EPL Predictions – Gameweek 8

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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.

International Break Over, Back to Reality

Call me unpatriotic but something about international football is thoroughly underwhelming. The regularity with which League football is played tends to have you more invested, and unless a major trophy is on the line – European Championships or World Cups – there seems very little to play for. Now that England have qualified, alongside almost everyone else we could have expected to do so without a protracted and largely unnecessary qualification process, we can get back to the week-in and week-out thriller that is the English Premier League!

(11) Newcastle United v Liverpool (2) | St James’ Park

We’ve discussed it at length already but Liverpool possess, in our opinion, the best strike partnership in England, arguably in Europe. Both Suarez and Sturridge are young and in many ways are yet to reach their potential. Combine that with the possibility of playing some 40 matches together this season and looking to what could be a European campaign next year, the Reds are sitting pretty up front.

Newcastle meanwhile are possibly without Coloccini for this weekend’s clash, a massive loss considering their porous defence to date. A win at Cardiff before the break has the Magpies sitting in mid-table. It is a thoroughly deserved position and we expect them to inch higher in coming weeks, however that process won’t start in Gameweek 8. Newcastle may find joy out wide with Ben Arfa considering Liverpool’s struggles on the flanks against Palace and their lacking of specialist fullbacks, however should go largely unchallenged.

Key Statistic | Newcastle have conceded 12 goals this season, the most of any team outside the relegation zone. They haven’t kept a clean sheet since August, over which time they played no sides having scored more goals that Liverpool (11).

Key Matchup | Loic Remy v Luis Suarez – Remy has been sensational since his return from injury. Having scored 5 goals in the last 3 games, there are only 3 strikers with his form in the Premier League. Unfortunately for Newcastle, they come up against two of them this weekend. Suarez’ absence to begin the season meant that many didn’t pay much attention to him in pre-season. He’s making everyone take notice now though with 3 goals in two games. This battle could decide the match.

Prediction | Newcastle United 1 – 3 Liverpool

(1) Arsenal v Norwich City (18) | Emirates Stadium

Arsenal will be sweating on the fitness of Mesut Ozil, however the return of Mikel Arteta, class of Wilshire and form of Flamini and Ramsey means that the Gunners are more than capable of victory in his absence. Giroud is the man most under pressure having set himself high standards to maintain at the start of the season. If he is to prove the pundits (including us) wrong and be Arsenal’s replacement for van Persie, consistency is key, particularly within the lone-forward formation of Wenger.

Norwich meanwhile were impressive against Chelsea in parts and didn’t deserve to lose by the margin they did before the break. Hooper must be worked into the game whilst Snodgrass is key to exploiting Arsenal’s defensive weakness, their flanks. Unlike last season where their central combination was flawed, Wenger’s side is weak on the wings having been decimated by injury and failing to find a replacement since Gael Clichy departed. Poor management? Bad luck? Either way, if Arsenal are to concede, expect it to come from out wide.

Key Statistic | Since Gameweek 1, Norwich have scored just 3 goals. Their 2 wins therefore have come in 1-0 victories. If they are to get anything from this game, they’ll need an improvement as no side has kept a clean sheet against Arsenal this season.

Key Matchup | Jack Wilshire v Nathan Redmond – If Redmond doesn’t start, I’ll eat my hat. Without a doubt Norwich’s most dangerous player against Chelsea, the exciting attacking midfielder was only given 12 minutes on the park (most of them thanks to excessive stoppage time). The perfect counterpart for Snodgrass up forward, Norwich need to deploy him for the full 90. Wilshire meanwhile has been a pest in recent weeks. Wenger is discontent with him off the field (as is anyone who doesn’t subscribe to his archaic view of ‘English’) and aside from a stunning strike before the break which secured a point against West Bromwich, his performances have been underwhelming. If Ozil is indeed out, Wilshire needs to lead by example and begin redeeming himself.

Prediction | Arsenal 2 – 1 Norwich City

(3) Chelsea v Cardiff City (14) | Stamford Bridge

Having watched Chelsea’s victory over Norwich in great detail, we can honestly suggest that Mourinho abandon traditional formations and play a straight 4-6-0. When Demba Ba has been your most threatening striker through the first 7 games of the season, just ditch the position all together. Willian, Oscar and Mata have performed well with Hazard being the liability in midfield. Once again, scoring goals will be their as whilst Cardiff haven’t kept a clean sheet since August, they’ve only conceded 5 goals in the last 5 games.

On that note, Cardiff’s defence has been relatively impressive with the signing of Steven Caulker proving particularly successful thus far. In saying that, there has been an element of good fortune about their standing. A miraculous performance against Manchester City, a win over the worst Fulham side I have ever seen fielded are only offset by an unlucky 1-0 loss to Tottenham. Cardiff, much like Fulham and the Socceroos (just to name two sides) lack a player of sheer world-class quality and won’t be able to match the likes of Ramires in midfield, let alone breach the defence of Terry and Luiz who appear to be in brilliant form.

Key Statistic | 30% of the goals these sides have been involved in this season have come in the final 15 minutes of the match. Don’t switch off after 75 minutes if the game is even remotely in the balance.

