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RG Fantasy: ‘Dilly-Ding, Dilly-Dong’ returns

Photograph by Simon Cooper/PA via APWhat a character: Claudio Ranieri will take charge of Fulham for the first time when they face Southampton at home

So everyone’s new favourite international football competition, the Uefa Nations League, saw its qualifying stage come to a close this week and the long wait for England fans could finally be over.

Football could quite possibly be coming home or, er, to Switzerland, but more than likely Portugal or Holland.

With international friendlies no longer as tedious as they once were, well apart from Wayne Rooney’s fanfare farewell against the United States, those weekends without domestic football have been slightly more bearable ... slightly.

However, with the dreams of international glory put back on hold until at least June (come on England!) ... attention turns back to club matters this weekend and with resumption of the English Premier League and, even more excitingly, the RG fantasy League.

Back to business and with the league now 12 games down and a third of the way through, defending champions Manchester City look on course not only to retain their title but also surpass the 100-point haul Pep Guardiola’s men amassed last season on their way to glory.

They hold a two-point advantage over second-placed Liverpool and a four-point lead over third-placed Chelsea, with all three sides aiming to maintain their unbeaten starts to the season this weekend.

Meanwhile, at the other end, fans of basement-side Fulham will be eagerly anticipating an upturn in fortune and a new brand of “Dilly-Ding, Dilly-Dong” football (whatever that actually means), with the appointment of Premier League winner Claudio Ranieri.

The Cottagers are rooted to the foot of the table after a run of six straight league defeats, which led to the sacking of Slavisa Jokanovic, but all is not lost with fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town just two points ahead with Cardiff City, Southampton and Crystal Palace only a further point ahead of them.


Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City


Leicester City appear to have been unified by the recent the death of the club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash.

We saw three years ago how dangerous the Foxes can be when they are at maximum motivation and inspiration and their team spirit seems to have been consolidated with two clean sheets in their 1-0 away win at Cardiff and a goalless draw at home to Burnley.

Despite back-to-back away defeats to Everton and Cardiff City, Brighton’s previously strong recent home form at the AMEX Stadium, including successive 1-0 wins over against West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, has left them comfortably in mid-table.

With Leicester’s newly formed dogged defence and Brighton’s difficulty in scoring more than one goal, this will likely be a fairly tight affair.

Prediction: 1-1

Everton v Cardiff City


Cardiff City have made little impact away from home this season and may struggle on the road again against an Everton side who are thriving at Goodison Park.

The Bluebirds will have gained confidence from their last outing, a 2-1 home victory over Brighton courtesy of a last-gasp Sol Bamba goal, but Niel Warnock’s men have so far struggled away from South Wales, losing four out of five and scoring only twice in the process.

The Toffees in contrast are finally starting to live up to their pre-season hype and Marco Silva’s men enjoy the home comforts of Goodison with 13 of their 19 points so far this season collected at home.

Prediction 2-0

Manchester United v

Crystal Palace


Manchester United cannot afford any more slip-ups this season as they welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford tomorrow.

José Mourinho’s Red Devils already sit 12 points off the pace in eighth place, with four defeats, including a damaging 3-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City before the international break.

They welcome a struggling Crystal Palace who are on a seven-game winless run having faced Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in their previous three outings, leaving Roy Hodgson’s Eagles out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Despite the anticipated return of talisman Wilfried Zaha this weekend, it’s difficult to see the South Londoner’s breaking their winless streak against United, having never beaten the Red Devils in the Premier League.

Prediction 2-0

Watford v Liverpool


Liverpool are hot on the heels on champions Manchester City as Jürgen Klopp takes his title chasers to Watford.

Klopp’s men have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season, and have conceded just five goals in 12 games to sit two points behind pacesetters Manchester City.

The Hornets surprisingly strong start to the campaign has faltered recently with a defeat to Newcastle being followed up with a disappointing 1-1 draw with struggling Southampton, but Javi Gracia’s side still sit seventh. They will provide a stern test for the visiting side as they did in the 3-3 draw last season at Vicarage Road, but it’s hard to imagine Liverpool narrowly finding a way to return to Merseyside with all three points.

