Matt Holland 846x300px_no text

By Benjamin Leo
15th April 2016 at 2:31pm

What a night it was for Liverpool on Thursday. It was mad.

The way Dortmund started it was always going to be difficult for Klopp’s side to turn it around. And when Reus scored the third I thought it was done and dusted. But wow, what spirit and an unbelievable comeback. The atmosphere at Anfield was incredible and Klopp lived and breathed every second of it.

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It’s a great achievement considering Dortmund were 18 matches unbeaten coming into the game and they gave Liverpool a real lesson at the start. They stuck it to them. But a stirring half-time team talk and the bouncing crowd played a massive part in the end result. The fans stuck with their team even when it went to 3-1. They were always with the guys on the pitch. It’s yet another incredible European night to remember for them.

Under Jurgen Klopp there has been a real transformation at Liverpool. Initially you thought results hadn’t really improved but there’s a better style of play about them now. They press, they’re quicker and Klopp isn’t afraid to make big decisions and pick players who he thinks fits in his system. For example Origi has come in and done really well over the past few weeks. He’s starting ahead of big names like Benteke and Sturridge because Klopp understands Origi compliments his way of working.

 

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Manchester City also clocked a great result against PSG during the week, so all-in-all it’s been a good spell for the Brits in Europe. Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola could meet his soon-to-be new club in the Champions League final but there’s a long way to go before that happens. It would be an incredible story though, especially if Manchester City drop out the top four and Manchester United finished fourth – but lost their Champions League spot because City went and won the competition. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves but there’s definitely a few sub-plots left in the season.

It’s good that English clubs have got into the semi-finals of both European competitions, especially as Italy was closing in on the extra spots for Champions League qualification. There are no Italian sides left in either competition now though so the English coefficient goes through the roof, which is great for next season.

We also had the PFA Player of the Year shortlists released this week. I can’t say there are too many surprises but my vote has to be for a Leicester player. I think Mahrez has been the most influential in terms of goals and assists, so he gets my shout. And Dele Alli has achieved remarkable things at Tottenham this season and gets my nod for the Young Player of the Year prize.

Back in the Premier League, here are my predictions for this weekend’s fixtures.

Norwich v Sunderland

This is the ultimate relegation six-pointer and difficult to call really. One thing’s for sure is that it will be very tense.  Sam Allardyce said this week it is a must-not-lose, which tells you how he’ll set up. I can see a very tightly and evenly contested draw.

I wasn’t disappointed with Sunderland in their defeat against Leicester last week. They worked hard and had a go but  just weren’t as good as the Foxes. That was the bottom line.

Fine margins  can turn games too. Rodwell could have brought them level and it might have been a different story but ultimately they were just second best to Ranieri’s side.

Everton v Southampton

This is a bigger game for Martinez than it is Koeman, particularly with the reaction of Everton fans lately towards him. Their home form has been terrible this season. They’ve lost the last three at Goodison and won once at home since November 2, which is an amazing statistic.

It’s a big week for them because they play Liverpool in the Merseyside derby on Wednesday and then have an important FA Cup tie. They have an injury crisis as well. There are a number of players who are touch and go tomorrow so it’s a difficult one for Everton. I’ll go with a draw.

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Man United v Aston Villa

Manchester United to win is the banker of the weekend. Villa have lost eight on the spin and could already be relegated by the time this kicks off depending on the result in the Norwich v Sunderland game.

It’s just one thing after another for them. This week they’ve cancelled their player of the year bash and Agbonlahor has been dropped because he’s apparently not fit enough. It’s ridiculous to put him on a two-week fitness plan when there’s four-weeks left of the season. It just adds to Villas woes.

As for United, they seem to get a performance when they need it. They need to back it up now though and keep the pressure on Manchester City for the top four spot.  

Newcastle v Swansea

Newcastle are a little bit like Aston Villa in terms of having one drama after another.

Jamaal Lascelles has come out and said they lack hunger while Daryl Janmaat broke two fingers when he punched a wall after the Southampton defeat. And then you’ve got Gutierrez winning his discrimination tribunal and the club misspelling Alexander Mitrovic’s name on merchandise in the shop. It doesn’t seem to end.

Rafa Benitez said they need to win five of their last six to stay up. I find it difficult to make a case for them to do that. I have a feeling they might get a result against Swansea, who are safe and had a good win against Chelsea last week, but I say that without confidence.

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West Brom v Watford

We might as well not talk about this one. It’s a mid-table clash where both teams have nothing to fight for.

Tony Pulis said West Brom needed to hit 40 points to be safe – and now they’ve done it. Watford on the other hand have an FA Cup semi-final coming up and are struggling for goals. I make West Brom favourites.

Chelsea v Man City

This is one of the better games of the weekend but it will depend on what sort of hangover Man City have from PSG in mid-week.

Kevin de Bruyne has been in brilliant form and is up against his former club so might have a point to prove. As for Chelsea, I saw their game last week and they didn’t play particularly well in the first half against Swansea but got better as the game went on.

It was their first defeat under Hiddink in the league and generally it was a bit disappointing how they went down without a whimper. They didn’t have a go. The fact City played in Europe this week makes me think this will be a draw.

Bournemouth v Liverpool

I also have a feeling this one will be a draw. It will be interesting to see what team Liverpool send out after their exploits against Dortmund. They have Merseyside derby in mid-week which might play on Klopp’s mind, so they certainly have decisions to make.

Bournemouth won last time out against Villa and Callum Wilson is back and available which is great news for him.

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Leicester v West Ham

This also has the potential to be a really good tie and one that’ll be difficult to predict. You’d say at the moment Leicester are favourites. If they go 10 points clear there will be under real pressure for Spurs to go to Stoke on Monday and get a result.

The Foxes are almost the complete opposite of Newcastle and Aston Villa this season, where instead of everything going wrong for them, it’s all gone right. Three players are on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year awards, Kante has been outstanding and Huth and Morgan will enjoy playing against Andy Carroll.

I say that because Leicester get narrow and invite crosses into the box, which ordinarily Carroll would love – as we saw against Arsenal. But Huth and Morgan love that too and have been dealing with it all season. I make Leicester slight favourites.

Arsenal v Palace

Despite what Wenger said this week, Arsenal can’t win the league. But he has to say that and he’s quite right too. If he doesn’t, how will his players believe they can? If the squad drops off and Leicester go on a mini-slump, they have to be in a position where they can pounce. It keeps players on their toes but from my point of view they’ve missed their chance.

Palace will have watched Arsenal’s game with West Ham last week and saw how the Gunners suffered. It’ll be a game for Adebayor, Wickham or even both of them to get on the end of crosses delivered into the box and see how Arsenal deal with it. Pardew’s side have five points from the last three games so they’re safe now. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see the manager’s team selection at The Emirates.

Stoke v Spurs

Stoke have problems. The young keeper Haugaard has come under pressure after conceding six in two games and despite the manager backing him, you wonder whether 39-year-old Shay Given should come back in the team. It’ll be a big decision for Hughes.

As for Spurs, whatever happens at Leicester, they have to win. Lamela said this week they need to win five of their last five games and if they do that, they’ve done all they can.

I don’t think Pochettino has a great record against Stoke however. He’s not beaten them in the three games he’s faced them as Spurs manager and they’ll be under pressure here to get all three points.

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