EPL Predictions – Gameweek 7

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Throughout the 2013/2014 English Premier League season, we’ll embark upon the daunting task of predicting the result of every single game. Putting our credibility on the line, we’ll look to beat the odds and give you the insights that will hopefully guide you through to tipping, fantasy and betting success this coming season.

The Closest Title Race in Premier League History

It is a point of view that has been expressed for months, but few weekends in League history have given us quite the same evidence to contend that it may actually happen. Manchester United fall to West Bromwich, giant-killers Aston Villa added City to their list of scalps whilst pre-season minnows Arsenal and Liverpool have shown that people were wrong to doubt them. Chelsea and Tottenham played out a hard-fought draw which did nothing to displace the theory that there are 6 legitimate title contenders in 2013.

What is even more interesting, is that if we presume this year’s League winner will post fewer points than in past seasons, sides like Everton may hand around the top 4 for longer than in previous years. What a race we have on our hands!

In the spirit of this closely contested season, conveniently this week’s fixtures present several real challenges in terms of tipping. So without further ado, lets get underway with our EPL Predictions for Gameweek 7 of the 2013/2014 season.

(7) Manchester City v Everton (4) | Etihad Stadium

Romelu Lukaku appears to, once again, be the loan signing of the season. His Gameweek 6 brace against Newcastle has propelled the Toffees above Chelsea, City and United on the table and amends Martinez’s only real concern heading into the season – his side’s capacity for scoring. Combine the Belgian with Baines, Coleman, Mirallas and Barry and you have a quartet worthy of starting in almost any European side. This side is built to play Martinez’s high-possession brand of football, and whilst his 3-4-3 formation has been abandoned to exploit the talents of his fullbacks, its fluidity is increasing weekly and by Week 7, has reached near Barcelona proportion.

Manchester City on the other hand have serious issues. Joe Hart has been a liability (just watch City’s 3-1 loss to Bayern midweek), injury in defence finds the Nastasic/Kompany partnership thoroughly under-developed and Pellegrini’s player rotation has seen the Citizens field underwhelming and complacent lineups on several occasions. The probable return of Aguero and Silva this week should assist things but the fall-out from midweek European action remains to be seen.

Everton are the only remaining undefeated team in the Premier League his season and we’re tipping against the odds to say they’ll remain so.

Key Statistic | When travelling to a ‘Big 6’ side (MUN, MCI, TOT, CHE, ARS, LIV) in the last 2 seasons, Everton recorded 5 draws and 7 losses. In the past 3 seasons, Manchester City have only lost 2 league games at home against sides not in the ‘Big 6’. One was against Everton (December, 2010).

Key Matchup | Leighton Baines v Yaya Toure – Creative maestros. One occupies a wide berth, the other central. Both are lethal from set pieces and have the potential to win a close match – which this should be – single-handedly. If Everton can maintain their dominance of the possession statistics despite City’s pressure, expect them to thrive as Pellegrini’s attack-minded tactics will present opportunities between the lines for Baines and Mirallas to exploit. If Everton find themselves 1-0 up or in a level contest late in the match, City will panic; a position from which they haven’t excelled so far this season (v Stoke and v Aston Villa).

Prediction | Manchester City 1 – 1 Everton

(11) Cardiff City v Newcastle United (16) | Cardiff City Stadium

Cardiff may have won at Fulham last weekend but to find themselves locked at 1-1 until so late in the match is disgraceful given Fulham’s showing. There is a definite inability to convert chances into goals and against high-octane sides like Newcastle, that is asking for trouble.

We touted Loic Remy as one of the signings of the year in our pre-season EPL Fantasy Preview and his early form has lived up to expectation. The return of Johan Cabaye, fitness of Davide Santon, form of Ben Arfa and the presence of a striker of Remy’s potential means that even with Krul’s struggles and United’s inability to keep clean sheets, Newcastle should be comfortably placed on the table come Christmas.

City’s form at home has been exceptional this year and Newcastle presents the easiest of the four fixtures thus far.

Key Statistic | Newcastle are coming off consecutive 2-3 losses and are at great risk of falling off the pace in the League. Last season, Newcastle had a serious tendency to slip into form slumps. They went winless for 5 games on two occasions, losing games they were expected to win handily given the side’s talent. With MCI, LIV, CHE and TOT in the next 6 weeks, a win at Cardiff is near-essential to avoid a relegation battle.

