EPL Predictions – Week 2

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After one round of Premier League action, we’ve settled into a groove, as have the players. With the quality bound to improve, we can only hope our predictions follow suit. Predicting 6/10 results on opening weekend isn’t terrible, but with Hull’s victory over QPR touted as a real possibility in last week’s article, we can’t help but feel we gave one back.

Since Blindside Sport launched in early 2013, this segment is 291/496 in the prediction stakes for a success rate of 58.67%.

Alongside this article, make sure you read Clinton Madden’s review of the major EPL Transfers so far this season. After one week, many of them have impressed, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest. Who was it?

Without further ado, let’s get into the action for Week 2, headlined by blockbuster clashes Everton v Arsenal and Manchester City v Liverpool.

The Season Ahead

In complete honesty, the opening weekend was rather underwhelming in terms of quality. Manchester United proved that it is hard work, not the romance of a new manager that will get them out of trouble, while only Chelsea managed to score more than 2 goals. Instead of the fluent goal-scoring we expected from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City, it was the close games between perennial ‘Bottom 10’ clubs that were most intriguing. West Bromwich v Southampton was the pick of the matches, however what this shows is that clubs in the ‘middle’ have bought exceptionally well. Newcastle impressed as a whole, as did Leicester’s Ulloa and Sunderland’s van Aanholt.

The big sides will find their feet in time, however the early signs is that 2014/2015 will be a thrilling season in which upsets are more the order of the day than an exception.

EPL Predictions – Week 2

Aston Villa v Newcastle United

Venue: Villa Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 14, 2013 (1-2)

It was Andreas Weimann who upset Stoke, however ‘concrete’ Ron Vlaar and Aly Cissokho were also exceptional in defence. In all, a consummate performance that allowed few opportunities (just 2 corners and 2 shots on target) from a side many, including us, predict to be part of the relegation scrap. For Newcastle, their valiant effort against Manchester City may go unnoticed by many, but not us. A focus on the flanks didn’t necessarily lead to many clear-cut chances, however against an outfit such as Villa, expect a more direct approach by the visitors. In all, Newcastle should prove too strong for the hosts, even if Villa took points from 4 of their last 6 games at Villa Park in 2013/2014.

Key Statistic | Newcastle competed well with Manchester City, mustering 9 shots to City’s 10, maintaining 46% of possession and completing 83% of their passes. Villa were inferior to Stoke in all 3 areas, with their 38% possession of exceptional note.

Key Player | Ron Vlaar – The World Cup hero returned to club duties with exceptional success on the weekend. Without doubt the best player on the ground, the immobile yet immovable defender will need to be at his best against a Newcastle side that should do more with the ball if afforded the 62% possession Villa surrendered to Stoke. While he won’t be as aerially challenged as against Stoke, his versatility will be tested with Riviere, Colback, Gouffran and Sissoko all crafty individuals.

Prediction | Aston Villa 1 – 2 Newcastle United

Chelsea v Leicester City

Venue: Stamford Bridge | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 23, 2003 (2-1)

Chelsea may have conceded against Burnley, however the scoreline doesn’t reflect how impervious Jose Mourinho’s side were. From Fabregas to Diego Costa, the Blues retained 62% of possession with consummate ease, scoring at will in the first half before their buffer allowed moderate complacency towards the end of the match. Marking was a serious issue in Burnley’s goal, and with opportunism likely Leicester’s primary avenue to goal, midfield tracking will be important for the hosts.

For the visitors, a draw against Everton was a fortunate result derived from physicality and grit. Against Chelsea, their 37% possession may not get them as far, nor will their 54% tackle success, however a penchant for fouling could easily disrupt a side comprised of fragile imports.

Key Statistic | In 2012/2013, Chelsea dropped points in 4 of their 6 fixtures against promoted opposition. In 2013/2014, they dropped just 3 points in all 6 fixtures, those coming in an away loss to Cardiff.

Key Player | Cesc Fabregas – Incredible on debut and may have already played the pass of the season, Fabregas was praised by Mourinho post-match, and rightly so. A similar, even if slightly more physical, match awaits this coming weekend, with the prospect of keeping pace with Manchester City at the top of the table an enticing one. In a weekend where Arsenal face Everton and Liverpool face the defending champions, some great teams will drop points, making it even more important for Chelsea to take all 3.

