EPL Predictions: Week 1

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We’re back for the 2016/2017 season! As money continues to flow into the Premier League, the quality of football is only set to increase this season. World-class managers, namely Pep Guardiola have also found their way to England and whilst we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the romance the captivated neutrals last season, we have a mighty title race on our hands. Has there been a season in recent times where all of the big clubs (Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham) have all had a legitimate chance to taking our silverware? I don’t think so. It will be spectacular for different reasons than 2015/2016, but a blinder nevertheless. Without any further ado, here is our take on Week 1.

2015/2016 Season EPL Predictions Record

Since this column began ahead of the 2014/2015 Premier League season, we’ve tipped 476/866 results correctly for a success rate of 54.97%, whilst predicting 86 correct scorelines along the way.

  • Roman Barbera: 191/380 – 36 correct scorelines
  • Clinton Madden: 179/380 – 24 correct scorelines

Totals will re-set for this current season after Week 1.

EPL Predictions: Week 1 – Matchday 1

Hull City vs. Leicester City

Venue: KC Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: October 27, 2015 (1-1)

Hull lost just one league game at home all of last season, however their form did notably drop off towards the back end of the 2015/2016 campaign (drawing 5 of their last 9). Leicester meanwhile failed to let their terrific early-season form slip and capitalised on their opportunities to emerge as unlikely EPL Champions. The task will be harder this time around, and with Europe a consideration we tip a mid-table finish. Still, with spirits high to start the campaign and with a decent pre-season under their belts in which most stars remained on the books, they should edge a low-scoring clash here.

Hull didn’t play a pre-season game at home, and having lost Mohamed Diame to West Ham, we have doubts over their attacking ability. Hull averaged just over 2 goals per game at home last season, but Leicester were experts at shutting up shop and playing on the counter. To think the likes of Tom Huddlestone will be able to break down a League-winning defence is a tad optimistic for Tigers fans. Add to that the likes of Ahmed Elmohamady is always more dangerous on the counter and we have ourselves what looks like a typically cagey opener. As opposed to what happens when Manchester United have the first match of the season however, we’re not tipping an upset here.

Key Statistic | Hull averaged 2.04 goals per game at home in the Championship last season. Leicester conceded just 0.95 per game away from the King Power.

Key Player | Abel Hernández v Danny Drinkwater – Hernandez scored 20 goals last campaign for the Tigers, and amid some speculation as to whether his future lies at Hull, fans will be looking for him to find his feet quickly in the top flight. It is easy to look to the likes of Vardy, but with Kante gone, can Drinkwater emulate his form from last term? Missing out on England selection for the Euros heightened his value and gave him a valuable rest (considering Leicester rotated their squad fewer than any other EPL side last season).

Prediction | Hull City 0 – 1 Leicester City

Crystal Palace vs. West Bromwich Albion

Venue: Selhurst Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: October 3, 2015 (2-0)

Not exactly box office, this match figures to be one in which Palace push hard and Albion look to hit on the counter. Last season, West Bromwich away fixtures averaged 1.89 goals per game, whilst their home matches saw an average of 2.42 goals per clash. Palace meanwhile will look to revitalise an attack that stuttered for the last 25-odd weeks of the 2015/2016 season. Many players have been released as Pardew looks to clean up the books, whilst several key players have come in. An upgrade at goalkeeper, the addition of Andros Townsend and James Tomkins from the Hammers are all shrewd buys, but they don’t really address the issues up front. With Yannick Bolasie fit and seeking a transfer, Connor Wickham finding form late last season, Townsend and Zaha atop a 4-2-3-1 however, perhaps fitness for a team that was cursed by injury last season will be enough.

We’re expecting a low-scoring clash, however with Palace one of the less predictable teams in the league, we’re erring between a draw and a home win.

Key Statistic | West Bromwich away fixtures averaged 1.89 goals per game, whilst their home matches saw an average of 2.42 goals per clash

Key Player | Yannick Bolasie v Salomón Rondón – Rondon was strong for Albion last season, and acts as a perfect number 10 in a defensively-minded West Bromwich away outfit. If they score it’ll likely be through either him or a set piece. Bolasie meanwhile boasts a pace better utilised against a more attack-minded opposition. He may struggle, particularly with transfer opportunities on his mind.