Key Matchup | Frazier Campbell v Tim Krul – We heaped expectation on Campbell last week and were thoroughly disappointed. Despite Cardiff’s dominance, neither he nor Odemwingie posed any serious threat. This week, 2 goals will probably be the minimum requirement for Cardiff to get anything out of this match. Tim Krul doesn’t necessarily deserve all of the blame, but his inclusion here is more a sign that Newcastle’s defence needs drastic improvement. Half the team are doing their job, the other isn’t.

Prediction | Cardiff City 2 – 2 Newcastle United

(18) Fulham v Stoke City (15) | Craven Cottage

Craven Cottage has gone from being a fortress to more of a ruin that visitors pillage at will. Should Martin Jol emerge from this weekend without a victory, his tenure at Fulham is rumoured to be over, but given how his side performed last weekend against Cardiff, it doesn’t appear like the players will put in a special performance to save their manager’s job.

In another managerial sub-plot, Mark Hughes returns to Fulham and despite being a mediocre tactician in his own right, has a cohesive side at his disposal. Adding fuel to the fire, Hughes stated Thursday that he made the wrong decision in leaving Fulham. Interpret it how you will but Martin Jol is unlikely to take it as a compliment and potentially, neither will his Stoke employers. An incredibly poor performance last week against the under performing Norwich outfit has this pinned as the worst match of the weekend, and rightly so. We discussed Fulham’s midfield pressure last week and as expected, it was dire. Expect Charlie Adam and company to run riot but somehow not score, much like Cardiff last weekend.

Neither side has shown a semblance of consistency in the last fortnight so this game is near impossible to predict. Stoke are the better side but Fulham can’t continue to lose at home forever. At the same time, one more week isn’t forever. Fulham to lose.

Key Statistic | After being the defensive specialists in the League for so many years, Fulham have kept just 5 clean sheets in the League since November last year. Stoke have kept 10. On the other side of the ball, Stoke have scored more than 1 goal in a League match just 4 times this calendar year.

Key Matchup | Bryan Ruiz v Charlie Adam – Ruiz has failed to provide the spark to Fulham that he was expected to. A constant disappointment, his wonder-strike last week has the potential to force a form of attacking epiphany. Signed to provide individual brilliance to a cohesive defensive unit, Ruiz isn’t just required to score 1 goal a game for victory now, but 2 or 3. Not only does he need to score, but he needs to create at a level similar to Adam. Berbatov is becoming increasingly frustrated and Darren Bent’s class (that many believe he no longer possesses) isn’t being seen.

Prediction | Fulham 0 – 1 Stoke City

(8) Hull City v Aston Villa (9) | KC Stadium

Before the season began, this fixture had all the hallmarks of a relegation battle. With both sides sitting pretty in the top half of the table though, this game shapes up as not only the feel-good contest of the weekend, but a damn good football match.

In a game of few chances, Hull accounted for West Ham last week in their most complete defensive performance of the campaign yet. Villa’s ability to account for Christian Benteke’s injury – our key for them last week – against the might of Manchester City however was similarly impressive. The return of Agbonlahor will give Villa a further boost, however the Hull defence that, to be honest, lacks class, has been protected admirably by a midfield that has been amongst the best in the league.

Of the 12 games combined these teams have played this season, only 1 has ended in a draw, however we’re predicting that trend to be bucked in an even contest.

Key Statistic | Aston Villa haven’t had a negative goal differential in any month since January, despite finishing 15th in the League last season.

Key Matchup | Tom Huddlestone v Fabian Delph – Two of the youngest and most impressive stars in the League were poised to go head-to-head this weekend but injury to Robbie Brady has prohibited that mouth-watering battle in midfield. Instead of witnessing dynamic attack v composure, we’ll witness two controlling midfielders ply their trade. Will Huddlestone’s vision and long-passing outplay Delph’s short balls and tenacity?

Prediction | Hull City 1 – 1 Aston Villa

(2) Liverpool v Crystal Palace (19) | Anfield

The first of the ‘Big 6’ we’ll analyse this week, Liverpool come off an unconvincing yet impressive (seems contradictory we know) victory over Sunderland. Why unconvincing? Sunderland threatened an equaliser for a good portion of the second half until a Liverpool counter-attack sealed the deal. Jordan Henderson was underwhelming in his wide role and Liverpool’s shifting formation between a 5-2-1-2 and a 3-2-3-2 seemed not only flawed at times but poorly executed by the players, particularly Henderson.

