The ‘business end’ of the season is upon us
The Premier League is well and truly entering the “business end” of the season with just ten games remaining as the campaign edges towards its climax.
Heading into this weekend, Liverpool hold the smallest of advantage over Manchester City at the top of the table, while at the other end, Huddersfield Town's and Fulham's fate looks all but sealed, with anyone from Cardiff City in eighteenth, to Newcastle United in eleventh, still looking over their shoulder nervously at that final relegation spot.
With pressure mounting, Claudio Ranieri became the sixth managerial casualty in the league yesterday, and second already at Fulham this season, with former player Scott Parker taking temporary charge of the Cottagers before Sunday's visit of West London neighbours Chelsea.
Former Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is also set to take his first game in charge of Leicester City at Watford on Sunday, having swiftly filled the void left by Claude Puel last weekend.
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
Arsenal have the chance to close the gap on North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur to just a single point when they visit Wembley.
The Gunners have reclaimed fourth place thanks to a run of five wins in six Premier League matches, while two successive defeats for Spurs means there is a lot more than just bragging rights at stake.
Spurs will be concerned about their carelessness at the back of late. With just two clean sheets to their name in nine league matches, they will be wary of a visiting side that has scored more goals than anyone but the top two this campaign. Prediction 1-1
AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City
After a blistering start to the campaign, Eddie Howe's charges have not been quite so relentless in the second half of the season. Wins over West Ham and Chelsea at the end of January were Bournemouth's only two victories in their last ten matches in all competitions.
Manchester City are still on for an unprecedented quadruple this season after securing the Carabao Cup last weekend.
Pep Guardiola and his side suffered something of a hiccup in December when they were beaten by Crystal Palace and Leicester City in a matter of days, but since then they have responded well to win 14 of their last 15 games in all competitions and pile pressure back onto Liverpool at the top of the tree. Prediction 0-2
Brighton & Hove Albion v Huddersfield Town
Brighton could not wish for an easier fixture in which to ease their relegation worries than facing a Huddersfield side who probably wish the season was over already.
Huddersfield's away form has been simply dreadful since they pulled off a shock win at Wolverhampton Wanderers in November and a late consolation goal at Manchester United on Boxing Day is the only time they have found the net in their last seven games on the road.
Brighton's home record since mid-December has been pretty disappointing too, although this looks an ideal opportunity for the Seagulls to revive their home league form and put space between themselves and the relegation zone. Prediction 2-1
Burnley v Crystal Palace 11am
Burnley's home form has improved massively over the last few months and after beating Tottenham last weekend, they should not be afraid of taking on Crystal Palace.
Their upturn in form at Turf Moor has seen Sean Dyche's side win five of their latest seven home games.
Palace have also been going well recently. They are through to the FA Cup quarter-finals, beating Tottenham along the way, and ensured Claude Puel was sacked by Leicester the next day when they won 4-1 away from home last weekend.
A 4-3 defeat at Liverpool is the only time the Eagles have lost on the road in 2019, but they have won only once in their last ten visits to Burnley. Prediction 1-1
Manchester United v Southampton 11am
Southampton will be hoping to maintain their surprisingly good recent record at Old Trafford and cause a huge upset.
In their last five visits to this famous stadium, Saints have achieved two 1-0 wins and a couple of low-scoring draws. During those victories they restricted United to a total of just a single shot on target.
However, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the Red Devils have grown from strength to strength with a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace in midweek earning a club record eighth consecutive win away from home and extended their unbeaten league run under their interim boss to 11 games.Prediction 3-1
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Cardiff City 11am
Cardiff will be aiming to put back-to-back home defeats behind them and continue their improved away form against inconsistent Wolves, as they look to climb out of the bottom three.
Wolves have made a very good job of not only consolidating their Premier League status but also challenging to be the “best of the rest” outside of the “big six”.
However, Nuno Espírito Santo's side have been prone to some disappointing results at home against clubs below them in the table, such as Newcastle, Crystal Palace and even a 2-0 defeat to rock-bottom Huddersfield.
Cardiff may think there is something in this game for them having won four of the latest six meetings, however, they will need to shore up at the back have lost 5-1 and 3-0 in the last week. Prediction 2-0
West Ham United v Newcastle United 1.30pm
Newcastle United will be aiming to maintain their strong record away from home against clubs outside the “big six” when they travel to the capital to take on West Ham.
The Magpies have lost five matches on the road this season in the Premier League, all of them to teams in or around the top four and only once by more than a single-goal margin.
Both of these sides have improved after poor starts to the campaign and in West Ham's case that is especially true at home, having lost only one of their last eight games at the London Stadium. Prediction 2-1
Watford v Leicester City 8am
Brendan Rodgers's mere presence appeared to galvanise Leicester in midweek and the club's new manager will be aiming to build on Tuesday's 2-1 win over Brighton in his first official match in charge at Watford.
Puel's departure, and Rodgers's appearance at the King Power Stadium, was enough to ensure Leicester gained their first victory in eight games at home to Brighton and brighter times could be returning.
However, Watford will pose a stern test, having been on a good run before their 5-0 capitulation at Liverpool on Wednesday. They also have designs on finishing “best of the rest” and sit in eighth-place, five points clear of the Foxes. Prediction 1-1
Fulham v Chelsea 12.05pm
Maurizio Sarri must be glad to have seen the back of a hugely turbulent February and is expected to begin March with a routine West London derby success at Craven Cottage.
The under-pressure Italian has been on a roller-coaster ride over the last few weeks, comprising the peaks and troughs of home wins to nil against Huddersfield, Malmo and Tottenham, painful defeats to both Manchester clubs and, of course, the Carabao Cup Final controversy of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refusing to be substituted. But Sarri appears to have ridden out the storm for now and his side have played their last 345 minutes of football without conceding a goal.
Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Fulham yesterday after a dismal run that has left them looking certain to be relegated, sitting second from bottom and ten points adrift of safety.
Scott Parker's first match in temporary charge is ironically against the club for whom he played 28 matches in 2004. Prediction 0-3
Everton v Liverpool 12.15pm
Everton's decline in fortunes this season began with a heartbreaking Merseyside derby defeat in early December — and that sits among the reasons why they will be ultra-keen for revenge in the 200th league meeting between these rivals.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford's horrendous howler that gifted a last-gasp winner to Divock Origi appears to have had a disastrous affect on the Toffees, who have suffered a poor run of only three league wins in 14 games.
The other big incentives for Everton are that they have not beaten their big local rivals in 18 attempts since their latest triumph in October 2010 and, of course, they will want to spike Liverpool's hopes of ending their 29-year wait to capture the league title. Both teams enjoyed emphatic successes in midweek, but you have to think Liverpool's 5-0 home rout of Watford was more impressive than Everton's 3-0 win at struggling Cardiff.
Liverpool have also only conceded one goal in their last four visits to Goodison Park. Prediction 1-2