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The Analyst's Notepad - Premier Predictor Gameweek 26 (Part 2)

This ‘winter break’ has been good for one thing - it’s nudged VAR into second place in the ‘most baffling thing added to Premier League’ league table. What screams ‘break’ quite like 10 live PL games in 10 days?

Those that didn’t play last week will be hot-footing it back on the last available flight from Dubai and showing the global audience that ten days off has left them feeling fresher than Will Smith circa '94.

At least we’ve got some mouth-watering clashes to look forward to this weekend, right? Right? Oh.

Wolves vs Leicester (click to find pubs)

This one gets us underway on Friday night because we can’t wait until Saturday lunchtime anymore, can we? What are we, children? Pathetic.

Leicester have been the surprise package so far this season, but as the Analyst’s Notepad has pointed out previously, wheels can start to fall off when Brendan starts to tinker.

Leicester have two wins from the last five, which has seen Man City nip ahead of them into the first-loser-to-Liverpool race, and face a stern test here. Whilst they’ll be desperate to avenge last year’s game of the season, Wolves have only lost at home thrice in the league this term.

We’ve seen a bit of three-at-the-back action from the Foxes, some 4-3-3 and still a bit of the diamond that worked at one-point which meant it got rolled out every week for a period of time. Yet, for me, Leicester are at their best when they just stick three in midfield and play to their strengths.

Ndidi is a doubt for this one and Rodgers would welcome a return to life from Jamie Vardy who must be dying to do some sort of ‘I’ve just had a baby goal celebration’ - the kid could be 4 years old before we see it at this rate.

As for Wolves, this pesky break came at a good time for them as it will have allowed Adama Traore time to recover from his injury picked up against Man United. For Leicester fans, that’s a good enough reason to scrap winter breaks.

Wolves will go 3-4-3 as they always do and look to counter into the spaces that Maddison leaves in midfield, ideally pulling Ndidi away from protecting Soyuncu. If they do that well enough, it’s hard to see them losing.

Leicester are in need of a statement win to allay suspicions they’re stumbling into a top-four finish as the ‘least naff’ of the top-8. They probably won’t be getting it here though. 1-0 Wolves for me, Jimenez.

Southampton vs Burnley

Let’s be honest - if we weren’t doing the whole ‘put every match on TV’ this matchday I wouldn’t even know this one was happening.

Both teams have identical records right now: 9-4-12 meaning they are 13th and 11th respectively. However, Southampton have one more win in their last five and that’s enough for me to state they are the form side of the two. Dangerous, huh?

There is one tactical reason I can see Burnley winning this - their style of play confuses Southampton who rely on moments to trigger the press. Dycheball lacks these moments as the ball needs to be in Burnley’s possession for Southampton to start chasing it down - not in the collecting snow, en route to Chris Wood’s poor fizzog.

James Ward-Prowse being out is another blow for Ralph, though you’d expect Burnley to be well-drilled enough from set-pieces either way. 

Is there anybody here daft enough to think this will be high-scoring? Not me. Danny Ings’ spell seems to be over and Burnley have never really needed a third tick on the tally chart when it comes to goals for so I am thinking this could be the token 0-0 of the weekend.

Norwich vs Liverpool

Let the clutching at straws begin! Norwich did beat Man City at Carrow Road, didn’t they? Ah yes, that was great until beating Man City became the en vogue thing to do this season.

How about the fact that Big Jurgen might rest a few with the midweek Champions League game in mind? Well, the kids beat Everton so that’s hardly going to be a major worry.

Might Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson be lacking in sleep given their recent arrivals? Hmmm, flimsy.

 

 

Could Allison get caught out by a quick free kick whilst trying to baptise the wall?

Is Teemu Pukki the man to finally prove Virgil is human? Pulling his pants down to score the 5 goals no doubt required to best Liverpool’s tally. Yeah, it’s feeling unlikely.

