Manchester City are top of the Premier League this Christmas, but will they still lead the way when it matters in May?
“It is still a three-way battle between City, Liverpool and Chelsea and it is still far too close to call,” said BBC Sport football expert Mark Lawrenson. “Chelsea have had a bit of a wobble in the past few weeks but they will come good.
“The way it is poised at the moment, the picture could look very different after just one set of results. Those three will end up clear and it could be their games against each other that decides who finishes where.”
|Man City (a)||Liverpool (a)||Chelsea (a)|
|Man City (h)||N/A||9 Apr||15 Jan|
|Chelsea (h)||0-1||2 Jan||N/A|
Lawro is making predictions for all 380 top-flight matches this season, against a variety of guests.
This week it’s Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal, who are both Manchester United fans.
The duo have sold more than 30m albums since they formed Tears for Fears in the early 1980s and are back in February 2022 with The Tipping Point, their first album for almost 18 years.
Smith grew up a die-hard United fan, but Orzabal converted much later. He supported his local club Portsmouth as a young boy before he moved to Bath as a teenager and met his bandmate, drifting away from the sport until the late 1990s.
“Curt was a boyhood United fan, but I was born just outside Portsmouth, so they were my first love,” Orzabal told BBC Sport.
“When I moved to Bath I lost interest in football completely for decades and it was only in 1998, when I was dragged by my neighbour in the west country to watch the World Cup, that things changed.
“Part of football for me as a kid had been the player cards you used to get, so I knew all the teams. But the last time I’d watched anyone regularly was the days of Billy Bremner and Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter [at Leeds], and it was all muddy pitches and long balls.
“And then suddenly in 1998, I am watching these beautiful colour renditions and this guy called David Beckham was placing the ball on a dime. All of a sudden the whole world opened up for me, so I started following all the top clubs – except Arsenal, because they were my elder brother’s team so I couldn’t have that.
“I just noticed myself that when I was watching Manchester United that I would get really depressed when they lost. That’s how I realised I was becoming a fan. At roughly the same time, Curt and I got back together after a long hiatus, and we had this thing in common.”
Smith is based in Los Angeles now and is a season ticket holder at Major League Soccer side LAFC, but United are never far from his thoughts.
“My affinity for United goes a long way back,” he explained. “I grew up with the team of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. George was my childhood hero and he still is. At times, watching him play was just unbelievable – the only people who have come close are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“It is nice to see Ronaldo back at United. It is not the same as when he was with us first time around but, having said that, he came back and started scoring straightaway. It was like ‘welcome home!’.
“Despite that, it’s been quite difficult season for various reasons. As much as I loved Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I never thought of him as a manager of the same calibre as Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, and it was definitely the right time for a change.
“One would hope that things settle now under Ralph Rangnick and in the past couple of games, we have been better – nothing exciting, but more organised, which I think was the issue before.
“Hopefully that sticks until the end of the season, and we keep getting slightly better so we are still up there, vying for the top four, which I think is the best we can hope for. Then, in the summer, they can decide what happens next.”
|SUNDAY, 26 DECEMBER|
|Liverpool v Leeds||P-P||P-P||P-P||P-P|
|Wolves v Watford||P-P||P-P||P-P||P-P|
|Burnley v Everton||x-x||2-1||1-1||0-2|
|Man City v Leicester||x-x||3-0||4-1||4-1|
|Norwich v Arsenal||x-x||1-2||2-2||1-2|
|Tottenham v Crystal Palace||x-x||2-0||2-1||2-0|
|West Ham v Southampton||x-x||1-2||3-1||2-0|
|Aston Villa v Chelsea||x-x||0-2||1-2||1-1|
|Brighton v Brentford||x-x||1-0||1-2||0-1|
|MONDAY, 27 DECEMBER|
|Newcastle v Man Utd||x-x||0-2||0-3||1-3|
P-P = Postponed because of Covid-19 outbreaks.
A correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth 10 points. The exact score earns 40 points.
SUNDAY, 26 DECEMBER
Liverpool P-P Leeds
This game was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Wolves P-P Watford
This game was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Burnley v Everton (15:00 GMT)
Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin should be in action in this game, but surely he won’t start, even though his side are short of players.
Calvert-Lewin has been out since August and they have to be careful with him, even though they clearly need him, especially with Richarlison injured. It’s probably a better idea to put him on the bench.
