Another sticky week for Dom Kureen saw him defeated 6-4 by actor/muso Kelvin West. Surely the current rut can’t last for much longer, with a packed Christmas Premier League schedule allowing ample opportunity for a renaissance.
In this Boxing Day instalment of Premier Predictions, Dom takes on the might of music journalist, youth educator and former Irish footballer Jonathan O’Shea, a man who speaks 14 languages fluently, three of them Flemish.
*All Boxing Day fixtures kick off at 3pm unless stated.
Chelsea vs West Ham United
Kick Off: 12.45pm
Chelsea were effortlessly impressive at Stoke during a 2-0 victory last weekend, with evergreen John Terry scooping man of the match honours. West Ham should provide a more arduous proposition, with main man Andy Carroll at last finding his feet (and fitness). The lanky sick note should give Terry and Cahill a headache, but the Hammers will exit empty handed.
A blood-and-thunder East v West clash of cultures is on the cards at the Bridge. Big Fat Sam may have ‘diversified the brand’ this season, but will primarily concentrate on using his multiple big units to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea’s own beasts (Ivanovic, Matic, Diego Costa, et al). A win will keep Chelsea clear at the top and (come May) the Hammers can clinch a Europa League spot.
Burnley vs Liverpool
Martin Skrtel’s 97th minute point salvager against Arsenal felt significant for the Reds. Unfortunate not to win on the day, Brendan Rodgers will view Burnley as the match where his team can place short-term crisis talks to bed. Clarets’ star man Danny Ings is always lively; the young striker could conceivably trade Turf Moor for Anfield next month.
Will Danny Ings still be around by the end of January? Will Brendan Rodgers? I reckon the former will net a late equaliser to once again undermine the latter’s floundering attempts to rescue Liverpool’s stalled season. A vitally important transfer window awaits both sides.
Crystal Palace vs Southampton
The Eagles are among a crop of unpredictable teams in the top-flight this term. On one hand they have bucket loads of flair in wide positions, on the other they lack any form of legit front man (Fraizer Campbell doesn’t count.) Saints were back to their best with a 3-0 slaying of Everton last week, but they’re never as penetrating on their travels. A point apiece.
Palace, as their curiously-coiffed gaffer freely admits, are desperately short up front. The Saints, meanwhile, have many expensively-acquired forward options and can also cherry- pick fresh prospects, such as the impressive Harrison Reed, from their fantastic academy as and when they wish. Ronald Koeman is notoriously level-headed and will stay patient while his side grind out the win.
Everton vs Stoke City
The Europa League has clearly affected Everton, with half of their summer acquisitions loan deals made permanent, inevitably that policy can promote stagnation. Worse still, key duo Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry have been far less effective since becoming full-time Toffees. Stoke are destined for a lower-mid table finish, remaining adjacent to the bottom feeders after this narrow defeat.
It’s been a tough term on both sides of Stanley Park. Despite bringing the old gang back together (loanees Barry and Lukaku signing permanent deals in the summer), Everton have regressed. The Toffees real strength, as anyone will tell you though, lies in the wide areas – one of their flying full-backs will spring to the rescue here with a characteristic late penalty-box surge.
Leicester City vs Tottenham Hotspur
Nigel Pearson currently resembles a toddler padding through quick sand, resorting to the same stale tactics and clichéd post-match diatribe week after week. His is a glorified Championship team, who despite early season promise are, by a distance, the puniest collective in the division. The Foxes will be totally overrun by an improving Spurs side – for whom Christian Eriksen has been a revelation.
Freakish free-for-alls apart (the dreamlike 5-3 thumping of United) Leicester have struggled to create and score. Consistency, for Spurs, continues to be more elusive than Twitter fiend Joey Barton’s sense of hypocrisy. Erik Lamela brings to mind early-United era Cristiano Ronaldo: all slickness but little substance, while Christian Eriksen is the real deal and Harry Kane shows promise, but they still lack a killer instinct.
