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[EPL] MatchWeek 30 – Getting Too Close To Call

Ahead of MatchWeek 30 action, the most exciting title race in years is still too close to call. Manchester City have a one-point lead over Liverpool at the table’s summit after the Reds could only draw 0-0 with Everton, and both sides have winnable games this weekend. City host Watford at the Etihad Stadium, and Liverpool welcome Burnley to Anfield. Something is not quite right with Jurgen Klopp‘s side, as they have now drawn against Leicester, West Ham, Man United and Everton in their last six games. They aren’t playing badly, but they just aren’t themselves consistently.

The intrigue this season is not just at the top of the table, as there is a fierce battle for the top four.

Two of the teams involved, Arsenal and Manchester United, face off at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looking to further establish themselves in the UEFA Champions League qualification spots. Fixtures between United and Arsenal were title deciders not so long ago, and the fact that just a Champions League spot is on the line this time around is an indication of both clubs’ recent struggles.

But the Premier League giants have both shown indications recently they could be title contenders again soon, especially United, who have taken 32 points from a possible 36 since Solskjaer took charge. Under the Norwegian, United beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates in the FA Cup back in January. The Red Devils were dominant on that occasion, but Sunday’s clash will be a closer contest.

With Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea covered by just two points, and Spurs three points above, the top four positions is just as great a battle as for first place. A draw in this game could see Chelsea leapfrog both of these sides.

United are enduring a major injury crisis, and Arsenal have looked greatly improved of late, producing a fine performance last time out away at Tottenham in a match they were unfortunate to draw 1-1.

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur have been dragged into the race for the top four and will be looking for a first league win in four when they visit Southampton on Saturday.

Not since the 2011-12 season has the Premier League title race been so close at this stage of the season. In that campaign, it was Manchester United who led City by one point after 29 matches. The good news for Liverpool fans is that City turned over the deficit to eventually win the title on goal difference. Unfortunately for the Merseyside outfit, they are not the side with momentum – Just four victories in 2019 has seen Liverpool squander the seven-point lead they held over City at the end of 2018.

City, meanwhile, have won nine of their last 10 league matches. And the visit of Watford should not pose a huge threat on Saturday. The Hornets are enjoying an excellent season and have won three of their last four in the league. But they have not picked up any points away at top-six sides this term, losing 2-0 to Arsenal, 2-1 to Tottenham and, most recently, 5-0 to Liverpool.

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Points Table 

MatchWeek 29: What we learned
The standout facts from the weekend matches

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Arsenal
No fixture in Premier League history has produced more goals from penalties than Arsenal vs Spurs. Their 18 is level with Everton vs Newcastle
AFC Bournemouth 0-1 Manchester City
Man City’s 100 per cent record in eight matches against AFC Bournemouth is the best against a single opponent in English top-flight history
Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Brighton’s win ended a run of seven Premier League matches without a victory, including five defeats
Burnley 1-3 Crystal Palace
Wilfried Zaha has had six goal involvements in his last six Premier League matches, including five goals. That is one more than he managed in his previous 21 appearances
Manchester United 3-2 Southampton
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is only the third PL manager to have an unbeaten run of 12 matches from the start of their time at a club, after Guus Hiddink, with 14 in his second spell at Chelsea, and Maurizio Sarri, also at Chelsea
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 Cardiff City
Wolves have 12 league wins this season, their highest total in the top flight since 13 victories in 1980/81
West Ham United 2-0 Newcastle United
Since the start of last season, Robert Snodgrass has 19 Premier League assists, a total behind only Leroy Sane’s 24 and Raheem Sterling’s 20
Watford 2-1 Leicester City
Watford have equalled their best total of 12 Premier League victories in a season
Fulham 1-2 Chelsea
With his fifth assist against Fulham, Eden Hazard became the third Chelsea player to score and assist 50 Premier League goals after Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba
Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Mohamed Salah has gone three Premier League matches without a goal for the first time as a Liverpool player

MatchWeek 30 Stats: Lacazette aims for Emirates history
Arsenal striker can follow in Thierry Henry’s footsteps against Man Utd, plus other standout facts on the weekend’s matches

Crystal Palace vs Brighton
Wilfried Zaha has five goals in nine appearances against Brighton in all competitions and is in form, with five strikes and one assist in his last six PL matches

Cardiff vs West Ham
West Ham have won all three of their PL meetings with Cardiff City by a two-goal margin, beating them 3-1 in December’s reverse fixture

Huddersfield vs AFC Bournemouth
The last time Huddersfield Town scored more than once in a Premier League home match was when they beat AFC Bournemouth 4-1 in February 2018

