Saturday February 8 2014

Table leadership to switch hands

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard (L) vies for the ball with Arsenal midfield

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard (L) vies for the ball with Arsenal midfield gem Santi Cazorla during a previous Premiership clash at Emirates Stadium. Liverpool, eight points behind Arsenal, must win the two sides’ encounter to remain in the title race. PHOTO BY AFP 

By Allan Ssekamatte

Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1

Arsene Wenger’s title-starved Gunners would have been title certainties had he recruited the league’s most lethal marksman Luis Suarez.

As it turns out, Suarez will pose the biggest threat as Arsenal begin to negotiate a gruesome fixture schedule that will test their championship credentials to the limit. Even without injured talismanic trio Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, Arsenal have enough residual quality to pick up a point.

Aston Villa 0 West Ham 0

Sam Allardyce could yet pull the rabbit out of the relegation hat courtesy of the bull dog spirit he has generated in his ranks. West Ham have recovered from a disastrous spell that saw them concede 18 goals in just five games. The Hammers’ new found fighting spirit will hold them in good stead against an Aston Villa side that is notoriously poor at home. Without the spaces to run into, I am predicting a dour goalless stalemate.hat fourth Champions League place.

Chelsea 2 Newcastle 0

Newcastle have not won a game in over a year without Yohan Cabaye in the side. That is a damning statistic to take to Stamford Bridge. The fall-out from Newcastle’s failed transfer policy has already claimed the job of 67-year-old technical director Joe Kinnear. Chelsea are a different outfit to the side that fell 0-2 to Newcastle at St James Park, and they will find limited resistance against a side that is clueless without Cabaye.

Crystal Palace 1 West Brom 0

Only Gustavo Poyet matches Crystal Palace’s Tony Pulis pound for pound when it comes to delivering value for their teams. Palace, whose fans are raising the highest decibel levels, are finding relative success from throwing the kitchen sink at all comers. Without the departed Shane Long and distracted Nicolas Anelka, it is hard to foresee how West Brom are going to stop Palace.

Norwich 1 Man City 3

Norwich should be ready for a backlash. City were missing some key players as they capitulated 0-1 to Chelsea. Manager Manuel Pellegrini must however take some of the flak for fielding Martin Demichelis in a holding role instead of a more natural midfielder like Jack Rodwell or Javi Garcia. Even without injured talisman Sergio Aguero, the Citizens should dismiss Chris Hughton’s Canaries. I can see goal-shy Norwich exploiting the reasonable doubt created by the Chelsea defeat.

Southampton 2 Stoke 0

What would England do without Southampton? Three Lions stars Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez were all impressive as Mauricio Pochettino’s Saints demolished Fulham in front of their own fans. In fact, on current form both Lallana must travel to Brazil if England is to make an impact. Stoke are a different kettle of fish to Fulham, and they will huff and puff to little effect. Southampton should prevail without much ado.

Sunderland 1 Hull City 0

Gustavo Poyet is currently the league’s most impressive manager. In addition to taking the Black Cats to the Capital One Cup final, he has presided over an impressive resurgence that has propelled Sunderland to fifth in the current form table. Poyet has Adam Johnson, Fabio Borini and veteran sluggers John O’Shea and Wes Brown all playing out of their skins. Hull City can be obdurate, but their poor away form means Sunderland should bag all three points.
Swansea 1 Cardiff 1

How times change. A year ago, Swansea would have rolled over Cardiff. Such was the brilliance of the football Michael Laudrup’s side were playing. Unfortunately, juggling Europa League engagements with a punishing Premiership schedule, and injuries to key players Miguel Perez Cuesta aka Michu and Jonathan Guzman has robbed the Swans of much needed mojo. Cardiff’s newly arrived wing wizard Wilfried Zaha has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side a big lift. A draw is on the cards.

Spurs 2 Everton 1

Everton’s mounting injury problems – Bryan Oviedo, Romelu Lukaku, Darron Gibson, Gerard Deulofeu are all out, while Lacina Traore is not match fit, tips the balance in Spurs’ favour. Tim Sherwood’s appointment has lifted the Londoners who currently boast the best form outside title contenders Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea. Even without an big centre forward to serve as a focus of attacks, Everton will still give Spurs a good run for their money.

Man United 2 Fulham 0

It is not in the United tradition to hire and fire managers with reckless abandon but unless David Moyes’ side start winning games, the unthinkable could happen. Fulham have recruited well. Lewis Holtby, Konstatinos Mitroglou and John Heitinga will all add considerable value to the Cottagers. Former United assistant manager Rene Meulensteen has however failed to plug hole in the league’s leakiest defense. Robin van Persie’s return to form means there can thus only be one winner.