This is a week of crunch games. At the very least, 6 of the 10 Premier League games are of potentially vital importance, with the other 4 giving potential for wild swings in mid-table.
Three games – Hull vs Liverpool, Tottenham vs Middlesbrough, and Manchester City vs Swansea – involve one side tightly tied up in the top 4 race with the other more or less tightly involved in the relegation battle.
Hull have the home advantage, both over Liverpool and their relegation rivals, and although Marco Silva seems to have tightened things up a bit, they’ve still been conceding 5.7 shots on target a game under him. Through the season as a whole they’ve conceded 6.
Perhaps Silva deserves credit given the quality of the opposition. The reverse fixtures under Phelan yielded Hull being outshot-on-target 28-8 (and 10-1 on goals); under Silva the gap narrowed to 17-9. And Liverpool have cooled of late. But only slightly.
They’ve still outshot-on-target their opponents 28-15 in the past 5 games – and this with 3 difficult games against City, United, and Chelsea. Hull can’t get out of the relegation zone this weekend even with a win, but they’ll hope they can narrow the gap.
Manchester United will share Hull’s sentiment. They can move neither up nor down in the table this weekend, but it’s technically possible for them to move into the first full week of February a single point behind the top 4. Leicester can’t move up either. But they can drop down, down into the drop zone.
It should be said that Leicester have managed to tighten up their defence slightly of late – with attempts on target at least. In the past 5 games they’ve conceded 3 more total shots than they have on average over the course of the season, but nearly 1 whole shot on target fewer than their season average.
On the crucial on target metric, this brings their attack and defence almost level – over the season they’ve been losing out 4.7-3.4 a game; in the past 5 games the gap has been reduced to 3.8-3.4, though they’re still on the wrong side of the equation.
It’s noticeable that the attacking output is pretty much level, and the change may well correlate with the return to fitness of Nampalys Mendy and the addition of Wilfred Ndidi. This is as much about the quality that they bring as the (sadly, lack of) quality that they’re replacing in Andy King and Daniel Amartey, and shifting the defensive onus away from Danny Drinkwater as well.
United have struggled turning chances into goals all season, which gives Leicester hope. And Leicester need to start turning hope into some points.
Watford against Burnley is probably the game which, on the surface, seems the least interesting of the bunch, but I say nay! There is – again, and away from Leicester, and in a different way – hope.
Burnley have taken the 18th most shots in the league, Watford the 15th most. However, these are not sides which – to make this a family friendly preview – piddle about with the ball. In the past 5 games Watford have taken 21 passes to shoot and their opponents have taken 27. That’s 3rd quickest and 9th quickest rates in attack and defence in the league in the past 5 games.
For Burnley the rates are ramped up, with a shot every 15 passes for them and one every 20 passes for their opponents – the 1st and 2nd quickest rates on form in the league.
This isn’t to say that it’ll be quality football, but if you want some shooting bang for your passing buck, Vicarage Road is the place to go this weekend.
Chelsea vs Arsenal
Crystal Palace vs Sunderland
Everton vs Bournemouth
Southampton vs West Ham
West Brom vs Stoke