Burnley haven’t played much football in the past few weeks so it’s hard to know what to expect from them. They definitely need the points, though, because they’ve only won once all season.
I have a feeling the Clarets will edge it, although I’d be much more confident about their chances if it turns out their leading scorer Maxwel Cornet is available again and playing.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-1
Roland’s prediction: 1-1
Curt’s prediction: 0-2
Man City v Leicester (15:00 GMT)
Leicester put out a strong team at Anfield in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday but ended up going out, which kind of sums up the way their season has gone so far. Things are just not happening for them.
In contrast, Manchester City have won eight league games in a row and have found their rhythm, no matter who Pep Guardiola picks. Leicester have done quite well against them in the past, but not this time.
Lawro’s prediction: 3-0
Roland’s prediction: Leicester are on the slide and have been since Brendan Rodgers was tipped to be the next United manager. Manchester City’s confidence is through the roof and this could be another big win, like their 7-0 against Leeds. 4-1
Curt’s prediction: There are a lot of Manchester City fans in LA but that is down to the publicity that they have had in the past couple of years. So, when I say ‘City fans’, I mean people wearing City shirts. There are still more United fans here, I am happy to say. 4-1
Norwich v Arsenal (15:00 GMT)
Arsenal are flying at the moment. The games are coming thick and fast but they will be happy to keep playing while they are still winning.
As I’ve said before I don’t often fancy the Gunners on the road, but they enjoyed themselves at Elland Road against an out-of-sorts Leeds side last weekend and this is another away game where they will be thinking they should win.
What kind of performance we see from Norwich will depend a lot on which players they have available.
They pushed Manchester United close at Carrow Road a couple of weeks ago, but I still think a confident, in-form Arsenal will take the points.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-2
Roland’s prediction: Watching Norwich against United recently, I was thinking why aren’t they doing better? Arsenal are starting to click, which is annoying, but I can’t back them to win. 2-2
Curt’s prediction: 1-2
Tottenham v Crystal Palace (15:00 GMT)
It is so far, so good for Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, who is still unbeaten in the Premier League after five games in charge and is starting to mould his squad into his own team.
Palace out-played Spurs at Selhurst Park in September, which was the beginning of the end of Nuno Espirito Santo’s short reign as Tottenham boss.
The Eagles will still pose a threat but this is a very different Spurs team, and it is interesting to see Conte giving chances to players who were on the periphery under his predecessor. His team selections are working out pretty well.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Roland’s prediction: 2-1
Curt’s prediction: We are just starting to see Conte’s influence. It was great to see Dele Alli and Harry Winks playing so well for Spurs against Liverpool. 2-0
West Ham v Southampton (15:00 GMT)
West Ham have hit a bit of a sticky patch and it’s no surprise it has coincided with them suffering a few injuries to key players at a time they have had a lot of games.
It will help the Hammers if Michail Antonio is back to lead the line after a period isolating with Covid, but I can see their bad run continuing.
Southampton are a difficult team to predict and they haven’t won for a while either – six games to be exact – but if West Ham don’t play well again and this gets scrappy, then I can see Saints nicking it.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-2
Roland’s prediction: Am I anti-Saints because of my Portsmouth background? Absolutely. I don’t know why, because I moved away from Portsmouth when I was seven, but it’s got to be a West Ham win. 3-1
Curt’s prediction: 2-0
Aston Villa v Chelsea (17:30 GMT)
It is hard to make a prediction when you don’t know who is available for either team, but Chelsea should still be the stronger side.
Villa will give it a good go, just as they did when they played Manchester City at Villa Park a few weeks ago, but, like City did, Chelsea should still find a way to win.
It has not been a great few weeks for Thomas Tuchel’s side for various reasons – he clearly felt last week’s game with Wolves should have been postponed – but I wouldn’t be surprised if they put together a bit of a run now. Their game against Liverpool on 2 January is going to be very interesting.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Roland’s prediction: 1-2
Curt’s prediction: Chelsea have dropped in form and I can see them dropping more points. 1-1
Brighton v Brentford (20:00 GMT)
It is 11 games since Brighton last won in the league, more than three months ago.
The Seagulls have obviously slipped down the table since then, but I don’t think they are doing too much wrong. They are 13th, which is probably around about where you’d expect them to be. It is just that they started the campaign so well, which raised expectations with their fans.
