If it’s not the FA Cup spoiling our EPL fun, it’s international friendlies. With a reduced round 31, the international break means some teams won’t have played in three weeks by the time they take the field this weekend so there may be some cobwebs to shake off.
For the four round 31 games that did go ahead, they didn’t disappoint in terms of goals, with at least two per game and over three on average. Despite the four games, Mo Salah’s 29 points of heroics meant that a lot of teams would have hit their largest scores of the season, even with a depleted number of players.
At the top of the league, Liverpool’s 5-0 win firmed their grip on the top four, while losses for Stoke and West Brom seem to be another nail in their respective coffins, especially for the Baggies, who are ten points from safety.
Back to a full round of games this weekend in time for an Easter long weekend, so let’s see what’s coming up:
Chelsea v Tottenham (Game of the Round)
Two sides here battling for the Champions League spots as fourth placed Spurs travel to fifth placed Chelsea. As it stands the visitors are in the driving seat with a five-point gap on the Blues. The form table sits with Spurs as well, unbeaten in their last five and winning four of them, while the home side have lost three in the same period.
The head to head stats tell a different story though. In 51 meetings, the Blues have won 27 and drawn 19 and all of Spurs’ five wins have come at home. Add in the fact that Harry Kane is out for the visitors and I’m backing a Chelsea win.
Crystal Palace v Liverpool
The early Saturday game, and SBS offering for the round, sees Liverpool travel to Palace, who have been something of a bogey team for the Reds in the past. From 17 PL matchups, the Eagles have won five and drawn three, including the 3-3 back in 2014 that practically cost Liverpool the title.
Recent form has been good for the visitors, with a loss to United their only blip in the previous five. Palace beat Huddersfield last out, but that was their only win over the last five. This one finished 1-0 Liverpool back in August, but I think they’ll win this one by more.
Brighton v Leicester
Leicester come into this one in eighth and Brighton 12th, but the Seagulls are in the better form, winning three of five compared to the Foxes, who’ve won just the one. The form has seen Brighton pull away from relegation conversations, while Leicester are already at the sanctity of 40 points.
The Foxes took this out 2-0 back in round 2 but have been in worse form. That side, with Riyad Mahrez back and firing I still think they can get up in this one.
Man United v Swansea
No game for either of these sides in round 31, but both are in decent form. United have won four of five whilst the Swans have lost just once in the same time. Aside from that however, it couldn’t look more different for the sides – the Red Devils are second while the Swans are just three points from the drop zone.
13 times these two have met in the top flight before. Swansea have won three while United have emerged victorious in eight, including 4-0 back in August. I reckon this one will be closer than that score-wise, but the outcome will be the same.
Newcastle v Huddersfield
Newcastle didn’t play in 31, while Huddersfield won 2-0. As it stands, the Magpies are a point above the Terriers, albeit with a game in hand. Three and four points above the drop zone, this is the very definition of a six-pointer.
Two wins apiece in each of their last five, with another two draws for the home side and one for the visitors. Huddersfield took out the reverse 1-0 in round two, but it was one apiece in terms of wins last season in the Championship. With a home crowd behind them and Aaron Mooy likely missing for the visitors, I’m backing a Magpies win.
Watford v Bournemouth
Both sides played in round 31, with contrasting outcomes. Watford were trounced 5-0 by Liverpool and have conceded eight in their last two without scoring. Bournemouth got up 2-1 at home to West Brom, but haven’t seen another win in the remainder of their previous five.
Watford have slipped back into the bottom half, but are still eight from danger and will be safe this season, largely thanks to their good start. Bournemouth’s win saw them leapfrog the Hornets into tenth on goal difference, and they too can breathe a sigh of relief for another season in the top league.
This will be the sixth meeting for these two at the top level. From the previous five, Watford’s 2-0 win in round two has been the only win. The numbers say draw and who am I to argue with that?
West Brom v Burnley
Another loss for the Baggies last out and they’re surely gone now, losing all their last five and only winning three all season. Burnley’s form had dropped recently, but they’ve won two on the bounce to stay seventh.
Interestingly, the Baggies haven’t lost against the Clarets at this level, winning three and drawing two from five meetings, and they took out the round two game 1-0. Since then though they’ve only managed one more win so I can see the Clarets breaking the duck this weekend.
West Ham v Southampton
West Ham’s poor form has gone somewhat un-noticed compared to that of Stoke, Southampton and West Brom, but they have lost three on the bounce and sit in 17th, safe by only two points on this week’s opponents. Both sides with just a single win from their last five, unsurprising for two teams fighting the drop.
31 previous meetings have proved close – 13 Hammers’ wins to 11 for the Saints and seven draws. A stoppage time penalty saw the Saints triumph 3-2 over the 10-man Hammers back in August. This one’s a hard one to pick, but with a game like this too important to lose for both sides, the draw is most likely.
Everton v Man City
It’s no shock to see that City come into this in good form, having only lost one all season, but Everton aren’t in back nick, winning two on the trot and three from five to sit ninth. The extra incentive in this one for the Citizens is that if they win, they can wrap up the title with a win over arch rivals United in round 33.
Everton held City to a 1-1 draw back in August and actually have a good record against them in the Premier League, leading the 41 game head-to-head 18-14. They’ve also not lost to the visitors since August 2015 and took out this same game last season 4-0. Does that mean they’ll get up in this one? Nah, City win.
Arsenal v Stoke
Closing out the round sees struggling Stoke travel to Arsenal. Not great form for either, Arsenal have three losses in a row in their previous five while Stoke have no wins in the same period and two losses in their last two. The Gunners are sixth and 13 points from the top four, which is probably out of sight for this season. Stoke sit second bottom and three from safety.
Stoke won this one 1-0 back in round two and have five wins and three draws from 19 meetings with the Gunners. All those wins and draws came at home though, and they’ve never taken a point from the Emirates. Can’t see that changing now, Gunners win.
Kane’s injury and doubts around Aguero mean they are the two most traded out players this round. The top replacements – Romelu Lukaku (11.5m), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10.6m) and Jamie Vardy (8.8m). With very easy home sides, Lukaku and Aubameyang are solid choices. Vardy is a bit riskier with an away game for the Foxes, but it is one they should win.
In Kane’s absence, many have jumped on Son (8.3m) to take on the goal scoring duties, but it’s a tough game for Spurs this week.
Mahrez (8.9m) rounds out the top popular trades with the players this round, given he’s back in the Leicester side and back into form.
Elsewhere, with Aguero likely to miss out, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the fit-again Gabriel Jesus (10m).
Salah seems to show no signs of slowing down, so remains a continual solid captain option. Easy home matchups for United and Arsenal mean Lukaku and Aubameyang can’t hurt with the armband on this weekend. You could also go at any of the other big players at the two clubs: Sanchez, Lingard, Ozil and Mkhitaryan come to mind.
For a couple of outside the box picks, back the likes of Ashley Barnes or Kenedy for the captaincy this week.
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Three from four in the last round, with Palace’s win over Huddersfield the one I didn’t see coming. Odds for my predictions this round:
- Chelsea v Tottenham: Chelsea $2.30
- Crystal Palace v Liverpool: Liverpool $1.50
- Brighton v Leicester: Leicester $2.63
- Man United v Swansea: United $1.22
- Newcastle v Huddersfield: Newcastle $1.72
- Watford v Bournemouth: Draw $3.40
- West Brom v Burnley: Burnley $3.00
- West Ham v Southampton: Draw $3.20
- Everton v Man City: City $1.33
- Arsenal v Stoke: Arsenal $1.28