Key Matchup | Frank Lampard v David Marshall  Chelsea managed 8 shots on target against Norwich and a further 8 off it. Whilst that isn’t excessive, most chances were very clean cut and the in-form Cardiff stopper will need to be prepared not only for a well-drilled Chelsea outfit, but for a Frank Lampard stinging after having been dropped from England’s starting XI and concerned about his World Cup chances.

Prediction | Chelsea 2 – 0 Cardiff City

(7) Everton v Hull City (8) | Goodison Park

Having heaped praise on Everton before the break only to be disappointed, I’ll refrain from commenting on form and simply focus on the tactics of this one. The fluidity, interchangeability and possession conscious Martinez could find himself stunted by Hull this week. Not only are the Tigers more physical than City or Newcastle, but they play a brand of football closer to West Ham (a side they should have lost to in mid-September).

Direct play, disruptive midfield and aggression are key components for both West Ham and Hull, meaning that we expect the trio of Huddlestone, Aluko and Davies to all have large impacts. The potential return of Robbie Brady from injury is terrific news for fantasy managers, however is even better news for Hull who failed to score in his absence against a mediocre Villa defence. Much depends on Brady’s availability. If he is out, Everton should win, however if he plays the Tigers will gain significant hope that they can salvage a point.

Key Statistic | Both sides have had very similar schedules so far this season. Through 7 weeks, both sides have had a loss to MCI, a draw with Cardiff and narrow wins over Newcastle and West Ham. There is very little to split the two given their table position as well.

Key Matchup | Ross Barkley v Robbie Brady – Brady’s availability is in doubt and this game isn’t poised for him to have an enormous impact, however the thought of two incredible, young, homegrown talents facing off is too incredible to resist. We missed Brady v Delph before the break because of injury, let’s hope we don’t miss this one too.

Prediction | Everton 2 – 1 Hull City

(9) Manchester United v Southampton (4) | Old Trafford

The most difficult match to assess so far in these predictions. Your heart says Southampton but your head is screaming that the reigning champions of England can’t be bad forever. Can they?

This week is the turning point for Manchester United. The stage is set for it. Rooney leads England to World Cup with a victory over Poland in the international break. Who was the Polish keeper? Artur Boruc, arguably the form player in the Premier League and the key to Southampton’s brilliant start to the season. At the other end, David de Gea, fan enemy number 1 just 12 months ago is in good touch and whilst having to deal with a mediocre defence (in form at least) and a threatening strike partnership in Lambert and Osvaldo, should come out on top.

Southampton have a horrific run of form coming up meaning that their dream start could be in jeopardy unless they win some matches they normally wouldn’t be expected to. Look for the Saints to attack down the right (46% of their attack comes in that third of the field) and to isolate Rafael at every opportunity.

Whether Moyes has rebooted his side following the international break will determine this result in its entirety though. Until we see proof, we’re going to stick with the argument that this Scotsman isn’t the right man for the job though. A United victory would hardly be unexpected however.

Key Statistic | The Saints have scored 4 goals in the last 2 weeks, doubling their total from the opening 5 games. Even more impressively, they haven’t conceded since August. That is some 382 minutes since Norwich’s Nathan Redmond netted against them.

Key Matchup | Robin van Persie v Artur Boruc. Whilst Rooney v Boruc would be more poetic, van Persie is Moyes’ key striker, playmaker and star. The manager needs performances from his temperamental Dutchman to escape this horrible run of form. One goal could open the floodgates but as you can see, beating Boruc isn’t easy.

Prediction: Manchester United 1 – 1 Southampton

(16) Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion (12) | Britannia Stadium

Both sides have experienced inconsistent form to this point, however their fortunes seem to be heading in different directions. Stoke have lost three consecutive league games by a combined aggregate of 5-1. Mark Hughes’ lack of a managerial identity and seemingly insufficient knowledge to coach a Premier League side is once again catching up with him. Meanwhile, West Bromwich have secured 7 points form their last 3 matches, avoiding defeat against Arsenal and at Manchester United.

Seemingly having found the form that surprised many under Roy Hodgson, West Bromwich have bought into Steve Clarke’s management and player recruitment. Sessengnon has been the catalyst for this recovery, however his profile means that Amalfitano is consistently overlooked on the far flank. Expect danger to come from both sides.

Stoke’s defensive integrity, their identity, seems to have gone missing. Not only are they conceding goals but their failing to score on their own. Robert Huth is horribly out of form, set pieces are no longer bread and butter and the imposition of a high-possession brand of football has backfired royally.

Key Statistic | Stoke City haven’t gone 4 games without a clean sheet since February of this year. After a horror start to the season, West Bromwich haven’t been kept scoreless in 4 straight games.

Key Matchup |  Ryan Shawcross v Stephane Sessegnon. Whether Sessegnon’s pace and skill can trouble Shawcross is one thing. The other is whether the Stoke captain can put in a performance inspiring enough to pull his side out of this rut. In past years he has been condemned for his aggression, however Stoke need, more than ever, for someone to make a stand. With Huth being horribly out-played, the younger and more talented defender needs to stand up.

