Football Christmas Decoration in Snow

Sink or Swim Time as the Festive Football Period for the 2018/19 Season Begins

Jose Mourinho came in for yet more criticism this weekend as his Manchester United team drew 2-2 against Southampton but at least he lived to fight another day in his job. The same is not true of his opposite number, Mark Hughes. The Welshman paid the price for Southampton’s dreadful season so far as the Saints’ board decided they had to make a decision while there was still time to save their season.

It may not be long before Hughes’ sacking becomes old news and another top flight manager finds themselves out of work. That is because we are approaching the busiest time of the season where the games come thick and fast and the picture can change in an instant.

Of course for every loser there is a winner. Whilst some teams will find that the relentless run of fixtures shines a light on their weaknesses others will continue to flourish. With so many twists and turns ahead through the festive period let’s see if we can make some predictions based on the matches to come.

Man City to Grow the Gap at the Top of the Table

Welcome to Manchester City Sign
Image: coward_lion, Bigstock Photo

Man City went into the Premier League season as the defending champions and the odds-on favourites for the title. Nothing that has happened so far suggests that their strength at the head of the market is unjustified and City have shortened in the Premier League winners market to a best price of 1/4 with Bet365.

The potential challengers for the title haven’t exactly melted away at this relatively early start of the season but Liverpool are the only side still really breathing down Man City’s necks. Jurgen Klopp’s men just about managed to keep the pressure up by edging past Everton in the Merseyside derby but there’s a definite feeling that Liverpool just aren’t the same team as last season. Their improved defensive record has come at the cost of some of their attacking verve and although Klopp has the strongest squad since taking charge at Anfield it’s not quite as strong as Man City’s.

Given their Champions League and League Cup commitments Man City have a more packed fixture list than most. They do have some challenging Premier League matches in the coming weeks but could well increase the gap at the top before their meeting with Liverpool on 3 January.

Changes to Scupper Chelsea’s Momentum

Maurizio Sarri may have been one of the only people to have predicted Chelsea’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham. The Italian cautioned patience from the Blues’ fans even as his new team began life well under his management saying that there would undoubtedly be times at which his players struggled with his tactical approach. The expected goals stats also suggested that Chelsea had ridden their luck a little bit as their forwards were on great form and their defence lived a charmed life at times.

Even though Sarri was able to take the loss to Spurs in his stride he cannot help but have been concerned about the toothless nature of the performance. He was happy that Chelsea bounced back to beat Fulham but they weren’t entirely convincing in that derby so it would not be a surprise if they encountered a sticky patch around Christmas.

Sarri is a very demanding manager who drills his tactics into his players on the training ground. There is no substitute for game time though as has become evident in the Europa League where Chelsea’s performances haven’t been as fluent as Sarri has made changes. With more changes inevitable over Christmas there is a real chance that Chelsea’s title challenge will fizzle out before the decorations come down.

More Good Things on the Horizon for Cardiff

Cardiff City Bus Top Promotion Parade
Image: Jeremy Segrott, flickr

Recent seasons have seen some wonderful feats of management get teams promoted from the Championship. Neil Warnock was the latest manager to get guide his team into the Premier League against the odds when Cardiff, who were more fancied to be relegated than promoted with the bookies, finished second in the table. Working with only a modest budget, Warnock was able to make his team more than the sum of their parts and there are signs that he’s starting to work his magic again back in the Premier League.

There aren’t many teams like Cardiff in the top flight. They do have some pretty significant weaknesses (the lack of any real quality up front is a major concern) but the Bluebirds will never let themselves down in terms of work rate and their in-your-face style is never easy for the opposition. That fighting spirit was evident during the win over Wolves and if they can rely on more moments of top quality like Junior Hoilett’s winner there is no reason that Cardiff can’t pick up more points over Christmas.

Cardiff have already pulled away from the bottom three and yet they can still be backed at odds on to be relegated. There are more than enough positives for Warnock and the Cardiff fans to take and enough competition at the bottom of the table to suggest that the Bluebirds can finish above three others. With some winnable fixtures in the next few weeks this may be the perfect time to snap up the 13/10 that bet365 are quoting on Cardiff to stay up.

Tough Time for the New Man at St Mary’s

Football Manager Ralph Hasenhüttl
Image: Thomas Rodenbücher, flickr

It looks very much as though Ralph Hasenhuttl will be the man to replace Mark Hughes as Southampton manager. That’s what the betting suggests and there are many media reports linking the Austrian with the post. It’s never easy coming to a new club or a new country to work but Hasenhuttl may find that his task is particularly tough given the December fixtures facing the Saints.

Not only do Southampton have to take on Tottenham, Arsenal and Man City in the same month but they also face potential relegation six pointers against Huddersfield and Cardiff. That’s a very difficult combination of matches where a point would represent a very good match and high pressure matches in which the Southampton fans will be expecting a win.

Time and the congested nature of the Premier League’s bottom half give Southampton every chance of avoiding the drop and the bookies make them fairly heavy odds on to remain in the top flight. That price could change considerably if the situation for the Saints doesn’t improve soon. We’ve seen many teams with quality players fail to get out of trouble having got themselves into it early on so could this be the time to bet on Southampton to be relegated at a general price of 3/1?

Wolves in Need of a Little Shaking Up

Wolves’ start to the season saw pundits falling over themselves to proclaim Nuno Espirito Santo’s men the best newly promoted side in Premier League history. Those may look a little silly following a run of five defeats and a draw from but nobody at the club is pressing the panic button just at the moment.

Date Opponent Home/Away Result
20th October 2018 Watford Home 2-0 Loss
27th October 2018 Brighton Away 1-0 Loss
3rd November 2018 Tottenham Home 3-2 Loss
11th November 2018 Arsenal Away 1-1 Draw
25th November 2018 Huddersfield Home 2-0 Loss
30th November 2018 Cardiff City Away 2-1 Loss

Whilst Wolves have clearly fallen below the standards they set earlier on in the campaign but it’s probably fair to say that they’ve been more than a little unlucky lately. Espirito Santo’s men played well enough to beat Arsenal when they only secured a 1-1 draw, were better than the score suggests in their 3-2 loss to Tottenham and found both Huddersfield and Cardiff in inspired form.

There is a real determination and ambition about Wolves currently and there is no doubt that they will improve in the months and years to come. There’s also no doubt that they are too good to be considered in the relegation shake up and will begin picking up points sooner rather than later. Espirito Santo has made very few changes to his team so far but the necessity of resting players could be exactly what he needs as a he seeks fresh impetus so look for Wolves to turn things around.