Prediction | Chelsea 3 – 0 Leicester City

Southampton v West Bromwich Albion

Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: January 11, 2014 (1-0)

On paper, Southampton should still have the talent to get the win in Week 2, however West Bromwich’s opportunism was on show at Sunderland and should provide a stern test. Despite being gutted by Liverpool and other big name clubs, the Saints put in a valiant effort against Liverpool, falling victim to a brilliant Jordan Herderson pass. West Bromwich meanwhile managed to dominate possession against Sunderland with 58%, while also mustering more shots (10) and shots on target (5) on the way to a 2-2 draw at Sunderland.

Key Statistic | With Jay Rodriguez injured, Southampton are missing their only 3 players who scored more than 3 times in the league. With Steven Davis the exception, they’re also missing 2 of their top 3 assistants from a year ago.

Key Player | Shane Long – The former West Bromwich talisman will face his old club, possibly from the bench. After a debut appearance last weekend, the recent purchase will be hoping for more game time, and Southampton, minus Lallana and Lambert could use a player of his ilk getting as many minutes as possible. For years, Long has been a personal favourite to watch and has a penchant for creating chances and scoring against sides his clubs have had no right to score against. A man for the occasion who mustered 1 shot and 8 passes in his 16 minutes against Liverpool. Don’t be surprised if he hits the scoresheet.

Prediction | Southampton 1 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

Crystal Palace v West Ham United

Venue: Selhurst Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 3, 2013 (1-0)

Given that there were no blow-out results on opening weekend, Crystal Palace must take the honour for being the worst side on show. With just 24% possession and 57% pass accuracy, Palace were overwhelmingly outplayed without Tony Pulis pulling the strings. With former Cardiff boss Malky Mackay expected to take over, expect a lift over coming weeks, however with Pulis denied access to the transfer market, expect this side to remain unchanged regardless of managerial appointment.

EPL Predictions

Crystal Palace perpetually defending. Source: uk.eurosport.com

For West Ham, their blown opportunity to take points against Tottenham last weekend will hurt. Against 10 men, West Ham had chances, but couldn’t convert. Their 18 shots were good for 2nd in the league on opening weekend, however the absence of Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia’s lack of match fitness proved costly against a blunt Tottenham outfit. Their ability to bounce back from a draining and demoralising loss will be crucial.

Key Statistic | Crystal Palace’s last 8 games of 2013/2014 saw them lose just once, to Manchester City – this after they started with 9 losses from their first 10 fixtures. West Ham meanwhile lost 5 of their last 6, including their second 1-0 loss to Palace for the season.

Key Matchup | Mile Jedinak – After a World Cup campaign in which his individual performances were somewhat underwhelming, Jedinak returned to Premier League action with 9 tackles, 5 interceptions and 36 passes. Unfortunately, with only a 52.8% pass success rate, Palace found themselves under an inordinate amount of pressure at Arsenal. Last season, from a near identical workload (42.5 passes) the Australian captain passed at 71.9% with a combined 7.2 tackles and interceptions per game.

Prediction | Crystal Palace 1 – 1 West Ham

Swansea City v Burnley

Venue: Liberty Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 28, 2010 (1-0)

After being defeated by United to open last season, Swansea’s 2-1 victory over the red side of Manchester could mark the beginning of a very promising campaign. Gylfi Sigurdsson was exceptional, whilst new signing Bafetimbi Gomis looked very promising in limited action and Jefferson Montero was instrumental in producing the winner. With only 41% possession and 5 shots in total, Swansea’s statistics don’t do their performance justice. Midfield pressure deprived United of their ability to penetrate, whilst on the whole, the side was defensively resolute.

Burnley held their own against Chelsea for extended periods over the weekend, however will struggle in the class department most weeks this season. Travelling for the first time this campaign, things will get arguably harder, especially against a Swansea side that looks vastly improved without the pressures of Europe testing their depth.

Key Statistic | Swansea were amongst the most direct sides in Week 1. Despite boasting significant talent out wide, the Swans mustered just 9 crosses, equal fewest in the league. To compound this, they did complete the equal 6th most through balls.

Key Matchup | Gylfi Sigurdsson – The former Tottenham midfielder was exceptional in his first stint at Swansea, netting 7 times in 15 matches. This time, he’s 1 in 1 and more than that, it was the winner and he provided the assist for the opener. Whilst Jonjo Shelvey saw more of the ball, Sigurdsson is the pivot from which an isolated striker and a talented midfield link. A key to Swansea’s success and against a Burnley side that struggled to contain Cesc Fabregas, there is an opportunity to keep Swansea’s record flawless.

