By Niall Clarke
- Five questions on our minds ahead of round 18 of the Premier League season
- Predictions for all 10 of the weekend’s games.
The Premier League wishes everyone a happy holidays with another round of fixtures which promises more excitement. Here are five burning questions for match-week 18.
How will Chelsea cope without Costa and Kante?
Unbeaten in 11 matches, Chelsea will aim to take one step closer to a Premier League record and the title by defeating Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. The only issue is that they will have to do it without two of their most influential players.
Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante will miss the game through suspension as they both received yellow cards against Crystal Palace. Costa has been indispensable so far, netting 13 times and showing individual brilliance to win games they otherwise could have drawn or lost. The good news in this regard is that Bournemouth like to come out and play, meaning they are unlikely to set up to frustrate Chelsea. That will give more space to other players to grab some goals and they will not have to rely on Costa for that inspiration.
What goes against the Cherries however is the loss of Kante. The French midfielder has been described as ‘doing the job of two players’ by various players, managers and pundits, and it is not far from the truth. Kante’s ability to read and breakdown play is similar to a former Chelsea midfielder, Claude Makelele who was crucial in their 04/05 title win. His ability will be sorely missed against a Bournemouth side who will look to get at the Chelsea defence.
It is a test Chelsea should pass, but that is not to say it will be easy. The absence of Costa and Kante will be felt no matter the result. Either way, Antonio Conte can rest on the fact his side will be top no matter what heading into the New Year.
How will Arsenal respond to back to back defeats?
It is fair to say the Christmas period has not been very giving to Arsenal – they must have made Santa’s naughty list. After a 2-1 loss to Everton, they suffered the same fate against Manchester City at the weekend and now sit nine points behind leaders Chelsea.
The Gunners return home to face West Brom on Boxing Day. The Baggies were in good form, but Manchester United were able to stifle and defeat them 2-0. A loss for Arsenal could mean they are overtaken by Tottenham and thus lose their place in the top four.
West Brom are a frustrating team to play against and could give Arsenal plenty of problems when they meet. Arsene Wenger will look to that extra bit of quality his sides possess to get them over the line. They can ill afford defeat as title hopes will all but vanish and they will end up in a battle for fourth position.
Can Liverpool and Man City keep up the pace?
If Chelsea manage to defeat Bournemouth as expected, they will be nine points clear at the top of the Premier League before Man City and Liverpool even play- the pressure on them to keep up will be mounting.
Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Hull in the evening kick off on Boxing Day. The Tigers are fighting for Premier League survival so it will not be an easy game for the Citizens. City have only just returned to the win column themselves after defeating Watford and Arsenal last week. They had lost two in a row prior to that turn in form, defeats that asked a lot of questions for Guardiola. City will do well to not drop any points against a side that will no doubt keep fighting for 90 minutes.
Liverpool may feel like they have an easier game as they welcome Stoke to Anfield. The potters are a better side than Hull but the home advantage gives Liverpool the edge. The Reds will be full of confidence after their derby day win on Monday and should be expected to get past a mid-table level Stoke side.
Which sides will move clear of relegation heading into 2017?
Sunderland, Hull and Swansea still occupy the relegation spots in the Premier League heading into Christmas, and only Sunderland can make that change. The Black Cats travel to an in-form Manchester United side, so it is unlikely any change will occur. Hull face Manchester City as already documented, and Swansea host West Ham at the Liberty stadium.
Crystal Palace made the expected move of sacking Alan Pardew in hope of bringing new fortunes with a fresh face at Selhurst Park. Palace have the worst record of any team in the top four divisions in this calendar year, it could be said that Pardew did well to last this long. Palace travel Watford in hope of finding the form they need to avoid relegation.
Burnley face Middlesbrough at Turf Moor in a crucial match in this relegation battle. Leicester welcome Everton to the King Power to move clear themselves.
Can Spurs move into the top four?
The last match in this round of fixtures will take place on Wednesday 28th of December when Tottenham look to keep in touch of the top four against Southampton. It is fifth vs seventh at St. Mary’s and it could be a cracking match on the South coast.
Both sides come to play, but they both also have fairly stellar defences. Spurs are only a point behind Arsenal and could go into fourth if results go their way. The Saints are six points off Manchester United in fifth, but a win could boost their outside chance of finishing in the Champions league places.
It is a difficult match to call, and it could end up being the best contest of the round. Southampton are a tricky team for anyone, and do not be surprised to see an upset.
Watford 2-0 Crystal Palace
Arsenal 2-1 West Brom
Burnley 3-2 Middlesbrough
Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth
Leicester 1-1 Everton
Man United 3-0 Sunderland
Swansea 2-2 West Ham
Hull 1-2 Man City
Liverpool 3-1 Stoke
Southampton 2-1 Tottenham
The Premier League continues 26th-28th December
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