Predictions have been a mug's game in one of the most open and unpredictable Premier League seasons so far. Hence, it only makes sense for yours truly to give it a go starting with the fourteenth round of fixtures taking place this week. I will try and do one of these for all the remaining rounds of the Premier League this season.
Crystal Palace vs. West Ham
Over the past month Crystal Palace have played at a standard that belies their position at the bottom of the Premier League. After drawing at home to Everton, the Eagles picked up a valuable win away at Hull, before suffering a somewhat unfortunate defeat at Norwich on the weekend in Tony Pulis' first game in charge. Miles Jedinak and Kagisho Dickagoi have played well throughout the season, but with the rest of the squad now playing much better, Palace will at the least be very hard to beat.
West Ham got a crucial win against fellow strugglers Fulham last time, with the Hammers brushing aside the Cottagers at Upton Park 3-0. Sam Allardyce still doesn't have an obvious solution to his scoring problems, although Carlton Cole was effective in his cameo from the bench on the weekend. It's unlikely that the Eagles defence are going to be as generous as Fulham's, so Allardyce will need to make some tweaks and is likely to start one of Joe Cole or Ravel Morrison in place of Matt Jarvis or Modibo Maiga.
Prediction: It's Tony Pulis' first home game in charge of Crystal Palace, and he will ensure that his team are well prepared to take advantage of the raucous support at Selhurst Park to overcome West Ham by a couple of goals.
Arsenal vs. Hull City
Arsenal's win at Cardiff was extremely impressive in a variety of aspects. Aaron Ramsey continued his rich vein of scoring form and Arsene Wenger described Mesut Ozil's performance perfectly when he said that he created two assists out of nothing. Crucially, when Cardiff started the second half with a great tempo, Arsenal stood firm unlike Manchester City and Manchester United. Wojciech Szczesny pulled of a great save, and the back four maintained their tactical discipline.
Hull are coming into the fixture on the back of their biggest win of the season, winning 3-1 against Liverpool at the KC stadium. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore have played crucial roles in Hull's good start to the season, and Steve Bruce has shown a lot of flexibility with his tactics against different opposition. Bruce will rely on his central midfield duo to perform well again if Hull are to get anything from the game.
Prediction: With the exception of their 4-1 mauling at Southampton before the international break, Hull have actually performed with a lot of credit on their travels. However, the Emirates provides a different kind of challenge altogether. Arsenal won't necessarily score a bucketload, but their myriad options in midfield will help them overcome Hull's obdurate challenge.
Liverpool vs. Norwich City
Liverpool have to rebound from their disappointing loss against Hull with two relatively easy home games before three difficult away trips in December. Brendan Rodgers took the blame for the defeat on the weekend, but the manager has to identify the ideal formation for the Reds to accommodate his personnel to compensate for Daniel Sturridge's absence for the next two months. It might also be prudent for Rodgers to settle on a preferred pair of centre-backs rather than constantly chopping and changing.
Since Norwich suffered an embarrassing 7-0 thrashing away to Manchester City, they have improved their form, winning two consecutive home games affording Chris Hughton some breathing space. Gary Hooper and Leroy Fer are now looking more settled in yellow and green, but crucially Wes Hoolahan has been given opportunities to provide the creative spark from midfield and create opportunities for the strikers.
Prediction: Sturridge's absence will be keenly felt in tough away games later in the month, but at home to Norwich, Liverpool should have enough in their team to get the three points, especially with Luis Suarez on fire at Anfield and playing against a team he loves scoring goals against.
Manchester United vs. Everton
When David Moyes left Everton to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson the last thing he would have envisaged was being below the Toffees in the table when the two teams would come head to head. That is exactly what has transpired as Moyes has not managed to solve the Red Devil's midfield problems, with the biggest signing of the summer failing to make a mark at Old Trafford. At the same time Everton are playing with a style and verve instilled by new manager Roberto Martinez that was rarely seen at Goodison Park under his predecessor.
It could be argued that United have taken two steps back since their win over Arsenal at Old Trafford, with two consecutive 2-2 draws away to Cardiff and Tottenham. Everton on the other hand are coming into the game with 7 goals in their last two matches, with Gerard Deulofeu announcing his arrival in the Premier League, while Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman continue their tremendous attacking form.
Prediction: Logic would dictate that if United's midfield struggled against Cardiff and Tottenham, Everton should also dominate the centre of the park, as Barry, McCarthy and Osman have been extremely impressive in possession throughout the season. However, United at Old Trafford still have an aura that is hard for visitors to breach. Martinez will ensure Everton play without fear, but Moyes will want to win this one more than any other. I predict a draw.
