Prindi’s Premier League Picks: West Ham to give Arsenal a battle

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Picking Premier League matches is hard work, especially on Boxing Day.

But with holiday season and the packed Premier League schedule there’s one thing fans can count on – upsets.

Lots and lots of upsets.

UPSET SPECIALS

Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Villa Park)

Fans will be crashing the Live Extra site trying to watch this thriller!

Ok, maybe not. But that’s just because over the last three matches Villa have completely lost the plot.

It all started when they were beaten 0-2 at Fulham… As in second-to-last place Fulham. And not only that, Paul Lambert’s side kind of got worked that match. (Nothing against the Cottagers but even those fans freely admit their squad has hugely underperformed this year).

Then Villa went and got smoked 0-3 by Manchester United two weeks ago before crumbling 1-2 at the hands of Stoke City last weekend. Not good. And now, factor in that Benteke is out indefinitely with a knee injury and it’s as I said: Plot. Lost.

Aston Villa 0 Crystal Palace 1

Cardiff City v. Southampton (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Cardiff City Stadium)

A lot of people hate their bosses, which stinks. If you’re one of those people just remember – at least your boss isn’t Vincent Tan. Because that dude would be miserable to work for.

I feel for Mackay, I really do. I feel like he needs a hug. Or a beer. Preferably both, I suppose.

On Thursday, I think the fans at Cardiff City Stadium will give Mackay the symbolic equivalent of a hug and a beer – 90 minutes of madness. That stadium is already loud but on Boxing Day, I expect it to be through the roof. And I expect the Bluebirds to win.

Cardiff City 3 Southampton 2

Norwich City v. Fulham (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Carrow Road)

I fancy Fulham under Rene Meulensteen. They’ve had some tough opponents in Tottenham and Manchester City but beat Aston Villa and played well in the loss to Everton.

Plus now, the Deuce is back loose in West London. Game on.

Norwich City 0 Fulham 1

West Ham United v. Arsenal (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Upton Park)

That Chelsea match took a lot out of Arsenal, both physically and mentally. I hate to say it but I see West Ham coming into this match looking to replicate what the Blues did on Monday – defend deep and kick Arsenal all over the park.

Crazy things happen on Boxing Day.

West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0

Manchester City v. Liverpool (Thu 102:30pm ET on NBCSN; Etihad Stadium)

How tasty is this matchup?

City, at home, are the logical favorites. But what if Liverpool went into the Etihad and managed to be the first club this season to steal a point?

That would be incredible Suarez.

Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2

SQUEAKY-BUM TIME

Newcastle United v. Stoke City (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; St James’ Park)

I’m comfortable writing the following sentence: Stoke City are actually a pretty good side this year.

Newcastle 2 Stoke City 2

Tottenham Hotspur v. West Bromwich Albion (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; White Hart Lane)

Congrats to Tim Sherwood on his 18 month head coaching job at Spurs. Is there anyone on the planet who thinks this will actually work out?

Granted, it’ll be good for the players’ heads because Sherwood will free them from the needless algorithms that AVB put into their minds.

But I don’t see them finishing Top 4, and that’s what the chairman Daniel Levy wants. Top 4 and a big name manager.

After the World Cup, I expect Levy to hire Van Gaal. Sorry, Timmy.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 West Bromwich Albion 2

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Hull City v. Manchester United (Thu 7:45am ET on NBCSN; KC Stadium)

Hull City boasts a lot of ex-United players in their ranks (James Chester, Corry Evans, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady) but let’s not forget, they are ‘ex’ players for a reason – they’re not good enough.

Sounds a bit harsh but such is life. Fortunately for Hull, Steve Bruce has these boys playing with plenty of grit and bite.

Is it enough to throw United off their current form?

Please.

Hull City 1 Manchester United 2

Everton v. Sunderland (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Goodison Park)

Poor display for Everton last weekend but still showed the grit to beat Swansea. The game spoke volumes about the difference between the Toffees under Moyes v. under Martinez. Moyes would’ve secured the draw, Martinez pushed for the win. End of story.

Everton 3 Sunderland 1

Chelsea v. Swansea City (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Stamford Bridge)

The style that Mourinho’s side broke out against Arsenal on Monday was appalling. I refuse to believe that a squad with as much quality as Chelsea will continue to play in such a stubborn, uninspired manner.

Mourinho said it was a “tactic” specific to Arsenal (and Manchester United, earlier in the season). Either way, it was gross.

But not as gross as Gerhard Tremmel. Not sure I see Swansea winning (ever?) with him between the sticks.

Chelsea 4 Swansea City 1

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

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  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

 

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.