Rollin' In The Rye

Matchday 3: Premier League Predictions and Analysis

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The 3rd week of Premier League fixtures gets underway on Saturday and with the season’s 1st international break looming, all 20 clubs will want to head into the one-week pause on a high.

The most profile clash of the weekend comes in the early kickoff at White Hart Lane, as Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool. But there are also plenty of headlines elsewhere. Can the reigning champions, Leicester City, finally get their first victory of the campaign? Can the Manchester clubs be stopped? Will Chelsea keep pace with them? This week’s predictions have a crack at what might ultimately happen during the 3rd week of the Premier League.

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Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool (Sportsnet, 7:30 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Tottenham Hotspur have had a rather ordinary start to their campaign, drawing at Everton before narrowly defeating Crystal Palace last week. Victor Wanyama has been a decent addition to Mauricio Pochettino’s squad, and his late header against Palace could prove to be the catalyst to get Spurs’ season truly up and running.

The North London club have played well in patches over the course of the first 2 matches but they have yet to look anywhere near as dynamic and dominant as they did for the majority of last year. Some of that can be put down to early season rustiness, but if Tottenham wants to challenge for the title and finish in the top 4, then they’re going to have to increase their effort soon. It won’t be an easy task against a Liverpool side who will want to make amends after falling 2-0 at Burnley. Jurgen Klopp rued his side’s lack of cutting edge at Turf Moor, but the Reds’ defensive problems should be even more concerning.

Liverpool had over 80% of the possession against the Clarets, but dominating the ball and being the dominant force in a match are 2 completely different things. Liverpool have already conceded 5 goals in their opening 2 league fixtures, and whilst they edged a 7-goal thriller against Arsenal, there should be major concerns at the back for Klopp. Costly defensive errors were a constant theme last season for the Reds, and it appears as though they have not yet  been eradicated. They would do well to contain last season’s top goal scorer, Harry Kane, on Saturday.

There isn’t much between these sides, although Spurs do look the better outfit. It’s difficult to see either of these teams competing for the title with their current squads, but they are likely to be in direct competition for the top 4 come May. Liverpool tends to perform better against sides that are more expansive, but Spurs will surely look to take advantage of the Reds’ defensive woes. A score-draw seems to be on the cards on Saturday.

Prediction: 1-1


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Chelsea v Burnley (TSN1/TSN4, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

As unconvincing as Chelsea have been so far this season, Antonio Conte’s men are still 2-0. The Blues looked comfortable for the most part of their season opener at home to West Ham, but needed a late Diego Costa winner (his 1st Chelsea goal scored from outside the penalty area) after James Collins had leveled for the Hammers. Last week wasn’t much different, as Chelsea left it late to stun Watford at Vicarage Road, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage in the final 10 minutes of the match.

Championship caliber teams are able to perform poorly at times and still find ways to win, and Conte will be pleased to see his side have the spirit and determination to hunt for those crucial late goals. The Italian manager has been able to lift the mood at the club since his arrival, and the signing of Michy Batshuayi looks like a good one already. But there is frustration at the club as they have been unable to add another defender to their ranks, with their efforts to sign Kalidou Koulibaly and Alessio Romagnoli currently being currently thwarted by Napoli and AC Milan, respectively.

Chelsea will go up against a very hard working Burnley side on Saturday. Sean Dyche was delighted with the Clarets’ 2-0 victory over Liverpool, and the visitors will look to make life very difficult for Conte’s Blues. Burnley will once again look to defend deep and remain compact on Saturday, as they did against Liverpool, and will rely on Sam Vokes and Andre Gray to cause some problems for Chelsea’s defence.

There is no doubting Burnley’s desire and work rate, but they will have to be at their very best if they want to get anything from their trip to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea will dominate and should do enough to pick up another 3 points here.

Prediction: 2-0


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Crystal Palace v Bournemouth (Sportsnet 360, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Crystal Palace have started the league campaign with 2 successive 1-0 defeats, the 1st being at home to West Brom and the 2nd one coming in an away game at Spurs.

Despite beating Blackpool by 2 goals-to-nil in the EFL cup in midweek, there are still genuine concerns at the club regarding their continued poor form. In fact, Palace have only won 2 league matches in 2016. A visit from a struggling Bournemouth side could help launch Palace’s season though, as the Cherries have also suffered back-to-back league losses.

Eddie Howe’s teams always play attractive football but a leaky defence has proven to be troublesome so far. Something has to give in this clash, and Alan Pardew’s Eagles might just fancy putting up their 1st 3 points of the new season in this one.

Prediction: 2-1


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Everton v Stoke City (TSN 3, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Everton’s new major shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, has done some excellent work behind the scenes at the club since taking over. Luring manager Ronald Koeman to Merseyside from Southampton was a real coup, whilst the appointment of Steve Walsh as the club’s director of football was a shrewd move as well. The signings of Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams from Crystal Palace and Swansea, respectively, look to be good ones, although this does appear to be more of a transition year for the Toffees.

Meanwhile, Stoke City have been steady under the guidance of Mark Hughes, finishing in 9th place for the past 3 seasons. The Potters appear to be ready to kick on and challenge for a European spot but in order to do so, new signings need to be made. Scoring goals has been a problem for Stoke and Hughes is aware of the need to sign a prolific striker to complement his talented group of attacking midfielders.

Stoke were taken apart last weekend by Manchester City and looked worryingly disorganized and passive at the back. Everton may not possess the same sort of quality as City does, but containing Romelu Lukaku will be key if Stoke are to leave Goodison Park with a positive result.

