EPL Predictions: Week 31

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What a race to the finish line we have on our hands! Tottenham and Leicester City look favourites, but funny things can happen when sides unused to silverware get in touching distance of glory. With their Cup and UCL aspirations dashed by European heavyweight duo Watford and Barcelona, Arsenal could emerge late contenders, whilst Manchester City boast the pedigree to match it with the best even when in indifferent form. We’ll take it one week at a time though, starting with Week 31.

2015/2016 Season EPL Predictions Record

Since this column began mid-way through the 2013/2014 Premier League season, we’ve tipped 488/909 results correctly for a success rate of 53.73%, whilst predicting 75 correct scorelines along the way.

  • Roman Barbera: 141/293 – 27 correct scorelines
  • Clinton Madden: 129/293 – 15 correct scorelines

EPL Predictions: Week 31 – Matchday 1, 2015/2016

(12) Everton v Arsenal (3)

Venue: Goodison Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: August 23, 2014 (2-2)

Arguably the clash of the round, Arsenal will have travelled back from Spain after falling to Barcelona in the Champions League. The side wasn’t dismal and were probably value for a 2-1 defeat, however will the loss dent their confidence as they return to a Premier League race which is likely beyond their reach as well? Everton have been in decent form of late, however have struggled for consistency at home. Losses to West Bromwich – the strangest game of the season – and a capitulation to West Ham summarise the situation, however they’re unlikely to experience a lapse in concentration against the Gunners. Their 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup was convincing, however a red card for Diego Costa was of assistance. Everton have won just one meeting between these sides since 2007, but when you consider that Arsenal’s defence has struggled to contain the likes of Ighalo in recent weeks, Romelu Lukaku is likely to prove a real handful. Combine that with Arsenal’s struggles away from home – one win in their last 6 games – and this has upset written all over it.

Key Statistic | Arsenal have won just one of their last six away games in the Premier League.

Key Player | Romelu Lukaku v Per Mertesacker – The German has looked incompetent in recent times and could really struggle trying to deal with the strenth and pace of Lukaku. Combine that with Everton’s ability to deliver from wide areas and a laziness of tracking back in the Arsenal midfield (unless Coquelin and Elneny both play) and space should emerge for Barkley and company on the counter as well. A high-scoring clash is on the cards.

Prediction | Everton 2 – 2 Arsenal

EPL Predictions: Week 31 – Matchday 2, 2015/2016

(10) Chelsea v West Ham (5)

Venue: Stamford Bridge | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 26, 2014 (2-0)

What a game this could be. Chelsea have been impervious in the league since Mourinho’s departure, but West Ham have Dimitri Payet. We must sound like a fan club by now, but Payet is the player of the season if you exclude Leicester players. His influence is exceptional against a Chelsea side that has looked to play openly at home, he could thrive. The Hammers put together a late charge at Everton a fortnight ago, before dominating for large stretches against Manchester United in the FA Cup. Now out of the Champions League, Chelsea don’t have much to play for this season aside from European football for next season – a campaign many of the current players won’t be sticking around for. Chelsea are heavy favourites but West Ham are one of the few sides capable of beating any team in the league on their day. Without Costa, this should be even closer, meaning that we’ll take a draw for the visitors.

Key Statistic |  Chelsea have won 15 of the past 20 matches between these two sides (2 losses). Both sides have scored in just one of the last six meetings.

Key Player | Eden Hazard v Dimitri Payet – The midfield magic men. Hazard has been terrible this season, but will need to influence the game more readily in Costa’s absence. Payet’s significance has already been mentioned. Any set piece in West Ham’s attacking half is a strong chance of leading to something.

Prediction | Chelsea 1 – 1 West Ham

(15) Crystal Palace v Leicester City (1)

Venue: Selhurst Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: September 27, 2014 (2-0)

All of a sudden Crystal Palace have an attack. After failing to score in five straight games over Christmas, Palace have scored in each of their last 10 games. That normally wouldn’t be cause for concern, however Leicester have looked far less assured of late. Against a Newcastle side which hasn’t even vaguely threatened anyone (except Tottenham) away from home this season, Leicester scraped their way to all thee points. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United could be relied upon to do that with regularity, however this Leicester outfit has no experience in winning silverware and this represents a classic ‘trap’ game. Palace have looked to play on the counter during their rebound, failing to dominate possession against Liverpool (36%) and Sunderland (44%). Against the Foxes, we could see an incredibly open game as a result, and goals should flow more readily than they have in recent Leicester matches. A draw would not surprise at all but it is difficult to back against Ranieri when he has delivered so constantly. Palace pushing too high up the field will be their undoing.

Key Statistic | Crystal Palace have scored in 10 straight games across all competitions.

