B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions for January 14-16

BR-UK StaffFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2017

B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions for January 14-16

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    After a week of cup action, the focus in England returns to the Premier League—with a blockbuster tie on Sunday.

    European football also continues apace, and our experts will look to point you in the way of the winners.

    Bleacher Report's Dean Jones has his finger on the pulse of English football and will give his verdict on the Premier League games, Italian football guru Adam Digby is charged with the task of deciphering what's going on in Serie A, and Spanish expert Karl Matchett looks after La Liga.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Bromwich Albion

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    Mauricio Pochettino is being linked with the manager’s job at Barcelona, and Dele Alli is on Real Madrid and Barcelona’s radar, according to Steve Stammers of the Sunday Mirror. It's fair to say things are going pretty well at Tottenham Hotspur this season.

    So well in fact, that they could challenge for the title again. There is a long way to go if they are to overhaul Chelsea at the summit, but there is no doubt Tottenham's 2-0 victory over the Blues last time out was a serious statement.

    The visit of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday will not be an easy fixture—but Spurs can expect to dominate.

    The Baggies have had fewer touches of the ball than anyone else in the league and only 203 shots on goal

    In contrast, Spurs dominate games. They've had an average of 59 per cent possession from their 20 matches—and they have also registered 363 shots, more than any other top-flight team.

    Prediction: 1-0

    First goalscorer: Harry Kane

Swansea City vs. Arsenal

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    It has not been a great new year so far for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, but at least Olivier Giroud ensured the Gunners' season has not completely crumbled.

    The north London side clawed their way back from 3-0 down to draw at Bournemouth on Jan. 3 and then managed a last-minute win after trailing in the FA Cup third round at Preston North End.

    The stats show that Arsenal have failed to win their last three away matches in the Premier League, yet the graft that went into the results against Bournemouth and Preston may have improved belief. Wenger's men now know they have the mental endurance to pick up results, even when they seem unlikely.

    Giroud has scored in every match this calendar year and could hold the key again on Saturday against Swansea City, a side getting to grips with another new manager. They have conceded 16 goals from their last six matches and sit second from bottom in the table.

    Prediction: 1-2

    First goalscorer: Olivier Giroud

Leicester City vs. Chelsea

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    N'Golo Kante drove Leicester City to the title last season, and he is now fulfilling the same game-controlling role for Chelsea.

    Kante's enginecombined with his passing ability and reading of the gamehas so far proved impossible for the Foxes to replicate, and fans will get a sore reminder on Saturday of just how influential he is in the middle of the park.

    This is an important fixture for Chelsea, having lost to Spurs in their last league game.

    Leicester proved in the 4-2 home win over Manchester City last month that they are still capable of big performances. And the champions have only been beaten twice at the King Power Stadium this season.

    Chelsea are favourites to take Leicester’s crown by becoming the next winners of the Premier League. Expect them to be back to their best to ensure there is no talk of a collapse.

    Prediction: 0-2

    First goalscorer: Diego Costa

Barcelona vs. Las Palmas

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    Barcelona's home form has been oddly imperfect this season, but even so they should encounter no problems in seeing off Las Palmas on Saturday.

    The Canary Islanders have been impressive in their own right this term, but much of their strength lies in results at home and not on the road.

    Barcelona know that as soon as the MSN front line is in working order, their chances of winning any game go up tenfold.

    With a goal each from Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar in midweek, confidence will be high and the determination to chase down Real Madrid will have returned—especially given the Liga leaders face Sevilla this weekend.

    Prediction: 4-1

    First goalscorerNeymar

Atletico Madrid vs. Real Betis

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    Real Betis generally look to be back on an upward path, but they will struggle to break down Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.

    Atleti boss Diego Simeone seems to be having a dilemma over the arrangement of his team once more, particularly in midfield where he has tried both Juanfran and Jose Gimenez—previously guaranteed starters in the back four—in recent games.

    Regardless of the Rojiblancos' XI, though, the home side should have enough to grind a win on Saturday.

    It's not likely to be the most free-flowing game of the weekend, but being nine points off top spot, any kind of victory matters right now for Atletico.

    Prediction: 2-1

    First goalscorer:Antoine Griezmann

Everton vs. Manchester City

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    Pep Guardiola is not willing to rip up his Manchester City masterplan just yet, but with his side now seven points off top spot, there are big questions being asked.

