It’s rare for a Premier League Sunday to have four games, but we’re given a treat just before the the turn of the year.
There are important games for races at the top and bottom of the league. Chelsea and Manchester City will want to keep pace with, or overtake, Liverpool and Tottenham; Crystal Palace and Burnley will want to distance themselves from the bottom; Manchester United will want to get a third successive win in the post-Jose Mourinho era.
We’ve taken a look at all of these four Sunday games and picked out the important details from each.
Crystal Palace vs Chelsea
Roy Hodgson’s side have come into a run of form after a run of 11 games during which they’d won just once. In the past three games, however, they’ve picked up seven points, including an impressive victory away at Manchester City.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have fallen away from the title race in the past couple of months. Arsenal are just two points behind them in fifth, while leaders Liverpool are eleven ahead of the Blues.
However, Chelsea will still be favourites. Palace might have pulled off a shock result against City recently, but their most recent game was a goalless draw at home to Cardiff. The Eagles aren’t consistently flying high. Only Newcastle and Huddersfield have scored fewer goals than them, although their defence is fairly solid.
The same can be said for Chelsea, who have conceded the third-fewest goals in the league. They’ve only conceded four in the last five games. The team may not quite have found their groove using Eden Hazard as a central striker, but a trip to Selhurst Park could be just what they need.
Burnley vs West Ham
If football teams succumb to drops in morale, then West Ham are catching Burnley at a good time. The Lancashire Clarets have had a tough festive period, soundly beaten by Arsenal and Everton 3-1 and 5-1.
West Ham, meanwhile, are in their best form of the season. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have won five of their last six. A 2-0 loss to Watford aside, they’ve scored two or more in each of these matches as well.
A win against Brighton at the start of the month mean that Burnley are no longer propping up the rest of the league, but they’ve arguably been the worst team in the Premier League this season.
Fulham might have conceded the most actual goals (43 to Burnley’s 41), but Sean Dyche’s side have conceded the most expected goals by far. The chances that they’ve faced have been worth around nine expected goals more than Fulham’s, and Burnley’s xG against is 2.43. That’s the worst rate in Europe’s top five leagues in the past three years.
West Ham are going through a good patch having rotated their side too. The fact that Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez, and Lucas Perez have come into the starting lineup in recent months and the side continued their fine form shows that it’s the team as a whole who are strong.
Southampton vs Manchester City
Wins against Arsenal and Huddersfield made for a decent start to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s reign at Southampton, although they’ve now been bookended by defeats to Cardiff and West Ham.
Six of the eleven Premier League matches that Pep Guardiola has lost as Manchester City manager have come in December, and they’re on a particularly bad run. With Fernandinho out injured, the Jenga puzzle of an attacking line-up has come crashing down. Defeats against Crystal Palace and Leicester have seen them drop to third, now closer to fifth than to first.
Tentative autopsies are starting to be written on their title challenge — or, at least, their status as an unassailable side: they’re conceding more shots, more expected goals, and taking less of each.
Any screeds on Southampton’s change of form might be premature, though. Hasenhuttl might have picked up some points (six in four games, after Mark Hughes got nine in fifteen), but the underlying numbers have only slightly shifted.
Under Hughes, the difference in chance quality between Southampton and their opponents meant that the Saints averaged an expected goals difference of -0.33 per game. Under Hasenhuttl it’s -0.12: better, but only slightly, and still on the negative side.
He’s done it by making games a lot less interesting. Southampton league matches under Hughes this season saw 2.97 expected goals per game, on average, but this has dropped to just 1.68. A game to go for the under, rather than the over, perhaps.
Manchester United vs Bournemouth
This match might be the most interesting of the day, to round off Sunday’s fixtures. Manchester United may have won their first two games, but there’s the big caveat that they were against Cardiff and Huddersfield, two sides who — joining Burnley and Fulham — don’t quite look Premier League quality.
Would a Jose Mourinho-led United have won these matches by an aggregate of 8-2? Probably not, but he probably still would have won them.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, have plummeted to the bottom of a packed midtable this December.
Back in October, they were a team who genuinely deserved to be in sixth-place consideration, if not dreams of the Champions League. They were top seven in the league for expected goals for and against. A tricky November, playing both Manchester United and Arsenal, saw their defence slip to midtable, although their attack held firm.
December has seen them drop a couple of places on both sides of the ball — Eddie Howe’s team are now an upper midtable team in attack and a lower midtable team in defence. They’re on a low ebb, and a United side experiencing the opposite emotions could take advantage.
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