Preview and Predictions for Matchweek 22 of the 2021-22 Premier League Season
It wouldn't be January in the English Premier League without a mad dash to snap up some fresh faces in the transfer market and adjust things for the stretch run.
That's the phase of the season we are currently in. Matchweek 22, beyond halfway and lots to play for with new blood being injected into squads across the land. There's a certain buzz of excitement at what's to come...or for some, a sense of impending doom.
There are 51 points on the table at minimum for every club the rest of the way. Most will come nowhere near that number, but the results will make all the difference between a top- or bottom-half finish. European football or not. Relegation or another year in the top flight.
Let's take this all one match at a time, however, with a look at this weekend's matches, of which there are some real beauties.
Manchester City vs. Chelsea
Etihad Stadium, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET
Streaming: Peacock Premium
Talk about starting off with a bang.
The top two teams in the EPL square off at the Etihad Stadium in what would seem like a must-win for Chelsea's (and Liverpool's) title aspirations. For Man City, this match could serve as the final hurdle in what would ultimately turn into a relatively easy repeat title-winning campaign.
Currently 10 points clear of Chelsea in second, Pep Guardiola's squad is currently in the midst of its annual run of scintillating form. Having not lost a Premier League match since October (!), City are humming along at a clip indicative of would-be champions. They have all the pieces in place, a relatively healthy squad and the potential for some minor additions to pad the squad during this transfer window.
Despite how good Chelsea and Liverpool have been for stretches this season, the title is clearly Man City's to lose. Even with 17 games remaining (18 for Liverpool), you would be foolish to bet against Guardiola's gang.
The Chelsea team Thomas Tuchel trots out Saturday could be the last line of defense between another Man City title and an open challenge in the back half of the season. The Blues haven't exactly been in the most inspiring form of late. Despite being unbeaten since early December, they have only two league wins in that span, with four draws. Makes you wonder how they're even 10 points behind.
One could argue that Chelsea may be a bit closer to the top if record signing Romelu Lukaku was contributing more than effort this season. With only five league goals to his name (and eight in total for the campaign), many are wondering if he's the right fit in the long run. Rom himself even said so himself in an interview with Sky Italy that saw him not selected for the following game against Liverpool.
Nothing like the next match to change that, though, and if Lukaku, who seems to work well with a pacey striker running off him (Timo Werner currently, Lautaro Martinez at Inter previously), can create at the Etihad, Chelsea could be in with a chance.
Man City have been stifling defensively, however, allowing only five goals in their last seven EPL matches, with three coming in one match against Leicester. They will be hard for Chelsea to break down. Too hard, in fact, as City take another huge step toward retaining the title.
Match Prediction: Manchester City 2, Chelsea 1
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Streaming: Peacock Premium
Moving right along, we travel south to north London for what should be a spirited derby between two of the Premier League's big boys. While form may be temporary, unbridled hatred for a rival is permanent, and it just so happens that this particular version of the NLD has quite a bit riding on it.
Arsenal is currently fifth, just two points behind West Ham United in fourth. Tottenham is in sixth, just two points off the Gunners. All to play for, as they say.
Mikel Arteta has really turned Arsenal around after a tough start and has overseen impressive results of late. The 2-1 defeat to Man City in the club's last league match was disappointing, but there were a lot of positives to take from it, and they certainly gave Pep a test at the Emirates.
Most recently at Liverpool in the EFL Cup semifinal first leg Thursday, the Gunners played with 10 men for the majority of the match after a doozy of a Granit Xhaka red card and were able to snatch a 0-0 result. Ben White was the star, a player coming into his own and living up to that £50 million transfer fee. It wasn't a performance you might have seen earlier in the season from White nor his team.
With eyes on a top striker to join the squad, either now or in the summer, Arsenal hopes to place a final piece in a competitive squad that is growing together and challenging for those top four places. Arteta's philosophy continues to win over, and the feeling around the club keeps getting better.
Tottenham has had its share of troubles of late, including its ouster from the League Cup semifinals by Chelsea. The league form has been strong, however, with no defeats since all the way back in October. Despite this, fans aren't convinced, and even with Antonio Conte at the helm, the mood is hardly a light one. As with most matches like this, a win in a derby is usually the best medicine to kick-start a campaign, and in doing so, Spurs could leapfrog Arsenal and move into fifth.
Harry Kane has been much better, scoring three goals in his last four league matches, but without a host of key contributors (Heung-Min Son, Cristian Romero and Eric Dier to name a few), a result here may be a lot to ask. The home-field advantage could be huge if Tottenham wants to match Arsenal's solid run of form.
Match Prediction: Tottenham 1, Arsenal 1
Aston Villa vs. Manchester United
Villa Park, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
Streaming: NBC, Universo, Peacock Premium
While the rest of the top clubs in the Premier League are jockeying for position at the top of the table, the mood at Manchester United, the biggest club in the land, is quite a bit different.
The talk around the Red Devils of late has been squarely centred around a supposed locker room divide after a report from the Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler and Simon Jones. Some players are apparently not convinced of their futures under Ralf Rangnick, but former United defender and current Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville urged the players to take responsibility and sort out the issues themselves.
Despite these troubling developments and a 1-0 loss to Wolves in the club's most recent Premier League match, Rangnick's side has won four of its last seven in the league with just the one aforementioned defeat. Six points is all that separates seventh-place United with West Ham United in fourth, and the Red Devils have two games in hand.
Star man Cristiano Ronaldo has come out and told Sky Sports News that he wouldn't be happy with anything but top three, but will this change anything? United's upcoming fixtures in the league are favorable—they don't play a top-three team until March 5—so a run needs to start soon. A huge step in the right direction would be a result versus Aston Villa, who will be buoyed by a pair of excellent signings this transfer window.
Steven Gerrard's side have brought in two key pieces who could propel them out of mid-table mediocrity and into the European places. Former Liverpool dynamo Philippe Coutinho has joined from Barcelona on loan, and fullback Lucas Digne officially signed from Everton on Thursday. Both are impact players who could slot immediately into the starting XI.
This one will be a good contest, but ultimately there is too much at stake for United to slip up again as they grab a huge win away from home.
Match Prediction: Manchester United 2, Aston Villa 1
Other Weekend Fixtures and Predictions
Friday, Jan. 14
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Crystal Palace (3 p.m. ET): 1-1 draw
Saturday, Jan. 15
Newcastle vs. Watford (10 a.m. ET): 2-1 Newcastle
Norwich City vs. Everton (10 a.m. ET): 2-1 Everton
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Southampton (10 a.m. ET): 1-1 draw
Sunday, Jan. 16
Liverpool vs. Brentford (9 a.m. ET): 3-1 Liverpool
West Ham United vs. Leeds United (9 a.m. ET): 2-2 draw