A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the midweek slate. This part will feature matches taking place on Tuesday January 21st through Thursday January 23rd.
Bournemouth vs. Brighton
A South Coast Derby spiced up by each side’s precarious position in the relegation fight. This really is the true definition of a relegation six pointer.
Things are not going well for Eddie Howe’s team on the South Coast. Bournemouth have lost their last four matches and have failed to score in each of them. They have only picked up four points from their last 12 matches. They have only won twice since the beginning of November. They have crumbled from a mid-table position to firmly in the relegation zone. The Cherries will be without center back Steve Cook, out due to suspension, and will hope that Nathan Aké will return to form in the heart of their defense. Regardless of defensive performance, they will have to score goals again in order to stay up. Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson look like shadows of their former selves, and Howe will need his two star players to find form if he hopes to win this game and, in the long term, keep his team in the Premier League. Maybe Howe should have left when he had the chance?
Things are also not going great for Graham Potter’s Brighton team, but there is at least more promise there. They had an unlucky draw against Aston Villa last match, but gained points with a draw to Chelsea, beating Bournemouth, drawing Wolves, and beating Arsenal in the last month and a half. Potter does not have any new injury or suspension concerns, but with the short turnaround from their match against Villa on Saturday, it would not be surprising to see Glenn Murray introduced up front, possibly to partner Maupay. Brighton might be concerned defensively, having only kept one clean sheet since the beginning of November, but they would feel confident in their attack to cause problems for Bournemouth.
Prediction: Based on previous performances, I trust Brighton far more than Bournemouth going into this match. Certainly the Cherries’ goalless drought has to eventually end, but unless Aké puts in a world-class performance, I do not see them keeping Brighton out. It will be another loss for Bournemouth and another point of concern for Eddie Howe in a season that is quickly spiraling out of control.
Bournemouth 1-2 Brighton
Aston Villa vs. Watford
Nigel Pearson’s high-flying “Great Escape” Watford team travel north to face the sinking ship that is Dean Smith’s Aston Villa. Another very interesting relegation six pointer.
I said last week that if Dean Smith’s side wanted to stay up, Jack Grealish had to be the man to make it happen. The Birmingham-born boyhood Villa fan did just that, putting out a man-of-the-match performance against Brighton and scoring the equalizing goal late on to send Villa back north with a point. But this is another test, and one much tougher than Brighton. With Jonathan Kodjia’s official departure and questions around when new signing Mbwana Samatta will make his debut, the onus once again falls on Grealish to make things happen in attack. The defense is going to be tested by a Watford team that has scored nine goals in their last five games, and Villa need center back Tyrone Mings to be the rock at the back that he had been earlier in the season. Pepe Reina will be making his home debut, and he will have to be strong between the posts to marshal his defense and keep out a resurgent Watford attack. It is hard to place this much significance on one match, especially with Samatta’s arrival being a key variable, but this really does feel like “do-or-die” time for Villa, and if they want to stay in the Premier League, these are the matches they have to get results from.
Watford just keep getting results. Despite Troy Deeney’s penalty miss possibly denying them three points on one end, fortune also went their way, with Erik Lamela’s potential winning goal coming fractions of an inch away from crossing the goal line. Regardless of circumstance, a draw against Spurs is a great result for Nigel Pearson’s team, who have not lost in their last six and are out of the relegation zone for the first time this season. They have regained their confidence and look deadly going forward, with the resurgence of their talismanic striker Troy Deeney being at the center of it all. Not to be overlooked is the strong performances of summer arrival Ismaïla Sarr, who is finally beginning to show English audiences the skill and confidence he played with at Rennes. Watford’s attacking trio of the aforementioned two plus midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré will be key in breaking down a Villa defense that has been leaking goals recently.
Prediction: I think Samatta is a very good signing for Villa and could be crucial in keeping them up, but I would be incredibly shocked if he featured in this match. Even if he did, it is very hard to bet against Nigel Pearson and Watford right now. Look for Deeney and Sarr to be crucial for the Hornets going forward, and do not be surprised if Watford scores more than once.
