By Neil Leverett and Niall Clarke
- The Premier League reaches the half-way mark, as leaders Liverpool host Arsenal in a Merseyide blockbuster before New Year
- Second-placed Spurs host Wolverhampton Wanderers in an intriguing clash at Wembley
- Manchester City travel to an improving Southampton, looking to avoid a third defeat on the bounce
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – The 2018/19 season reaches the half-way mark and to round off the calendar year in style Liverpool host Arsenal with new year fireworks expected at Anfield.
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Game of the Week: Liverpool vs. Arsenal (Saturday, 17:30)
Niall: Not many people will have called Liverpool having a six-point lead at the top of the Premier League as we close out 2018, but the Reds remain unbeaten and will be top no matter what happens in their match against Arsenal on Saturday.
That said, this is a huge week when it comes to Liverpool’s title hopes. Following Arsenal’s trip to Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s men visit the Etihad where they could extend their lead over the Citizens, providing results go their way. A loss here could allow Spurs to close the gap to three points, and if they follow that with defeat to Manchester City then we could start 2019 with three teams within a point of each other.
Arsenal are capable of producing an upset, but Liverpool look like the strongest team in the country at the moment. They started the season getting by on their much improved defence, but after a 4-0 win against Newcastle it seems like the attack is beginning to flow again. Given the mistakes the Gunners can make at the back, this could get ugly if Liverpool are in a rampant mood.
This match could be equally as fascinating though and if both attacks are on point we could be treated to a goal fest. The difference will come defensively and at this stage Liverpool’s back line is the best in the country and will prove to be the more difficult to break down.
Prediction: Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal
Neil: With a six-point lead to defend, the stakes will only increase as the season goes on and the pressure cooker will begin to bubble as the Gunners visit Anfield to round off 2018. The visitors continue to have issues to address in defence, but at the opposite end of the pitch their progress has come on in leaps and bounds largely down to Premier League top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Can Liverpool continue the red-hot Gabonese hitman, and in turn also keep up their own scoring form in what is likely to be a case of who can deny one other the most space on Merseyside?
The Reds defence is by far the more water-tight, but that is not to say they will make easy work of managing Arsenal’s flowing attack. In recent years, the Kop has seen rampant displays from the hosts and it could be the case here again.
I cannot see anything other than goals for both teams – despite a previous Manchester City-Liverpool stalemate earlier in the season. With home advantage back Klopp’s men and if they do pick up the win, 2019 could finally see the Reds end their long wait for a Premier League trophy come to an end.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Niall’s One to Watch: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Saturday, 15:00)
Before their North London rivals look to inadvertently help Tottenham’s title chances, the Lilywhites must keep up the pressure when they host Wolves at Wembley. After scoring 11 goals in their past two matches and going undefeated through December thus far, Spurs have now added a third horse into a title race that was said to only have two contenders. On their day, Tottenham are one of the best teams in the league and their free scoring form as of late is proof of that.
Wolves have been difficult opposition for the top six this season, with only Liverpool and Tottenham getting the better of them in those matches. Despite that, it still feels like we have not seen the best of last season’s Championship winners and they will look to go into 2019 on a positive note with an upset win against Spurs.
Tottenham’s form may be too good though. They are scoring freely and already got the better of their opposition at Molineux in a thrilling game earlier in the season. It will not be as comfortable as their most recent contests, but it is hard to see anything but a Tottenham victory here with the form the likes of Son Heung-min are in. That said, people said the same about Manchester City vs Crystal Palace…
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Neil’s One to Watch: Southampton vs. Manchester City (Sunday, 14:15)
This might not have been high up on the list of ones to watch a few months or even weeks ago, but given Manchester City’s current wobble – which could relatively be compared to a crisis – a trip to the south coast to face Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s improving Saints is not the sort of visit Pep Guardiola‘s men will be relishing which could make for interesting viewing on Sunday afternoon.
Southampton’s work ethic has doubled in recent weeks and their efforts are being to show on the pitch. That said, a visit of the champions is not exactly the perfect new years’ gift for the Saints even with the visitors in something of a slump in form.
Striker Danny Ings looks rejuvenated under is new steward, as does Nathan Redmond but both men may not be laden with opportunities to continue their upwards improvement this weekend.
City had problems, but still have more than enough talent to cause the hosts serious problems in defence. I tipped Guardiola’s men to bounce back against Leicester on Boxing Day; they failed then but surely they will get back to winning ways here. I do however predict a difficult afternoon at St. Marys’ for the visitors.
Prediction: Southampton 1-3 Manchester City
Premier League Gameweek 20 Game of the Week takes place at Anfield, as Liverpool host Arsenal on Saturday evening.
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