Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane (2L) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north of London on January 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS /
The Premier League doesn’t go on a mid-season break and neither do we, the loyal customers of this very beloved product. If it’s possible, the fans would love to watch the competition all year long. The final round of fixtures for 2016 (although two of them crept into 2017), produced lots of talking points from Manchester United’s comeback win over Middlesbrough, to Chelsea extending their record breaking winning run and the Liverpool -Manchester City match being anti-climatic and far from the goalfest we expected. I wouldn’t even have time to write about other major talking points from week nineteen, because the official first match-week of 2017 (week twenty) begins today and I have to give you a preview of the matches.
The biggest game of this match-week will be played on Wednesday when Tottenham host Chelsea with the intention of stopping the blues’ winning run and cutting into the gap of the league leaders. However, before I get into that game, let me do a quick preview of the games that will be played today and tomorrow, starting with the today’s first kickoff which will be between Middlesbrough and Leicester at the Riverside Stadium.
Middlesbrough almost pulled off a major smash and grab against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday, but were undone by two late goals from the Red Devils to leave Manchester empty handed. Fortunately for them, they wouldn’t have much time to grieve over that result as they have to gather themselves and prepare for the Champions’ visit today.
Boro have lost four of their last five games in the league and facing a Leicester City that have lost just once in their last three, they have to be at their organized best to beat the Champions. Leicester City have been having a very poor season especially away from home, where they are yet to win a game this season, picking up only two points from a possible twenty seven. Islam Slimani, who will be heading to Gabon for the AFCON very soon, was the match winner for the Foxes against the Hammers on Saturday and will want to replicate that feat against Boro this afternoon. Middlesbrough are winless in their last thirteen league games against Leicester since a 1-0 win at the Riverside Stadium in March 2002, this winless run against the Foxes is their longest current winless streak against any team.
Leicester twice came from behind to draw 2-2 in the reverse fixture in November, thanks to penalties from Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani. Ahmed Musa, who was an unused substitute in their last match, should hopefully get some game time in this match and subsequent ones with the imminent departure of Riyadh Mahrez and Islam Slimani to the African Cup of Nations.
Four games will kick off at 4pm Nigerian time today and two of them should involve Nigerian players. Sunderland will host Liverpool at the Stadium of Light and the Black Cats know that the relegation battle will intensify with the turn of the year, which means that every point they can get from now on will go a long way in helping them in their fight against relegation. They host Liverpool this afternoon on the back of four losses from their last five games and their recent home record against the Reds haven’t been impressive at all. They have lost their last three home games against Liverpool in the league and their last home win over the Reds was half a decade ago.
Jermaine Defoe has been one of the few bright spots they’ve had this season and the will be hoping he has his scoring boots on today, he will be supported by Victor Anichebe and they should be able to trouble the Liverpool backline. The duo need all the help they can get as the Black Cats currently have the second worst offensive record in the league with just seventeen goals scored and the duo accounting for twelve of them. Infact, the other five goals have come from Patrick Van Aanholt(3), Fabio Borrini(1) and an own goal. Liverpool will go into this fixture hoping to make it five wins on the bounce with a victory today. They defeated Manchester City on Saturday to keep the distance between them and leaders Chelsea at six points and with the form of Chelsea, they know they cannot afford to slip up and allow the blues extend their lead over them.
The other game that should involve a Nigerian this afternoon will happen at the Etihad Stadium when Manchester City host Burnley. Kelechi Iheanacho scored in the penultimate match of last year and featured for only about a minute in the year’s last game, the 1-0 loss to Liverpool. Nigerians will be hoping that he gets to feature in today’s game at some point or even from the start. The Citizens suffered their fourth loss of the season to close out 2016 and will want to begin the year on a good note, which a resounding victory over the Clarets in today’s game. Sergio Aguero returned against Liverpool, but didn’t have a good outing and the Argentine will be looking to correct that today. Burnley defeated Sunderland in their last fixture with help from an Andy Gray hat trick and that will put them in confident mood going into this fixture against the Citizens. The last time these teams met at the Etihad in the league, it ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw and we wouldn’t mind a repeat of that encounter, even with a different result.
West Bromwich Albion will welcome relegation threatened Hull City to Hawthorns this afternoon. The Baggies had a tough December and managed 3 wins and 3 defeats from their six fixtures, although the defeats came against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. They were able to beat Watford, Swansea City and West Brom and that should give them the needed confidence in this tie against the Tigers, who went winless throughout the December fixtures losing four and drawing two, they were also unable to score in four of those games. West Brom are unbeaten in their last four games against Hull City with two wins and two draws and with the forty one goals the Tigers have conceded this season, the baggies will believe that they can add to that tally and get a convincing win against the Tigers.