Prediction 1-2

West Ham United v Manchester City


Manuel Pellegrini takes on his former club tomorrow as West Ham host red-hot champions Manchester City in East London.

Pellegrini led City to the 2013-14 Premier League title, but made way for Pep Guardiola two years later — and City have gone from strength to strength since then.

The Chilean has had a disjointed start at West Ham with the club sitting thirteenth, but there have been glimpses of cohesion forming having already beaten Manchester United and securing a draw against Chelsea at the London Stadium this season.

However, City got the better of the Hammers twice last season, winning 2-1 at home before crushing the east Londoners 4-1 away. Expect the visiting side to take all three points once again. Prediction 1-3

Fulham v Southampton


Claudio Ranieri begins his quest to improve Fulham’s fortunes after his appointment as manager during the international break, with the club two points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table.

Slavisa Jokanovic paid the price for a dismal run of seven straight league and cup defeats, five of them to nil, with 20 goals conceded in the process.

Fulham’s decision to sign an almost entirely new team towards the end of the summer transfer window looks to have had an adverse affect with the players clearly failing to gel into a preferred system, leaving Ranieri with a seemingly bigger task then when he took over at Leicester and turned them immediately into title winners.

Southampton’s Mark Hughes is the odds-on favourite to be the next top-flight manager to follow Jokanovic out of his job, with his side having failed to win any of their latest nine matches and denied three points at home to Watford last time out by a contentious refereeing decision by Simon Hooper.

It really is difficult to back either of these teams with confidence until they return to winning ways, but Ranieri could at least stop the rot in what should be a nervy and close-fought encounter.

Prediction 1-1

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea


Tottenham and Chelsea face off at Wembley in tomorrow’s late kick-off as Blues boss Maurizio Sarri gets his first taste of a fiery London derby against Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs.

There is little love lost between the sides, with tomorrow’s meeting expected to be another tumultuous clash with just one point separating the clubs in the table.

While a defeat would by no means end either sides’ respective title challenge as early as November, any dropped points will make it that much harder to catch champions Manchester City in pole position.

The North Londoners beat Chelsea 3-1 away but lost 2-1 at Wembley in the reverse fixture, with the upcoming fixture also capable of going either way.

Prediction 2-2


AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal


Arsenal will seeking to end a run of three Premier League games without a win as they head to the South Coast to play this season’s surprise package Bournemouth.

Unai Emery’s Gunners are unbeaten in their last 16 games in all competitions, but have drawn their last three League matches to slip eight points behind table-toppers Manchester City.

They face a Bournemouth side sitting four points behind in sixth place, and will have to be on guard having lost to Eddie Howe’s side in their last meeting on the south coast in January as the Cherries ran out 2-1 winners.

Prediction 1-2

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town


Wolverhampton Wanderers will seek to build on their draw at Arsenal and secure a first Premier League victory in five matches as they entertain Huddersfield Town, who are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Despite their recent upturn in form Huddersfield, who sit second-bottom and a point adrift of safety, will be aiming to win on the road for the first time in 11 attempts, having drawn five and lost five of their last ten matches.

Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous at times throughout this season but will be looking to get to their free-flowing best and should be more than capable of getting back to winning ways having four straight defeats.

Prediction 2-0


Burnley v Newcastle


Newcastle travel to Burnley on Monday looking for a third consecutive win in the Premier League in what could prove a pivotal encounter at the wrong end of the table.

The Magpies moved up to sixteenth in the Premier League table with a 2-1 win over Bournemouth last time out as a brace from Salomon Rondon secured a second win in a row.

The Clarets have made an indifferent start to the campaign and after finishing an incredible seventh and qualifying for Europa League last season, they look set to become embroiled in the relegation battle this term.

Sean Dyche’s men are without a win in their last five Premier League games but did halt a three-game losing streak with a 0-0 draw away at Leicester City before the international break.

With both sides on nine points, just one ahead of Cardiff in the final relegation berth, victory for either could go a long way in easing both sets of fans fears in having to look over their shoulder for the time being.

Prediction 1-1