Prediction: 1-1


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Leicester City v Swansea City (TSN 5, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Leicester City was shocked by Hull in their season opener, but they looked much better in the 0-0 home draw against Arsenal. The Foxes should have had a penalty awarded to them after Hector Bellerin clipped Ahmed Musa near the end of the game, but the clean sheet was nonetheless important for Claudio Ranieri’s side.

Swansea City started the campaign with a 1-0 win at Burnley, but they also fell victim to Hull’s surprisingly super form last week, as they fell 2-0 at home to the newly promoted side. Swansea will go to the King Power Stadium and keep possession, but Leicester are likely to hit them on the break and get their 1st win of the season.

Prediction: 2-0


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Watford v Arsenal (Sportsnet, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Walter Mazzarri’s Watford looked set to surprise Chelsea last week, but 2 Chelsea goals in the final 10 minutes condemned the Hornets to their 1st league defeat of the season. Another tough test awaits them as Arsenal visit Vicarage Road on Saturday. Arsenal fans have been imploring Arsene Wenger to spend some money in the transfer market, but time is running out with the window set to shut on August 31.

A top defender and striker are required if the Gunners are to seriously challenge for the title. Last season in this fixture, Watford defended resolutely for over an hour before eventually succumbing to constant Arsenal pressure and conceding 3 goals in a span of 15 minutes. Allowing second half goals and throwing away leads appear to be a recurring theme for the hosts against the big clubs, and despite their best efforts, another hard-fought defeat could be on the cards once again.

Prediction: 1-2


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Southampton v Sunderland (Sportsnet World, 10 a.m. EST, Saturday)

Southampton are still without a win this season, but a visit from Sunderland could help change that. Claude Puel is a good fit at Southampton, but the club needs to invest some money to bolster the squad, especially with their participation in the Europa League still to come. The departures of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane, to Shandong Luneng and Liverpool, respectively, have weakened the roster but the Saints will be fine as long as they sign a couple of attack-minded players.

Sunderland, on the other hand, look anything but fine. David Moyes has a huge job on his hands as he tries to keep the club in the Premier League once again. There is a serious lack of quality in the Sunderland squad, and their summer signings have been quite underwhelming. The Black Cats have pulled off great escape after great escape, season-after-season to stay in the top flight, but constantly flirting at the bottom of the league is a very dangerous thing to do. It could prove fatal this time around – not only for the club’s Premier League status, but also for their beleaguered manager as he seeks to salvage his managerial career in the North East.

Prediction: 1-0


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Hull City v Manchester United (TSN1/TSN3/TSN4/TSN5, 12:30 p.m. EST, Saturday)

Most pundits tipped Hull City for an immediate relegation back to the 2nd tier before the season started, but the Tigers have confounded all of their critics so far. To start off , they beat the champions, and then they went to South Wales and deservedly won too. On Wednesday, they ousted Exeter from the EFL Cup, winning 3-1. Considering all of the turmoil going on at the club (no new signings have been made this summer, the owners want to sell the club, no permanent manager, only 13 fit senior players in the squad, etc), this is a truly remarkable story.

The caretaker boss, Mike Phelan, deserves huge credit, and he is actually quite familiar with Saturday’s visitors. Phelan is a former Manchester United player, and he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at United for 5 years. Meanwhile Jose Mourinho, the new United boss, has the club gunning for the title once again after 3 wasted seasons under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. There is an air of arrogance back at the club, reminiscent of the Fergie years, and the United aura is rebuilding. Hull centre half Curtis Davies will have his hands full trying to prevent Zlatan Ibrahimovic from scoring in a 4th consecutive match, as the Swedish superstar looks to continue his incredible form.

Hull’s razor-thin squad is clearly lacking in numbers, and it could come back to haunt them against a high caliber Manchester United side. The Tigers have lost 7 of their 8 Premier League matches against Saturday’s visitors, drawing the other, and their early season heroics might just be stunted again by the record 20-time English champions.

Prediction: 0-3


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West Bromwich Albion v Middlesbrough (TSN2, 8:30 a.m. EST Sunday)

Tony Pulis has been getting a lot of stick from the West Bromwich Albion support in recent times, and whilst some of the criticism is understandable, the fact remains that the Baggies have a very weak squad. Pulis has a group of players at his disposal who, despite their consistently great work ethic, are limited in many different ways.

The West Brom manager has urged the board to make a flurry of signings in order to improve his options, but as it stands it looks like it could be a difficult season ahead. Fortunately for the club, they boast a manager who has proudly never been relegated from the Premier League before. Without the Welsh manager, relegation is a distinct possibility.

Middleborough is back in the Premier League for the 1st time since their relegation in 2009, and they have impressed in their opening 2 matches. A draw at home to Stoke was followed by a convincing 2-1 derby victory at Sunderland, and Sunday’s trip to the Hawthorns gives Aitor Karanka’s men a chance to continue their good start to the season. Cristhian Stuani and Alvaro Negredo will have to be at their sharpest if the visitors are to break down a resolute Albion side.

Prediction: 0-0


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Manchester City v West Ham (Sportsnet One, 11 a.m. EST Sunday)

City have been unspectacular, yet super efficient so far this season. With Pep Guardiola’s revolution in its infancy, it is vital for City to win and keep up with their rivals whilst they work on improving their performances. Guardiola is still in the early stages of implementing his methods, so there will be times when City perform poorly and have to find ways to win. They did it on the opening day against Sunderland, and they might be unsettled by Slaven Bilic’s Hammers.

West Ham have been ordinary so far this season, although they did win the corresponding fixture last season. But morale will be low after they suffered a 1-0 defeat on Thursday in their Europa League qualifier; which knocked them out of the competition before it even started. That will also result in less preparation time for this fixture, and City’s extra few days of rest could prove to be the difference at the Etihad.

Prediction: 2-1


You can follow Farzan Mirzazadeh on Twitter @Farzan_4

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