-0 wins and, knowing some of their players as well as I do, they will certainly be aiming for a place in Europe next season.
Sheffield United will have been boosted by the news that Dean Henderson, their on-loan goalkeeper from Manchester United, will be with them until at least the end of the season having reached agreement with his parent club.
Boss Chris Wilder will be delighted to have seen the Blades get some of their early season swagger back after their very impressive 3-1 victory over Spurs on Thursday evening and I see this being a tight game between two very good and disciplined sides. I’m going for honours even.
Newcastle to win to nil
Newcastle United v West Ham United
Newcastle United are unbeaten in five in the Premier League and crushed Bournemouth 4-1 on Wednesday night. Steve Bruce is doing a wonderful job at St James’ Park, despite all the uncertainty surrounding a possible takeover and his own position as manager. They’ve scored eight goals since the resumption of football and this was an area where they were struggling pre-lockdown.
West Ham will have received a huge injection of confidence after beating Chelsea on Wednesday but they continue to seem a little confused about how exactly they should be playing. On the one hand, they have a pragmatic manager who is keen to have them disciplined and difficult to beat and on the other hand, you have a team of predominantly flair players who want to go out and entertain.
West Ham did win this fixture 3-0 at St James’ Park last season but whilst I don’t expect to see many goals, I do think that Newcastle will have enough to take all three points with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Liverpool to win -2 goals on the handicap
Liverpool v Aston Villa
Hard for me to offer any kind of argument for anything other than a comfortable win for Liverpool.
Aston Villa have failed to win since the re-start of the Premier League and in fact have only picked up two points from the last 24 on offer. They have only kept one clean sheet in their last 13 Premier League games and for good measure, they have lost their last four league games against Liverpool with an aggregate score 13-3.
In addition to winning the title, Liverpool will be looking to add a number of records to their list of achievements this season. Most points in a season, biggest winning margin and most matches won are all in their sights and, even without their famous support at Anfield, I fancy a high-scoring victory for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Manchester City to win and both teams to score
Southampton v Manchester City
Two wins out of three since the re-start have all but guaranteed Southampton’s place in the Premier League next season and they are actually one of the few teams to have little left to play for. Danny Ings of course will be keen to finish the season as top scorer and winner of the Golden Boot but certainly the Saints have less to play for than Manchester City.
Southampton’s home form has been nothing short of shambolic this season and you almost fancy any team going to St Mary’s to come away with the points. With Manchester City fresh from a 4-0 victory of Premier League Champions Liverpool and looking to add the FA Cup and Champions League trophy to their Carabao Cup haul this season, I fancy a comfortable 3-1 win to the Citizens.
Both teams to score
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton
Everton are unbeaten since the restart and come into this match on the back of a 2-1 victory over Leicester City. They are a team transformed since Carlo Ancelotti arrived at the club back in December and I would expect them to be in real contention for a European place next season.
However, as a result of points dropped before Ancelotti arrived, I think their charge up the table may be a little too late to secure a qualification place this season.
Spurs have had a very difficult season after the highs of last year. I think they have really regressed and I think Jose Mourinho has a pretty big job on his hands if they are to get back to the top end of the table.
A really tricky game to call this one. In many ways, a defeat would put paid to any lingering hopes of a top-four finish for Tottenham but I can’t help but think that Jose Mourinho will demand a positive reaction to what was a very disappointing defeat away at Bramall Lane on Thursday evening.