EPL Predictions – Matchday 14

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So far this 2013/2014 Premier League season, Roman Barbera has tipped 77 of 130 games (59.23%) correctly, picking the correct scoreline on 10 occasions. Since Blindside Sport was founded midway through the 2012/2013 season, he has tipped 139/236 fixtures (58.89%), picking the correct scoreline 10.59% of the time.

Here are his EPL Predictions for Matchday 14, running from December 4 – December 5, 2013.

‘Squad Depth’ to Determine Christmas Period ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’?

Having put his side’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Hull City to injuries sustained by Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho, Brendan Rodgers has rendered himself the first manager to blame a lack of squad depth for a poor result. No doubt he’ll be the first of many, but which clubs get fortunate with injuries could go a long way to determining the title race this season.

Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United seem fairly safe with the latter seemingly needing certain players to be unfit before players worthy of starting such as Shinji Kagawa get minutes on the park. Tottenham’s lone concern would be an injury to Roberto Soldado however even then, Emmanuel Adebayor is probably just as capable of playing 90 minutes and not scoring as his Spanish teammate.

Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal however emerge as the likely contenders to experience a form slump should injuries strike at the wrong time. Chelsea’s dire situation up front with injuries to Torres and Eto’o already plaguing Mourinho’s ability to juggle multiple competitions is luckily their only position of concern. Arsenal, despite Theo Walcott returning, will be on the verge of forfeiting not only their Premier League lead but a Champions League spot entirely should Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey or Wilshire be sidelined for an extended period.

It is all a matter of which team bites the dust first in what has has emerged as the most open title race of all time.

(20) Crystal Palace v West Ham United (15) | Selhurst Park

Both sides appear to have settled into a relatively consistent pattern by this stage of the season. Palace have lived up to our expectations of being the worst side to grace the Premier League since Derby County and West Ham have been consistently disappointing. Tony Pulis failed to halt Crystal Palace’s losing slide in his opening match in charge but we have no hesitation that his men will be more defensively resolute in coming weeks. Further, we hesitate to read too much into the latter’s form against Fulham on the weekend given the Cottager’s struggles, however Palace’s 1-0 defeat to a Norwich side that has been underwhelming this season is enough to convince us that the Hammers should move further away from the relegation zone with another victory and that Pulis’ presence will only make inevitable defeats slightly more respectable in the near future.

On the statistics alone, a low scoring affair appears likely. Four of West Ham’s last 6 fixtures have come against bottom half sides and in those fixtures, they’ve conceded just 1 goal. With Palace having failed to score at home since their 4-1 defeat to Fulham on October 21, another clean sheet for a visiting side looks about as probable as anything this weekend.

Key Statistic | Crystal Palace have score just 1 goal in their last 5 fixtures. West Ham had scored just 2 goals in their 5 fixtures preceding their 3-0 victory over Fulham on the weekend.

Key Matchup | Mile Jedinak v Modibo Maiga – Before his opening goal against Fulham last weekend, Maiga had taken the most shots in the Premier League in 2013/2014 without netting. Having hit the post and broken his duck, the would be unlucky to lose his starting berth to veteran Carlton Cole. Jedinak meanwhile has been Palace’s best player this season and is the perfect individual for Tony Pulis’ Palace refurbishment. A defensive-minded midfielder for a manager who will look to plug the gaps at the back before moving up the pitch. Having just signed an deal that will keep him at Palace for another 3 seasons, it is in Jedinak’s own interest that his side build something which secures their place in the top flight in the near future.

Prediction | Crystal Palace 0 – 1 West Ham

(1) Arsenal v Hull City (10) | Emirates Stadium

We’ve touted this Arsenal side as capable of winning a trophy for several months now, however to live up to this potential they can ill-afford stumbles like Liverpool experienced against the Tigers in Week 13. Thankfully, the Gunners have been impervious this season, having scored the 2nd most goals (behind Manchester City) and conceding the equal least. Undefeated at home since that opening day upset against Aston Villa, it would appear unlikely that Hull City could defeat a vastly superior side with a shorter turn-around and the emotional highs that victory over Liverpool would have brought.

