Despite going just 4/10 on opening weekend, we’re very happy with how well we’ve gauged the teams. We identified the high and low scoring games with almost perfect accuracy, and missed a further four tips by just a solitary goal. As we move into week two and the competition starts to take shape, we’re looking to catch up to Blindside Sport’s other football pundit Clinton Madden, who got off to a flier (6/10) to start the campaign.
This week we have the privilege of opening Saturday with United vs. Southampton, before City take on a Stoke side they have struggled with at times, and Leicester take on Arsenal in what loomed as a ripper, but now shapes as more of a damage mitigation clash for both sides.
2016/2017 Season EPL Predictions Record
Since this column began ahead of the 2014/2015 Premier League season, we’ve tipped 480/876 results correctly for a success rate of 54.79%, whilst predicting 88 correct scorelines along the way.
- Roman Barbera: 4/10 – 2 correct scorelines
- Clinton Madden: 6/10 – 1 correct scorelines
EPL Predictions: Week 2 – Matchday 1
Manchester United vs. Southampton
Venue: Old Trafford | Last Corresponding Meeting: January 23, 2016 (0-1)
There was an awful lot to like about Manchester United’s showing at Bournemouth on the opening weekend of the season. Every new signing looked the part, whilst even the likes of Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and even Antonio Valencia had their moments. Luke Shaw was unconvincing but will only improve as he builds up some match experience after spending most of last season on the sidelines. Southampton meanwhile were dominant against Watford and were unfortunate to only come away with a point. For a side that has typically struggled with flexibility when it comes to formations, the XI adapted quite well to the new, more narrow formation that has been implemented post Koeman. Against United (especially if Paul Pogba makes his debut), the Saints will find it difficult to work the spaces as easily though. Juan Mata’s inability to track back could provide openings down the flanks, but without Pelle or any semblance of an aerial target going forward (Charlie Austin may have to start to remedy this) we could be looking at a fairly one sided contest.
United look to be far more competent in attack this season than they have in any season since Sir Alex left. Mourinho could shut up shop early but at home, he’ll look to make a statement to open the season. A result, and a bit of flair too as the game opens up.
Key Statistic | United are undefeated in their last 11 competitive fixtures at home. Their last loss was against Southampton (admittedly a very different Saints team)
Key Player | Wayne Rooney vs. Nathan Redmond – We highlighted Nathan Redmond last weekend and he got his Saints career off the the perfect start with an equalising strike. Wayne Rooney also got on the score sheet, but was frankly abysmal. Mourinho would face serious pressure to not move on from the England international, but he has shown frequently that sentiment counts for very little with the ‘Chosen One’
Prediction | Manchester United 3 – 1 Southampton
EPL Predictions: Week 2 – Matchday 2
Stoke City vs. Manchester City
Venue: bet365 Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 5, 2015 (2-0)
In the past it has been all or nothing for Manchester City against Stoke. Over the last two seasons, Stoke have sprung an upset against the Citizens, nabbing a 1-0 win two campaigns ago before securing a 2-0 victory in 2015/2016. Without fail, the Tony Pulis sides of old would sit back and hit on the counter – the ‘coward’ tactic according to Hope Solo – but as times have changed and Stoke have invested heavily in attacking talent, they’ve lost the ability to hold as steady at the back. Whilst the side plays in lower-scoring clashes than your average mid-table outfit, Stoke are now the kind of team that could easily get wiped off the park by City, in that they try to play a similar brand. Away to Middlesborough, Stoke held 54% of the ball. Against City, they’ll be held to under 35%, and if they try to fight that inevitability, they’ll leave themselves woefully exposed down back. Mark Hughes is an adaptable manager, but given how effective Boro were last weekend, there isn’t enough functionality in his back four to this point in the season to see off what could be a barrage.
Guardiola sides tend to value quality over quantity when it comes to creating chances, especially away from home. This won’t be a drubbing, but it will be a professional, dominant showing by the visitors.
Key Statistic | In the league last season, Bayern Munich scored 51 goals at home, but only 29 away.
Key Player | Xherdan Shaqiri vs. Kevin De Bruyne – So much talent between these two players. De Bruyne was exceptional last season, whilst Shaqiri once again repaid our faith by scoring as one of our ‘Key Players’ in week 1.
Prediction | Stoke City 0 – 2 Manchester City
Burnley vs. Liverpool
Venue: Turf Moor | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 26, 2014 (0-1)
We knew Liverpool would be strong in attach against Arsenal but their effort at the Emirates was something special. Burnley are in serious strife here if they don’t put in a remarkable, season-defining performance. Arsenal will always attack at home, but even with Wenger installing two defensive midfielders to protect an admittedly undermanned back-four, Liverpool’s front six just scythed through the Gunners at will. Burnley are a counter-attacking side at heart and have the potential to set up well against a Liverpool team full of confidence and likely to over-commit in attack, but Jurgen Klopp will be aware of the risks of over-confidence.
