Football News: Premier League Match Preview Saturday 16th December 2017

 

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Premier League Match Preview Saturday 16th December 2017
Image from: hhsclarionnews.com

Saturday 16th December 2017



Leicester City v Crystal Palace 12:30pm kick off


Huth (foot injury expected return 26th December) out
James (achilles injury expected return 26th December) out

The Foxes have hit a great run of form under Claude Puel, they have now won 4 Premier League games in a row and look a team once more going places. They are quite a way off the top 7, but that now looks like a genuine reachable target for them this season. Is this because of Puel's skill as a coach or just a new manager 'bounce'? Is this run sustainable in the long term or will the players revert to sulking once they fail to get their way over moves away or pay rises?
Most important player: Wilfred Ndidi. The young Nigerian is growing into the midfield role, though he is not quite N'Golo Kante, he is becoming a very good central midfielder in his own right.


Sakho (calf strain) out
Ward (groin strain expected return 23rd December) major doubt
Delaney (minor surgery) out
Wickham (ACL injury) out
Fosu-Mensah (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Milivojevic (suspended 5 bookings) out

It is now 6 games without defeat for the Eagles, though only 2 of those matches have been wins, which is why they are still in the bottom 3, for now at least. Away from home Palace are still awaiting their first win after 8 attempts, though they have managed to draw their last 2 away games as part of the 6 on the bounce without loss. In fact they are the only away games they did not lose this season. It is not just wins they are still looking for, they have still not scored away from Selhurst Park this season! All 12 Palace goals were scored in home games.
Most important player: Yohan Cabaye. His passing is a key component of their attacking play.


Defining Battle: without Sakho, Palace are very lacking in pace at the back and they will have to find a way to block off the runs Jamie Vardy makes to have any chance. If they ever want to score that away goal they have been seeking, they cannot afford to drop too deep and leave the attack unsupported, especially with Benteke's lack of movement and effort.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 3-0
Ed003 - 1-1
Ed004 - 3-1
Ed007 - 2-0
Ed018 - 2-1
Ed025 - 3-1
Ed033 - 1-0



Arsenal v Newcastle United 3pm kick off


Ramsey (hamstring injury expected return 7th January 2018) out
Mustafi (thigh strain) late fitness test
Cazorla (plantaris injury) out
Walcott (groin injury) out

It has been 3 games since the North London side won a match, which has seen them slip down below Burnley. Yes, Burnley. At home they have been strong this season, but their first home loss was the game that started this winless run. Has Wenger got it left in him to rouse his players once more to make a challenge for the top 4 cup? The backroom changes have improved things, particularly the injury problem that the Gunners usually struggle with has so far been conspicious by its absence. They have lost their usual place at the top of the injury table but it does not seem to have improved their performances, as even the few injuries they have suffered have exposed the weakness of their squad.
Most important player: Laurent Koscielny. His performances recently have been poor, he looks like a player whose legs are going. As the captain, Arsenal need him playing better if they are to recover from the slump they are suddenly suffering.


Gamez (knock) out
Mitrovic (back injury) out
Shelvey (suspended) out

Newcastle's run is becoming extremely worrying, 8 games in a row without a win, 7 of them losses. Added to that the Toon have won just once on the road this season and lost 5. With just one point separating the Tynesiders from the drop zone, everyone connected with the club will just be hoping the takeover goes through quickly and smoothly to provide the lift the whole club needs.
Most important player: Jamaal Lascelles. The loss of Lascelles to injury was a big part of Newcastle's slump. His return to the team is important to their hopes of survival.


Defining Battle: the centre of midfield is a key part, Arsenal have struggled there this season which gives Newcastle a chance to get at them and break their slump. Newcastle have the physicality in midfield to dominate if Arsenal are not up for a fight, as can happen so often with them.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 3-0
Ed003 - 3-0
Ed004 - 4-1
Ed007 - 3-1
Ed018 - 3-0
Ed025 - 2-0
Ed033 - 2-0



Brighton & Hove Albion v Burnley 3pm kick off


Sidwell (back injury) out

Brighton have now lost 3 in a row and it has been 6 Premier League games in total that have gone by since they won a match. After reaching a high of 8th in the table, the Seagulls are slipping down rapidly to find those in the relegation zone are now within touching distance of them. Unless they find some way to start scoring goals they will be in serious trouble, as 14 goals in 17 matches is not enough to keep them safe in the long term. Maybe it is time Chris Hughton let those wide players off the leash and allows them to attack with the pace and guile they have at their disposal.
Most important player: Anthony Knockaert. The winger has pace and skill but is being stifled by the way Hughton is asking him to play. If he is given the opportunity to play further up the pitch he can affect the game in the final third.