We’ve been a big fan of Hull City this year and have touted the performances of Tom Huddlestone in particular very highly. A lot could rest on the former Tottenham man’s ability to control the tempo of the match with Arsenal’s advantage in pace heavily juxtaposed by Hull’s advantage in strength over the ball and in the challenge. In order to take anything from this contest, the Tigers will have to drop deep and build slowly, limiting the potential for the Gunners to break. The midfield battle is incredibly vital to this contest. Our tip? Arsenal will be too strong through the middle and this will become a high scoring affair with both sides looking to push following an early goal.

Key Statistic | Hull City have been dismal away from home with just 3 points (1 win) coming in their 6 away fixtures so far this season. A goal differential of -8 doesn’t do them any favours either with cellar-dwellers Crystal Palace (3 points) and Sunderland (2 points) the only other sides experiencing similar struggles on the road.

Key Matchup | Aaron Ramsey v Robbie Brady – Arsene Wenger claims that he wouldn’t part ways with his Welsh sensation regardless of the price offered. Recently, we paid a pittance for the privilege of owning Robbie Brady in our FIFA 14 ‘Manager Mode’. Despite a sizeable difference in the valuation of these players, they both hold the key to this match. Brady has experienced a form slump of late with nagging injuries almost certainly the culprit, however with 90 minutes under his belt for the first time since October 19, the Emirates could provide the perfect stage for a home-grown talent to prove his worth.

Prediction | Arsenal 3 – 1 Norwich City

(4) Liverpool v Norwich City (14) | Anfield

Despite still appearing to be int he title race, despite the media still seeing the Reds as a contender for a Champions League position, Liverpool are undoubtedly on the slide. With 8 points from their last 6 matches, Brendan Rodgers’ men have lost ground to almost every elite side in the league. Even Norwich have managed to scrape an unattractively accumulated 7 points.

This is a must win for Liverpool and with Norwich emerging from their vital game against Palace on the weekend with all 3 points, we expect to see them take to the pitch with a false sense of pride and belief that they are improving as the season wears on. Even without Sturridge, Liverpool have the class to exploit such complacency and whilst against other opposition we wouldn’t be expecting the Reds to run as rampant in front of goal (14 goals in their last 6 games) as recent form suggests, the statistics, mentality and probable desire of these two sides are perfectly aligned for us to witness a comfortable victory in which Rodgers returns to the defensive integrity that got his side off to such a positive start to the campaign.

Key Statistic | Liverpool have conceded just 3 goals at home compared to the 13 they’ve let in away from Anfield. By the same token, Norwich have let in the most goals on the road this campaign (16) whilst scoring equal 2nd fewest (3), meaning the stage is set for an absolute drubbing.

Key Matchup | Luis Suarez v Gary Hooper – Norwich’s defensive frailties on the road have been explored above, but it is important to remember that Liverpool have conceded 6 times in the past two weeks. Hooper rewarded Chris Hughton for his recent move to the starting XI by scoring the winner against Palace. More impressive than the goal was his general effort on the pitch, and whilst we’re concerned Norwich might come out stale in this fixture, expect Hooper to be the exception to the rule.

Prediction | Liverpool 3 – 0 Norwich City

(7) Manchester United v Everton (8) | Old Trafford

Only one other fixture this season will be greeted with greater anticipation that this. The return fixture at Goodison Park. David Moyes didn’t just leave Everton, he poached their star midfielder and attempted to steal their star fullback. To make matters worse, he offered considerably less than they were worth and if he were still at Everton, he would have been fuming at the disrespect shown by a wealthy club towards one renowned for financial difficulty and poor funding in the transfer window.