Expect a slightly more controlled performance this weekend, particularly if the Reds jump out to a commanding lead at any point. Regardless, whilst Burnley should net at least once, they’ll be hard pressed to match the attacking potency of a Liverpool side that looked so in-sync that you’d be forgiven for forgetting this was their first competitive outing of this campaign.
Key Statistic | Last season, Liverpool had a habit of scoring handfuls of goals away from home and then going on relatively dry spells. Despite scoring 4, 5 and 6 goals away from Anfield, the Reds averaged just 1.58 goals per game away from home. That means excluding those efforts of 4, 5 and 6 goals, they scored 15 goals in 16 matches.
Key Player | Tom Heaton vs. Sadio Mane – Mane just looks like the missing piece for Liverpool. His pace and ability to interchange with practically any other piece in Liverpool’s front six makes him a perfect fit for a side that loves to break fast and impose tremendous pressure on opposition playmakers.
Prediction | Burnley 1 – 3 Liverpool
Swansea City vs. Hull City
Venue: Liberty Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: April 4, 2015 (3-1)
Hull were sensational against Leicester, however the Foxes were far from the world-beaters who won the Premier League last season. In all, the Tigers were solid defensively, brilliant tactically, and did enough in attack to trouble Leicester (uncharacteristically) at set pieces. Against Swansea they’ll face a whole other beast – no national attention leading into the match, some added fatigue for an incredibly stretched squad, and a trip away from home. Hull lost just once at home last season, but they managed to lose 10 times away from KC. In fact, they lost more games than they won away from home – astounding for a side that was eventually promoted. Swansea meanwhile were quite good at home, particularly at the back end of the season where they were undefeated in 9 of their last 11 at Liberty Stadium.
Without Ashley Williams we will have doubts over Swansea’s defensive ability to start the season, but given Hull’s general ineptitude away from home, and the emotional let-down that this weekend is inevitably set to provide, we’re tipping a narrow home victory.
Key Statistic | Hull lost 10 games away from home in the league last year, this considering they lost just once at home.
Key Player | Fernando Llorente vs. Tom Huddlestone – Huddlestone’s defensive impact in the midfield of a team short on numbers and depth will be crucial to staying in matches away from home. Llorente meanwhile gives Hull a completely different challenge to the one they faced in Jamie Vardy and Leicester’s array of small, fast strikers.
Prediction | Swansea City 1 – 0 Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace
Venue: White Hart Lane | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 10, 2015 (1-0)
Tottenham were poor last weekend. Everton were there for the taking but they struggled in possession and looked far from their typical selves moving forward. We had considered that the side’s heavy investment in the Euros over the summer would leave the side with a hangover, however thought the talent in this Spurs side too great for that to occur. It looks like we were wrong, but at the same time Crystal Palace are far from world-beaters. Whilst the side clearly has more defensive integrity than last season, and the availability of key forwards means they should have more success pressing for goals, Tottenham loom as a lock to snatch three points here.
Last week, Palace fell right into the typical ‘West Bromwich away from home’ trap and despite securing 63% of possession, failed to score. This weekend, they’ll likely give up an awful lot of possession, however in the process will invite several of the more creative (and competent from distance) attacking midfielders in the league to operate for extended periods in and around their box. Tottenham have the potential to squander games like this, but we think they’ll win this comfortably.
Key Statistic | Only 2 of the last 7 meetings between these sides have seen more than 2 goals scored.
Key Player | Erik Lamela vs. Connor Wickham – Playing as the lone striker in a side set to sit deep and hit on the counter is hard, but Wickham has the potential to heavily influence this game if he can hold the ball up for Palace’s speedy wingers.
Prediction | Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 0 Crystal Palace
Watford vs. Chelsea
Venue: Vicarage Road | Last Corresponding Meeting: February 3, 2016 (0-0)
Chelsea looked far better under Conte’s watch last weekend than they did at any stage last season. There was a composure, a structure that had eluded in the Blues’ disastrous 2015/2016 that would have been a welcome sight for fans. Passing was crisp, ball control was better, and when you have a side that can hold its own defensively and in terms of controlling possession, the dynamic ability of Oscar, Pedro, Hazard and Costa has an opportunity to really take over.
Watford meanwhile were largely dominated by Southampton and were fortunate to escape with a draw. Securing just over 30% of possession is one thing against a disjointed side that lost many of its stars and its manager, but it is a completely different thing against Chelsea. The Blues have aerial targets up front, even more at set pieces, and will score at least 3 goals if Watford don’t improve their standard.
Key Statistic | Watford home matches last season averaged 2.04 goals per game.
Key Player | Heurelho Gomes vs. Eden Hazard – Gomes is going to have a lot of work on his plate in this match, making 6 saves last weekend in what is on paper an easier fixture.
Prediction | Watford 0 – 2 Chelsea
West Bromwich Albion vs. Everton
Venue: The Hawthorns | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 28, 2015 (2-3)
In last week’s article we discussed at length the difference between West Bromwich home and away matches. Expect a more expansive showing from the Baggies this weekend as a result of their playing at the Hawthorns, and with Everton not a particularly defensive outfit, this could be a surprisingly entertaining clash. The Toffees were good against Tottenham last week and held their own in almost every area of the game. Their lone goal was a fortunate one, but West Bromwich – as we wrote last week – become pretty porous on the counter when at home. With Barkley, Mirallas, possibly Lukaku and a favourable 3-4-3 formation being deployed, Everton should match up well to earn their first win of the season.
