The Early Sub: Premier League Preview

Crunch time in the Premier League as we have about a month to go this season. Chelsea remain firmly at the top with a 7 point gap between them and second place Tottenham. The league is far from over as both sides still have seven to go and big games this weekend for both sides. Liverpool look to shake their mid-table opponents woes and Manchester City travel to the south coast with a depleted team. Manchester United look to take one from Chelsea and break into the top 4 as they remain on the outside looking in.

Everton v. Burnley at Goodison Park

Everton are another side trying to throw their name into the mix for Europe but the big story with the Toffees is the impending exodus of Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has blossomed under the Everton badge as he’s putting in his best season in his career this season as he leads the Premier League in goals this season. Lukaku has been courted by Manchester United but all signs point to him making his return to Stamford Bridge and to replace Diego Costa as Chelsea’s number 9. It’s a huge relief to see Lukaku leave for bigger club, especially Chelsea who’ll be a presence in the Champions League next season. We’ve seen Lukaku play against the biggest teams in England and has participated in a World Cup but he’s never played in the Champions League like he will next season with Antonio Conte. As for this game in particular, Ronald Koeman’s side should take care of Burnley as they come into the match unbeaten in 4 of their last 5 games. Everton did drop the reverse fixture to Burnley at Turf Moor in October but this is a different side and Goodison Park is a different story as Everton has won every home game they’ve played in since their FA Cup loss to Leicester and are unbeaten at home in the league since the first Merseyside Derby in December. Everton 2, Burnley Nil.

Sunderland v. West Ham United at the Stadium of Light

It has been anything but bright this season for both these teams as Sunderland seemed doomed for relegation and West Ham sit at the bottom half of the table in a season that’s dead in the water. Sunderland is the story here though as they sit 10 points below safety with 7 to go, which is a dooming gap. There have been some inspirational escapes from relegation in the Premier League but there are no signs of that for the Black Cats. Sunderland haven’t scratched up a point since Burnley in March. Sunderland, in fact, haven’t scored a goal since the beginning of February. It’s been two months since this side have found the net and that tells you all. Sunderland won’t be back next season but Jordan Pickford will be. The young keeper has been Sunderland’s lone bright spot and he’s being courted by Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City. Remember the name, because this kid is going to be England’s no. 1 for a long time in the near future. As for West Ham, they still sit only 8 points over the drop with 6 to go. Although it’s unlikely West Ham will have any trouble staying up, they must keep their focus and build momentum to improve next season. West Ham win this game 1-nil.

Tottenham Hotspur v. AFC Bournemouth at White Hart Lane

Tottenham come into their home match as the final hurdle that Chelsea needs to leap. Every other club in England has been unable to keep the torrid pace the Blues have gone on but Tottenham still sit only 7 points off of Chelsea with 7 to go. Tottenham have no room for error going into the final weeks as they have to make up the ground quickly before it’s too late. Pochettino’s side has been in wonderful form since their ejection from European competition, winning every single game since their elimination. Tottenham will get another crack at Chelsea in the FA Cup but that won’t make any difference in the league. Bournemouth is a difficult task for any side in England but Tottenham have yet to lose a match in White Hart Lane’s final season, but Jack Wilshere and Joshua King have managed to scratch points several times for the Cherries throughout the season. Tottenham must keep their focus in this one and anything less then three points will surely doom their title challenge. Tottenham will get their win, 2-1.

West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool at the Hawthorns

Liverpool continue their push for a top 4 spot as they sit firmly in 3rd, 2 points above Manchester City and 5 points behind Tottenham. Liverpool have the disadvantage compared to the rest of the top 6 as they’ve already played 32 matches and their West Brom match will be number 33, which would leave them with only 5 matches to play after Sunday. Liverpool have been struggling in matches against teams outside of the top 7. They’ve dropped games to Swansea, Hull and Leicester in 2017 alone as well as dropping points to Sunderland and Bournemouth. Manchester City are right on Liverpool’s tail and dropping points to West Brom could put their 3rd place status in jeopardy. Liverpool are in decent form after putting Stoke away last week on the road but they’re going to have to pull it off again travelling to the Hawthorns. West Brom haven’t particularly made their home stadium a fortress however, losing to Southampton at home last week and losing to Crystal Palace at home in early march. West Brom did embarrass Arsenal at home in mid-march and any loss of concentration by Liverpool could put them in danger of dropping points yet again. That back 3 of Liverpool is a work in progress but they won’t need to do too much against a stale West Brom. Salomon Rondon will bag himself a goal but Liverpool will bag themselves a few. 3-1.

