By: Alex Greenberg
In case you were living under a rock and hadn’t heard, Jamie Vardy scored a really nice goal this week. Many are already picking his strike on Tuesday as the best of the season. Have they forgotten about Dele Alli’s goal against Crystal Palace already?
Vardy’s goal was an incredible effort that allowed Leicester to continue their season of dreams atop the Premier League, but Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet should’ve done better. Mignolet’s positioning was poor, and he realized this when he saw the ball coming down to Vardy. The Belgian attempted to backtrack towards his own goal line, but it was too late. Vardy’s shot didn’t nestle perfectly into the top corner, but it beat Mignolet who could only stumble backwards as he tried to retreat to goal.
A keeper with better positioning than Mignolet saves that shot. It doesn’t go in because when Vardy looks up in a parallel situation he doesn’t see Hugo Lloris, Petr Cech, or David De Gea as far off their lines as Mignolet was.
Liverpool later conceded another goal to Leicester and to Vardy as the Reds fell apart at the back. Since Jurgen Klopp has taken over Liverpool have not had much trouble scoring. They find themselves in eighth place, 11 points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, primarily because they go through periods where they defend like an amateur side. Liverpool fan’s emotions upon seeing Dejan Lovren in the team sheet before a game must be the same as how Spurs fans used to feel seeing Vlad Chiriches or Younes Kaboul in the starting lineup.
And now onto the predictions for a full slate of games this weekend.
(All times EST)
Leicester City at Manchester City (7:45 AM)
The title chase in the Premier League seems to be a four-horse race this season, but these two clubs are the leaders of the pack. Leicester have maintained their confident play throughout the year to the surprise of everyone. Manchester City are in this position to the surprise of no one. Manuel Pellegrini has City in good position in all four of their major competitions, but his successor has already been named. With Pep Guardiola officially set to take over this summer, you’d think there could be distractions for Pellegrini and his team. But the Chilean manager has handled things very well, and his City team have not shown any signs of losing focus. Veteran players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Joe Hart will not allow a lack of concentration. Leicester are in first, but I still think Man City will win the league, and they’ll send the Foxes back to Earth here in the process.
Prediction: Leicester 1-3 Manchester City
Norwich City at Aston Villa (10 AM)
I’m getting a little bit worried for Norwich. Alex Neil’s team have now lost four matches in a row, conceding at least three goals in each of those games. They’re still just above a relegation zone that is anchored by Villa at the bottom. Villa had been on a good run, but it’s too little too late for them. The rest of this season should be about preparing for life in the Championship next season. Norwich could be in real trouble if they lose this to the league’s worst side. I think desperation will set in for the Canaries and they’ll ‘eek out the three points via an improved defensive performance.
Prediction: Norwich 2-1 Aston Villa
Sunderland at Liverpool (10 AM)
This one really could go either way. Sunderland surprised a lot of people with their performance against Manchester City in a 1-0 loss. Manager Sam Allardyce called it their best performance of the season. Joe Hart made some incredible saves to keep Sunderland at bay, will Simon Mignolet have to do the same? It’s not a question of if Liverpool’s defense will gift chances to Sunderland, it’s a question of when. Jermaine Defoe gets back in the goals and Liverpool fans walk out of Anfield dreaming of the day their defense can keep a clean sheet.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-2 Liverpool
West Brom at Newcastle (10 AM)
Newcastle spent the most of any team in the Premier League in the January transfer window. They brought in Jonjo Shelvey, Andros Townsend, and Henri Saivet permanently and signed Seydou Doumbia on loan from Roma. If you’ve ever played EA Sports FIFA video game, you know Doumbia and his heartbreaking pace. West Brom did business of their own, most notably bringing in Brazilian midfielder Sandro on loan from QPR. Sandro has shown during his time at Tottenham that he is a quality ball-winning-midfielder when he’s healthy. The question has been asked of Newcastle whether they struggle for motivation when not playing the big teams. They’re still in the relegation zone, that should be all the motivation they need to play and beat West Brom.