Key Player | Connor Wickham v Jamie Vardy – With four goals over his last three league games, Connor Wickham has suddenly become vaguely relevant as a player. Congratulations to him. Jamie Vardy meanwhile has been marked exceptionally well in recent times, but could benefit with the Foxes being away from home against a side which may over-commit in attack.

Prediction | Crystal Palace 1 – 2 Leicester

(14) Watford v Stoke (9)

Venue: Vicarage Road | Last Corresponding Meeting: March 15, 2008 (0-0)

This game should put a dampener on things. Watford come off an emotional win against Arsenal in the cup, however have won just two of their last 12 games in the league. This is partly a result of their horror run of fixtures, which has included narrow losses to Tottenham, Manchester United and Leicester in the past month. Stoke meanwhile have been more fortunate, securing wins over Newcastle, Villa and Bournemouth over the same stretch. Neither club has been dynamic in attack but Watford have been noticeably better in attack – their win over Arsenal a strong illustration. This shouldn’t be a thrilling game of football, and we consider the home side to be the more likely to snatch all three points, but a draw looms as the more likely result given Stoke match-up better against Watford when they’re playing on the counter attack – something they do away from home.

Key Statistic | Watford have scored just 2 goals over their last 6 EPL matches. However, three have been against sides to have played in the Champions League this season and another game was against Leicester.

Key Player | Odion Ighalo v Marko Arnautović – Arnautović continues to be Stoke’s best avenue to goal whilst Ighalo was incompetent against the Gunners for the most part. That he had so many opportunities to mess up bodes well though, especially if Stoke look to dominate possession and push high up the ground – that is where Arsenal ran into trouble in the Cup. 

Prediction | Watford 1 – 1 Stoke

(11) West Bromwich Albion v Norwich (18)

Venue: The Hawthorns | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 7, 2013 (0-2)

Norwich’s away form has been disgraceful this season, and whilst they held Manchester City last week, they’re prone to let-down performances. Norwich have taken points from consecutive league games just twice since September 2015, and when you add that to their 11 losses away from home this league campaign, they’re likely in trouble here. Don’t expect the Canaries to sit as deep as they did against City, with Albion a good opportunity to bolster their relegation avoidance campaign. As a result, Albion’s tendency to player higher scoring matches at home (2.6 goals per game as opposed to 1.93 away from home) should play into their hands against a Norwich side that doesn’t score away from Carrow Road. Albion have won three of their last four in the league and are undefeated in their last 8 games at home in all competitions. An easy win for the hosts.

Key Statistic | West Bromwich have won three of their last four in the league and are undefeated in their last 8 games at home in all competitions.

Key Player | Salomón Rondón v Patrick Bamford – Bamford almost scored a screamer against City, but was largely invisible playing as a lone striker. He lacks the strength to retain possession in such a situation and should find more job playing against weaker opponents when Norwich don’t need all bodies behind the ball. The issue here is that they’ll look to play on the counter and he’ll have the same issues.

Prediction | West Bromwich Albion 3 – 1 Norwich

(16) Swansea v Aston Villa (20)

Venue: Liberty Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 26, 2014 (1-0)

Swansea should win this. They’re not completely incompetent and that seems to be enough to tae all three points from Villa this season. Tottenham should have conceded late against Garde’s men however, and Jordan Ayew and company should take some hope from that. By the same token, to miss two very clear-cut chances in the dying moments shows a lack of conviction, concentration and composure, something which will plague Villa regardless of whether they’re playing title-hopefuls or fellow stragglers. Swansea have won two of their past three Premier League matches, and whilst they’re prone to making defensive errors, particularly from set-pieces, Villa shouldn’t have the quality to create the pressure from which errors normally stem. Swansea at a canter.

Key Statistic | Swansea have won their last four matches against Aston Villa.

Key Player | Gylfi Sigurdsson v Jordan Ayew – Ayew remains Villa’s only consistent option heading forward, and whilst Brad Guzan was decent against City, don’t expect him to have another good game here, meaning Ayew will need to net at least once for Villa to take anything from this game. Sigurdsson meanwhile has had very little help from Swansea’s more established attacking players, but looks to have found a prodigy in Mo Barrow with whom he can work.

Prediction | Swansea 2 – 0 Aston Villa

EPL Predictions: Week 31 – Matchday 3, 2015/2016

(19) Newcastle v Sunderland (17)

Venue: St James’ Park | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 21, 2014 (0-1)

Sunderland have played to their opponents’ level in recent weeks, earning a point on their travels with consistency. It is difficult to gauge Newcastle given their managerial change, however a valiant effort against Leicester deserves some acknowledgment. Newcastle have been far better at home this season that they have been away and they definitely have the talent to escape relegation. Sunderland have won the previous six Tyne-Wear derbies and will look to make it seven this weekend. A classic six-pointer, we’re of the opinion that Newcastle will have enough going forward to earn all three points here. Sunderland will be happy to take just one point from their away trip but given Rafael Benítez’ inexperience in relegation scraps, he won’t be quite as conservative.