Crystal Palace v. Leicester City at Selhurst Park

An interesting bottom half fixture that has the potential to be a goalfest. Crystal Palace have scored a goal in every match they’ve played since their loss to Stoke. Palace have won 5 of those 6 matches where they’ve scored a goal including London Derby victories over Chelsea and Arsenal. Wilfried Zaha owned both defenses and has been in truly inspirational form for Allardyce’s men this season. Everton winger and former teammate, Yannick Bolasie, even compared the tricky winger to Neymar. Zaha has plenty of skill and has added goals to his arsenal of skillsets and he’ll have to perform at his top level once again at Selhurst when the champions come to town. Leicester haven’t played like the champions of last season, putting on an even more pathetic title defense then Chelsea last season, but they’ve found their form after the sacking of hero Claudio Ranieri and under new boss Craig Shakespeare. Leicester were on a tear, winning six straight under Shakespeare before losing 4-2 last week to Everton. Since then, Leicester also dropped the 1st leg of their Champions League Quarterfinal match against Atletico Madrid, 1-0. With the Atleti game being the exception, Leicester have put up at least two goals in every match under Shakespeare and Crystal Palace definitely don’t have a defense like Atleti’s. This is going to be a good one with plenty of goals, and a late goal from Zaha or Benteke will lift Palace to a circus of a victory at home. 4-3 Palace.

Middlesbrough v. Arsenal at Riverside Park

Arsenal have been struggling mightily in 2017 only winning 4 games out of their last 10 matches in all competitions and those wins come against Hull, Sutton United, Lincoln and West Ham. Meanwhile, Arsenal have lost 5 out of their last 10 matches and those have come against: Bayern (2), Liverpool, West Brom and Crystal Palace. It’s been a rollercoaster for Arsene Wenger and his side with Alexis Sanchez having to drag an unmotivated and pitiful Arsenal week after week and Mesut Ozil looks completely incompetent at times during this rut. He’s only played decently in the West Ham match in the last 10 and he already has an eye on the future where he’ll hope to push a move to Manchester United to re-unite with Mourinho or join Julian Draxler in Paris. Either way, Ozil’s mind just isn’t in North London and it may not be at Riverside Monday night. I think it’d be insanely unlikely that Arsenal will lose to Boro who have only managed 4 wins this season but telling from the Gunners’ recent form, it could totally happen. I think Arsenal will dominate possession but Boro will scratch out a goal too. They draw 1-1.

Manchester United v. Chelsea at Old Trafford

The big matchup of the Premier League weekend, Mourinho comes up against his former team for the 3rd time this season and for the second time in the league. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea is much different from the team that Mourinho left last season with the 3-4-3 formation now the signature of Chelsea football. Chelsea have been incredible this season and have been ruthless when up again the Red Devils. Conte studies Mourinho to the letter and Mourinho has yet been able to find an answer to Conte’s genius. United almost look fearful of Chelsea and I’m sure this is the longest day of the year for Mourinho. Chelsea were the last team to defeat United in any competition, after brushing them aside in the Quarterfinals of the FA Cup. United won’t look as lost against Chelsea as they have been in both games at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford is a whole different ball game but Conte knows that and he’ll have his Blues side prepared. Zlatan will net a goal and he’ll be the only player who’ll belong on the pitch with Chelsea’s killers because Zlatan is a fellow killer. But that’ll be United’s only bright spot as their Champions League ambitions will take a huge blow, and they may need to commit fully to the Europa League as their only path to the Champions League next season. Chelsea win at Old Trafford 2-1.

Southampton v. Manchester City at Saint Mary’s Stadium

Manchester City come into this match at the south coast with a depleted defense as John Stones and Aleksander Kolarov may not be fit to start. Vincent Kompany could get a start alongside Nicolas Otamendi which would be a strong partnership at the back. They’ll need to be strong with an all out of sorts Claudio Bravo, more then likely to get the start. City are looking to maintain their top 4 spot and perhaps gain some ground on 3rd place Liverpool. City were cruising after their crushing defeat to Everton in January but failed to register a win in 4 consecutive matches until last week when they brought home a win over Hull last week. In City’s defense, it’ s been a brutal run of matches playing against Monaco, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea all within 3 weeks. Southampton is a tough opponent, especially at Saint Mary’s and City may be in danger of dropping points, putting their coveted 4th spot in harm’s way. It’s another tough matchup for the Citizens and a win just doesn’t seem likely here. They draw 1-1.

Stoke City v. Hull City at the Bet365 Stadium

Hull have been a revelation since Marco Silva took over, and he looks to continue navigating the Tigers great escape from relegation. Silva is a class manager and he’s proving it this season. Stoke are a decent side as they look to build momentum to finish out the season strong. Stoke at home is a difficult task for any team but Marco Silva has been the savior Hull needed and he’s looking to take points on the road here. A draw for both sides with difficulty finding the net. 0-0.

Watford v. Swansea City at Vicarage Road

Watford have put on a satisfying and perhaps, overachieving season this season in the league as they sit in 10th. Swansea have had a difficult season that’s featured 3 different managers at the helm. Paul Clement seems to be the man for the task to try to lead the Swans to safety. This game definitely doesn’t scream runs and I doubt we’ll see more then three. In fact I don’t think any will be scored at all. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and have Swansea win 1-0 on the road.

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