Prediction | Crystal Palace 1 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

Everton vs. Tottenham

Venue: Goodison Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: January 3, 2016 (1-1)

The first of what are only a few blockbusters scheduled for the opening weekend of action. Everton are in for a good season, with no Europe to contend with, the injection of Koeman’s coaching philosophies and the money that comes with new ownership. Tottenham meanwhile could struggle, with the powerhouses of English football set for a bounce-back season. The tone could easily be set here, and even though we expect these sides to finish 2016/2017 closer together on the table than they did last season, it will take time for Koeman’s ideas and new signings to filter through the Toffees. Tottenham meanwhile have been incredibly solid through the off-season. Players may have disappointed in Europe, but we’ve seen in the past that international tournaments don’t mean that much in the grand scheme of a player’s quality (Messi, anyone?).

It is under-rated how great of an advantage keeping a manager and an XI together can be, and Tottenham should thrive to start the season on the back of the already-established combinations they have built over the past 24 months.

Key Statistic | Everton are winless against Tottenham in their last 7 attempts. Five of the last six fixtures have seen 2 goals or fewer.

Key Player | Ross Barkley v Delle Ali – Barkley’s form dropped off markedly in the back half of last season, however he now gets to play under a manager who helped Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Victor Wanyama become the in-demand players they are today. Ali meanwhile may struggle to emulate his incredible debut season, however will be given every opportunity in a midfield packed with talent.

Prediction | Everton 1 – 2 Tottenham

Southampton vs. Watford

Venue: St Mary’s Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: January 13, 2016 (2-0)

Claude Puel has made the most of his situation at his last few jobs, and whilst he hasn’t quite reached the pinnacle of the managerial world, there will undoubtedly be a few positives to come out of his first year in charge. He will develop players, and Nathan Redmond is one we feel could come on in leaps and bounds (as Hatem Ben Arfa did last season). At the same time however, there has been a serious exodus of talent from the squad over the past 18 months. Clyne, Wanyama, Pelle, Mane and Schneiderlin are just a few, and whilst Southampton will still put a strong XI on the field, it may take a while for new attacking combinations to form. Compensating for Wanyama’s departure will mean a heavier reliance on defence to start the season, and the Saints could well be the side that, like last season, start poorly and race back into European contention as the year progresses.

Watford meanwhile could be in for an interesting season. An unwanted managerial change means that we’re likely to see a different Hornets outfit. Walter Mazzarri’s 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 formation will see Ighalo and Deeney remain central to the side’s fortunes, however against Southampton we’re not expecting them to thrive. The Saints boast a solid and relatively untouched back four, and where they will struggle is in midfield and in attack to start this campaign. Watford were defensively inconsistent last season and with a new system in place, expect the wing-backs to get caught out and exploited by the likes of Redmond or Tadic. A draw wouldn’t surprise in a relatively messy fixture between two sides trying to develop a feel for their manager, but it is difficult to tip against the Saints at home on opening weekend, especially with Watford having conceded almost twice as many goals away from home last season.

Key Statistic | Of Southampton’s Top 10 league goal-scorers 2014/2015, only Dusan Tadic, Shane Long and Ryan Bertrand remain at the club (11 of 46 goals).

Key Player | Shane Long v Odion Ighalo – Since rejecting a big-money move to China, Ighalo’s form nose-dived. Can he recover his best this season? Long meanwhile may finally be given the opportunity he has long deserved – key striker in a decent team.

Prediction | Southampton 2 – 1 Watford

Bournemouth vs. Manchester United

Venue: Vitality Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 12, 2015 (2-1)

Is the honeymoon over for the Cherries? Bournemouth were so good last season, but with Matt Richie now gone and the euphoria of a first season in the top flight now history, will they be relegation fodder? They’ll be close, but more importantly, Manchester United will be a force once more. At Chelsea, players grew tired of Mourinho’s antics, but at United – where success has been so rare in recent seasons – players will buy into anything, especially when you consider Van Gaal was equally as odd, just not as effective. Ibrahimovic is already a star, Pogba is as classy as they come (even if he is too expensive) and Bournemouth lack that top-level class.

