English Premier League Round 22 Preview - 4, 5, 6 February 2023

All sides are now at least half-way through their campaigns. Perhaps with the exception of Crystal Palace, each team is looking forward to either a battle for the title, a battle for a European spot, or a battle to stay up. Every match holds some level of importance.

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I had a quick look at my pre-season forecasts the other day, and it was mixed. The 'Liverpool to win the title' prediction was blown out of the water after about six weeks – that could not have been more off the mark. 'Arsenal top-four' at $3.00 is a moral but looking ridiculously conservative with the benefit of hindsight. 'Southampton, Bournemouth and Leeds' to go down is still a chance of 3/3; however, they might all survive given the compact nature of the bottom-eight.

We must wait until the last game of the round for the only top-of-the-table clash this weekend. Both Spurs and City are desperate to win, but it might not be a great spectacle. Expect City to dominate possession in Tottenham's half, with Conte's men sweating on a turnover to launch a counter. For mine, Chelsea/Fulham and Forest/Leeds will be the best watches for neutral observers. 

CHELSEA v FULHAM: Saturday 4 February 7.00am.

The money splash at Stamford Bridge since the departure of Abramovic has not let up in the January window. Whether Potter is the right man to bring this eclectic array of talent together is the big question. His side will need to earn at least 36 points from their last 18 games to come into the Champions League qualification picture, no mean feat. Injuries have played a big part in the dismal Chelsea effort thus far, but the squad is now so deep it should no longer be an excuse.

Fulham outplayed Spurs for the first 30 minutes in their recent clash but, as was the case against Newcastle a week earlier, they were ineffective in the opposition box. The team that only failed to score twice in their first 19 games are now without a goal in their last two.

These sides met at Craven Cottage just 23 days ago when the home side was clearly superior and got the prize 2-1. That was the first time Fulham had defeated Chelsea in 21 meetings dating back to 2006. A win for Chelsea in this west-London derby and they move ahead of their fierce rivals. The Blues back-end revival should start here.

Prediction: Chelsea win (1.60)

EVERTON v ARSENAL: Saturday 4 February 11.30pm.

It is equal-last v first but there might be more to this clash than meets the eye. Everton has finally rid itself of the ineffective Lampard and gone with a manager who knows how to survive in the top flight without a stable of stars. Sean Dyche somehow kept Burnley up for five straight seasons at the end of his tenure, and even guided the minnows into the 2018/19 Europa League. He won't be getting a war chest on Merseyside either, with a new 750 million Euro stadium under construction, so the challenge repeats itself.

With just one win in their last 12, and goals starting to leak, it was time for a change. In a baptism of fire, Dyche's side takes on the EPL benchmark whose recent conquests have been Spurs away and Man Utd at home. However, the Gunners did drop points at Southampton in October, and the Toffees have managed draws with four sides in the top-ten this season despite their woes.

I'm expecting a similar response to the managerial change from Everton that we saw from Villa earlier in the season, although the squad at Goodison is probably a little inferior. Arsenal should win on form, but it is worth noting that Everton has won three and drawn one of their last four home matches against the Gunners. From a betting perspective a nibble at the draw is not a bad play, but I am prepared for egg on the face.

Prediction: Draw (4.40)

ASTON VILLA v LEICESTER: Sunday 5 February 2.00am.

This midlands derby is a tricky one.

Villa has been riding its luck, not playing all that well in their last three games but still collecting 16 points from their last seven matches to move from relegation pressure to within sight of European qualification. The success is built on solid defence, with a revitalised Mings and the evergreen Ashley Young the backbone. Emery has instilled confidence in the squad, and they are playing a full 90 minutes. In fact, seven of their last eight goals in open play have come in the second half.

Leicester turned around a poor run of form with a luckless draw at home to high-flying Brighton last time, denied all the points by an 88th minute equaliser. The return of James Maddison is key to a continuation of this form. Australian fans will eagerly watch the progress of Socceroo Harry Souttar, a towering centre back who has signed from Stoke. He was outstanding in Qatar and should transition successfully to the English top-flight.

Recent results between these sides at Villa Park have been mixed; since 2014 there have been five meetings with two wins apiece. There will be little in it again.

Prediction: Draw (3.40)

BRENTFORD v SOUTHAMPTON: Sunday 5 February 2.00am.

The Bees have ironed out their defensive problems of late, conceding just four times in their last six games while facing the likes of Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham, and the flamboyant Leeds. They are firmly entrenched in the top half of the table and a very tough nut to crack at home – only Arsenal has left the west-end of London with three points this season.

Southampton's biggest claim to fame of late is that they scored in the League Cup semi against Nick Pope, the first team to do that in ten matches. Aside from a Ward-Prowse-inspired win against Everton, it has been pretty sour for Nathan Jones' men since the World Cup. A bit of inward movement in the January window could spur things along, as may the further development of young guns like Mara and Edozie. This trip to the Gtech does, however, look daunting.

Tipping the home side to continue their marvellous season. 

Prediction: Brentford win (1.90)

BRIGHTON v BOURNEMOUTH: Sunday 5 February 2.00am.

The Seagulls' wings were clipped a little at the King Power last round when a late equaliser by young gun Evan Ferguson saved their blushes against struggling Leicester. Nevertheless, they remain in sixth with games in hand on those above so European football in 23/24 must be in the back of the mind. Trossard's departure is a blow, but this side has an incredible ability to regenerate, with the aforementioned Ferguson the latest boom player to emerge.

