Football News: Midweek Premier League Preview
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Bournemouth v Leicester City
The Cherries season is showing no signs of settling into a rhythm, surprise loss following surprise win. Good results not made the most of as they are followed by poor ones. Eddie Howe will be furious that last week's good result was not followed against Burnley. There will be major concerns over the away form, which is that of a relegation team. At least the home form is good, which gives them a chance of staying clear of the drop. They need to ensure that continues against a resurgent Leicester side.
Will the real Leicester City please stand up! Is it the team that won the Premier League last season, sweeping all before them, that waltzed through their group in the Champions League and hammered Manchester City on Saturday? Or are the real Foxes the team that has been stumbling and stuttering their way through one of the worst title defences in Premier League history? They really need to use the win over Man City to kick their season into gear before they properly slip into the relegation fight.
Everton v Arsenal
Ronald Koeman must be getting seriously worried by the form of his team, as they are sliding down the table alarmingly. After the first five games of the season they were second and Evertonians were talking about a Champions League qualification. The optimism of the new manager and investor, with the probability of a new stadium, as well as money to spend on transfers, was sweeping all along like a tidal wave. Since then everyone has been brought back to earth with a bump, as just one win in ten has seen the Toffees drop away alarmingly. With a complete lack of creativity, Everton look to be hanging on for the January transfer window, when they hope to fix that.
Arsenal are looking more and more like genuine title challengers, just like happens every year prior to Christmas. The big question is whether they can sustain the challenge after the New Year, when the pressure begins to be heaped upon their shoulders. Saturday's victory over Stoke, when they came back from a goal down to win, showed a different, more battling side to the Gunners. With little expectation on the side before the season, due to the arrival of Guardiola at Man City and Mourinho at Man Utd, will the players be able to cope when the expectation begins to rise?
Middlesbrough v Liverpool
Boro are getting uncomfortably close to the drop zone, following their defeat against Southampton. They are struggling to create chances and are very reliant on Alvaro Negredo to get the goals they need to survive. With Liverpool struggling defensively, this is a chance for them to gain the points they desperately need before the busy Christmas period puts their squad to the test.
Jurgen Klopp desperately needs to figure out why his team have suddenly fallen apart defensively, after a run of just 5 goals conceded in 7 matches, Liverpool have now conceded 6 goals in 2 matches. While the media witch hunt has got its pitch forks and torches out for German keeper Loris Karius, he was also in goal for the good run. In fact, it was his return that seemed to make the difference, initially. Maybe it was just the lift of not having Simon Mignolet behind them? Whatever it was, Klopp needs to find answers soon, before his team drops completely out of the title race and the top four.
Sunderland v Chelsea
Obi Mikel (doubt)
Just when Sunderland looked to be on the up, they lost to fellow strugglers Swansea. A very cutting loss, one which will really test David Moyes' ability to recover from. Worse for the Mackems is that their next opponents are Chelsea. The one thing that Moyes can get from that is that the pressure is all off and anything, other than a heavy defeat, will be looked on as a decent result. It might well be just a case a keeping it tight and getting this over with.
Right now Chelsea only have two real issues to worry about, complacency and injuries. They desperately need to keep Diego Costa fit, focused and scoring goals and they have to ensure they go into this game fired up. While the Mackems are propping up the table, they showed recent signs of revival and the fight needed to capitalise on any slips.
West Ham United v Burnley
Following a good point at Anfield, where the players showed more of the battling spirit that has been completely absent all season, Slaven Bilic will be extremely hopeful that a corner has been turned now. With the owners publicly backing him, he can concentrate on getting the players fired up and chasing every ball. Bilic has to find the answer to their terrible form at home quickly or the draw will not be enough.
Burnley are coming into this game off the back of yet another good home win to head into two away games in a row, still searching for an away win. This is a good chance for Burnley to finally pick up their first away win, with the Hammers struggling badly at home. A win there will give Burnley a bit of breathing space from the drop zone, before the tough Christmas period arrives to test their squad depth.