Southampton vs. Aston Villa
Southampton are playing at home again after two tough away defeats in London to Arsenal and Chelsea. The Saints played with immense credit against better players, and the debate about Mauricio Pochettino replacing Nigel Adkins as manager has surely now come to an end. Artur Boruc's unfortunate injury absence will be felt, despite his propensity for the eccentric. The busy schedule will also give Pochettino a chance to rotate, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama looking tired towards the second half of the game at Stamford Bridge. Jack Cork could do with some minutes in the middle, and Rickie Lambert should start ahead of Dani Osvaldo.
Aston Villa followed up a spirited two goal comeback against midland rivals West Brom with a poor performance at home to Sunderland when they were lucky to escape with a point. Christian Benteke hasn't looked the same player since suffering an injury, and the defence while showing improvement over last season is still vulnerable against good attacks.
Prediction: Southampton to return to winning ways at St. Mary's.
Stoke vs. Cardiff City
It's 16th vs 17th in the Premier League, and the pressure in such games almost always ensures the occasion gets the better of the spectacle. Stoke were frankly pathetic against Everton, while Cardiff played their part in a tough home game against Arsenal. Cardiff have some good players in the middle, with Gary Medel and Kim Bo-Kyung playing particularly well. Unfortunately, Stoke haven't had a standout performer, with only Steven N'Zonzi the only consistent player this season.
Prediction: Cardiff are the better footballing side, but visiting the Britannia isn't the easiest road trip. I can't see much more than a cagey draw.
Sunderland vs. Chelsea
Gus Poyet has won both his home games in charge of Sunderland, and to top it off the Mackems put in a superb performance at Villa Park, where they really should have won. Chelsea finished a sluggish week with a good comeback win in the second half against Southampton. Poyet will want to make an impression against his former team, and it is clear that Sunderland now have a better sense of tactical discipline in their game. Mourinho will want to improve on his last visit to the Northeast, when Chelsea were comprehensively outplayed by Newcastle.
Prediction: If this game was played a month ago, Chelsea would be clear favourites. However, this game is much trickier than it appears on paper, and I am going to stick my neck out and go for a draw.
Swansea City vs. Newcastle United
Swansea actually played pretty well in the first half of their weekend fixture away to Manchester City, and if Jonathan de Guzman hadn't missed a sitter, the result could have been different. However, there is no denying that the Swans are in a bit of a funk after the injuries to Michu and Wilfried Bony, and some demoralizing results in the Europa League.
Newcastle's run of four consecutive victories has caught many by surprise. Loic Remy is playing really well, as is Yoan Gouffran and crucially the defence has stepped up to the task. The squad is now going to be tested in a busy December, as the replacements might not be up to the same standard of the first eleven.
Prediction: It's a tricky game to call, as both teams are capable of brilliance at any given moment, but also vulnerable to a lapse in concentration. I am going to give Newcastle the edge on the basis of having a lethal finisher who can exploit Swansea's defensive weakness.
Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur
A match-up with two managers under different kinds of pressure. Rene Meulensteen will be in charge of Fulham for the first time after Martin Jol's tenure came to an end after a horrible run of form. He will be expected to fix Fulham's defence first and foremost, and possibly instil a better work rate across the playing eleven.
Conversely Andre Villas-Boas is under increasing pressure to find a cure to Tottenham's scoring ills. There were some positives in the draw against Manchester United, but there is still no clear idea of how Spurs are going to score goals on a consistent basis. Jermain Defoe might get the start ahead of Roberto Soldado, while Aaron Lennon should retain his place on the right wing.
Prediction: Tottenham are the better team, but this fixture has historically thrown many surprises. Fulham's players will be eager to make an impression on their new boss, and Tottenham might struggle to score in a tougher match than they originally expected. I am going to go for a draw.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City
West Bromwich suffered their first defeat in a while at Newcastle on the weekend, and while the Baggies didn't do themselves justice in the first half, they might have snatched something from the game in the second half after improving across the park. It might be time to give young Saido Berahino another crack in the first team, but once again the crucial players for West Brom will be Morgan Amalfitano and Stephane Sessegnon, who have the movement and understanding that can unhinge the best defences as witnessed against Arsenal and Manchester United.
16 goals in three home games would suggest everything is fine with Manchester City, but it's no secret that their struggles have come on the road. Manuel Pelligrini hasn't mastered the Premier League away game yet, and now would be as good a time as any to start winning on City's travels. West Brom are definitely going to be a difficult opponent, but whether they can sustain their levels over a busy December is extremely doubtful. If Samir Nasri can maintain his form from the weekend, it will go a long way in easing the burden on the teams brilliant duo of strikers in Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo.
Prediction: I think it's too close to call. An extra day's rest might mean West Brom have the edge, but the return of Vincent Kompany and the fact that City have a point to prove, will result in the Citizens winning a very close match.