Aston Villa 0-2 Watford
Everton vs. Newcastle United
The two teams level on points with Arsenal currently will meet in a rematch of Carlo Ancelotti’s first away win as Everton manager. A match up between two teams with their own issues and injury concerns but are still able to mount a challenge for a European place.
If Ancelotti had not sacked the physio yet, he probably did after the West Ham match. With fresh injuries to Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, we are not that many injuries away from potentially seeing Duncan Ferguson put a full kit on and run out there himself. Michael Keane was also ruled out after facing a fitness test to see if he could feature in this match. The amount of injuries facing this Everton team does limit the amount of coaching an improvement Ancelotti can provide, with the experienced Italian having been without several key first-choice players at multiple junctures during his short tenure in charge, and this was reflected in what was a fairly average performance in a 1-1 draw away to West Ham last weekend. In the short-term, three Englishmen are key for stringing results together for this team. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been in fine form, scoring four times under Ancelotti and being Everton’s leading scorer this season. Tom Davies had been a much improved player in midfield recently, apart from a poor performance against West Ham, and he will be important in solidifying the injury-plagued Everton midfield. In defense, Mason Holgate has enjoyed his best season as a professional so far, and his efforts are rumored to be earning him his first England senior call-up. His strength in defense and ability on the ball are key to solidify Everton’s defense and transition from back to front. All three will feature against Newcastle and will have to put in good performances for Everton to win.
Isaac Hayden’s late goal sealed a smash-and-grab win for the Magpies against Chelsea last weekend, and Steve Bruce will hope that result will help them kick on after finding his team in a rut in their previous five matches. The injury struggles only continue to get worse, however, with center back Paul Dummett and wing back Jetro Willems both out for the remainder of the season. They will be boosted by the return of tricky winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who was not at his best against Chelsea but will undoubtedly return to form soon. Going against an Everton defense that can still leak goals and make mistakes, Saint-Maximin could be a crucial player going forward should he be at his best.
Prediction: Unlike against Chelsea, Bruce may be motivated to be more open and attacking against Everton, knowing they can leapfrog them in the table with a win and knowing Saint-Maximin has returned. The previous match-up between these two teams, however, showed how good Everton could be when they caught Newcastle on the counter. With both teams missing crucial players, a score draw seems like the most likely outcome.
Everton 1-1 Newcastle
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
The Premier League is really giving us everything this midweek, and here they give us the match up between the two teams with maybe the most wildly fluctuating form in the league at the minute. Oh, and it’s also a London Derby and a rematch of a hotly contested fixture that happened mere weeks ago. This should be fun.
Chelsea has seemingly hit the expected roadblock that most teams led by young players eventually find themselves facing. When the young players take a dip in form, squeezing out results becomes much harder without veteran leadership. Chelsea have had some bad results as of late, with losses to West Ham, Everton, Bournemouth, Southampton, and Newcastle slowly releasing their grip on a top four place. Weirdly, those bad losses have also been paired with wins over Spurs and Arsenal. Chelsea are clearly a difficult team to figure out at the minute. Frank Lampard will hope in an uptick in form for his two main young stars, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, who have been inconsistent as of late. With the quick turnaround from the weekend, Lampard will probably rotate his team to keep the players fresh, and whoever comes into the midfield to probably partner Jorginho will be important in keeping control of the match and not allowing Arteta’s team to dictate the tempo.