Brentford are mid-table too, so both teams are finding out that the Premier League season is a slog – no matter how well you start.
Both teams will be fine when it comes to staying out of trouble, but I’m going with a Brighton win this time. It has to happen sooner or later, anyway.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-0
Roland’s prediction: 1-2
Curt’s prediction: 0-1
MONDAY, DECEMBER 27
Newcastle v Man Utd (20:00 GMT)
Eddie Howe has improved Newcastle, but not enough to get them many more points than they already had. Yes, he brought them their first win of the season but they are still losing a lot of games. They have left themselves a mammoth task to stay up.
Lose this too and they will have earned 10 points from their first 19 games. If they are going to reach the usual 40-point mark that guarantees safety, they will need 30 points from their last 19 games which, if you look at the table now, is more-or-less top-six form.
They might not need 40 points of course, but it won’t be far off it – and even reaching 35 points, which has been what teams have needed for survival in two of the past three seasons, will take a phenomenal effort from here.
If they carry on picking up points at the same rate as they have been under Howe, they will end up on 24 points and will be relegated.
|P11 W0 D5 L6 F12 A24 Pts 5||P7 W1 D2 L4 F6 A17 Pts 5|
|Points per game: 0.45||Points per game: 0.7|
I know they have got the January transfer window to improve the team but getting that right will be a challenge in itself, and they have put themselves under huge pressure to recruit properly. They can’t hang about either because they have got huge games against Watford and Leeds in the middle of that month.
I do think this game will end in another defeat for the Magpies too. Yes, they were competitive at Anfield, and they also had a big decision go against them against Manchester City, but the facts are they were just not good enough defensively to get anything out of either game.
I’m expecting a similar story here. Manchester United have had a couple of weeks off since their last game because of a Covid-19 outbreak, but their training ground reopened this week and Ralph Rangnick will have been working them hard. They will be going to St James’ Park to win.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Roland’s prediction: I can only go with a win for us, but I do hope Eddie Howe gets it right. He seems like a good guy and Newcastle is such a great place and their fans are amazing. 0-3
Roland on Man Utd’s prospects: “I think our problem in recent years is we have been really slow to modernise. After such an incredible time under Sir Alex Ferguson, we have really been led by our heart over our head so much. We tried to cling on to these romantic notions of former players being involved – first it was Ryan Giggs as caretaker manager then the return of Solskjaer – rather than get someone who might poke a few people in the eye.
“I wish we’d gone with Jose Mourinho when Ferguson left in 2013 because he would have been the right person for two or three years. Then he would have gone, but it would have been the right transition into the modern world. Instead, we got him later and then went with someone with history at the club in Solskjaer.”
Curt’s prediction: Newcastle will score, but we will win. 1-3
Lawro, Roland and Curt were speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
How did Lawro do last week?
From last weekend’s Premier League fixtures, Lawro got three correct results from four matches, with no exact scores, for a total of 30 points.
For now, it goes down as a defeat for Lawro because although one of his guests, Femi from Ezra Collective, has 20 points so far after getting two correct results and no exact scores, his brother TJ got three correct results and one exact score for a total of 60 points.
A total of six games were postponed last weekend because of Covid-19 outbreaks. Femi and TJ’s predictions for those matches are below, and any points they earn will be added to their overall score when those games are played, which could change the overall result.
|Man Utd v Brighton||3-1||2-1|
|Aston Villa v Burnley||1-0||3-0|
|Southampton v Brentford||0-3||2-3|
|Watford v Crystal Palace||1-2||1-4|
|West Ham v Norwich||3-0||2-0|
|Everton v Leicester||1-2||1-1|
GUEST LEADERBOARD 2021-22
|110||Friction, She Drew The Gun|
|90||Dev from Idles|
|74||Lawro (average after 18 weeks)|
|70||Ben Cajee, Elena Cole, Jelani Blackman|
|60||TJ from Ezra Collective, Haydn Craven|
|50||Aqib Khan, Shaun Thomas|
|40||Dan Haggis of The Wombats, Murray & Tav from FUR, Justin Young|
|30||Femi from Ezra Collective, Martin Noble, Michael ‘Venom’ Page, Roger Taylor, Zuzu|
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