Prediction: West Brom 0-2 Newcastle
Watford at Tottenham (10 AM)
I was lucky enough to be at the December match between these two teams at Vicarage Road, and what a match it was. The sequence before Son Heung-Min’s winning goal was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in Europe this season. Watford had struggled before beating Newcastle and drawing Chelsea, but Spurs are once again the hottest team in the Premier League. Making the Top Four and the Champions League was the goal for Tottenham in August, but some Spurs fans are daring to dream about winning the title. Winning the league would be the greatest achievement in Tottenham’s storied history, but finishing above Arsenal would be more than enough. Please football gods don’t break my heart now.
Prediction: Watford 1-3 Tottenham
Everton at Stoke City (10 AM)
Speaking of really exciting games, the last time these two teams got together it was one of the most entertaining displays of the season. Stoke won 4-3, remember that goal from Xherdan Shaqiri? Neutral viewers can only hope this game is half as exciting as that one was. Both of these teams have hopes of finishing high enough to qualify for Europe, but those hopes are fading in both camps. Record signing Giannelli Imbula is set to make his first start for Stoke. His presence in the defensive midfield could be just enough to see the Potters past the Toffees.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Stoke City
Crystal Palace at Swansea City (10 AM)
Newcastle fans will tell you that Palace’s recent plummet down the table was always going to happen with Alan Pardew in charge. Swansea meanwhile have been much improved since Francesco Guidolin took over and began his Italian Revolution. Alberto Paloschi came in for Swansea from Chievo in Serie A, while Palace desperately turn to Emmanuel Adebayor to score goals that have not been coming. Adebayor almost got a late equalizer for Palace against Bournemouth, but he did look a bit rusty otherwise. Paloschi wasn’t rusty at all. He was a handful in the Swans game against West Brom, ultimately setting up Gylfi Sigurdsson for their goal. Paloschi and Siggy could be forming a nice little partnership out in Wales.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Swansea City
West Ham at Southampton (12:30)
Credit to Ronald Koeman and his players for turning their season around. Southampton have now kept clean sheets in their last four matches, winning three of those. Saints keeper Fraser Forster was a man on a mission against Arsenal, singlehandedly keeping that game scoreless with some outstanding reaction saves. A win for Southampton would close the gap on West Ham to two points, but the Hammers have been playing too well defensively to allow that to happen. A lot in this game depends on if Charlie Austin is healthy enough to play for Southampton.
Prediction: West Ham 1-1 Southampton
Arsenal at Bournemouth (8:30 AM)
There has been much discussion about how Arsenal are now beginning their annual Spring slide down the table. The Gunners haven’t won in their last four matches, and now find themselves below hated rivals Tottenham in the table. Benik Afobe could very well make things worse by scoring against his old club. There was a time when Arsenal had to choose between keeping Yaya Sanogo or Afobe. They chose Sanogo, who is now struggling on loan at lowly Charlton in the Championship. Meanwhile Afobe has three goals in four Premier League games since signing for Bournemouth from Wolves, I’d back him to get at least one more in this. Bournemouth won’t defend as well as Southampton did, and that will probably be their undoing. But they’ve definitely got a chance in a contest that should feature quite a few goals.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-2 Bournemouth
Manchester United at Chelsea (11 AM)
Are Manchester United finally back to their old ways? Is the pressure on Louis Van Gaal’s job finally subsiding? A 3-0 thrashing of Stoke midweek would point to yes as an answer for all these questions, but Stoke really weren’t at the races in that one. A trip to Stamford Bridge will do more to answer these questions as United’s season is at a crossroads. The Red Devils are five points off fourth place and the Champions League, which would be considered the minimum expectation for this year. Chelsea still haven’t lost since Guus Hiddink took over, but they’re probably due for a defeat. United win in an ugly game that perfectly represents their 2015/2016 campaign so far.
Predition: Manchester United 1-0 Chelsea