Saturday 12/3/16 (4:45 AM PT)
Manchester City vs. Chelsea (5)
There have been a lot of big matches already this year, but with the halfway mark of the Premier League campaign now on the foreseeable horizon, this feels like the first massive blockbuster. Chelsea top the table by the slimmest of margins (over both City and Liverpool), and the Citizens will be trying to flip that around given they will be playing in front of their own crowd. Pep Guardiola’s side has rebounded since its blip in form, but City still haven’t hit their top gear. Meanwhile, Chelsea, after another impressive win over Spurs last week, are firing on all cylinders and look like the league's most dangerous side at the moment. There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about this one given the pedigrees of both clubs. The only detractor is the kickoff time, but even at this stage in the season, it feels like a fixture that’s worth losing sleep over.
(7 AM PT)
Sunderland vs. Leicester (2)
Tottenham vs. Swansea (2)
Who knows what Swansea are capable of after their wild 5-4 win over Crystal Palace a week ago? That affair turned out to be Bob Bradley’s first victory as manager of the Swans, and for a little while at least, he has quieted the doubters. In the Spurs camp, the same thing Swansea just had is badly needed: a big momentum-shifting moment to jolt them to life. Tottenham have been sub-par for the last couple of months, and though they do only have one league loss, they have been plagued by ties which have pegged them back. It might seem like a run-of-the-mill fixture for a top squad at home against a straggler, but Spurs badly need three points to keep pace with the top four.
Crystal Palace vs. Southampton (2)
The Eagles were on the wrong side of that crazy aforementioned affair against Swansea, and that has earned them the title of worst running form in the league, now having lost six straight. Meanwhile, after back-to-back fixtures against the Liverpool sides — which ended in a solid draw with the Reds and a win over Everton — Southampton are trending in the opposite direction. So far, however, Southampton’s Achilles’ heel has been their inability to perform on the road, with just five points in six games away from St. Mary's. This week presents a golden opportunity to remedy that and snag an important three points that can boost them back into the race for Europe.
Stoke vs. Burnley (2)
You never really know what is going to happen in a fixture with Burnley. The Clarets have hit highs this year by beating Everton and Liverpool and drawing Manchester United, but they’ve also been smacked around by West Brom 4-0 more recently. Stoke have been much more as expected, preying on the lowly teams and barely scraping by against the giants. Given it's an even matchup for the Potters, the points are wide open for the taking.
Two of the league’s surprise teams so far meet at the Hawthorns with West Brom sitting in ninth, a point and a place behind Watford. The Baggies are hot, though, with seven points and seven goals scored in their last three games. Watford, meanwhile, are coming off a 1-0 home loss to Stoke in which they played poorly, but they remain focused on those ahead of them, and they have an opportunity to make a jump into a European position with a win. Neither of these teams is a major draw, but this is a sneaky-good game between underappreciated sides.
(9:30 AM PT)
West Ham vs. Arsenal (4)
As West Ham continue to hover above the relegation zone, they’re desperate for a few good results to pull out of their funk. That will be hard to come by against Arsenal, who still haven’t lost since the opening day of the season. This is a London derby, and one that West Ham usually gets up for — they got four points against the Gunners last season — but they have a tall task ahead of them. Even with Arsenal getting hit with a number of injuries, Arsene Wenger’s men possess one of the best attacks in the league, while West Ham’s defense has underwhelmed. With the great kickoff time, this is a contest to tune in for, even if it heavily favors Arsenal.
Sunday 12/4/16 (5:30 AM PT)
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool (3)
With Philippe Coutinho expected to miss at least a month with an injury, it’s time to see how much depth Jurgen Klopp has in his ranks. On paper, that shouldn’t matter this weekend, as Bournemouth aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire while Liverpool have been spectacular at times in the attack. But this is a difficult matchup for the Reds. The Cherries have had success stifling some big teams early this season — they went toe-to-toe with both Arsenal and Spurs in recent weeks — and they’re capable of creating chances of their own. Even against a very dangerous Liverpool team, Bournemouth will fancy their chances of making a good game of it, and this has the potential to be a fascinating clash between two pressing sides.
Everton vs. Manchester United (4)
Each of these teams has cooled off significantly after starting the season on fire, and their matchup at Goodison Park seems like an important one for both. Jose Mourinho will be back on the sideline after missing the EFL Cup win over West Ham, but that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. Without Mourinho, United were dynamic in the attack, something they’ve shown flashes of doing in PL games. They’ll be put to the test by a solid Everton back line, although the Toffees are struggling over the past three games with just one point and seven goals conceded. Still, these teams currently sit sixth and seventh in the table, and each is capable of putting together a complete effort and dominating. With the later kickoff, this should be a solid Sunday watch.
Monday 12/5/16 (12 noon PT)
Middlesbrough vs. Hull City (1)
Yes, it’s a late kickoff, and yes, it’s a six-pointer at the wrong end of the table. In truth, anything could happen at the Riverside Stadium. But there just isn’t enough quality in this game to make it an obvious must-watch. Hull has the worst offense and the worst defense in the league, while Boro have a solid back line but struggle to put the ball in the net. This has the feeling of a game with a determined, though poor, Hull defense trying to keep out a wasteful Boro attack, and it could well end up in an uninteresting stalemate. It’s an important game, but it won’t be easy on the eye.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Saturday 12/3/16, 7:15 AM PT
It’s El Clasico weekend, and that means there’s only one choice here. Real currently sit six points ahead of their rivals, and a win would give Los Blancos a massive margin for error over the remainder of the season. They’re on the road and will be without a few of their superstars — most notably Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos — through injury, so it’s hard to call Real the favorite against a side as talented as Barca. Plus, this is an absolutely critical clash for the Blaugrana, for whom a loss would potentially devastate their La Liga title hopes even at this early stage. With so much pressure on Barcelona and such a fierce rivalry between the sides, this will be about as intense as games can get.