    Too many of the club's big players have seen their form drop over the past three months, and the confidence that had been built over an initial 10-game win streak at the start of the season has been lost.

    There were signs of morale and form returning as they demolished West Ham United 5-0 in the FA Cup last week, but the Hammers were woeful for an hour of that encounter, so it was difficult to judge just how good City's performance really was.

    Everton have lost just once at home in the league, and Romelu Lukaku has found the net five times from his last seven outings. They will probably try to use a counter-attacking game on Sunday.

    Keep an eye on John Stones, who heads back to Goodison Park hoping to go under the radar. A headline-grabbing display would probably mean he has made a high-profile mistake, and that's the last thing Guardiola needs.

    Prediction: 2-2

    First goalscorer: Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester United vs. Liverpool

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    The biggest Premier League fixture of the weekend is one Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho should look forward to.

    This is the perfect time for his side to face Liverpool, who are without a win in their last three matches.

    Mourinho has called on home fans to raise the roof as their archrivals head to town, and it is equally important his players also step up to the occasion on Sunday.

    A big performance and victory against Jurgen Klopp's side would really prove that United are to be taken seriously again. A nine-game winning streak means confidence is sky high, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have overcome illness in time to lead from the front.

    Liverpool have Philippe Coutinho fit again, but his lengthy injury absence means he won’t quite be at his best just yet.

    United won't win the league this season, but they do not want Liverpool to win it either, that's for sure.

    Prediction: 1-0

    First goalscorer: Juan Mata

Sevilla vs. Real Madrid

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    Sevilla will be desperate to show they can go on and beat Real Madrid after coming so close to doing so in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

    However, they are also in danger of developing an inferiority complex, after failing to see out wins against Los Blancos in both the Super Cup and now the Copa this season, having led in both matches until the closing stages.

    Add in the same outcome after leading against Barcelona, and it's easy to see the fear that might start to creep into players' minds on the pitch, even when they are in front.

    Both should be at full strength on Sunday, and the match should be another exciting one, but we'll pick Madrid to once more frustrate Sevilla and extend their lead at the top of the table.

    Result: 2-3

    First goalscorerKarim Benzema

Fiorentina vs. Juventus

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    After a brief pause for Coppa Italia fixtures, Juventus return to Serie A action with a tough trip to Fiorentina's Stadio Artemio Franchi on Sunday.

    La Viola fans will pack the old ground ready to welcome the team they love to hate, making for a thrilling atmosphere as the two heavyweights go head-to-head.

    The hosts are undefeated in their last 10 home matches, while the Bianconeri have won the six previous meetings with their last loss coming in a cup tie in March 2015.

    Leonardo Bonucci returned in midweek after spending almost two months sidelined with a thigh injury, and the Juve defence is further boosted by Andrea Barzagli's recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

    Fiorentina create lots of chances but have struggled for goals this term. And a number of their defenders—particularly Davide Astori and Nenad Tomovic—are prone to errors that often prove costly. With Juve boasting an attacking duo of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, any mistakes are almost certain to be punished.

    In terms of a result, it is worth nothing that there have been over 2.5 goals scored in eight of Juventus' last nine Serie A outings, while that tally has also been surpassed in six of Fiorentina's last seven league games.

    Result: 1-2

    First goalscorerPaulo Dybala

Torino vs. AC Milan

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    In a rare Serie A Monday night fixture, AC Milan travel to Torino still in good spirits following their Supercoppa Italiana victory over Juventus.

    They returned to league action last week with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Cagliari, with coach Vincenzo Montella sure to be looking for three more points against the Granata.

    Torino are seven points and three places behind fifth-placed Milan before this game gets underway, but they have struggled since losing the derby to Juventus in early December, taking just four points from their last five matches.

    In-form striker Andrea Belotti remains deadly, while coach Sinisa Mihajlovic's 4-3-3 formation has proved hugely effective when they are able to play his preferred counter-attacking style.

    Milan's own high-octane midfield and attack has been designed to feed Carlos Bacca, with the Colombia international getting on the scoresheet last time out.

    Toro's weaknesses at full-back could be exploited here, though, with former Liverpool winger Suso in the kind of form that makes him an ideal first-goalscorer candidate in a game most likely to be decided by a single goal.

    Result: 0-1

    First goalscorer: Suso