Ward (knee injury) late fitness test
Brady (knee injury) out
Mee (knee injury) late fitness test
Lowton (knee injury) late fitness test
Marney (fitness) major doubt
Walters (knee injury) out
Heaton (dislocated shoulder) out

The season so far has been incredible for the Clarets, to be sat in 6th after nearly half a season has gone by. They have won 6 of their last 8 Premier League games, despite struggling to score goals. Somehow they just keep finding ways to get victories. Will they eventually get caught out by that lack of goals?
Most important player: Steven Defour. After struggling to settle last season, Defour has become key to Burnley, providing that bit of extra quality they were missing last season.


Defining Battle: the key to beating Brighton is to keep their wingers pegged back, which will suit Burnley, who like to attack down the flanks. Burnley are also at their best attacking in wide areas and so it will be about who is the bravest and takes the game to the other.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed003 - 1-2
Ed004 - 1-2
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 1-2
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 0-1


Chelsea v Southampton 3pm kick off


Morata (back injury) doubt
Luiz (knee injury) out

Antonio Conte may have conceded the title, but he is still right on the tails of second placed Man Utd at this early stage of the season. They have not been entirely comfortable this time around, unlike last season, they seem disjointed but are still picking up the points. With Morata struggling for fitness and so form, there can be times when their attack is a little laboured and even more reliant on Eden Hazard than normal. And yet, there they are, sat in 3rd place with everything still to play for.
Most important player: Andreas Christensen. The Dane has slotted in at the back like he has always been there.


No known injury problems.

It is 4 games since their one good performance of the season against Everton and they have not won a match since, or offered anything like that kind of level of performance. Before that one game they had never got near playing with that kind of attacking intent or flair, since it they have reverted to type as well. Unless Mauricio Pellegrino can figure out why they are not performing to that level and get more quality attacking games out of his players his job will be under threat soon. The players have shown the quality they are capable of, it is up to the manager to get that out of them on a more regular basis.
Most important player: Dusan Tadic. Pellegrino entrusts him with providing the main creative force for Saints.


Defining Battle: Saints need to be brave, to get at that back 3 with a front 3 that stretches them and forces the wing backs to drop in and help out. Using the full width of the pitch to get in behind the Chelsea wingbacks and draw central players out will create them space to work in.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 4-1
Ed003 - 3-1
Ed004 - 2-1
Ed007 - 4-0
Ed018 - 2-0
Ed025 - 4-0
Ed033 - 2-1



Stoke City v West Ham United 3pm kick off


Zouma (hamstring injury) out
Johnson (knee injury) late fitness test
Martins Indi (groin strain expected return 15th January 2018) out
Ireland (broken leg) out

Amidst all the talk of managers under pressure, I am surprised more is not made of just how poor the Potters have been under Mark Hughes. The Welshman was brought in to bring a more entertaining brand of football to Stoke, but there are still long periods when they are still the same old Stoke hoofing it long. Added to that, each season the team feels to be taking a step backwards and becoming more and more inconsistent. Right now they are not even getting the results to make up for their lack of entertainment, losing 4 of their last 5 games as they slip perilously close to the relegation places.
Most important player: Darren Fletcher. If he plays well, Stoke tend to do well too.


Fernandes (ankle injury) out
Kouyate (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Byram (thigh strain expected return 26th December) out
Fonte (ankle injury expected return 20th January 2018) out
Reid (suspended 5 yellow cards) out

Despite a win and a draw in their last 2 matches, against Chelsea and Arsenal no less, the Hammers are in 19th place and in real danger of going down. At least the arrival of David Moyes has seen the players recover their desire and will to win and the last two 'backs to the wall' performances were much better than the previous games. At the very least, if they do go down they are going to go down fighting, when it was beginning to look like they would not even show a whimper.
Most important player: Michail Antonio. His pace and running power are becoming the central facet of West Ham's attacking play. Because of it, opposing defences are having to sit a little deeper and are unable to compress the play too far up the pitch, giving the Hammers an easier task when defending.


Defining Battle: Stoke really lack pace at the back, which means they will be fearful of Antonio, Chicharito and Arnautovic, whichever of them plays. The key is whereabouts on the pitch Lanzini ends up playing. If he is receiving the ball just behind those two, then they can push the defence right back and give the Hammers team room to play. If Stoke can force him back, so he has to pick up the ball deeper, then they can squeeze up and shut down the attacking threat. The threat of a ball over the top for a forward to run onto is much more potent when it it travelling a shorter distance as it gives the defence less time to drop off to deal with it and the keeper less time to read it and sweep up if it is a little long. Stoke's midfield looks weak, with Fletcher and Allen in the centre, but it has to find ways to force Lanzini back.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed003 - 1-2
Ed004 - 0-2
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 1-1
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 1-0



Watford v Huddersfield Town 3pm kick off


Pereyra (muscle fatigue) doubt
Femenia (hamstring injury) out
Hughes (hamstring injury expected return 30th December) out
Britos (knock) slight doubt
Okaka (calf strain) out
Success (knee injury expected return 23rd December) out
Chalobah (knee injury expected return 3rd February 2018) out
Kaboul (hamstring injury expected return 20th January 2018) out
Cathcart (knee injury) out
Hoban (ACL injury) out
Cleverley (suspended sending off) out
Zeegelaar (suspended red card) out

For all the hype surrounding Marco Silva, his Hornets are struggling and have now failed to win in four matches on the trot, losing three of the four. They are now equal on points with the club that were so desperate to take him from Watford, Everton. Clearly there are problems within the club itself that need addressing, rather than once again changing manager in the summer. For starters there is a major injury problem each season, which sees the club having double figures of players on the injury list by December. Fitness levels need looking at as a lack of fitness is often the cause of recurring injury problems. Added to that is the lack of any defensive organisation, at times Watford can be shambolic at the back and that is costing them soft goals.
Most important player: Abdoulaye Doucoure. With all the injuries and chopping and changing that has gone on, Doucoure is a constant that can be built upon in their midfield this season.


