Weekly EPL Predictions: February 17-25

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After a fortnight dominated by FA Cup fixtures and the return of the Champions League, we’re back with EPL Predictions!

Normally we look at the three most significant fixtures of the weekend in depth, but with a particularly intriguing match and an absolute blockbuster lined up for this weekend, we thought we’d focus our efforts.

English Premier League Predictions – Day 27

17th Feb 15:00

Liverpool v Swansea

Anfield

2-1

23rd Feb 12:45

Fulham v Stoke City

Craven Cottage

1-0

23rd Feb 15:00

Arsenal v Aston Villa

Emirates Stadium

3-1

23rd Feb 15:00

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland

The Hawthorns

1-1

23rd Feb 15:00

Norwich v Everton

Carrow Road

1-2

23rd Feb 15:00

Queens Park Rangers v Manchester United

Loftus Road

0-1

23rd Feb 15:00

Reading v Wigan Athletic

Madejski Stadium

2-2

24nd Feb 13:30

Manchester City v Chelsea

Etihad Stadium

1-1

24rd Feb 13:30

Newcastle United v Southampton

Sports Direct Arena

2-1

25rd Feb 20:00

West Ham United v Tottenham

Upton Park

0-2

Arsenal v Aston Villa: 3-1

How a club reacts to adversity is arguably the most hypothesized inevitability in sports writing. Do teams lift? Do they simply give up? Arsenal have fought adversity over their last 8 trophy-less years and after being defeated by Bayern in their opening leg of the Champions League Round of 16 fixture, they look likely to continue this fruitless stretch.

The Gunners however aren’t newcomers to media-imposed pressure and doubts over Wenger’s future. They’re in fact experts, almost numb to the uncertainty that is each and every week. In fact, the only League points they have dropped since January 1 are against Chelsea, Manchester City and a red-hot Liverpool. Just in case we felt consecutive clean sheets against Stoke and Sunderland meant anything though, the often free-scoring gunners were held scoreless by Blackburn and were shredded by Bayern at the Emirates.

To capitalize on the much-publicized calamity that is Arsenal’s defence, Aston Villa need to have the weapons to exploit the Gunners’ weaknesses.

Villa have no doubt improved over the last month and look a vastly different side to the one humbled at Chelsea (8-0), Tottenham (4-0) and against Wigan (3-0) to end 2012. One month later and the Villains were unlucky to leave Goodison Park with just a point before deservedly moving out of the relegation zone with a win against West Ham. To compound these contrasting fortunes, Paul Lambert’s men match up favourably against Arsenal. Of his side’s previous 6 League goals, 5 have come from set pieces or crosses. If you compare Bayern’s 3 first-leg goals against Arsenal with Aston Villa’s latest 3 against Everton, they appear near identical.

Expect Aston Villa to direct traffic through Benteke with Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia tracking in behind Arsenal’s pre-occupied central defenders. Whilst the Villains should hit the scoresheet, they’re lacking the class to do more, even against an incredibly unpredictable Gunners outfit coming off a demoralizing mid-week defeat.

 

Manchester City v Chelsea: 1-1

On paper, this game should represent a pivotal fixture in the race for the Barclays Premiership title. In reality, it is little more than another installment in the scrap for Champions League qualification. In other words, instead of being a battle between two elite sides, fans at Etihad will most likely witness an error-ridden match between two teams attempting to avoid disappointing their fans more than they already have.

In the lead up to what is the most difficult match to predict this weekend, both Benitez and Mancini’s men come off convincing wins in the FA Cup, having thumped Brentford and Leeds respectively. Unfortunately, they’re fortunes have also been matched in the League with both having experienced horrific runs of form of late.

After claiming he has been the best manager in England over the past 15 months, Mancici has some explaining to do as his side finds itself fighting for Champions League qualification and an FA Cup in an otherwise fruitless season. In attack, they’ve proven as potent as ever, finishing scoreless just once in 2013 so far. In their defence however, the perfect January in which they didn’t concede a goal seems an eternity ago as The Citizens have been scored against five times in their last two EPL fixtures. Worryingly, 4 of the 5 have come from inexplicable defensive errors and 3 of the 5 have come from counter-attacks.

Chelsea have appeared their usual selves in glimpses, however relied on individual brilliance to avoid leaving Newcastle scoreless and needed Wigan to put in arguably the worst defensive performance of any side this season to trounce an opposition they would normally put away with ease. Defensively, Chelsea has been abysmal. Throwing away leads against Newcastle and Reading, the Blues have been susceptible late in matches and from long distance with 5 of their last 6 EPL goals conceded stemming form plays that began over 30 yards from goal.

Not since October can you find a 3-match stretch in the League in which Chelsea have conceded more goals than in their past 3 fixtures. On that occasion, they played Swansea, Manchester United and Tottenham; this time around, they’ve faced Reading, Newcastle and Wigan.

Both sides are wary of the fact that they go into an attack-dominated fixture with their defenses in disarray. As such, this match should be played in amore conservative manner that we would otherwise expect. Juan Mata should thrive with the space City have been giving opposition attacking midfielders and will cause havoc down Manchester’s left flank. For the hosts, a solid opening hour is key. With Chelsea’s large defensive 5 evidently fatiguing late in matches, Silva and Aguero are poised to cash in late. If one side is to snatch a late victory at Etihad Stadium, it is the hosts.

Generally, we’d say the side that wants it more would win this match. However, the truth is neither seems overly fussed and a draw is not only the most likely result, but also the fairest one.

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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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