Another week, another frustrating result for Arsenal. Their 1-1 draw at home against Sheffield United came a week after another frustrating 1-1 draw, this one being away at Crystal Palace. In both matches, Arsenal were unable to retain a 1-0 lead, and the dominant 2-0 win over Manchester United on New Year’s Day remains the only match in which Arsenal have scored more than one goal during Arteta’s reign. For the amount of quality Arsenal have going forward, their lack of goals under Arteta is a damning statistic of the state the club is in. Yes, their inability to retain a lead is frustrating, but the issues with the Gunners’ defense was a known quantity going into the season. The inability for their team to find goals, however, was not expected and very concerning. Alexandre Lacazette desperately needs to score a goal and find his way out of this rut. Nicolas Pépé has been improving and seems to be fitting in better under Arteta, but he has to continue improving and providing goals and chances in the attack for Arsenal to crawl out of their mid-table mess. Youngster Gabriel Martinelli has been impressive in the chances he has been given, and he should keep his place in the team for this match, but with Aubameyang being suspended for one more game, one of the veteran players in the team has to step up and fill that void.
Prediction: Both teams will remember their previous meeting, with Arsenal dominating for large stretches of the match before crumbling at the end. Lampard will undoubtedly have learned lessons from that encounter that he will put to good use here, and without Aubameyang, I just do not have enough confidence in Arsenal getting a result away from home against a still very talented Chelsea team.
Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal
Napoli vs. Lazio
It is Cup Time in Italy, and the Coppa Italia has given us a very interesting rematch from a league match a few weeks ago.
Well, Napoli, I thought things could turn around, but I do not think they will. The recent defeats to Inter and Lazio showed some signs of improvement but were plagued by individual mistakes. Their 2-0 loss to Fiorentina last weekend, however, was devoid of confidence and organization and seemed to be a massive step back following some minor steps forward under Gattuso. On top of these struggles, they will still be without defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly and attacking threat Dries Mertens, both remaining out due to injury. The Partenopei have only won two of their last nine home matches, both of which being cup matches, showing the usual advantage they have historically enjoyed at the Stadio San Paolo is no longer a home comfort. It does seem like the sky is falling for Napoli, and a win here would do wonders in digging them out of their current hole.
Things could not be more different for Lazio. They are flying in the league, with every key player in good form and led by league-leading goalscorer Ciro Immobile. Immobile’s late winner against Napoli in the league two weeks ago, paired with their most recent demolition of Sampdoria, demonstrates that this team is equally adept at winning a gritty, hard fought match and dominating lower-quality opponents. They find themselves only two points off Inter in second and six points off leaders Juventus with a game in hand on both. They are definitely contenders for the Scudetto and for retaining their Coppa Italia. Simone Inzaghi will continue having to live without Adam Marusic and Danilo Cataldi, both out with injuries, but there are no major players missing for the Biancocelesti heading into this match.
Prediction: This is an ideal match up for Lazio, coming in on scintillating form and able to prey on a weak and fragile Napoli team. There will undoubtedly be a strong reaction from Napoli following their bad defeat to Fiorentina, but given their discomforts with playing at home and the incredible form of their adversaries, it will not be enough for them to remain in the Coppa Italia.
Napoli 1-3 Lazio
Lyon vs. Lille
In a week of big cup match ups in France, this is probably the biggest. The semifinal of the Coupe de la Ligue sees two podium-caliber teams facing off. Both teams have been inconsistent all season but are in fine form now, so it will be a very good match.
Lyon are showing signs of improvement coming out of the winter break. Despite several injury issues, especially to star forward Memphis Depay, Rudi Garcia has found a formula that allows the team to be effective going forward. Moussa Dembélé and Houssem Aouar have been in fine form, and the promotion of youth stars Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki into the first team has been a fruitful addition for les Gones. They are still struggling defensively, with Joachim Andersen unable to perform consistently, having committed two mistakes leading to goals in their last two matches. New loan signing Karl Toko-Ekambi will most likely not feature heavily in this match, so the attacking pressure will be on Dembélé, Aouar, and Cherki. They will most likely concede goals, so they will just need to score more. A trip to a cup final is on the line, and Lyon are too big of a club to have not won a trophy in several years. A win here would help continue the team’s momentum toward a podium finish and a potential trophy.