Billing (ankle injury expected return 13th January 2018) out
Hefele (achilles injury expected return 26th December) out
Stankovic (ACL injury expected return 1st January 2018) out

It is a worrying period for Huddersfield, 5 defeats in their last six games has left them right in the relegation mix, despite their 12th place in the table. The bottom half of the Premier League have closed right up, with one win or one defeat enough to move players a number of places. Which is a big problem for the Terriers, as their away form is terrible, 6 losses in 8 matches, and the next 2 are away from home. It is clear that their big problem is scoring goals, having notched just 3 away from home and only 12 in total this season. This presents a real problem for David Wagner, as his team is struggling defensively but he needs to find a way to be more attacking. Does he stick with the low block system he has mainly used this season, which has so far kept the team out of the relegation places, or does he revert to the high press that brought so much success in the Championship?
Most important player: Jonas Lossl. Huddersfield have usually tried to play out from the back at goal kicks, but it has invited pressure which has led to goals being conceded. The Danish keeper needs to be more aware of when to play and when to kick longer.


Defining Battle: a lot depends on what style Huddersfield adopt for this game. Will they treat Watford like one of the bigger teams and play a low block looking to counter quickly? That seems the most likely, which means the key is the flanks. Watford possess an aerial threat in the box which is difficult to stop so requires Huddersfield to try and prevent good quality crosses coming in. If they can cut out the delivery from the flank, Watford's threat is lowered considerably.


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-0
Ed003 - 3-0
Ed004 - 3-1
Ed007 - 1-0
Ed018 - 2-1
Ed025 - 2-0
Ed033 - 1-0



Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur 5:30pm kick off


Kompany (muscle injury) out
Stones (hamstring injury expected return 27th December) out
Mendy (ACL injury expected return 18th April 2018) out

After a run of games where Man City struggled badly to overcome a few teams that tried to get at them, teams have once more reverted to just sitting back and letting them roll over them. Spurs should be another side that at least tries to make it difficult by pressing them and trying to beat them, rather than just trying to defend and pray not to get beaten too badly. Unless someone stops them soon, they will be too far away to be caught by the time their sticky patch happens.
Most important player: Eliaquim Mangala. In the absence of Stones and Kompany, Pep Guardiola has had to turn to the big centre back to fill the hole at the back.


Alderweireld (hamstring injury expected return 10th February 2018) out
Wanyama (MCL injury expected return 31st December back in full training) out
Sanchez (suspended) out

Spurs have got their season back on track after a poor run and have two wins in a row behind them now. Surprisingly, despite all the talk of Wembley hoodoos, Tottenham's away record this season is much worse than their home record, they have lost 3 on the road already and now face the biggest road test of them all in the Premier League. Have they got enough to withstand the Citeh attack without Alderweireld? The switch to a back 4 has certainly helped, they look much more solid now than they did a few games ago with a makeshift back 3.
Most important player: Jan Vertonghen. Alongside Alderweireld Vertonghen is half of the best centre back pairing in the Premier League, but without him he looks a much lesser player. This is a match when he needs to be at his best.


Defining Battle: Pep's teams have always struggled against a well-applied press. They lack defensive organisation and swarm forward in such numbers that they leave themselves wide open to counter attacks. Their answer to being so weak defensively is to break up the play with fouls constantly on turnover, if a quick retrieval of the ball is not possible. Against a high press, when they lose the ball it is usually in dangerous areas, which makes it difficult for them to apply their snide fouls to allow the players to get back into position as the ball is in areas of the pitch they do not want to be conceding set pieces from. That means the high press is the key to beating them and Spurs are amongst the best proponents of the press in the Prem. Will Mauricio Pochettino be brave enough to go for it and press them right up the pitch?


Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-2
Ed003 - 2-2
Ed004 - 4-2
Ed007 - 1-3
Ed018 - 3-2
Ed025 - 2-2
Ed033 - 2-1



Editor's Predictions Table
1. Ed033 - 110 points
2= Ed018 - 102 points
2= Ed025 - 102 points
4= Ed002 - 98 points
4= Ed003 - 98 points
6= Ed004 - 97 points
6= Ed007 - 97 points


*1 point is awarded for the correct result, 3 points for the correct score.
**updated 15th December 2017

Written by Tris Burke



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