Metro’s Danny Griffiths talks Conte, Ibrahimovic and relegation battle

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With the turn of the year one of the busiest times in the football calendar, we decided to catch up with Metro’s Chief Sports Writer Danny Griffiths to discuss all things Premier League – as we head into the latter half of the 2016-17 campaign.

From his Golden Boot bets to the secret of Chelsea’s consistency, and which of the newly-promoted sides he fancies to beat the drop, Danny gave Ladbrokes News his predictions for the coming months in the Prem…

LN: Chelsea top the table by six points right now, having won their last 12 Premier League games on the bounce. What do you put their success down to?

DG: I think it’s been down to Antonio Conte playing three at the back. I think he looked very carefully at his squad and came up with a formation which fits his players perfectly. He’s tinkered very successfully, and that’s been the key to the club’s success.

Of course, once you start winning it breeds confidence. And even when they’ve not played brilliantly, they’ve chiselled out 1-0 wins and looked very tight at the back.

LN: So, can anyone catch the Blues – and if so, who?

DG: Well, my money ahead of the season was on Manchester City, but they’ve really struggled for consistency so far.

Liverpool are playing very well, but have dropped points against sides lower down the table. Arsenal have had a bit of a wobble lately as well, with those losses to Man City and Everton.

But Chelsea certainly aren’t a sure thing. They’re due a bad run, and things can flip-flop very quickly in the title race!

LN: Moving onto Arsenal, obviously they had those two losses – but a run of winnable games now, against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Swansea City. How do you think they’ll begin 2017?

DG: I think they’re beginning to bounce back now – and when you look at the squad Arsene Wenger has, they definitely have the quality to win all those games.

I do think they’re missing Santi Cazorla a lot during his injury layoff, and if they’re to put in a real title challenge, they need to buy a commanding, mobile centre-half in January and perhaps another holding midfielder.

LN: Right now the Gunners are just a point ahead of Tottenham, who have been imperious at home. However, Spurs’ victory at St Mary’s was a first away win in nine games. Can they fix their struggles on the road?

DG: There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t. During the previous two seasons, they’ve done very well away from home, and [Mauricio] Pochettino has built a side who are designed to hit teams on the break.

LN: Obviously a top-four finish will be the aim for Wenger and Pochettino. But Manchester United are really clicking into form. Do you see them emerging as a real force in the short-term and the long-term

DG: Definitely. I think anyone who expected Jose Mourinho to fix the club’s slump overnight was unrealistic. But he’s a born winner, and he now seems to have figured out the style – and the squad – he wants at Old Trafford.

I think we’re going to see his overhaul of the current crop in January. It’s looking likely that we see the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay heading for the exit in January.

That would free up funds for new arrivals, and I think he’ll spend any money wisely.

LN: Moving from the Premier League heavyweights to the newly-promoted trio – Burnley, Hull City and Middlesbrough…who’s staying up and who’s set for the drop?

DG: Well, the one thing that’s certain is that they won’t be the only ones fearing relegation right now. Swansea City and Crystal Palace are both in freefall, and Leicester City are really struggling to build any momentum.

I fear the worst for Hull. They were woeful at White Hart Lane when they lost 3-0 the other week, and hardly any better against West Ham United or Man City. So I think they’re set for the drop.

As for Burnley, their home form has been fairly strong, which means there’s a decent chance of them avoiding the drop.

For me, though, Middlesbrough have the best survival chance of all three. They’re very strong at the back, so I think they’ll be absolutely fine this season.

It’s rare that you see all three newly-promoted sides come back down straight away, and I reckon we’ll see at least one, maybe two beat the drop again this time around.

LN: Finally, on a player note, who are you tipping to grab the glory in the race for the Golden Boot? Diego Costa leads the way with 13 goals, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero also all into double figures.

DG: First off, I’d throw Harry Kane into the mix as well. I think there could be a lot of value in backing him because he’s fit and firing again.

Costa’s off to a flier, so it could be him, but I’m ruling out Aguero. He’s injured or suspended far too often for my liking.

Ibrahimovic is unstoppable when he’s firing – and he’s the strongest of the bunch in the air – so it’s difficult to rule him out. He may be close to drawing his pension, but he’s so tough and such a good finisher that I think he’s the most likely to finish top of the goalscoring charts.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.