Crystal Palace v Manchester United
J. Benteke (out)
Palace's poor run has been broken now, but they need to ensure they keep their intensity up, so they do not end up in another similar run. They showed against Hull that they are still not playing well, despite managing to rescue a 3-3 draw. Alan Pardew needs to sort that quickly, before his cult (yes that is an L in there) status at Palace is lost and the calls for his head become stronger. Another poor run could lead to him being as popular among the Eagles' fanbase as he is amongst the Newcastle United fans...
After a good win against Spurs, Man Utd are now just three points behind them and within sight of Man City, who hold the final Champions League spot currently. With Spurs, Man City and Liverpool all in the midst of a bad run, that is a real fillip to United's hopes of returning to Europe's premier competition. Jose Mourinho will be targeting the run of games over Christmas as very winnable, ones that they really need to be winning if they are to get into the top four.
Manchester City v Watford
Dja Djedja (out)
It seems strange to read talk of a crisis after just two defeats in a row, but that is exactly what the media are suggesting is currently in progress at Man City. Pep Guardiola's reputation is such that he was expected to sweep all before him all season long. Now it is finally being understood that he is just a man, a man who does not train his players in the art of defending, admitting that tackling is not trained. Having seen the hapless defensive displays from the Citizens this season, I doubt anyone would not have realised that already!
Watford have broken a run of defeats with a good victory over Everton, with the 3-2 result flattering the Toffees. What will worry Hornets boss Walter Mazzarri is how disorganised his team seemed at the back. Everton found it very easy to cut them open with simple diagonal balls over the top of the defence, which struggled to hold a line. Added to their difficulty of making the most of their own opportunities, with the wrong choices being made in the final third, it is no wonder they struggle to get consistent results this season.
Stoke City v Southampton
A disappointing, but not unexpected, defeat at the hands of Arsenal, leaves Stoke marooned in mid-table. With Xherdan Shaqiri talking about how he wants to play in the Champions League again, and how he might have to leave to do so, the Potters need to get back to winning ways quickly, if they are to get near a European place which they need to convince their better players to stay for the long term. A match up with a team with similar ambitions, in Saints, gives Mark Hughes a good chance to return Stoke to their upward trajectory of recent weeks.
Saints need to build on their win against Boro on Sunday, as they are currently not looking like a side that will build on their recent finishes. However this season is different from how things were under Ronald Koeman. This time the club has returned to its original philosophy. They have not gone out and bought older players to replace the younger ones sold at a profit. Instead they have looked to develop those from the academy, which has had a couple of years of neglect, so those players are a little behind on the developmental curve. This year is about rebuilding those foundations and the youngsters getting the experience ready to push up a bit further next season.
Tottenham Hotspur v Hull City
Spurs are suddenly looking vulnerable, mainly due to not making the most of their chances against the better sides. Odd to say that about a team that won 2 games in their last four, one by scoring three times and the other by scoring five! However the scoring issues are beginning to spread, as the players are losing their intensity, getting the jitters even, and the defence is also not looking as rock solid as it was. Those two wins are their only wins in eight matches, which is not good enough for a team that has aspirations of winning the title. The next four games have become vital.
Despite a good performance against Palace, Hull only managed a draw, which is not really good enough for a team in the midst of a relegation battle. So the last thing Mike Phelan would have wanted for the following match is to play Spurs, a team battling for the title. He will need his team to defend better than they did against Palace. They will also find it a lot more difficult to break down the Tottenham defence than they did Palace's. Their only hope may be to defend for dear life and hope to snatch a goal on the break.
West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City
Tony Pulis will be looking to ensure his team bounces back immediately after the defeat against Chelsea. While there is no shame losing to the team at the top of the league, the manner of the defeat can be damaging. To defend, and play, so well, then for a defensive error to cost you a goal, it can cause players' heads to drop. With Swans suddenly looking like a team, this is not the best time to face them, so the Baggies will need to be at their best and have taken heart from keeping Chelsea mostly at bay at the weekend.
There is no better result than beating a relegation rival, which is exactly what the Swans did at the weekend, with a big win over fellow strugglers Sunderland. Bob Bradley will be looking to use that result to build on, with winnable games coming thick and fast for Swansea. This could be a chance for Bradley to lead his team clear of the drop zone, and up to safety in the top half. First priority is to ensure he keeps the confidence high with a good result against a Baggies team that pulled themselves out of a similar position earlier in the season.
Written by Tris Burke
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