Leicester vs Fulham
With victory over Fulham, Brendan Rodgers can become only the third manager, after Jose Mourinho and Roberto Mancini, to win all seven of their matches against an opponent. The runs of Mourinho and Mancini were against Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic respectively

Newcastle vs Everton
Newcastle United have won their last four PL home matches by an aggregate score of 9-1. They can make it five in a row for the first time since August 2006

Southampton vs Spurs
Harry Kane has scored in his last four PL meetings with Southampton, netting six goals. That includes goals in his last three matches at St Mary’s Stadium

Man City vs Watford
Only Sergio Aguero, with 10, has been directly involved in more PL goals in 2019 than Troy Deeney, who has scored five times and provided three assists

Liverpool vs Burnley
Burnley’s last nine PL goals have been scored by Ashley Barnes, with five, or Chris Wood. Barnes is one away from becoming only the fourth Clarets player to reach double figures for goals in a Premier League season

Chelsea vs Wolves
Wolves can become the first promoted team to do the PL double over Chelsea since Charlton Athletic in 2000/01

Arsenal vs Man Utd
Alexandre Lacazette can become only the second Arsenal player to score in six consecutive PL home matches, after Thierry Henry, and the first to do so at Emirates Stadium  Courtesy – PremierLeague.com

Game Review
Crystal Palace vs Brighton
Previous 2018-19 Result: Brighton 3 Crystal Palace 1

Not a quite a derby geographically, but a feisty rivalry none the less, and a game that neither will want to lose, lest they waste a good result last weekend and get sucked back into the relegation race.

Brighton steadied a rapidly sinking ship last weekend with a win over Huddersfield, and now have crawled away from the relegation zone to five points clear. Lucky as their ordinary away record against a Crystal Palace team that has found form would have been worrying. Crystal Palace have found form as Wilfried Zaha has found goals. Palace actually top the above graph for recent form vs season form. They are second worst at home for the season.

Fact: The player involved in this game with the best scoring strike rate against Brighton, is Brighton’s striker Glenn Murray, who scored 5 goals and 2 assists in 5 games in a previous life with Crystal Palace. Interestingly, Zaha has almost as good a record of 5 goals and 2 assists in 9 games. Imagine them together.

Cardiff vs West Ham
Previous 2018-19 Result: West Ham 3 Cardiff 1

The scrap to avoid the last relegation spot rages on, with Cardiff currently occupying the dreaded 18th spot, but could take advantage of Southampton’s tough game vs Spurs to leapfrog them again.

In all honesty, the fact that Cardiff aren’t looking doomed at this stage of the season is a credit to them, and to manager Neil Warnock who looked an absolute certainty to be among the first three bosses sacked. They may still go down, but at least they’ve given it everything. Their recent form is the worry, losing three games in a row now with a total of 1-10.

West Ham are solid midfield, but their away form is a worry, they have lost four of their last five away. But they did beat an in form Newcastle last start at home to show some glimpses of form themselves.

Fact: Cardiff have won this fixture just three times in the last 60 years. (27 Matches)

Huddersfield vs Bournemouth
Previous 2018-19 Result: Bournemouth 2 Huddersfield 1

Huddersfield are doomed for relegation, but they are certainly going down swinging, a close loss against Brighton, and a win against Wolves in consecutive games their recent record.

Somehow Bournemouth are still 12th, their home record keeping them so high, as their away form is dreadful. They have now lost nine in a row away. Interestingly, as bad as Bournemouth’s away form seems, their 2018/19 win average away from home is only just lower than their overall away win % from their start in the Premier League. 18/19 Away Win % = 21%, Overall EPL away win % = 22%.

Four of the last seven games between these two have seen 4-0, 4-0, 4-1 and 5-0 scorelines. The wins are shared between both. Let’s hope we get one of those this weekend.

Fact: Bournemouth (2.50) have actually conceded more goals per away game this year than Fulham (2.46) who haven’t won away.

Leicester vs Fulham
Previous 2018-19 Result: Fulham 1 Leicester 1

The Brendan Rodgers reign started off with a loss to Watford last weekend, so a nice home game against the Premier League’s worst away team who have yet to win a game on the road is as nice a gift as you could be given. Although Fulham have a new boss too, so the new manager bounces can balance each other out. In fact Fulham looked far less hapless last weekend in Scott Parker’s first match in charge.

If it wasn’t for Leicester’s win at home to Brighton two matches ago, the Foxes would have the second worst home record. It is still ordinary with just five wins for the season, but the last win broke a four game losing streak.

