Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola . / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF
The 2016/2017 EPL season is past its halfway point and for Pep Guardiola, after a bright and fast start to life in the EPL, things haven’t gone the way he would have hoped. His Manchester City side are in fifth place after twenty-one games and ten points off the league leaders, Chelsea. The Catalan has never been this far off the top of the table at any point in all his years as a top flight manager and this is surely a new experience for him, however, we are always constantly reminded that the when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, so Senor Guardiola, the football world is earnestly to see if you will come out at the end of this EPL season smelling of roses or cow dung.
It doesn’t get any easier for Guardiola as his Manchester City side welcomes Tottenham Hotspurs, the team that demystified Man City this season and handed the club its first loss of the campaign, to the Etihad this weekend. This will be the marquee fixture for this weekend and as usual, I will be previewing the game and some other EPL games especially the ones likely to feature Nigerians.
Seven games will be played today and kicking off the twenty second match-week of this EPL season will be Liverpool and Swansea at Anfield.
A massive thirty points separate both clubs with Liverpool sitting in third position on the log and Swansea rock bottom. The Reds know that a win will push them to second place at least until Tottenham play Man City later in the day. Liverpool will come into this game searching for their first league win of 2017 and what better team to achieve that against than the team currently occupying the basement. They are currently unbeaten in their last twelve competitive matches at Anfield and have scored more goals than any other side in the league this season. The Swans have just one win from their last six league games and two wins in their last 10 league away games, although they won their last away game.
They have also conceded more goals than any side in the league this season. It will be hard to see beyond a Liverpool victory in this match.
There will be five games kicking off at 4pm Nigerian time today and the first one I will be previewing will take place at the Vitality stadium when Bournemouth host Watford. Odion Ighalo seems to have again lost his starting spot in the team due to his lack of goals this term and the person who has benefitted from this has been another Nigerian, although not the one the teeming fans of the Super eagles would have been hoping to see. Stefano Okaka, who is Italian by birth, has been getting the nod over Ighalo and the other Nigerian in the team, Isaac Success has not had a great time this season with injuries limiting his playing time.
The Hornets are winless in their last six league games, losing four of them and another defeat today against Bournemouth will not do them any good at all if they hope to avoid a relegation battle this season. The Cherries were beaten by Hull last weekend, their second straight loss in the league and they will be desperate to avoid a third consecutive loss. The loss of Nathan Ake, who was recalled from his loan by Chelsea, has also greatly affected the defensive performance of Bournemouth. The Hornets are only two points behind Bournemouth and should be motivated by the fact that they can leapfrog the Cherries with a victory today. However, Watford have also had a man sent off in two of their last three trips to Bournemouth and they will need to ensure that doesn’t happen again if they want to get something from this fixture. The last three matches between these teams have all ended in draws and this looks like following the same path.
Victor Anichebe will face a late fitness test to find out if he can feature for Sunderland when they travel to the Hawthorns to face West Brom today. The Baggies were humilated last weekend by a rampant Tottenham team, a defeat that ended their two game winning streak. They have been very decent at home this season and will be looking to getting back to winning ways with a victory over Sunderland. Jonny Evans has a calf injury that kept him out of their defeat to Tottenham last weekend and is a huge doubt today. Things have looked dire for Sunderland in the past few weeks; they are currently winless in their last four matches, conceding twelve goals in the process. Injuries have been their bane this season and Jack Rodwell has joined those on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury last weekend, while three players are away in Gabon participating in the African Cup of Nations.
Four of the last five fixtures involving these two sides have ended in draws and my take will be this one panning out in another stalemate.
In the three remaining 4pm fixtures today, Middlesbrough will host West Ham at the Riverside Stadium, while Everton, still basking in their 4-nil dismantling of Manchester City, will travel to the capital to face Crystal Palace and Manchester United, who finally failed to win a match for the first time in ten games last weekend against Liverpool will be guests of a Stoke City side on a two game winning run, at the Britannia.