Prediction | Stoke City 1 – 2 West Bromwich Albion

(15) Swansea City v Sunderland (20) | Liberty Stadium

Similar to our view on David Moyes, we just won’t believe Sunderland are worthy of considering as a challenge until we see something from them. Gus Poyet may be in but many see him as another loon who will bring nothing but failure to the Stadium of Light (ironic name). Unfortunately for Swansea, they will win eventually and it will most likely be against a mid-table side. Thoroughly outplayed against Southampton, Swansea’s greatest incompetence was that they were unable to fashion chances through their possession. Clearly preferring to attack down the right (45% of attack goes through that third of the pitch), Swansea will look to the combination of Michu and Dyer, the latter of whom was their most impressive player in the fixture before the break.

This game will come down to whether Sunderland can stay in the contest. Against Arsenal they faltered despite some positive early signs. Against Manchester they seemingly believed they didn’t deserve to be leading at threw that away too. At some point, some confidence must be instilled.

Key Statistic | Sunderland have been in the Premier League since the 2007/2008 season and have failed to lose 5 games straight until now. Six is looking likely too.

Key Matchup | Nathan Dyer v Gus Poyet – Generally the arrival of a manager brings elation to a group. When that manager is immediately depicted as a natural successor to the man you helped kick out of the club, it may bring the tone in the room down a notch. Whether Poyet can motivate and gain the trust of his players will decide whether Sunderland have an opportunity to redeem themselves in the Premier League next season.

Prediction | Swansea City 2 – 0 Sunderland

(13) West Ham United v Manchester City (5) | Boleyn Ground

Javi Garcia has come out and said that nothing short of victory is acceptable for his City outfit. Against West Ham, does that even need saying? The Hammers clearly found something against Tottenham before the break but does it come with consistency? Despite the return of Carlton Cole to a West Ham unit that has desperately lacked a striker, the Aguero, Negredo combination should prove too much.

Tottenham have lacked power up front and whilst the physicality of West Ham will be more effective against City and its fragile back 4 than it was against Tottenham and they’re large defensive midfield combinations, West Ham shouldn’t have too much of an opportunity to go forward with City’s high possession game.

Key Statistic | In the past 3 Gameweeks, these sides have been involved in games which have seen 23 goals scored. That is an average of almost 4 so expect a high-scoring fixture.

Key Matchup | Carlton Cole v David Silva – Whoever plays striker for West Ham needn’t be intimidated. Injury and Pellegrini’s rotation policy has ensured that City are yet to find a central defensive partnership with even remotely competent communication and chemistry. SOmehow, their best showing has come with Garcia and Nastasic at the back and in no way is that tenable moving forward. For Silva, City were invincible prior to his injury but were derailed when they realised they lacked another midfielder with his creation. He’s back and City need him.

Prediction | West Ham 1 – 3 Manchester City

(10) Aston Villa v Tottenham (6) | Villa Park

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 | Tottenham are statistically inferior to almost every other top team. They’ve scored multiple goals just once, been kept scoreless from general play in most games. Despite averaging 18.7 shots per game (1st in the EPL), they have just 4 general play goals (13th) with their other 2 coming from the penalty spot.

Key Matchup | Christian Eriksen v Brad Guzan – 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. Guzan meanwhile is the form man at Villa and looks almost unbeatable in goal. In their past 3 fixtures, Guzan and his surprisingly impressive defence have kept opponents below their average scores for the season. Luckily for them, Tottenham don’t average many goals…

Prediction | Aston Villa 0 – 1 Tottenham

(19) Crystal Palace v Fulham (17) | Selhurst Park

The most disappointing fixture of the week waits until last. Palace have showed signs but haven’t been able to put together 90 minute performances, meanwhile Fulham are an anomaly, seemingly going places one minute and stuck the next. The return of Bryan Ruiz has been very positive, however one player of class isn’t enough to mask a side’s fallibility when their faults are so enormous. Midfield pressure, positive mentality and even the defence that the Craven Cottage fortress was built on have all elluded Martin Jol’s men.

Luckily they face a team with similar issues. Mile Jedinak is the only Palace midfielder imparting any pressure, Dwight Gayle their only path to goal whilst their defence doesn’t look capable of stopping anyone. Fulham’s away record isn’t impressive but it should be enough to get the win here. A draw should be seen as a loss for Jol and the new ownership might see it in a similar light.

Key Statistic | Derby County hold the lowest Premier League points total in history with 11 points (1 win). Crystal Palace have 3 points (1 win)… and they’ve already played Sunderland once. You know what we’re saying.

Key Matchup | Marouane Chamakh v Brede Hangeland – Against Cardiff we identified Hangeland’s match-up with the fast Campbell as key. Dwight Gayle would poise an even greater threat, however his absence means that the somewhat clumsy and inconsistent Chamakh is charged with challenging the line. A player who’s height is one of his great weapons (even if he lacks aerial prowess to exploit it) will struggle against Fulham’s back-four. Palace need their new recruit to realise the potential that Arsene Wenger saw in him if they’re to threaten a defence that has been porous and horribly isolated all season.

Prediction | Crystal Palace 1 – 2 Fulham

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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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