Key Statistic | Sunderland have conceded 38 goals away from home this season. They’ve conceded just 2 over their last two away matches however.

Key Player | Fabricio Coloccini v Vito Mannone – Defence could be crucial in this one, particularly with Sunderland likely to settle for a point. Coloccini has been terrible this season, but would be a welcome boost if he returns from injury.

Prediction | Newcastle 2 – 1 Sunderland

(7) Southampton v Liverpool (8)

Venue: St Mary’s Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: February 22, 2015 (0-2)

This is always a fixture we find difficult to call. Southampton have been incredibly inconsistent this season, whilst Liverpool haven’t been much better. The difference between the two sides is that Southampton’s inconsistency has largely come in patches. They may have won 6 of their last 10 games, but the Saints appear to be in a bit of a downward form transition after a couple of surprising results of late. Liverpool meanwhile have Europa League success and three consecutive EPL victories to hang their hat on. Southampton games are invariably close, whilst Liverpool have been experts at running up a score of late. We have very little confidence in this pick but Liverpool should be capable of riding a wave of confidence to victory against a team with a few injury issues up front.

Key Statistic | Liverpool have scored 14 goals over their last 5 away games across all competitions.

Key Player | Graziano Pelle v Philippe Coutinho – Pelle has become a crucial component of this side after experiencing an horrendous form slump through the mid-part of this season. Coutinho has been capable of brilliance this season but has lacked consistency. After a great game against United, he’ll look to back it up here in the league as Liverpool chance a European spot.

Prediction | Southampton 1 – 2 Liverpool

(4) Manchester City v Manchester United (6)

Venue: Etihad Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: November 2, 2014 (1-0)

Last time these two clubs met, it was horrific for the neutral. Neither side threatened the goals much as a stalemate wasn’t detrimental to the long-term ambitions of either team. Here, we have a different story on our hands. There are two schools of thought here. With City’s focus on the Champions League, they can arguably afford to go out and look for all three points. If they secure the, they’re back in the title hunt assuming results go their way. If they fail and United win, their place in the UCL is under threat for next season. United by the same token might approach this game as a classic six-pointer, however they could also try to lock up shop away from home, retain the gap to Champions League places and look to pick up points elsewhere on the run home. Fixtures between these clubs have played out unexpectedly more often than not in recent years, however this one looks relatively cut and dry. Both managers would be happy with a point here you would suspect, meaning a low-scoring match should be on the cards. United will defend deep and City noticeably struggled to break down a defensive Norwich outfit last weekend. With United’s current form, it would be surprising to see City concede multiple goals, however injuries to several of City’s central defenders, specifically Kompany, could prove troublesome. Considering United have conceded in 5 of their last 6 games, City should score, but will United have the firepower to reply? Not more than once.

Key Statistic | Manchester City have won 4 of the last 6 meetings between these two clubs.

Key Player | Sergio Aguero v Anthony Martial – Martial will have acres of space in which to operate as City sit high up the park. His success will be entirely dependent on how City’s makeshift centre-back pairing deal with the 3 of 4 chances United’s underwhelming midfield can create. Aguero struggled to make much of the few opportunities offered by Norwich but should find a little more space here.

Prediction | Manchester City 1 – 0 Manchester United

(2) Tottenham v Bournemouth (13)

Venue: White Hart Lane | Last Corresponding Meeting: N/A

Tottenham’s exit from Europe could be the best thing to happen to their Premier League campaign. With all eyes on the run home in the league and players being rested in the Europa league mid-week, don’t expect a slip-up here. Spurs were clearly distracted against Villa and we can’t emphasise how much higher our expectations are here. Bournemouth are a high-possession team who won’t sit as deep as Villa did, and as a result the likes of Kane, Lamela and Alli should really come into their own. Bournemouth games have been high-scoring of late but against the best defence in the EPL, they could run into real trouble. This will be one-way traffic.

Key Statistic | Despite scoring an early goal, Bournemouth were drubbed 5-1 by Tottenham at home earlier this season, with Harry Kane and goal-keeping errors their main issues.

Key Player | Harry Kane v Max Gradel – Gradel has been brilliant since returning from injury, and has really sparked the Cherries’ attack. Kane is in the running for the Golden Boot and should get on the scoresheet here to draw level with Jamie Vardy.

Prediction | Tottenham 3 – 1 Bournemouth

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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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