Looking back on my predictions in the FA Cup from last week, the two strongest favourites Arsenal and Spurs were the ones who let me down. But, five out of eight isn’t too bad. A much tougher weekend in the Premier League awaits with some particularly interesting fixtures. Then there’s also the League Cup final to look forward to.
I never reached the League Cup final, going out to Birmingham in the semi-final at Ipswich, but I can’t really complain racking up 39 appearances with 6 goals. The League Cup is a great competition. A welcome distraction from the league at times and it gives you the opportunity to play against some of the best teams and players in the country. The atmosphere is always superb with fans that don’t go to games often getting more of an opportunity to go watch their team. I remember going to Bradford against Swansea a couple years back and the entire day was great. I got there quite early with talkSPORT and there were fans everywhere. It was such a great occasion for both sides as finals aren’t a regular occurrence for them.
This year’s final has Liverpool up against Manchester City – two sides who know all about going to finals. It’ll be a close game but it’s one Liverpool really have to win. Since Jurgen Klopp joined in October, results haven’t massively improved, the side has been up and down in form and with Sturridge just returning from fitness, there’s been no consistent goalscoring threat. It’s definitely more important for Liverpool.
With the league gone and top four a narrow possibility, a trophy for Klopp in his first season would be fantastic. There’ll be a lot of change for Liverpool in the summer, so for the current crop of players to grab a trophy would be great.
Turning attention to the Premier League, here’s my predictions for the fixtures this weekend:
WEST HAM V SUNDERLAND
This is a big one. Sam Allardyce returning to Upton Park for the first time since leaving the club last year. I’m hoping to see a warm welcome for him, but I think it’ll be a mixed reaction. Plenty were happy to see him go when he did, but there’ll also be plenty who will remember what he did for the club – bringing them back up from the Championship being just one thing.
One thing I will look for in this game is Dimitri Payet. He’s a great player. Really, really special. I watched him when West Ham played Norwich and he is just one of those players with the ability to really change the game. If Sunderland and Sam are to get anything out of this match, he’s the man they need to stop. I think a West Ham win, but only just.
With Villa looking unlikely to pull off a Leicester of last season, and probably Norwich joining them. I think Allardyce might have one of his toughest tasks as a manager yet to not join them both in relegation this season.
STOKE V ASTON VILLA
A routine win for Stoke here. Villa look already sunken and are paddling hopelessly for shore. Stoke played really well last time out against Bournemouth and with Mark Hughes marking the day with 1000 days in charge of the Potters, there’s plenty on the line for Stoke to go out there and grab the three points.
SOUTHAMPTON V CHELSEA
This is one I’m really looking forward to. Southampton have been brilliant this season, and under the radar too. They’re sixth and we’ve not thought much of it. For Chelsea, Guus Hiddink has done fantastic work since replacing Jose Mourinho and getting the squad back into winning shape. The players look better as a team once again and individual performances have really improved. I’m going for a draw here. Can’t split them.
LEICESTER V NORWICH
Leicester’s last three league games have been Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal. They weren’t favourites for any but did great picking up six points from a possible nine. Now, they face Norwich where they will be strong favourites. Claudio Ranieri said this match is harder than the Arsenal one. Leicester have to bounce back from their loss against Arsenal and perform well, which I think they will. I can’t see anything but a Leicester win here.
WATFORD V BOURNEMOUTH
Going out of the FA Cup last weekend, Bournemouth now only have the league to focus on and trying to avoid relegation. They’ve been doing okay lately and their signings of Afobe and Iturbe look convincing – both have played well since joining, particularly Iturbe having his best game last week. There’s definitely more to come from the young Argentinian. Watford on the other hand have been a shock team this season. The brilliance of Ighalo and Deeney up top has been a joy to watch. This will be a close one but I see Watford coming out on top.
WEST BROM V CRYSTAL PALACE
Another manager going up against an old club, Tony Pulis squares off against a Palace side struggling for form. It won’t be the greatest spectacle, but it’ll be an intriguing game nonetheless. Palace however are a great side away from home, which is where they pick up most of their points. I’m going for a Palace win here. No victory relapse for Pulis.
MANCHESTER UNITED V ARSENAL
Good luck trying to predict this one. It may all come down to who United have fit for the match. It was Welbeck who was United’s undoing when Arsenal won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup last season, but Arsenal haven’t won their in the league for eight seasons. With him being the difference against Leicester, he could again come back to haunt his old club. I’m going to be safe and go for the draw.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR V SWANSEA
Despite going out of the FA Cup last week, Pochettino has juggled the squad brilliantly for their hectic schedule this season. Spurs have been brilliant in the league and sit second. However, I don’t see Swansea causing too much ruckus – maybe a Sigurdsson goal against his old club. Spurs should wrap this up even without Kane and Dembele. A Spurs win for me.