Everton finally get their chance for revenge and whilst they’d be bitter at having to play the Red Devils in their current form as opposed to the utter rubbish they were just 6 weeks ago, the Toffees are on a fine run themselves. Whilst United are heavy favourites, we don’t see this clash as quite so one-sided. Defensively, Everton have been unreliable, however arguably hold the advantage in this one. Up front, they have a greater aerial threat and their ability to create from wide areas is vastly superior to that of Manchester. A draw wouldn’t surprise us and whilst Manchester United should win this at home, we’re going to follow our gut. Both sides have been prone to underwhelming performances of late (Everton’s draw with Crystal Palace and United’s draw with Cardiff) and whilst neither will need extra motivation for this one, you might find it to be a cagey affair.

Key Statistic | Only Tottenham and Hull have scored fewer goals at home than Manchester United and sit in the top half of the league. Everton’s away defence meanwhile is 5th best in the league. Could this match go against recent trends and be a low-scoring affair? Both sides are undefeated in their last 6 fixtures in the League.

Key Matchup | Wayne Rooney v Romelu Lukaku – Remember when fans thought David Moyes was being selfish for not letting Wayne Rooney move to Chelsea? Turns out the manager knew what he was doing. The former Everton prodigy not only provides another intriguing storyline to this almost scripted fixture, but he is United’s main avenue to goal. Having rediscovered his instinct in front of goal and undoubtedly enjoying the respect garnered in the absence of van Persie, it would be surprising not to see Rooney net at least one. Not much needs to be said of his opposite number. We can’t come up with anything he hasn’t said himself in the press… Basically, he’s very, very, very good.

Prediction | Manchester United 1 – 1 Everton

(7) Southampton v Aston Villa (11) | St. Mary’s Stadium

Regardless of Southampton’s current run of results, the side’s greatest threat to their very promising season is a loss of confidence. Defeat to Chelsea and Arsenal in consecutive weeks are enough to undermine any aspiration for a European placement next season, however such a mentality only ensures that this probability becomes a certainty.

Returning to their home ground should provide cause for optimism however with dominant victories against Hull and Fulham their last two results at the venue. Vill present a relatively similar task, a mid-table club whose position of 11th arguably flatters them. A low-scoring game seems in order as Southampton get back to the defensive resilience that has propelled them up the table to begging this campaign. The loss of Artur Boruc for a reported six weeks due to a broken hand is disastrous however as 3rd option Paulo Gazzaniga is the clubs next best available replacement. To this point, Boruc has made 32 saves in the League and conceded on just 8 occasions. More impressively, in matches Southampton either win or draw, he has 23 saves and has conceded just 4 times.

With Southampton averaging such a narrow margin of victory, moving from Boruc’s save percentage of 80% to the success rate of another keeper such as the impressive Tim Krul (69%) could be calamitous.

Key Statistic | The Saints are undefeated at home this season (4 wins, 2 draws). Aston Villa, somehow, have the equal 4th best record away from home. Both however are prone to low scoring fixtures in their relative roles as hosts and tourists with an average of just of 0.8 goals expected for this clash.

Key Matchup | Paulo Gazzaniga v Christian Benteke – The new keeper against the out-of-form superstar striker. It wasn’t anticipated that Gazzaniga would see any time this season, however with Kelvin Davis already injured, the task of first-string keeper will fall to him. His greatest threat in the opening fixture will be that of the Belgian marksman who despite being a persistent threat, hasn’t scored since his side’s 2-1 defeat to Newcastle on September 14. Following that game, Benteke has played 502 minutes in the league. The winner of this battle could determine the result.

Prediction: Southampton 1 – 0 Aston Villa

(16) Stoke City v Cardiff City (17) | Britannia Stadium

With just two wins between them since October 19, this game promises to be the most drab of these otherwise highly-anticipated mid-weeks fixtures. Stoke’s matches at Britannia average just 1.33 goals per game whilst Cardiff have scored just 4 times on the road so far this campaign.

The good news of Stoke after coming from a horror trip to Goodison Park in which they ran into a very much in-form Toffee unit is that Cardiff have been woeful on the road. The good news for Cardiff is that they were far better in their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal than the scoreline suggests.

A narrow win for the hosts in what looks a drab and low-scoring affair seems in order given that neither side has been particularly lethal in front of goal this season and neither side is poor enough to concede too many against equally unimpressive opposition. On that note however, we’re going to go against the trend and pick a draw. Cardiff showed signs against Arsenal and if they do happen to fall behind, we have faith they can claw their way back into it.