Ronald Koeman will face his former club today when Everton welcome Southampton to Goodison Park. The Toffees have lost just once in their last three games and are ready to hand the Saints their third league loss in a row. Koeman may make some changes to the side that drew 2-2 draw against Hull on Friday and the Dutchman may also revert to a back three for the reception of his former club. Mason Holgate has looked assured when he has featured for the Toffees this season and his re-introduction could be one of two changes to the backline, with Ramiro Funes Mori an option to replace Phil Jagielka. For the Saints, Nathan Redmond is available for selection after serving a one-match ban. However, they will be without star man Virgil van Dijk, who was sent off in 2-1 defeat to West Brom on New Year’s Eve. Morrocan wonderkid, Sofiane Boufal will feature in this match before jetting off to meet up with his National team for the Africa Cup of Nations. Despite Everton’s patchy form, they remain unbeaten at Goodison Park this season and will fancy their chances today given Southampton have had little rest over the last five days.
Today’s final match will be between West Ham and Manchester United at the London Stadium. The Red Devils ended the 2016 with five consecutive league wins and will be hoping to continue that run in 2017. They are now on a thirteen game unbeaten run in all competitions. Jose Mourinho has an almost full squad to choose from and he will need to show the sort of tactical acumen he displayed in their last match against Sunderland if he hopes to continue his winning run. The Hammers have been good at home against Manchester United with twenty four wins, eighteen draws and fourteen defeats to the Red Devils. This will be West Ham’s first game against Manchester United at the New London Stadium; their last game at their former stadium was a thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester United. These sides have already met twice this season and both games were played at Old Trafford, a 1-1 draw in the league and a 4-1 win for Manchester United in the EFL Cup. The Hammers will want to get a win over the Red Devils today to balance the sequence.
There will be three matches tomorrow and the first of them will be at the Vitality Stadium when Bournemouth entertain Arsenal. The Cherries tore apart Swansea City on New Year’s Eve and return to home soil hoping to do the same to a team at the opposite end of the table, Arsenal. Benik Afobe was among the scorers for Bournemouth at the Liberty Stadium and would love to repeat same against his former club, while on-loan midfielder, Jack Wilshere will be ineligible to play against his parent club. Arsenal have won all four of their previous meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions, scoring 10 goals and conceding just one. However, the Gunners have lost their last two Premier League away games, each time losing from a winning position; they wouldn’t want to make it three away losses in a row. The Cherries have won five of their last eight home games in the league, the same tally that they managed in their first 20 games at home in the competition. Alex Iwobi got his second league goal of the season against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day and would be hoping for an encore in this game.
Two games will kick off at 9pm Nigerian time tomorrow, Crystal Palace host Swansea City at Selhurst Park, while Stoke City will welcome Watford. The Swans won a thrilling match against the Eagles 5-4 in the reverse fixture in November and that result did not help both managers of the sides as Swansea’s Bob Bradley and Crystal Palace’s Alan Pardew both lost their jobs a little bit later. The Eagles cannot afford to lose this game as defeat will pull them fully into the relegation battle. The Swans have kept four clean sheets their last five away league games against the Eagles, conceding just once in the other match. The other 9pm fixture will be between Stoke City and Watford at the bet365 stadium. The Potters Stoke have won their last two league games against Watford, after a run of six games without a win against them and would be looking to make it three in a row. The Hornets have lost four successive Premier League away games, and were especially terrible last weekend against Tottenham at home. Both teams are just separated by a point and Stoke know they can go above Watford with a win. Both teams conceded four goals in their last defeats so we should be expecting lots of goals in this encounter.
The final fixture of this round of matches will see Tottenham take on Chelsea at White Hart Lane. The last time these teams met, It turned out to be a game of two halves as Tottenham totally bossed the opening half of the game, while Cheslsea outplayed them in the second half en route a 2-1 victory. Diego Costa returned with a bang for the Blues bagging his fourteenth league goal of the season and would love to add more. Pedro Rodriguez is also back in the team after serving out his one-match ban. For Tottenham, they need to beat this seemingly unbeatable Chelsea as it would help them cut the gap on the leaders. The Blues have not won at White Hart Lane since a 4-2 victory in 2012 and to continue their record run, they will need to do the double against Spurs this season. Dele Alli seems to have found his scoring boots just at the right time as he has scored four goals in his last two league games, while Harry Kane has scored three and Chelsea will need to be very wary of these two. Tottenham are in a rich vein of form, having won six out of their last seven matches, scoring 13 goals in their last four, while for Chelsea, their thirteen match winning streak says it all about their form.
The League will go on break after this round for the FA Cup and resume in a fortnight, in all honesty, i think we all need a little breather. I’ll be back when the league returns and until then, let’s hope that this match-week gets us talking for two weeks. Welcome to 2017!!!