This should be a very entertaining game, though. Norwich will go for it and Liverpool will probably pick them off at will but Southampton did show that it is possible to rock the leaders slightly if you attack them. Yeah, OK - Liverpool won that one 4-0 so they weren’t exactly flat out on the canvas.

I think it is likely we see some B-listers in the Champions-elect’s line-up but that won’t make a whole load of difference. Norwich will attack, press, harry and hope that Liverpool have the off-day that surely to God has to be round the corner at some point.

It won’t be today though, as Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson beat Vardy to the goal celebration we’ve all been wanting to see. 4-0 Liverpool.

Aston Villa vs Tottenham

The question is, can Villa find three worse teams than them this season? They were busy in the transfer window again, and they’ve switched to a back three in recent weeks but will it be enough? I really needs to be as their league high 47 goals conceded thus far is what’s really keeping them mired in the muck.

Of course, we all know that it is lovely that they have a boyhood fan as manager and a boyhood fan as the captain - and their best player by far. But there is no room for romance in a relegation battle and that is what they find themselves in.

Jose will have to go with a sprightly front three again for this one and that might cause Villa’s defence to look more like a back five. Stating the obvious, the key is how quickly they can get it to Grealish and where he is on the pitch when he receives it. It’s likely he will drift into the gaping hole left by Serge Aurier galloping forward upon command and this could be where Dean Smith’s lot get their joy. 

For me, I’m hoping new Villa frontman scores the winner just so that one of the tabloids gets to use the ‘What’s Samatta with Jose?’ as their headline in the post-match chat. More realistically, 2-1 to Spurs here with Bergwijn getting another.

Arsenal vs Newcastle

Steve Bruce has found the talk of Newcastle being lucky to be 12th in the table somewhat disrespectful and, to be fair, he has a point.

Rafa used to set this team up as defensively if not more defensively but was adored for it because, you know, it’s Rafa.

Bruce comes along and starts winning matches in London, getting the best out of Miguel Almiron and making the most of his limited resources and apparently it is down to luck. I’m not having any of it. Steve Bruce is the manager Manchester United will look back on and wish they’d been brave enough to appoint. OK, you are right - I have taken it too far.

But still, this Newcastle side are no longer mugs inside the M25 circle and Arsenal are not quite doing enough for me yet to suggest that this will be a home win.

Mikel Arteta is starting to feel comfy in his Arsenal slippers and I guess there is some kind of progress being made (though much points based evidence is hard to come by) - if he is brave enough to build a team around professional key handler, Granit Xhaka, then good luck to him.

Newcastle will sit deep, let Arsenal have the ball then look to release Saint-Maxim and the aforementioned Almiron in dangerous areas - basically anywhere where they can smell Mustafi I would imagine.

And this tactic will be enough to get them another point on the road - 1-1!

Chelsea vs Manchester United

Two club legends given their jobs because of what they did on the field of play for their clubs. Two coaches keen to give youth a chance. That said, both needed reinforcements in January to really push for the top-four and the best they got between them was an Odion Ighalo who’s so hot right now he’s had to be quarantined.

Does this move make sense? Well, er, hmmm, maybe.

United could do with a little more of a focal point down the middle than Old Trafford’s resident ghost Tony Martial - you know, someone like Romelu Lukaku for example. But given they flogged him way before he was a dead horse, they’ll have to make do with the ex-Watford striker who retired early by heading to China.

This game is set-up delightfully for an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterclass, however.

I know - this is cunning tactical insight, but United might just look to play on the counter-attack.

Who’d have thunk it, eh?

Granted, they are Rashford-less but they still have enough pace in wide areas to cause problems once Chelsea’s somewhat suddenly blunted attack fail to break their way through Maguire and Lindelof.

Both sides would accept a draw here but I can see United stealing it 1-0. Juan Mata to nick it from the bench before writing a really tender blog post about true nature of male friendship.

Chris Darwen
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All images - PA. Numbers and stats via WhoScored.

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