It will be interesting to see whether the Baggies have changed their approach over the summer, however old habits die hard and it may be hard for Albion to just flick the switch and become defensively resolute at home. Tactically this looms as a great battle, but Everton should come out on top.
Key Statistic | West Bromwich home games last season saw an average of 0.5 more goals per game than West Bromwich away fixtures.
Key Player | Salomón Rondón vs. Ross Barkley – We highlighted Rondon last weekend and he delivered. The South American will have a tough time against an Everton back three this weekend though.
Prediction | West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2 Everton
Leicester City vs. Arsenal
Venue: King Power Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: February 14, 2016 (2-1)
This loomed as a fantastic clash when the fixtures were released, but now we just have two sides competing to try and mitigate the damage that could be inflicted to their season in the opening fortnight. Leicester looked a shadow of their former selves last weekend, and it seems as if teams may have finally figured out that as long as Jamie Vardy stays in front of them and doesn’ get behind central defenders, he isn’t actually that dangerous. A few clear cut chances were missed by the England international in what may be a season in which the fantasy carriage well and truly turns back into a pumpkin.
Speaking of pumpkins, Wenger’s transfer policy remains a disaster, and when injury has ravaged your central defending stocks and Callum Chambers becomes your stalwart, you’re in strife. With Laurent Koscielny poised to return however, Vardy may actually have a couple of defenders who – whilst not sensational technically – can actually somewhat keep pace with him. It may be too early in the season to identify Leicester as ‘over-rated’, but we have them losing this game in a shootout.
Key Statistic | This fixture last season boasted 7 goals. Arsenal are undefeated over the last 10 meetings between these sides.
Key Player | Jamie Vardy vs. Alexis Sanchez – A great chance for Vardy to make amends for last weekend as he takes on a centre-back pairing boasting over-rated prodigy Callum Chambers. Sanchz meanwhile has been outed by Wenger as Arsenal’s new centre forward. From memory, he had an absolute blinder in the same fixture last season.
Prediction | Leicester City 2 – 3 Arsenal
EPL Predictions: Week 2 – Matchday 3
Sunderland vs. Middlesbrough
Venue: Stadium of Light | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 20, 2008 (2-0)
Both sides were opportunistic in their season openers, with Sunderland close to snatching a draw against Manchester City despite having no possession, and Middlesborough bundling a goal home to draw with a decent Stoke outfit. Sunderland have recruited relatively well, and now boast a threatening attacking trio and operate under a manager who has shown an ability to develop young talent and make the most of limited resources during his time at Goodison. If last weekend is anything to go by, both Middlesborough and Sunderland should have a relatively comfortable time defending, but with both managers likely fancying this fixture as a good opportunity for all three points, it will be interesting to see how the sides line up.
Sunderland sat deep and countered – as expect – against City, but Middlesborough are unlikely to be willing to assume the 75% of possession that Guardiola’s men did. Can Sunderland therefore take the initiative and make the running? Possibly, but Moyes’ side isn’t exactly laden with midfield talent. Expect a lot of pressure to fall on the likes of Januzaj as the hosts search for inspiration to break dow a compact Boro defence. A draw looms as a likely result in a game that could really be a tactical scrap.
Key Statistic | Most of Sunderland’s struggles came away from home last season. They conceded just 1.07 goals per game at home (over 2 away from the Stadium of Light).
Key Player | Jack Rodwell vs. Alvaro Negredo – In typical fashion, we look to a central midfielder in the side likely to dominate possession and a centre forward in the team likely to rely on the counter.
Prediction | Sunderland 1 – 1 Middlesbrough
West Ham United vs. AFC Bournemouth
Venue: London Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 22, 2015 (3-4)
Bournemouth began last season with a solid showing at home, albeit against an Aston Villa side that eventually proved to be far from competitive. This season however, they looked disjointed and a little bit confused defensively. Fellani and Blind stifled what little the Cherries had going forward and whilst West Ham aren’t Manchester United, they’ll likely be on song for their first match at their new home. When you also consider that West Ham have been playing competitive football for the last month, they should be well and truly favoured ahead of this contest.
West Ham commit far more in attack than Jose Mourinho would have last week, but Week 1 showed us that Eddie Howe will chase a game if he falls behind. Expect a big margin of victory for the hosts if they get ahead early, but Bournemouth definitely have the speed on the flanks to trouble the Hammers on the counter, particularly late in the piece given the Hammers have a slightly shorter turnaround.
Key Statistic | The two fixtures between these sides last season saw a combined 11 goals scored.
Key Player | Dimitri Payet vs. Callum Wilson – Wilson was practically invisible last weekend, whilst Payet was held out of the clash with Chelsea until late on. As we expected, he made an immediate impact once he came on.
Prediction | West Ham United 3 – 1 AFC Bournemouth