Having lost 6 of their last 8 in 2015/2016, the comfort of avoiding relegation clearly got to an injured and fatigued Bournemouth squad. With a chance to refresh, can the likes of Callum Wilson fire again? Well, last season, the Cherries took 3 points off Chelsea, 3 off United and 4 off Leicester – aside form that they struggled markedly against big sides. Against a United team looking to make a statement, we feel this game is set up for more of the same.

Key Statistic | Bournemouth lost 8 of their first 12 games in 2015/2016.

Key Player | Callum Wilson vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Wilson was everyone’s favourite fantasy player to begin last season, however an ACL injury curtailed what looked a breakout campaign. It will be difficult to find that form again. Ibrahimovic meanwhile is personifying the new era of Manchester United – confident, and effective enough to back up the talk.

Prediction | Bournemouth 0 – 4 Manchester United

Burnley vs. Swansea City

Venue:  | Last Corresponding Meeting: February 28, 2015 (0-1)

Swansea hasn’t been shy when it has come to change over the last few months, with the likes of Gomis, Ayew and potentially Ashley Williams set to depart the club after periods of 2015/2016 in which this trio looked like a solid foundation for a mid-table club. Instead, the team will turn to Fernando Llorente, and will seek to exploit their talent out wide in the hope of supplying the Spanish international with sufficient aerial supply. In a league with so many sizeable, if not dominant centre-backs however, seeing whether or not this tactic is successful will be interesting (see Aston Villa last season).

Burnley is yet to invest too heavily this season, however come to the Premier League on the back of a terrific 15/16 campaign. The club’s only competitive loss this year came against Arsenal in the Cup, whilst they’re failed to score in just two matches since January 2nd. Swansea started 2014/2015 with three straight wins, and 2015/2016 by going their first three undefeated. We don’t think they’ll lose here, but Burnley will be up for this game and should earn a draw.

Key Statistic | Swansea have lost 19 of their 38 away games over the past two seasons.

Key Player | Andre Gray vs.Gylfi Sigurðsson – As Swansea push their midfield wider, Sigurðsson will have both more room to operate in, and be more isolated. He will need to be incredible this season if Swansea are to finish top half, but probably doesn’t suit Llorente’s game style as well as Gomis and Ayew’s. There are concerns over Gray’s ability to produce at this level. We’ll get a good glimpse this weekend.

Prediction | Burnley 1 – 1 Swansea City

Middlesborough vs. Stoke City

Venue: Riverside Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 30, 2008 (2-1)

Boro are back where they belong, but for how long? Much like Palace vs. Albion, this game shapes as attack vs. defence, but alterations to the tactics of these teams last season means we could very well see the opposite. Stoke had periods last season where they were abysmal, however that can often happen when looking to undo years of defensive tactics and instil somewhat of a more positive attitude. With the addition of Shaqiri last season, Stoke moved to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 and whilst it paid dividends in attack, the side lacked defensive accountability. Middlesborough meanwhile spent last season focussing on defence. Whilst they have some injury and depth concerns down back, there is no shortage of quality – both young and old – in this side. Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo in particular provide some elite bookends to a side filled with Premier League experience and young talent.

With Stoke’s inconsistency a real concern, a home win wouldn’t surprise, but another draw in a cagey encounter (especially of Dani Ayala plays) is our favoured result.

Key Statistic | Stoke scored just 41 league goals last season (only 5 teams scored fewer – two of which got relegated).

Key Player | Dani Ayala vs. Xherdan Shaqiri – Ayala was sensational last season, but comes into this clash under an injury cloud. Shaqiri meanwhile was terrific in the Euros, but Switzerland’s early exit and persistent injury last season will mean he isn’t too fatigued to start the campaign.