Key Statistic | Stoke boast the 3rd worst goalscoring record in the Premier League (12) whilst Cardiff City take top spot alongside heavy-weights Tottenham with just 11 goals in 13 matches.

Key Matchup | Frazier Campbell v Peter Crouch – This game isn’t going to be attractive, but regardless of who you are, the battle to avoid relegation for clubs of this calibre requires getting a result whatever to cost. Neither of these players are renowned poachers, however both will be called upon to scrap up front to produce what could very well be the lone goal of the game.

Prediction | Stoke City 1 – 1 Cardiff City

(19) Sunderland v Chelsea (2) | Stadium of Light

On table position alone, this match should be almost guaranteed to further Mourinho’s quest of bridging Arsenal’s lead on the Premier League. Games aren’t paid on paper though and a deeper look into the match-ups reveal this game to be a possible upset.

At home, Chelsea have taken 19 of a possible 21 points in the league, however on the road they have struggled to score, resulting in just 8 of a possible 18 points being taken from their 6 fixtures. Sunderland meanwhile have played just two home games in their last 6 matches, however managed to win on both occasions (against Manchester City and Newcastle).

Chelsea should still manage to win here with their midfield vastly superior to that of Sunderland’s, however we’re not convinced that it will be by as larger margin as many predict. One or two goals at the very most as Chelsea, like Southampton and Liverpool, look to rediscover some form defensively.

Key Statistic | Despite concerns over Chelsea’s lack of a world-class striker, they have managed to score 17 goals at home (2nd most in the League). Their form away from home however has seen them net just 7 times in 6 matches. On the positive side, 3 of them were in a 3-0 drubbing of West Ham in late November. Are they on the way up on the road?

Key Matchup | Vito Mannone v Demba Ba – Mannone has been stellar in goal since injury took first-choice Kieran Westwood several weeks ago. As a result, Sunderland have kept two clean sheets in the last three matches and have taken 4 of a possible 9 points on offer. Ba finds his opportunity in a similar fashion having been the only Chelsea striker to avoid injury this season. Impressive against Southampton, whether the former Newcastle man has a future in the Premier League could well be decided in the coming month. Which replacement will play better?

Prediction | Sunderland 0 – 2 Chelsea

(15) Swansea City v Newcastle United (20) | Liberty Stadium

At the start of the season, many felt it would be Swansea in 6th position and Newcastle in limbo between a relegation battle and competing for a European spot. We were never optimistic for the Swans having closely followed Fulham’s inability to pursue both domestic and Europa League glory in the same season in 2010. At the same time, Newcastle impressed us in October and we earmarked them for a rise up the table – few could have predicted they could come this far however.

On the road, the Magpies have been anything but consistent, defeating Tottenham and losing to Sunderland. At home they’ve been impervious, however that form holds little sway in this midweek clash. Swansea meanwhile have been dire with a victory at Craven Cottage the only them keeping them above the relegation scrap. Having conceded 7 goals in the past 3 weeks compared to the 1 they conceded in the 3 weeks previous, the fatigue of competing for multiple trophies may have come back to bite Michael Laudrup’s men. With this fixture being their 3rd in just 8 days, the stage is set perfectly for Newcastle’s high octane attack (Newcastle games average 2.85 goals) to get a 4th away victory of the season.

With a 3-0 loss not really paying Swansea the credit they were due for a respectable performance however, we feel that a draw is the most informed selection we can make. With so many factors pulling in different directions, we’re going to settle in the middle, especially with Bony sidelined by injury.

Key Statistic | Newcastle are yet to draw a match away (tied fewest in the EPL) while Swansea have drawn 3 at home (tied most in the EPL). Of the last 6 matches each side has played (12 total), only 3 have been decided by more than 1 goal.