Fact: Fulham have lost only once at Leicester since 2000, and that was a 4-3. OK, there have only been five games, but still a barely interesting stat.

Newcastle vs Everton
Previous 2018-19 Result: Everton 1 Newcastle 1

This may not be as bad a game as it would have been a few months ago. Newcastle is great form at home with four wins in a row at St James’ Park, Everton had a big win at Cardiff and a strong draw against Liverpool in recent games. Both teams could hardly have been more impressive in their last respective home and away game.

Newcastle’s burst of home wins has seen them move just about far enough away from relegation, and hard to believe that a Magpies win will see them within three points of Everton.

Fact: Newcastle haven’t beaten Everton in their last seven games.

Southampton vs Spurs
Previous 2018-19 Result: Spurs 3 Southampton 1

Spurs come into this game on a high of completing the double over Dortmund in the Champions League. But it is the league they worry about, especially after the manager’s comments post an FA Cup loss to Crystal Palace. Spurs have gone from challenging for the title in a strong third place, to looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. They’ll probably hold onto third, but can’t slip up here against Southampton as they are still yet to play Liverpool and Man City.

Southampton have won just three times at home this season, and their home record is the fourth worst, but they have also lost only five times, and their goal difference of minus four shows they are always competitive at St Mary’s.

Fact: Southampton last beat Spurs at home in 2005. They have yet to beat Spurs at home since their most recent arrival back to the Premier League.

Man City vs Watford
Previous 2018-19 Result: Watford 1 Man City 2

Man City are back in first place, and for many that is title race over. But they still have to play in the FA Cup, where Liverpool can have a break. Despite losing one game a piece in the League since January 1st, Man City have outscored Liverpool by eight points, and have even outscored their city rivals by one point. A return of 22-4 is not bad either over those nine games.

Talking of form since new year’s Watford are going well, especially if you overlook their thrashing at Liverpool. They are currently the sixth best team since the turn of the year, and fifth best on the road.

Fact: Since Watford’s return to the Premier League they have lost all seven games to Man City. For a total of 22-3. Watford last won this fixture in 1989.

Liverpool vs Burnley
Previous 2018-19 Result: Burnley 1 Liverpool 3

Liverpool may only have lost once in the league this season, but their recent run of draws has seen them lose the lead of the Premier League again, and they have scored fewer points in their last six than Crystal Palace and Wolves.

Burnley were one of the form teams in 2019, rivalling the top six sides, but two losses in a row against sides around them in the table has seen them drop to 16th, and just five points above the drop. And below the teams that have just beat them.

Fact: Burnley have scored one goal against Liverpool in each of their last four fixtures. They have also lost three and drawn once.

Chelsea vs Wolves
Previous 2018-19 Result: Wolves 2 Chelsea 1

The heat on Chelsea boss Sarri has died down a little, and although he probably won’t be in charge next season, it looks like he might survive this season. Chelsea can still finish as high as third given Spurs’ recent wobbles, but fourth is more realistic in the great battle between them Man Utd and Arsenal. They didn’t flog Fulham as some expected last weekend, they did just bring in a new manager, but Higuain was among the goals, and there was an assist from Eden Hazard, so perhaps a corner is ready to be turned.

Wolves continue to impress, and thoroughly deserve their position as best of the rest. They did beat Chelsea earlier in the year at home, but their record away to Chelsea is terrible.

Fact: Wolves last avoided defeat at Stamford Bridge in 1982 in the old second division. The last four fixtures at Chelsea have totalled 15-0.

Arsenal vs Man Utd
Previous 2018-19 Result: Man Utd 2 Arsenal 2

The premium game of the weekend!

Normally games between the big sides are boring affairs, but this fixture always seems to produce action, and there have been a minimum of two goals in each game over the last five seasons.

 Fact: Man Utd have won 3-1 on their last two trips to Arsenal.

Interesting weekend as City have not actually been prolific of late, scoring just two goals in their last three matches in all competitions, but they have the firepower to expose Watford’s defence just as Liverpool did. If Pep Guardiola’s side can pick up all three points at the Etihad Stadium, they will put more pressure on Liverpool as their lead at the top would stretch to four points. That will leave Jurgen Klopp’s men having to beat Burnley on Sunday to reduce the gap to one point again.

Until recently, the Clarets were enjoying a fantastic 2019. They went unbeaten for eight matches after their Boxing Day loss to Everton before losing 2-0 to Newcastle United last week. Another defeat at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday was another blow, and they could hardly have asked for a trickier next challenge than a trip to Anfield.

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