Lille have struggled in the league going into and coming out of the winter break, but they easily dispatched the lower league opposition they faced in the Coupe de France and handily beat Amiens in the previous round of the Coupe de la Ligue. Victor Osimhen has retained his goalscoring touch in the cup competitions, while star midfielder Boubakary Soumaré has committed his future, at least in the short term, to les Dogues, spurning transfer interest from Manchester United and Chelsea. On paper, their team is talented and good enough to win this match. They have similar issues as Lyon, with a strong attack and midfield covering up defensive frailties that can be exposed by their opposition. Soumaré’s presence in midfield will be key for protecting the defense and helping bridge the gap between defense and attack. Lille are, like Lyon, a club that is going through a trophy drought, so they will not want to waste a chance to play in a cup final.
Prediction: This is going to be a very close match with multiple goals scored by both teams. Both sides have the individual quality necessary to win a match this close, but I will give the nod to Lyon. Moussa Dembélé’s scintillating form since Depay’s injury should continue here, and I would expect Rayan Cherki, fresh off his man-of-the-match performance against Nantes in the Coupe de France, to at least feature off the bench and put in another very good performance. With both teams being defensively weak, this has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. This could be the match of the week entertainment-wise.
Lyon 3-2 Lille
Juventus vs. Roma
The Coppa Italia is really interested in giving us rematches this week. Napoli and Lazio meet in a rematch of their league meeting two weeks ago, and Juventus and Roma will do the same in this match.
Juventus have capitalized on Inter’s stumbles and are once again top of Serie A. Cristiano Ronaldo, despite his questionable new haircut, is back to scoring goals, having found the back of the net six times in his last three appearances. Paulo Dybala has been immense, possibly being Juve’s best player this season. The midfield, while not great, is getting the job done, and Adrien Rabiot is improving despite rumors about a possible exit. The potential issue, however, lies in defense. With Merih Demiral’s season-ending injury against Roma, Juventus are left with three first choice center backs: Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt, and Daniele Rugani. Bonucci is a dependable performer, but de Ligt has been inconsistent in his first season in Serie A, while Rugani has had issues of his own. It is a potential weakness for the Bianconeri, a chink in the armor of the reigning champions that could be exploited either in this match or throughout the rest of the season. They will need Ronaldo and Dybala to continue their incredible form, as well as their midfield to hold up.
Roma have, apart from slight hiccups against Torino and Juventus, been very good in the second half of the season so far. Edin Džeko and Lorenzo Pellegrini continue to be their star performers, while they also had welcome contributions from Cengiz Ünder and Justin Kluivert in their last match, a 3-1 league win over Genoa. However, they are still reeling from the season-ending injury sustained by their star youngster Nicolò Zaniolo. The collapsed transfer deal for Inter winger Matteo Politano, on top of Zaniolo’s injury, means Roma will have to be more reliant on players like Ünder and Kluivert, bit-part performers previously, to contribute to the attack and create chances for Džeko. They will have to win the midfield battle and test a hobbled Juventus defense down the wings if they want to pull off the upset.
Prediction: It is sort of ironic how the two biggest injury concerns among these teams came in their previous meeting. When looking at the teams, Zaniolo’s absence is much more worrying for Roma than Demiral’s absence is for Juventus. Despite Demiral’s strong performances, Bonucci is more than competent enough to marshal the defense, and de Ligt is still a talented player despite his struggles. Zaniolo was crucial for Roma’s attack, and his absence is going to take quite a bit to overcome. Juventus are at home, beat Roma two weeks ago, and have a resurgent goal-scoring Ronaldo up top. They should win this comfortably.
Juventus 2-0 Roma
Leicester City vs. West Ham
Here is the match up between two teams we thought would be fighting for Europe, but only one of them is. Despite that, they are still two teams on opposite ends of the table married by their strong desire to actually win a game.
