The Premier League’s team are really getting their depth tested now as the league fixture pile-up ramps up for every team, not just those in European competition.
And so we feel it’s as good a time as any to make some prediction about the PL’s busiest period.
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Each team will play seven games between Nov. 30 and Jan. 2, close to one-fifth of a PL season. That’s a Big Gulp-sized portion of the season’s beverage intake.
Keeping in mind injuries and other unpredictable factors play into the equation, are these predictions really fearless? Both intuition and numbers say, “Yes.”
Does that mean they won’t be wrong? Of course not: This is the Premier League.
Manchester United should start 2022 within a win of — or even in — the top four
Yes, 10th-place Manchester United has some fatal flaws and it’s going to take time for Ralf Rangnick to find the right mix at Old Trafford, but the Red Devils’ fixture list will be a big help as the Red Devils bid to close 2021 in style.
After Thursday’s match against Arsenal, nowhere near an expected result, Manchester United hosts a better-rested Crystal Palace on Sunday before a midweek Champions League match it will not need other than Rangnick’s need to see more of his new players (Ronaldo may play because stats, right?)
Currently six points back of fourth with a match-in-hand on West Ham and five behind Thursday visitors Arsenal, United is still missing its best defender in Raphael Varane and an all-world playmaker in Paul Pogba. But its richness in attacking depth will be more than enough to collect points.
After the visit from Young Boys on Dec. 8, United heads to Norwich City and Brentford, hosts Brighton, goes to Newcastle, and then hosts Burnley and Wolves. It would be very surprising if the Red Devils fail to acquire at least 16 of 24 available points.
Throw in a number of matches where teams above United cannot each collect all the points and it would really be surprising if Rangnick’s men weren’t in or right on the edge of a UCL place come the end of Jan.1’s visit from Wolves (West Ham plays Arsenal and Chelsea; Liverpool plays Chelsea, Spurs, and Wolves; Leicester has Spurs, Man City, and Liverpool, and so on and so on).
Newcastle will start 2022 at least six points back of safety
Sorry, Eddie Howe, but even a Newcastle victory over Burnley — a necessary one — will see the Magpies in a bad, bad place come January.
The Magpies need reinforcements in a big way even if Howe uses his best XI players over and over again. Yes, Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson, and Miguel Almiron are very good, Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey are good on their days, and Martin Dubravka is an exceptional goalkeeper.
But the answers defending out wide, starting as a box-to-box midfielder, and at center back (period) have not shown the requisite consistency to confidently predict Newcastle will take more than 7-8 points from:
- Burnley away
- Leicester City away
- Liverpool away
- Man City at home
- Man United at home
- Everton away
- Southampton at home
Newcastle is currently six back of 17th place, and nine behind places 14-16. Good luck with that.
Crystal Palace will move into the top half, probably in a comfortable way
This a bit of a leap of faith based on the season’s first dozen games, a period which saw Palace’s only losses come away to Chelsea and Liverpool plus a win over Man City, and draws at Arsenal and West Ham.
Because let’s face it: one point from three matches in 10 days against Burnley, Villa, and Leeds qualifies as a true disappointment for Patrick Vieira’s men.
But the 19th match of the season is where teams have, more often than not, met every team once.
After Sunday’s match at Man United, a team learning a new system on two fewer days rest than their visitors, Palace has Everton, Southampton, Watford, Spurs, Norwich, and West Ham.
That’s a super easy run, but Palace has been quietly good this season: 6th in expected points and 9th in expected goals with the league’s fourth-fewest expected goals against.
So don’t expect 7-0 or even four wins and a draw or two, but the Eagles should do enough to be on the periphery of the European places.
Harry Kane will look more like Harry Kane (and maybe Spurs will, too?)
Tottenham Hotspur’s struggles to score goals have been well-documented but even an unenthusiastic Kane would expect more than a goal and an assist over 11 Premier League appearances.
That should change in December, when Kane will be expected to feature against some of the leakier teams in the league.
Let’s start with Kane, who is definitely struggling but not as bad as the aforementioned numbers attempt to tell you. Kane’s xG+xA per 90 minutes is the best on Spurs (0.45) and he’s underdelivered on his xG and xA by a combined 2.60.
Tottenham plays Norwich City, Leicester, Liverpool, Brentford, Palace, Southampton, and Watford by Jan. 1. Norwich, Watford, and Leicester represent three of the four largest conceded goals totals in the Premier League (and three of the five largest xGA totals).
Throw in an elite manager and Kane, should he want it, is well-positioned to not just play well but thrive. We’d say expect the same for Spurs, but the Cristian Romero injury is a major hit to the team’s defense.