Liverpool’s Senegalese midfielder Sadio Mane has an unsuccessful shot during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on September 10, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS
This weekend will witness the last round of EPL games for 2017 and what a year it has been. We witnessed Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ in the 2003/2004 season and we all agreed that they were something special and their feat of going through a whole season without defeat will be hard to match, right? Well, it might just be matched and even surpassed this season if what we’re witnessing from the current Manchester City side continues till the end of this season.
The Gunners had a record of 26 wins and 12 draws from 38 games during their unbeaten season and won only the EPL title that season. However, this Manchester city side have already won 19 games and drawn just once in the 20 games they’ve played so far this season, they are fifteen points ahead of their closest challengers in the league, in the semi-finals of the League Cup, knockout round of the UEFA Champions League and still in the FA Cup. They are well on their way of having one of the best ever seasons in EPL history. They have set different records and are still setting more. It’s not been all about Manchester City this season as Harry Kane has also been impressive and breaking different records. He has broken Alan Shearer’s record for the most goals scored in a calendar year in the league and is also well on his way to breaking the 31-goal record of a 38-game season jointly held by Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. We’ll just sit back and watch how the second half of the season unfolds for them to see if they will get the tag of the best ever EPL side. Nine games will be played this weekend and I’ll be previewing some of them below.
CHELSEA vs. STOKE
Chelsea beat Brighton 2-nil on Boxing Day to reduce the deficit behind second-placed Manchester United to just one point. The reigning champions will have an opportunity to move into second-place at least for a couple of hours (Manchester United do not play till later in the evening of that same day) when they host Stoke City at Stamford Bridge this weekend. Antonio Conte’s men have been quietly efficient lately, thanks to a rock-solid defensive line which has kept clean sheets in three consecutive league games. The Italian would love to see his attack score more and will hope that Alvaro Morata, who scored in the Boxing Day victory, continues in that rich vein of form.
The Spaniard has scored ten league goals and should add to that tally against the worst defense in the league. Stoke City seem to have recovered a bit from their slump, as they have picked up a win and a draw from their last couple of games, after losing three on the bounce. Their biggest problem this season has been their defense; they have conceded 41 goals, the most in the division. They will be facing more defensive crisis in this game as Kurt Zouma is unable to face his parent club, while Bruno Martins Indi is sidelined and Ryan Shawcross a doubt, which could leave Geoff Cameron partnering up with Kevin Wimmer at the heart of the defense. Jese and Glen Johnson are both doubts, while Stephen Ireland is a long-term absentee. Chelsea will also face defensive issues of theirs as David Luiz and Andreas Christensen will sit this one out due to injury and illness. I expect Chelsea to win this one easily.
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. SOUTHAMPTON
The Red Devils had to come back from two goals down to secure a point against Burnley in their last home game and will definitely not want a repeat situation. It was the third consecutive game without a win in all competitions for the team led by Jose Mourinho and some fans are already getting impatient. The Saints are winless in last seven games in the Premier League and they will travel to Old Trafford without their star man and top scorer Charlie Austin who is sidelined due to injury. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side has been very easy to break down lately and they’ll head into this on the back of a demolishing 5-2 loss to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley (a hat-trick from Harry Kane). Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku who has failed to find the target in last three matches for Manchester United might just score a couple here. Jesse Lingard, who has been the most prolific figure in Mourinho’s squad recently, will be another player for the Saints defense to keep an eye on as he would be buoyed by his brace off the bench against against Burnley. Manchester United have been unlucky with injuries in this campaign and will be without Eric Bailly, Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Anthony Valencia through injury, while Marcos Rojo is suspended for this one and Anthony Martial is a doubt. For the Saints, Charlie Austin, Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand are all sidelined. Manchester United should be able to grind out a victory here.
LIVERPOOL vs. LEICESTER
Liverpool demolished Swansea 5-nil on Boxing Day to continue their spell of excellent form in the final third, they have now scored 12 goals in their last three league games. They should be able to continue in that form going in their last fixture of the year this weekend against Leicester City whose defense hasn’t been that impressive this season. The Foxes are currently winless in three games after winning four straight matches in the league and have to start winning games if they want to maintain their top-half status. Jurgen Klopp has had huge issues with his team’s defensive line throughout the entire season basically, but he’ll be happy with the fact his men kept a clean sheet against Swansea City and with the imminent arrival of new signing, Virgil Van Dijk. Philippe Coutinho is showing why Barcelona are willing to part with a record fee to get him with his recent displays for the Reds, while Mo Salah has been the buy of the season so far, as the Egyptian has scored fifteen league goals already this season. If this game goes according to form then we should expect lots of goals in this fixture.