Leicester City, once high-flying title contenders, are now in third. They have lost three of their last five matches, including back-to-back losses to Southampton and Burnley, and they can feel their grip on a secure top four finish slowly slipping away. While they have seen strong contributions from supporting cast players, star attackers Jamie Vardy and James Maddison have been quiet in recent weeks, with the pair only scoring once in Leicester’s last five league games. Their usually formidable defense has conceded goals against struggling teams, and they have lost their unbeaten status at the King Power Stadium. Despite their recent struggles, they are still six points ahead of Chelsea in fourth and 11 points ahead of Manchester United in fifth. A win in this game would get them back on track. To do so, they would need production from Vardy and Maddison, the two attacking players who have gotten the Foxes this far.
West Ham are, at least sort of, improving under David Moyes. A loss to Sheffield United and draw to Everton have demonstrate that they have not completely gotten things figured out, but they are slowly improving. They only sit a point above the relegation zone, so Moyes knows that a result in this match would do wonders for their fight for safety. Michail Antonio and Felipe Anderson both did not feature against Everton last weekend but could possibly be in line for a return to the team for this match. While Andriy Yarmolenko and Lukasz Fabianski are nearing their returns, neither will be ready for this match. If Anderson is not able to play, then the pressure in leading the attack will fall on Sébastien Haller, Manuel Lanzini, and Pablo Fornals. Look for West Ham to also threaten on set pieces, with Issa Diop having scored against Everton last match.
Prediction: On paper, Leicester are easily the better team. However, their recent struggles coincide with the slow but steady improvements for the Hammers. Leicester are no longer unbeaten at home and West Ham have been better travelers this season. Leicester’s individual quality will carry them through, and I expect Vardy and Maddison to regain form, but it will be a struggle for Brendan Rodgers’ team.
Leicester City 2-1 West Ham
Wolves vs. Liverpool
The next step on Liverpool’s title coronation comes away to Wolves, the team that gave them a fight at Anfield a few weeks ago. For Wolves, this is another chance to slay a giant at home, and for Liverpool, it is their next roadblock in their quest for an unbeaten season.
Wolves’ run of three straight league matches without a win came to an end last weekend, when an incredible second half comeback saw them overturn a 2-0 deficit to beat Southampton 3-2. Adama Traoré and Raúl Jiménez were the stars on the night, as Wolves’ attack returned to causing teams nightmares. As an added boost for Nuno Espirito Santo, forward Diogo Jota looks set to return from a leg injury, although he may only feature off the bench if fit for this match. Wolves are directly in a Champions League hunt, finding themselves level on points with Manchester United in fifth and only five points behind Chelsea in the top four. They will hope they can slay another big team at the Molineux, which has been a fortress for them this season, and take another step toward European football next season.
Ok, let us just all admit it right now. Liverpool are going to win the Premier League. They are 16 points clear with a game in hand. Obviously anything can happen, but a meltdown from here would be so cataclysmic and disastrous that it is hard to comprehend how it could even happen. The only question remaining for Liverpool at this point is if they can finish the league season unbeaten, joining Arsenal as the only club to go unbeaten throughout a season and establishing themselves among the best ever sides of the Premier League era. Wolves away is one of their biggest remaining roadblocks, going away to a side that has taken their fair share of “Big Six” scalps throughout the season. Injuries to Naby Keïta and James Milner limit Jürgen Klopp’s options off the bench, but the entirety of their first choice team should be available. Fabinho and Joel Matip should also be available off the bench if needed. This game offers a good opportunity for Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah to utilize the space left vacant by Wolves’ attacking wingbacks, and the battle between Jiménez and the Liverpool center backs will strongly impact the outcome of the match.
Prediction: If Liverpool are going to lose a match for the rest of the season, this might be their biggest chance of doing so. Wolves are a very good team who have already beaten several big clubs at home, and they will remember the lessons they learned in their controversial loss at Anfield. Liverpool’s quality, form, and confidence are too difficult to bet against, however. The unbeaten run will continue.
Wolves 1-2 Liverpool