Preview and Predictions for Matchweek 23 of the 2021-22 Premier League Season
Congratulations may soon be in order as Manchester City hurtle toward a second successive English Premier League title with no one seemingly able to stand in the way.
Eleven points is the gap at the top, though second-place Liverpool have a game in hand. Can the Reds (or anyone else) come close to Pep Guardiola and his merry band of sky blue marauders? It doesn't look likely.
Our attention for most of the next three-and-a-half months will focus on the battle for European qualification and the always fascinating relegation scrap at the bottom of the table.
Highlighting the weekend is the Derby Di Antonio Conte in foggy Londontown. Let's start there.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Stamford Bridge, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Streaming: Peacock Premium
Chelsea have had Tottenham's number this season. Three wins across one league match and the two EFL Cup semifinals earlier this month. Zero goals allowed. And the bonus of beating former boss Antonio Conte, now Spurs manager.
How badly could the Blues use another convincing victory over their crosstown rivals? Very, very badly.
Thomas Tuchel's side has come apart at the seams in the league and is on a bad patch of form that has seen them slip closer to the fight for fourth than Pep and Man City at the tippy top. Winning only three of their last 11 matches, the title challenge looks to be over after a period of strong contention in first place.
Twelve points off the pace and having played one more match than Man City, Chelsea are still having a successful season, but the goal of returning the Prem to Stamford Bridge will have to wait another year.
You can point to injuries on the back line for some of the inconsistencies the team has experienced. COVID-19 has played its part, as it has done for most of this season.
Tottenham, who escaped Leicester with a stunning come-from-behind 3-2 victory at the King Power Stadium, are starting to find form in the league. The postponement of the North London Derby, despite their protests, was probably a good thing with this busy week of fixtures they've had to manage.
But missing out on the Champions League (currently fifth) and another trophyless season would be a hard one for the club's fans to swallow. This match would fall in the "statement of intent" category should the visitors capitalize on Chelsea's capricious form.
Neither side is in the best position to take the result, and they could cancel each other out in an exciting draw in West London.
Match Prediction: 2-2 Draw
Manchester United vs. West Ham United
Old Trafford, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET
Streaming: Peacock Premium
A big win for Manchester United on Wednesday against Brentford should help settle some nerves following the capitulation versus Philippe Coutinho and Aston Villa last weekend. Funny that a win at Brentford is the benchmark for the Red Devils, but that's the state of this team.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was visibly frustrated to get subbed off with his team up 2-0, went on to applaud the result and the steady form his team has displayed. A win over fourth-place West Ham United, who are only two points away, would propel United into the Champions League spots with a run of winnable fixtures ahead. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick's dream, surely.
Injecting more youth into the side while managing the minutes of Ronaldo and others is a policy Rangnick could see yield fruit as the season wears on. Anthony Elanga, the most recent example, has made his presence felt and should continue to push for time on the pitch.
West Ham come to town consistent in their inconsistent play. In fourth on 37 points, the Hammers have won 11, drawn four and lost seven. That doesn't read like Champions League form, but David Moyes has pushed the right buttons at the right times, and his return to Old Trafford will be one his side is up for.
Jarrod Bowen has been the man in the middle of most of it and should be charged with breaking down a Red Devils back four that has been coming together. Is he worth the big money that some think he could be sold for? One match won't change that but would go a long way to support his case.
Regardless, this has statement win for United written all over it. After a positive result midweek, Rangnick gets some momentum behind United's Top-4 push with a follow-up win at the Theatre of Dreams.
Match Prediction: 2-1 Manchester United Win
Everton vs. Aston Villa
Goodison Park, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET
Streaming: USA Network, Universo
Rounding out the previews is Saturday's contest between newly managerless Everton and recent Premier League big spenders Aston Villa.
The league once again said goodbye to Rafa Benitez this week as the Toffees split with the Spanish manager after a horrendous run of form that saw them only manage three league wins since September. Yikes.
It always felt like a weird appointment. Under caretaker boss (and 100 percent certifiable hardman) Duncan Ferguson, Everton have to figure out a direction…because they are five points from the relegation battle with 19 matches to go. They have not been relegated from the first division of English football since being promoted in 1954, a streak second only to Arsenal.
Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa are in town after a strong debut for loan signing Philippe Coutinho against Manchester United with a goal and an assist in under five minutes. The Brazilian, along with fellow new signing Lucas Digne, should give the Villains a good platform to stand on as they aim to march up the table during the back half of the campaign.
Look for the momentum from the comeback against Manchester to continue in this journey to the English North West with a comfortable victory against an Everton side in turmoil.
Match Prediction: 3-1 Aston Villa Win
Other Fixtures and Predictions
Friday, Jan. 21
Watford vs. Norwich (3 p.m. ET): 3-1 Watford
Saturday, Jan. 22
Brentford vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (10 a.m. ET): 2-1 Wolves
Leeds United vs. Newcastle United (10 a.m. ET): 2-2 draw
Southampton vs. Manchester City (12:30 p.m. ET): 3-1 Man City
Sunday, Jan. 23
Arsenal vs. Burnley (9 a.m. ET): 3-1 Arsenal
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool (9 a.m. ET): 2-0 Liverpool
Leicester City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (9 a.m. ET): 1-1 draw