Prediction | Swansea City 2 – 0 Burnley

Everton v Arsenal

Venue: Goodison Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: April 6, 2014 (3-0)

Everton were disappointing last week, however injuries prevented a first-choice side from being fielded for the full 90 minutes. Nevertheless, far too many opportunities were afforded to Leicester, who capitalised on errors more so than manufactured their own opportunities. Arsenal meanwhile emerge from a week in which their European qualifier went relatively poorly in Turkey. Fatigue will play a role, however the form of Monreal, Giroud and Wilshire present more of an issue, while injury and World Cup fatigue prevent wholesale changes. After 76% of possession led to just 2 goals against Crystal Palace, there are doubts over how lethal this Arsenal outfit can be. Arsenal should win this on paper, however in current form, taking all 3 points against a side with so much more to offer than they did last week seems too favourable.

Key Statistic | Everton’s brilliant 2013/2014 campaign began with an analogous 2-2 draw with Norwich City. From there, they dropped points in their next 2 clashes, taking draws on both occasions. Admittedly, that record makes for better reading when considering they lost just one match in the league before Christmas.

Key Matchup | Olivier Giroud – The Frenchman was frustrated and frustrating against Besiktas mid-week. His touch abandoned him, as did his discipline, and you can’t help but feel that another player would have netted at least two of the chances created for him. Alexis Sanchez was expected to do it alone in Turkey and was unable to find the back of the net. Arsenal will come up against stiffer defences than the one offered there, and Giroud will need to be key in breaking them down.

Prediction | Everton 1 – 1 Arsenal

Hull City v Stoke City

Venue: KC Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 14, 2013 (0-0)

Keeper Allan McGregor was the only thing that kept Hull from an opening day defeat, let alone provide the victory he miraculously gifted Steve Bruce’s side, away from home on opening day. In our Week 1 predictions, we were high on the Tigers, however their defence was not as resolute as we had expected. Huddlestone and Livermore were porous in midfield, whilst the 3-5-2 formation in vogue after the World Cup allowed QPR far too much space.

For Stoke, a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa was not only our prediction, but that of every other pundit under the sun. The heroics of Ron Vlaar are documented above, but how a side that boasts very little defeats a team that could finish as high as 8th or 9th this season remains a mystery. It may be as simple as attitude or poor fortune in linking play on opening weekend, however a quick fix is needed. Hull and Villa constitute two favourable fixtures for Stoke and to take nothing from either would be an early blight on their campaign.

In all, opening weekend saw both sides take an inordinate number of shots for a combined 1 goal. They also conceded a combined 26 shots for just 1 goal and if last week’s effort by Stoke is any indication, this will be a very withdrawn affair.

Key Statistic | Of all 20 EPL teams, Hull attacked in the centre third the least on opening weekend (17%). The 3-5-2 formation is a key reason for this, as was QPR’s mirror formation, however Hull’s strengths are also on the flanks with Ince and Snodgrass focal points in attack. Look for Hull to retain this tactic going forward, however Snodgrass’ replacement (6 weeks with dislocated patella) and Ince will have to be discerning and most likely attack on the dribble, with even Jelavic’s aerial prowess unlikely to beat the likes of Ryan Shawcross.

Key Matchup | Marko Arnautovic – The catalyst for everything Stoke mustered on opening weekend, Arnautovic was the only Stoke player with more than 1 shot, whilst he also made 51 passes in attacking midfield. For Stoke to have 12 shots and just 2 on target is a concern though, meaning that his facilitating play must improve. Opening weekend was a dreary affair for both sides, however with Hull taking the points, they can’t be faulted.

Prediction | Hull City 0 – 0 Stoke City

Tottenham v Queens Park Rangers

Venue: White Hart Lane | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 23, 2013 (2-1)

Whilst Tottenham were incredibly fortunate to escape with a win against West Ham, QPR can consider themselves unlucky, after thoroughly outperforming Hull. We believed a draw was the most likely result against Hull, but saw the visitors as being the more likely to take all 3 points. Yet after mustering 19 shots, 6 on target and forcing 5 saves, we’re content to say that QPR probably should have scored at least once. A missed penalty never helps matters, and in another indication of fortune and of irony, Tottenham defeated the Hammers by virtue of Mark Noble missing from the spot.

