Managers come and go in professional football and there’s an old cliche that says, “if you want loyalty buy a dog”. Frank Lampard’s treatment at Chelsea, where he was unceremoniously sacked halfway through the season, is an example of that.
A club legend at Stamford Bridge as a player, Lampard was given a project, and presumably time, to infuse the squad with Academy players and also introduce some big-hitters into the squad to make them title contenders in a season or two. Admittedly, five defeats in the last eight League games saw the club slip to ninth on the table and with reports of unhappy squad members – Rudiger, Alonso and Kepa spring to mind – knifing Lampard in the back, the owner Roman Abramovich showed the manager the door.
So, Lampard becomes the second manager to lose his job this season, the first being Slaven Bilic at West Brom.
Chelsea’s first match without Lampard in the dugout is against Wolves, who beat them 2-1 in December. This week’s round marks the first matches of the second half of the League season. For some it might be a chance to turn things around, while for others it’s a chance to confirm their superiority. However, if the second half proves to be as unpredictable as the first half, this looks to be an incredibly tricky round to get right. I think if you can catch 5 out of 10 you will have done well.
Newcastle 1 Leeds 2: These 2 met as recently as 16 December in the League and Leeds ran riot with a 5-2 win. Both teams have lost their way a bit since then, with Newcastle losing their last 4 and Leeds their last 2. Worringly, Newcastle haven’t scored in their last 3 games and Leeds haven’t scored in their last 2, which might bring the 0-0 into play for some shrewdies here.
Crystal Palace 1 West Ham 1: These two met in December and there was nothing to separate the two teams in a 1-1 draw. The Hammers however have kicked on since then and have won their last 3 matches. Statistically, only top four contenders tend to win 4 in a row, so I’m going for another draw here.
Southampton 1 Arsenal 1: A quick rematch of their FA Cup fourth round match in which the Saints knocked out the Gunners 1-0. There shouldn’t be too much between the two teams again this time round. When they met in the League in December the game also ended 1-1.
West Brom 0 Man City 2: City are the new title favourites and have picked up 26 points from their last 30, winning their last 6 League games. Even without their injured talisman Kevin de Bruyne they should have too much for the hosts, who have lost 4 of their 6 games under new manager Sam Allardyce. But, West Brom held City to a 1-1 draw at the Etihad in their first round fixture in December.
Burnley 0 Aston Villa 1: Burnley ended Liverpool’s 68-match unbeaten Anfield run in their last game and have actually won 4 of their last 8 games to edge clear of the relegation zone. It’s what manager Sean Dyche does so well and he gets involved in a lot of 1-0s. In fact, Burnley’s last 5 games have ended 1-0, winning 3 of them. But Villa don’t concede much and they have a cutting edge with Grealish, so they will get their chances.
Chelsea 2 Wolves 1: The 2-1 defeat to Wolves in December came after Chelsea had taken the lead. But they’re now a club in freefall, losing 5 of their last 8 League games. Who knows what effect the sacking of Frank Lampard will have on the dressingroom? It could galvanise those who get handed a start to try to impress the new manager, or it could lead to further confusion in the playing ranks.
Brighton 2 Fulham 1: Their first round encounter ended 0-0 and a draw could well be the result again here. Somehow though the table, Brighton 17th and Fulham 18th, looks to be lying a bit when it comes to the hosts. They are slightly better than that position suggests and a win here would put a real big buffer between 17th on the table and the three in line for the drop.
Everton 2 Leicester 1: Everton were full value for their 2-0 away win in December and they keep getting the “W’s”, with 5 out of theri last 6 games. Leicester meanwhile have found some form of their own with 3 wins in their last 3 games. However, they’ll be without Jamie Vardy here and that is a big blow to their hopes.
Man United 2 Sheffield United 0: Log leaders play 20th in what looks like a mismatch on paper and it also should be one-sided on the Old Trafford grass. Sheffield United are going down and they only have 5 points, while the hosts already have 40 points. However, in their first round match, the final result was only 3-2 to the Red Devils, which does suggest there should be goals in this one as well.
Tottenham 1 Liverpool 1: Spurs won’t fear the visit by Liverpool, who came into this second half of the season suddenly in fourth spot and 6 points off the top. They’re a point ahead of Tottenham but Jose’s men will be itching for revenge after losing 2-1 at Anfield in December. Spurs have healthy home form though and have beaten the likes of Man City and Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Liverpool have only scored 1 goal in their last 5 League games.