Bournemouth's draw with Forest two weeks ago was good entertainment and could easily have been three points for the Cherries. Their big problem is away form, with five losses on the trot and without a goal in four of them.

Brighton's win over this south coast rival in their last game at the Amex in late 2019 was their first since 2008. It would be a brave man to think they won't be walking away with maximum points again.

Prediction: Brighton win (1.35)


There is a predictability about Man Utd that hasn't been around, bar one good season under Ole, since the Fergie era. Good performances are par for the course, and even in defeat against Arsenal last time around they were impressive. Rashford has stamped himself as probably the second best striker in the league, the back four are established now and tough to break down, and the midfield led by Bruno transition beautifully. The loss of Erikson for an extended period is, however, a blow.

Palace has turned things around a little since a post-Xmas mini-slump, snatching draws against Newcastle and today's rival in their last two outings. It was as recent as 18 January when these sides last met, with Palace turning it on in the final 30 minutes and grabbing a deserved equaliser via an Olise dead-ball stunner. They have failed to score at four of their last six away games which is the issue.

Man Utd will want the win badly here to keep faint title hopes alive, and it should come their way. A word of caution though, before the Red Devils beat the Eagles at Old Trafford late last season, the visitors had two wins and a draw from the previous three visits.

Prediction: Manchester Utd win (1.40)

WOLVES v LIVERPOOL: Sunday 5 February 2.00am.

Wolves under Lopetegui is certainly a better side than the one we saw prior to his arrival. His five games in charge have delivered seven points, with the only losses to the Manchester clubs. After a deadly quiet off-season they have been active in the January window and now get a little much-needed depth. They should continue to accumulate enough points to be safe.

Despite the calamitous season by their standards, Liverpool has a game in hand on most. Win that, and they sit in sixth and just four behind Spurs with a further game up their sleeve. If Klopp can motivate his team that is so used to fighting for something far greater, there is still hope of a high finish.

The glaring issue with the Reds is their away form, which reads two wins, two draws, five losses. The last two road-trips to Brighton and Brentford have been debacles; defensive nightmares. But from the rubble they still manage results, such as the victory over Man City at home, and wins on their travels at Villa Park and Tottenham.

I'm loathed to jump into red odds about such an up-and-down outfit, but if they show up at Molineux the price on offer Liverpool might look a bit silly post-game.

Prediction: Liverpool win (1.95)

NEWCASTLE v WEST HAM: Sunday 5 February 4.30am.

It would be harsh to say that a side with six consecutive clean-sheets in the league is off the boil, but Newcastle's momentum has been lost with three scoreless draws in their last four games. They were brilliant in the first 30 minutes against Southampton in the Carabao Cup midweek, then shut up shop it seemed. Box to box they are going as well as ever, but the finishing is letting them down. Almiron and Wilson are both experiencing droughts – perhaps Isak and Saint-Maximin will soon get more game time. Guimaraes is an important omission here after a midweek Cup send-off.

West Ham has hardly turned the corner but a turgid win over Everton then FA Cup success at Division One Derby County has them on the verge of a giddying three straight wins. However, it is unlikely to happen on the road against the Magpies. Just one away win all season at the then-struggling Villa paints a sorry picture. They need Ings' poaching capabilities but he is out for this one.

The Hammers have had some happy trip to St James' Park in recent seasons, but all before the take-over and resurgence on Tyneside. While West Ham look better at the back with Zouma and Aguard fit and building an understanding, it's hard to see Newcastle dropping valuable points.

Prediction: Newcastle win (1.65)

NOTTINGHAM FOREST v LEEDS: Monday 6 February 1.00am.

Two of the most successful clubs of the 1970s face-off in the top flight for the first time since 4 April 1999, a day on which Harry Kewell lined up for the Whites.

The big spending from Forest shows no signs of abating, with another seven arrivals during January. Scarpa has already had a bit of game time and looks outstanding. It has been a slow grind to get where they are but, particularly at home, Steve Cooper's men look formidable. In fact, they are on a run of six games without defeat at the City Ground.

Leeds has only won once on their travels but a draw at Newcastle and a win at Anfield in their last four is not bad form. Defence is the issue, with at least two goals conceded in 11 of their 19 matches.

Back in their Championship clashes, Forest generally had the wood on Leeds. I have to agree with the bookies who have this as the tightest match of the round. A draw, with plenty of goals, drama, and end-to-end action, looks on the cards. The atmosphere will be electric, bringing back memories of the Don Revie and Brian Clough eras.

Prediction: Draw (3.30)

TOTTENHAM v MANCHESTER CITY: Monday 6 February 3.30am.

Tottenham has played the four teams ahead of them on the table five times this season for five losses: four goals scored, 13 against. When they faced off with Man City just 18 days ago, they let a 2-0 lead slip in a feeble second-half that saw them concede four; three of them in a 12-minute frenzy. They subsequently recorded a tough win and kept a clean-sheet against Fulham, but the Etihad capitulation is still fresh in the mind and hard to ignore.

Man City has finally recovered its goal-scoring mojo, netting seven in the last one-and-a-half games. It is the first time they have reached two or more in consecutive matches since 8 October; a drought by their standards. Cancelo's departure is not ideal, although his form hadn't been great and one wonders whether this had been coming. Don't lose too much sleep over Pep's squad woes – he can still field two strong line-ups.

It will be said many times from now until May, but this is a must-win for the visitors as anything less could see Arsenal clear by as much as eight with a game in hand. History tells us that, if they are to win the title, they are nearly unbeatable from this point of the season onwards. Banking on that mentality getting them over the line.

Prediction: Manchester City win (1.75)

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