Under new management, Tottenham looked pedestrian in their opener. An early red card to Kyle Naughton would have hindered, however Adebayor was beyond isolated in leading the line and despite boasting an attacking midfield blessed with class, Spurs couldn’t manufacture clear chances. Against QPR we’re expecting an improved performance, however whether Pochettino’s free-flowing Southampton brand can be imposed in a week remains to be seen.

Key Statistic | Tottenham have the pieces to be defensively resolute this season. In 2013/2014, they conceded the 4th fewest shots of any EPL side. Pochettino’s own Southampton conceded the 2nd fewest. On opening weekend this season, they conceded 18 against West Ham on their way to a clean sheet. Tottenham were also far from invincible at home last season, losing to West Ham and Newcastle, whilst getting humiliated by Manchester City and Liverpool.

Key Matchup | Charlie Austin – Had the chance to earn  draw at the weekend, but muffed the penalty. Touted as a prodigy coming into the season, his first chance to impress did anything but. With Loic Remy likely to leave the club if he passes a medical, Austin will need to improve. His strike partner managed 5 shots on the weekend, whilst his 1 paled in comparison. Against a make-shift Tottenham defence, he has a chance to bounce back strongly.

Prediction | Tottenham 2 – 0 Queens Park Rangers

Sunderland v Manchester United

Venue: Stadium of Light | Last Corresponding Meeting: October 5, 2013 (1-2)

We predicted both of these sides to get off to the perfect start in Week 1, however both find themselves having dropped points. Manchester United looked like a side trying to revolutionise the wheel, with van Gaal’s 3-5-2 unsuited to the current crop of players. Defence was shakey, particularly Ashley Young who was entirely at fault for Swansea’s winner. Adnan Januzaj was United’s lone reliable avenue to goal, with 47% of their attacks somewhat predictably going down his flank. Elsewhere on the field, possession was retained but penetration not achieved. Juan Mata found himself passing backwards with almost 50% of his 49 passes, and whilst the side mustering 14 shots, few provided much of a threat threat.

Sunderland have the potential to snatch a draw at home given United are likely to be exposed for a further month or so. We’d be brave and slightly foolish to not expect van Gaal to remedy a lot of the issues that emerged against Swansea though, and a tactician of his nous should be able to manufacture an unconvincing yet vital win.

Key Statistic | Manchester United had not lost their opening home fixture of a season since 1992 until last weekend.

Key Matchup | Patrick van Aanholt – A new signing who lived up to his billing in Week 1 with an assist for Sunderland’s second after menacing for the entire game up to that point. Defending however will be his primary challenge this coming weekend. With United directing so much traffic down the right flank, he’ll be responsible for Januzaj and whoever is deployed up front for United alongside Wayne Rooney. Without a doubt the match-up to watch in this one, with Ander Herrera v Rodwell a distant second.

Prediction | Sunderland 1 – 2 Manchester United

Manchester City v Liverpool

Venue: Etihad Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 26, 2013 (2-1)

Liverpool showed glimpses against Southampton that life after Suarez may not be that bad. Manquillo and Lovren performed admirably at the back, Gerrard continued to toil, Henderson showed signs he’s developing as expected and Sturridge combined well with Sterling up top. Even so, facing City at home is a different prospect altogether. Kompany and company were hardly impressive against Newcastle, but the consummate ease with which they took 3 points is ominous. This will be their first true test of the season; however whether Liverpool, a side that gave up 6 shots on target and a goal against a dismantled Saints side can stop City shapes as an exciting yet unlikely prospect.

An early blow to Liverpool’s title hopes and a reminder that last year, the side punched above its weight. There is no shame in losing to City at home and losses at this stage of the season aren’t terminal, but you need to beat the best to be the best, and Liverpool aren’t quite there. A draw would be fantastic for them.

Key StatisticCity and Liverpool were the 3rd and 4th most successful passing sides in Week 1, with over 85% success each. Expect both sides to control possession, however Liverpool will be the team most likely resigned to hitting on the counter, with Sterling and Sturridge both key exponents should tactics eventuate in that fashion.

Key Matchup | Javier Manquillo – Over 50% of Manchester City’s shots against Newcastle came from the left side, whilst none came from the right flank. New signing Manquillo was impressive on debut, however dealing with David Silva will the toughest challenge he’d have faced in England so far. Silva was impressive against Newcastle and is notorious for going on extended streaks of form. A match-up to watch for sure.

Prediction | Manchester City 1 – 0 Liverpool

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Regular updates and team news are also on twitter @BlindsideSport. Roman Barbera can also be found on twitter @rombarbera.

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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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