Manchester United vs Newcastle United
If this fixture had been played a month ago Newcastle might have fancied their chances. Since then Louis Van Gaal’s side have stumbled upon some consistency, in no small part aided by the return of Michael Carrick. The Toon have an injury crisis that threatens to suck them back into trouble – they should be fine once a few of the better players return, but until then it could be onerous for fans.
Falcao’s Villa Park equaliser last week should be an ominous sign for the other Champions League chasers – with RVP back in full flow, United now possess the most deadly striking unit in the PL. Newcastle left the (Gallow)gate open while chasing an overdue derby win last week and suffered another bitter defeat by the merciless Mackems. Defensive frailties abound here, so expect six goals as a minimum.
Sunderland vs Hull City
The Mackems won the Tyne-Wear derby in the dying throes on Sunday, as their Geordie hosts overplayed gung-ho when seeking a late winner, that was only Sunderland’s third league victory in 17 matches thus far. With both teams averaging less than one goal per game this has the potential to have all the hard hitting action of Pip Schofield interrogating Pudsey Bear.
Having grown tired of ties, Sunderland finally seized the day against their reviled rivals and the sublimely talented Adam Johnson was the hero once more. Top scorer Stephen Fletcher will be the difference in this hugely important game for ex-Mackem manager Steve Bruce. Hull will have to get busy in the January window if they want to stay afloat (for evidence that Tigers can float, check out ‘Life of Pi’)
Swansea City vs Aston Villa
The overturning of slack jawed speed merchant Gabby Agbonlahor’s unwarranted red card against Manchester United provides a boost for Paul Lambert, who must envisage the former England forward’s presence alongside Christian Benteke as a key component of the Villains’ blueprint. Swansea love playing on their own ground and Wilfried Bony will fancy his chances against a ponderous Villa defence.
Big boys Bony and Benteke will share the spoils here, after Villa customarily cede 79% of possession and hope to nick 0.4 of a goal on the break. Delph and Sanchez will provide some serious steel in midfield. By contrast, the Swans’ Gary Monk sets out to play keep-ball in every eventuality and has been richly rewarded by a high-flying start to the season.
West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester City
The Baggies don’t often suffer heavy defeats, but have the stodgiest midfield in the top-tier, burdened by unimaginative workhorses. In the absence of Sergio Aguero the likes of David Silva and Jesus Navas have come to the party for City, who will leave the Hawthorns with three more precious points.
Striker-less City were a joy to behold once they took the upper hand last week; with David Silva, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure sparking off their unlikely foil, the ever-versatile James Milner. They’ll score again in the absence of Aguero & co, because West Brom are flakier than filo. Saido Berahino can edge back to form with another eye-catching display against a PL big gun, but alas no post-Chrimbo cigar.
Arsenal vs Queens Park Rangers
Kick Off: 17.30
Matthieu Debuchy turned from hero to villain last week, the right-back cum centre-half scoring his first Gunners goal to level matters at Anfield, followed by ludicrous marking that allowed Martin Skrtel to bullet home the latest of late equalisers. In 11-goal Charlie Austin Rangers boast a striker with the ability to disturb any makeshift defence, although without a single point on their travels and with the ancient Clint Hill/Richard Dunne in situ they’ll concede a few too.
Expect: Arsenal to revert to swashbuckling type back at home, after travails on their travels. Wenger’s boys barely deserved to return with a point from Anfield but nearly snatched all three – QPR always shrivel away from Loftus Road’s tight confines though. Don’t expect: Sky’s Thierry Henry to make a brief cameo with a last minute handballed winner for the Gunners.
After four editions of Premier Predictions DJ Rees remains the front runner, with Dom just ahead of Kelvin West, despite him suffering 6-4 loss in their head-to-head!
1. DJ Rees: 11 points
2. Just Mike: 9
3. True Geordie: 8
4. Dom: 7.25 (average points scored)
5. Kelvin West: 6
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