Why impressive? Because the Sturridge/Suarez partnership has already emerged, in just 180 minutes of football this season, as the best striker combination in the Premier League. Palace will struggle to defend it, particularly given that their greatest defensive player in Jedinak will occupy a defensive midfield post, easily bypassed. Their greatest worry is that if Liverpool get an early lead and seek to extend it, they may employ a 3-2-3-2 on a more permanent basis and blow Palace off the park. This has the potential to be the biggest victory we’ve seen thus far in 2013/2014.

Key Statistic: Crystal Palace have scored just 1 goal in 5 games this season if you discount their 3-1 drubbing of Sunderland (who we’ve already booked into the Championship for next year). In those same 5 fixtures, they’ve conceded 9 goals.

Key MatchupDaniel Sturridge v Ian Holloway. It’s unorthodox but Palace’s greatest chance at avoiding a demolition at Anfield is the implementation of a strategy that adequately accounts for and stems Liverpool. Gayle must play wide than he has all season and must be matched up on Jordan Henderson, the less competent of Liverpool’s two fullbacks. Mile Jedinak must play a more advanced role and stem the influence of Steven Gerrard and most Palace cannot bet caught over-committing in attack. Holloway may be aggressive but Sunderland’s frailties were really only exposed when they were over-committed last week. Sturridge meanwhile is still the main man in Liverpool, even with Suarez back.

Prediction: Liverpool 4 – 0 Crystal Palace

(20) Sunderland v Manchester United (12) | Stadium of Light

On paper, this isn’t even a contest. Despite injury to Wayne Rooney, the Stadium of Light should find itself in relative darkness come this weekend. Adam Johnson was remotely impressive against Liverpool last weekend and Kieren Westwood held his own, however the departure of Sessegnon to West Bromwich has left Sunderland’s caretakers with very little to work with.

Moyes meanwhile knew he new post would lead to criticism, however not even he could have predicted United’s poor start to the season. Van Persie is sure to line-up having been declared fit for European duty whilst elsewhere on the pitch, Moyes will deploy his strongest possible squad to send make a statement.

Key Statistic | Manchester United haven’t lost 3 consecutive League games since November/December 2001.

Key Matchup | Jozy Altidore v Robin van Persie – The United States striker hasn’t been in form since arriving at Sunderland and this weekend, he’ll be given a lesson by the best in the League. Van Persie’s return couldn’t come at a better time for Moyes who doesn’t just need a win, but a convincing thrashing to put the critics at bay. If van Persie doesn’t win and United scrap to a win (or worse), the panic is really going to set in at Old Trafford.

Prediction | Sunderland 0 – 3 Manchester United

(14) Norwich City v Chelsea (5) | Carrow Road

Norwich may have recorded a victory last weekend for the first time in a month, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have serious structural issues. Robert Snodgrass, their star from last campaign hasn’t had quite the luck, nor been in quite the same form as he was in 2012/2013. Their new striker combinations are yet to gel and Chris Hughton is reportedly on his last life. The greatest issue here is that all of these parties possess serious talent, glimpses of which we’ve seen, it just hasn’t been put together.

Chelsea meanwhile have their own issues up front. John Terry was the Blues’ avenue to goal against Tottenham and the only striker who has instilled any life within Mourinho’s line up in Torres is now injured. Hazard hasn’t been impressive in the slightest either. Defensively however Chelsea have been resolute and Mourinho’s current mindset is to rely heavily on that until the transfer window where he can pursue another option up front. Don’t expect this to be a thrashing and in fact, it may prove a low-scoring fixture.

Key Statistic | Through 8 matches last year, Chelsea had scored 19 League goals. Through 6 matches this year, they sit on just 7. They conceded the same number of goals (3) by this stage last season.

Key Matchup | Robert Snodgrass v Oscar – Oscar has surpassed Hazard under Jose Mourinho and is now not only the side’s most creative player, but their main avenue to goal. Snodgrass has experienced a similar decline to Hazard however doesn’t have the luxury of a world-class player to pick up his slack while he’s out of form. Norwich need their best player. Chelsea should only need 1 goal.

Prediction | Norwich City 0 – 2 Chelsea

(6) Southampton v Swansea City (13) | St. Mary’s Stadium

Southampton have been the fairytale story of the season to date. In many ways, they are following the same path Swansea took last year, winning fans worldwide with their gutsy, surprising and often effective play. The 3 points aside, arguably the greatest benefit to be taken from last weekend’s win is the knowledge that the Osvaldo/Lambert duo can produce goals together and that in time, this partnership will form one of the more lethal in the league.

