MATT HOLLAND: My Premier League predictions, Agbonlahor’s shisha and Alan Curbishley’s rules on player holidays

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Attentions turn to the Premier League this weekend after the international break. It looks like Leicester’s to lose, particularly as Spurs have the harder run-in of the two. It will be interesting to see how Leicester come back after the international break. It almost came at the wrong time for them because they had momentum and now they’ll have to recapture it.

Their players did well for their countries during the break. Kante had a great time with France and Vardy and Drinkwater did well for England. The task now is focusing back on the Premier League, where the pressure really cranks up now in the final run-in. There are no more breaks, no other distractions and they’re definitely in pole position being five points clear.

The only team that can catch them I think is Spurs – but in their next six games they play six clubs in the top 11. They’re away to Liverpool this weekend and host Manchester United next week, which are the sort of games that make champions. If Leicester drop points to Southampton this weekend and Spurs get a great result against Liverpool, it’s really on. Trying to predict the Premier League is like trying to predict the British weather though.

Arsenal also look a fair price at 6/1 to win the title considering Welbeck is fresh and looking dangerous. Elneny has done well too. He’s a really lively player. But if you look at their recent form, they’ve won only two of their last nine in all competitions which might suggest they’re not up for putting a big run together.

There has been drama at the other end of the table during the international break with Gabby Agbonlahor pictured smoking a shisha pipe on holiday. It’s been the worst possible season for Aston Villa because generally anything that could have gone wrong has. The Agbonlahor situation isn’t the only incident to have frustrated Villa fans this season. There was an issue at Wycombe with Lescott rowing with supporters and other episode where Lescott posted a picture of a super car on his social media profile. I think there’s been a lack of connection between players and supporters generally and it doesn’t help when they’re in the middle of a relegation battle.

With regards to when players are allowed to go on holidays, it’s a very individual thing. Agbonlahor was on a break having been given a few days off and the club would have allowed it. But one important thing to consider when going away is that you must keep a low profile – especially when you’re in Aston Villa’s situation.

Alan Curbishley at Charlton had a stipulation that we could only go as far as Europe. That was because someone went to New York for a short break and was late back because their plane was delayed. The gaffer said: “Right, that’s it. Europe only.” And that was that. Looking ahead to this weekend, Villa have a tough task on their hands against Chelsea.

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Aston Villa v Chelsea

Villa need some sort of reaction and Eric Black has a difficult job trying to lift the team. They’ve won just two of their last 20 games which suggests they’ll not get anything from a Chelsea side that is unbeaten in 14. Even with Diego Costa suspended and Hazard dealing with a knock, I still think Chelsea, with Fabregas in good form, will have too much for Villa.

Arsenal v Watford

This is a revenge mission for Arsenal after getting dumped out the FA Cup by Watford a few weeks back. If they have any title ambitions left, they must win. If they don’t, they’re definitely out the race. Arsenal will want to turn them over and I think Heurelho Gomes’ comments about Arsenal giving them too much space, and not strong defensively, will definitely fire the Gunners up.

Bournemouth v Man City

This is going to be a good game and it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. De Bruyne and Nasri will feature which is a massive boost for City. But so many of their players have not been at their best this season and even though Aguero is always a threat I think all eyes are now on the Champions League. It will be intriguing to see what team Pellegrini picks.

Talking of holidays, Bournemouth had a week training and getting a bit of sun in Dubai. Their form had been good until the defeat to Spurs and there should be a bit of freshness about them. They didn’t have as many players on international duty as City so I’m tempted to go for a draw.

Leicester v Southampton

If Spurs do manage to grab three points at Anfield then it’s down to Leicester to maintain their lead at the top of the table. I think they’ll draw against Southampton, however. The focus will be back on them after the international break and trying to get back in their stride could be tough.

Southampton will be buoyed by comeback against Liverpool and could pose a threat. I think Koeman is brilliant manager, they’ll do well to hold onto him in the summer, and lots of clubs will be knocking on the door for his services. Southampton could get a draw here.

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Stoke v Swansea

Stoke have a few injuries now with Butland, Walters out and Shaqiri all out. But the fact they’ll still have an eye on winning a European place so I’m tempted to back them for a win. That aside, this is one game of the weekend that doesn’t really have much riding on it.

Sunderland v West Brom

I fancy Sunderland. If there is any manager at the bottom of the table who is best equipped to steer a club to safety, it’s Sam Allardyce. His business in January was good and they play at home in five or their last eight fixtures. They played really well against Newcastle in the first half and should have been out of sight really before getting penned back, so I think they’ll pick up some points here.

West Ham v Crystal Palace

This is going to be a brilliant game with Pardew going back to his old team. Palace are in freefall at the moment while West Ham on the other hand are now five unbeaten in the Premier League. Payet is in magical form, as seen by that wonder goal for France against Russia, and Mark Noble’s testimonial on Monday will have kept the boys that played ticking over – even if it was a friendly. I think the form they’re in and the confidence they’ve got, West Ham will fancy their chances against anybody. West Ham win.

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Liverpool v Spurs

This is another big one. Liverpool have saved a lot of their best performances for bigger games this season. But if you look at them last time out against Southampton, where they had a late collapse, I’m not sure which Liverpool team will turn up tomorrow. They might have an eye on Dortmund in the week and Coutinho is only just back from international duty having travelled 6000 miles to Brazil.

I’ve already talked about Spurs. It will be a difficult game for them, especially as they’ll have a lot of players who bust a gut for England. It’s difficult to maintain high energy after the international break and I think they would have preferred this game to fall on Sunday instead. Spurs won’t be happy with a draw but that’s what I’m going for.

Leicester v Southampton

If Spurs do manage to grab three points at Anfield then it’s down to Leicester to maintain their lead at the top of the table. I think they’ll draw against Southampton, however. The focus will be back on them after the international break and trying to get back in their stride could be tough.

Southampton will be buoyed by comeback against Liverpool and could pose a threat. I think Koeman is brilliant manager, they’ll do well to hold onto him in the summer, and lots of clubs will be knocking on the door for his services. Southampton could get a draw here.

Man United v Everton

Like Liverpool, Manchester United this season are difficult to predict. Who will turn up? They got a massive win last time out against Manchester City, which gives them a real chance now of the top four. They have eight games left, five at home, and they’re in a reasonable position to really challenge. They looked miles away only a few weeks ago which is testament to this rollercoaster Premier League season.

As for Everton, Martinez is fighting for his job a little bit and needs a result. He won’t be thanking Lakaku after the Belgian spoke about wanting to play Champions League football and where he sees his future. I reckon United will just edge this one. They have a tricky trip to Spurs next week so they’ll look on this as a must-win.

Norwich v Newcastle

This is huge. There is no other word to describe it. It’s massive particularly for Newcastle who now have big decisions to make in goal after Rob Elliot’s injury for the Republic of Ireland during the international break. With Tim Krul sidelined too, their third choice, Karl Darlow, needs to step up. He made his debut in December and didn’t look overly confident. I’m tempted to say this will end a draw, which probably suits Norwich more than Newcastle.

It’s the time of the season where teams threatened with relegation really need to start picking up. As we saw with Leicester last season, sometimes sides put good runs together and achieve safety because there’s pure desperation of staying in the top flight. Generally players will have their wages cut if they get relegated, which might spur them on. Other times they’re coming up against teams who don’t have a lot to play for and haven’t got the fire in their belly like they had earlier on in the season. That extra 1% can fire you to results.

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