The day’s final match will take place in Manchester when Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side host a high flying Tottenham. Tottenham are on a six game winning streak and the Cityzens will be hoping to pay back Spurs in their own coin as the Lilywhites were the team that defeated Man City, stopping the Cityzens’ six-game winning streak in the league back in October.
Guardiola effectively ruled his team out of the title race after the defeat at Goodison Park, and it appears he will face a battle just to qualify for the Champions League on current form. Despite their gutless performance against Everton last weekend, It is likely thet Guardiola will field the same team for today’s encounter. Fernandinho is still suspended while Ilkay Gundogan is a long term absentee and the duo of Fernando and Vincent Kompany will likely sit out on this one. However, there is some good news for Guardiola as Gabriel Jesus received international clearance in midweek and is in line to make his Manchester City debut today. For Tottenham, they are red hot right now, having scored nineteen goals and conceded just three in their last six league games which have all been wins. That defensive solidity will surely be tested today as they will be without one of their pillars in the form of Jan Vertonghen, who sustained an ankle injury in their 4-0 win over West Brom and is expected to miss the next six weeks of action. Tottenham did the double over Man City last season and are just ninety minutes away from trying to get their second consecutive double over the Cityzens. This game should be very thrilling as both teams parade a host of exciting attacking talents and they should be going at each other full tilt.
Three matches will be played on Sunday and they should all involve Nigerians. The first one will be involve the duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Ahmed Musa when they travel to the south coast with their Leicester team to face Southampton. The foxes were thrashed 3-0 at their backyard by Chelsea last weekend and they will go into this fixture in fifteenth place, three points behind their thirteenth placed opponents. Leonardo Ulloa is a doubt for today’s game, while Daniel Amartey, Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani are all at AFCON. Southampton have not been able to beat the Foxes in their last four attempts. They are on a four match losing streak in the league and will desperately want to avoid making it five as that will drag them closer to the relegation dogfight. Coach Claude Puel will be sweating on the fitness of Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand for this game. Leicester have been terrible away from home this season, but I expect them to get at least a point from this game.
Alex Iwobi and his Arsenal team-mates will welcome Burnley to the Emirates in tomorrow’s second fixture and will hope to make it six consecutive wins over the Clarets. The Gunners will want to extend their unbeaten run to five games, having won three and drawn one of their last four games. They are currently in the fourth position with forty-four points, one behind Spurs and Liverpool and eight behind Chelsea. The Gunners have won their last five competitive meetings against the Clarets and have never lost to Burnley in four matches at home, where they have scored eleven goals. Meanwhile, Burnley are currently in tenth position and are ten points away from the relegation zone with twenty-six points. They are on a decent run of form, having amassed three wins from their last 5 games and will be hoping to get something from the Gunners, but their dire away form gives more than enough reason to bet against them getting anything from this game. They have gotten only one point from an available twenty-seven, away from home this season and I think that says it all about their travel sickness.
The final fixture of match-week twenty-two will be between leaders Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. Chelsea bounced back from losing their long winning streak to Tottenham, with a 3-nil defeat over current Champions Leicester City at King Power Stadium last weekend. Diego Costa has returned to training with the rest of the first team but it remains to be seen whether Spaniard will be recalled to the starting XI after his argument with Conte last week. Despite beating Bournemouth at home last weekend, the Tigers are still in the relegation zone with sixteen points, however, If they do the impossible and get a win in this game, they will be out of the zone depending on other results. Marco Silva may reward a number of the players that started in last weekend’s victory with another chance to impress in tomorrow’s game, although new signings Oumar Niasse and Evandro may be pushing for a start. Robert Snodgrass will be a doubt for this match due to a slight muscle injury, but David Meyler and Shaun Maloney should be fine to feature. Victor Moses, who has virtually sealed his place in Chelsea’s starting XI, should once again start in this encounter and maybe chip in with a goal or an assist.
The stage is now set for this weekend’s round of matches and as usual fans of this exciting league, cannot wait for it to commence. Depending on the team you support or whether you’re neutral, the excitement of the EPL will somehow get through to you and I will return in a forthnight after next week’s FA Cup games with the preview of game-week twenty three. Cheers!