For Swansea meanwhile, another loss to a ‘Big 6’ side sees them mid-table. Against a team of Southampton’s quality however a victory is far from out of the question. At the same time, their strike duo of Bony and Michu hasn’t had a chance to develop with the former not being afforded a starting opportunity. Despite his performance last season, Michu is a supporting forward, not a lone striker and attempts to mould him into a Liverpool era Torres-like figure are misguided.

Key Statistic | Southampton are undefeated at home this season, however haven’t hosted a side sitting higher than 17th as yet.

Key Matchup | Dejan Lovren v Michu – Lovren is one of the form players in the competition, let alone defenders. His defensive work has been unparalleled in recent weeks and combined with Luke Shaw, constitute a defensive 4 that have conceded just 2 goals this season. Michu on the other hand comes up against such a defence, however comes into the fixture with the knowledge that 2 goals (a tally Swansea have reached in 3 of their last 4 games) should be enough for victory when you consider Southampton have scored more than 1 goal just once this campaign. He has created the 6th most scoring opportunities in the league this season and alongside Shelvey is Swansea’s greatest chance at getting to that magic 2-goal mark.

Prediction | Southampton 1 – 1 Swansea City

(3) Tottenham v West Ham United (17) | White Hart Lane

In what promises to be a battle of defences, West Ham travel to Tottenham in bid of their first victory since Gameweek 1. All the promising signs we witnessed in that 2-0 victory over Cardiff have since subsided. Hope of Andy Carroll returning in the near future have fallen away in a similar fashion and with it, the team’s league position. Downing, Nolan, Jarvis, Noble and Morrison are a quality  midfield group, however have been held scoreless in 4 of the last 5 games.

Don’t expect that trend to stop against a Tottenham side that has conceded just twice this campaign. Roberto Soldado may still be isolated up front (an issue we’ve identified several weeks on end) and lack the pace or size to get out of trouble individually, but Tottenham’s midfield is producing enough goals in the meantime, particularly when 1 goal is almost certainly enough to secure victory.

Key Statistic |  West Ham have scored just 4 goals this season. All 4 have been scored and assisted by midfielders. Tottenham meanwhile have conceded to a defender (set piece) and a striker.

Key Matchup | Christian Eriksen v Mark Noble – Eriksen has revolutionised the Tottenham attack since his arrival at White Hart Lane. He hasn’t triggered the flow of goals we will become accustomed to later in the season, but he has provided a tenuous link between the midfield and Soldado for the time being. Erik Lamela is the other player we’re expecting to assist Soldado in coming weeks. Noble meanwhile cost his side all three points against Everton a fortnight ago and is yet to repay the team for that demoralising loss. A victory against Paulinho in midfield would go a long way to saying ‘sorry’.

Prediction | Tottenham 2 – 0 West Ham

(10) West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal (1) | The Hawthorns

West Bromwich have arguably improved each and every week this season and potentially haven’t been given the credit they deserve for sitting 10th on the table given the fixtures they’ve had. Despite victory against Manchester United last week however, it is hard to envisage Arsenal’s form being disrupted by a mid-table side who is potentially slightly flattered by their current standing. The arrival of Sessegnon was hailed last week as a master-stroke and his performance against United did nothing to indicate that we were wrong to tout him so highly. Against Ozil however, he may have found his match.

Arsenal have had the easiest start to the season of all of big clubs and need to capitalise on their 2 point lead atop the table if they are to hold off the assault their thin squad is inviting. Their main concern is that in 4 of the last 5 League games, they have conceded and whilst this hasn’t cost them, it will. Szczesney has been more confident since his Week 1 issues against Aston Villa, however West Bromwich tested De Gea consistently and with great effect last weekend. Berahino’s goal in particular showed a capacity to threaten from distance, especially now with Sessegnon creating so much space.

Key Statistic | Despite his late arrival at the club, Mesut Ozil has more assists (4) this season than any other Premier League player.

Key Matchup | Stephane Sessegnon v Mesut Ozil – We may not have the opportunity to witness Brady v Delph but this does nicely as a replacement. One of the more under-rated players in the League against the best signing of the summer. Creativity, flair, pace, skill and so much more between these two attack-minded players should see a game with plenty of chances.

Prediction | West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2 Arsenal

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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