Prediction | Middlesborough 1 – 1 Stoke City

Manchester City vs. Sunderland

Venue: Etihad Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 26, 2015 (4-1)

Sunderland have proven not much of a challenge for City in recent times, losing the last five in relatively emphatic fashion. With Pep coming to Etihad, don’t expect that to change. There was a time last season just before Christmas where Bayern would net at least 5 goals every time they played at home. Known for making an immediate impact, expect a dominant result here. Much like Mourinho in the other half of Manchester, Guardiola has a task of leading City into a new era, one in which Premier League success isn’t an anomaly and continental triumph is possible. It all starts at home. Bayern scored 51 league goals at home last season and conceded just 8. Whilst City likely won’t be that dominant, they should post a comfortable win against a Sunderland team still growing accustomed to David Moyes.

Making the transition from Allardyce to any other manager is a difficult one. That shift from survival mode to starting a new campaign is also tough, and is made even tougher when a late managerial change leaves the new gaffer – David Moyes – with limited preparation and transfer market time. Sunderland will grow into their own this season, but given we’re not expecting a lofty finish even then, they’re going to really struggle through August and September.

Key Statistic | Bayern Munich scored 51 league goals at home last season, all whilst conceding just 8.

Key Player | Joe Hart vs. Wahbi Khazri – No player in City’s side is under more pressure than Hart. He shouldn’t have much to do, but that didn’t stop him embarrassing himself in France this summer. We were a fan of Khazri last season, and hopefully now those unexplainable, inexcusable small errors he’d make 1-2 times per game are a thing of the past.

Prediction | Manchester City 3 – 0 Sunderland

EPL Predictions: Week 1 – Matchday 2

Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Venue: Emirates Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 24, 2015 (0-0)

Undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend, a depleted Arsenal side lacking a striker and a single first-choice centre back takes on a Liverpool side that looks like it may challenge for silverware. Arsenal will turn to Callum Chambers at the back and the poor finishing ability of Theo Walcott, calling into question (yet again) Wenger’s decision to be passive in the transfer market. Liverpool meanwhile have managed to keep a fairly consistent squad together, but have been under the watchful eye of Klopp for a season and have their star players predominantly fit.

This game frequently produces goals, and with Arsenal’s defensive issues we’re expecting more of the same on opening weekend. There is little reason to believe the Gunners will somehow put on an attacking masterclass, and the game should open up after a couple of early strikes. Liverpool are a chance of snatching all three points but a stalemate in a game both teams would be content with a point in looms a likely result.

Key Statistic | Both sides have scored in 4 of the last 5 Arsenal vs. Liverpool fixtures.

Key Player | Alexis Sanchez vs. Philippe Coutinho – Two South American stars will battle up front in what we anticipate will be an attacking match. Sanchez started last season very slowly but endured a golden period of form about a month into the campaign. He’ll need to start faster this time around.

Prediction | Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool

EPL Predictions: Week 34 – Matchday 3

Chelsea vs. West Ham

Venue: Stamford Bridge | Last Corresponding Meeting: March 19, 2016 (2-2)

West Ham would have been the fairytale story of last season if it weren’t for Leicester. After flirting with relegation, the club’s move to the Olympic Stadium would have been incredibly awkward if they were Championship bound. Instead, Dimitri Payet propelled the side to European contention and ensured they’d likely be a thorn in the side of most teams this upcoming season. In Chelsea however they’ll face a disciplined side that will likely have rediscovered some passion for the game. Mourinho instills routine, but Conte (as the Euros showed) can truly inspire. The Hammers have been playing in Europe for a couple of weeks, and whilst they’ll have an advantage in that sense, Chelsea will most probably hold the fort at the Bridge well this season.

Expect a bounce-back campaign for many of last season’s fallen stars and a hard-fought 1-goal victory here. We were initially leaning towards 1-0 but have faith that the Hammers can challenge a defence that is both relatively old and still boasts Branislav Ivanovic.

Key Statistic | Chelsea are undefeated against West Ham, at Stamford Bridge, since 2002.

Key Player | Eden Hazard vs. Dimitri Payet – The best of Belgium and the best of France. Two of the brightest midfield talents in the league go head-to-head. Hazard couldn’t repeat his 2014/2015 feats for a second straight season, can Payet double the dose for Hammers fans? Not on opening weekend.

Prediction | Chelsea 2 – 1 West Ham

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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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