Key Matchup | Jonathan De Guzman v Loic Remy – Arguably the least predictable fixture of this week, we’re leaning towards there being a lot of goals on offer. De Guzman’s 1 goal and 1 assist in 800 minutes of League action this season is unacceptable and to keep up with the likes of Cabaye (2 goals, 4 assists in 809 minutes) and Remy (8 goals, 2 assists in 825 minutes), Newcastle are going to need everyone on deck, especially with Bony set to miss.

Prediction | Swansea City 2 – 2 Newcastle United

(18) Fulham v Tottenham (9) | Craven Cottage

After chasing Martin Jol for years, Fulham finally got their man, only to sack him after a relatively unsuccessful tenure in which the club’s defensive identity, embedded so strongly by Roy Hodgson and so popular among the Fulham faithful was trashed. Never before have fans missed the almost mind-numbing 1-1 and 0-0 draws Fulham were known for.

The appointment of Rene Muelensteen may not have immediate impacts on the team’s performance, however it is always difficult to predict whether players will respond immediately to a new manager, as is so often the case, or whether Fulham are in as much disarray as they appear on the pitch. Until we see it, we aren’t believers, at least until the January transfer window comes around. At least with Jol gone the Cottagers may finally look outside of Scandinavia for transfer targets.

Despite their table position and reputation, Tottenham are far from the worst opposition Muelensteen could face in his first game at the helm. Struggling to score goals, a free kick and a thunderbolt from Sandro were Spurs’ only avenues to goal against United on the weekend. Their link up play between midfield and Soldado still need improvement and whilst their right-side looks threatening, their left looks dismal with Chadli so often struggling to read the play.

Optimistic Fulham fans could contend that a low-scoring draw is on the cards, however once again, until we see improvement from Fulham, even at the Cottage, we’re not backing them to take anything against any opposition.

Key Statistic | Fulham have taken 4 points from a possible 18 at the Cottage this season after taking 24 from 57 last season, 35 from 57 in 2011/2012 and 31 from 57 in 2010/2011. Tottenham meanwhile have scored just 4 goals in 6 games away from White Hart Lane, going scoreless in their last two.

Key Matchup | Rene Muelensteen v Andre Villas-Boas – If things continue on their current path, Muelensteen may not be the only new coach int he Premier League for long. Villas-Boas shouldn’t be under pressure, but the need for immediate results in modern football mean that even with an entirely new squad, a manager of his quality isn’t given the opportunity to build something. We’re most interested to see how Muelensteen deploys Fulham, most of all, whether Ruiz and Kacaniklic are given the opportunity to prove why they’re so heavily touted.

Prediction | Fulham 0 – 1 Tottenham

(12) West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City (3) | The Hawthorns

Another fixture that, like Chelsea’s, could pose problems for the favourite, Manchester City will have their work cut out for them at The Hawthorns. Impervious at home, the Citizens have been erratic at best on the road, averaging just 1.33 goals per game (4.14 per game at home) and conceding 1.66 (0.29 per game at home).

Making matters a little more simple to dissect however, the Baggies haven’t been overly consistent at home, taking 8 points from their 6 fixtures thus far. Their past 5 games have averaged 3.6 goals per contest which, considering Manchester City’s strike power, bodes incredibly poorly. In all, we’re expecting a high scoring match which results in defeat for the home side.

Key Statistic | Manchester City haven’t kept a clean sheet on the road in the Champions or Premier League since September 17 (5 matches).

Key Matchup | Stephane Sessegnon v Sergio Aguero – Alongside Shane Long, Sessegnon is the perfect mould of player to get in between Manchester City’s makeshift defensive four. The way in which Swansea’s De Guzman embarrassed Demichelis last weekend would have thrilled West Bromwich’s new favourite son and given him plenty to be optimistic about heading into this fixture. Lining up opposite, one Citizen not afraid to travel is Sergio Aguero. Having netted three times in his last 3 road fixtures, Aguero can provide the catalyst for City in this all-important clash. Close the gap on Arsenal in the league standings and silence the critics who claim City are a different side playing away from the Etihad.

Prediction | West Bromwich Albion 2 – 4 Manchester City

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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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