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Friday 30th December 2016

Hull City v Everton

Hernandez (out)
Keane (out)
Odubajo (out)
Luer (out)
Bruce (out)
McGregor (doubt)
Lenihan (doubt)

Hull will feel themselves unlucky in their previous match, when they matched Man City for most of the game, before a mistake led to a goal and allowed Man City to go on and win the game comfortably. Manager Michael Phelan will take heart from his team's performance, but he will be worried about the lack of chances they created, against a side so weak defensively. It makes things difficult, knowing that a goal conceded almost certainly guarantees defeat. With a small, weak, squad to begin with, decimated by injuries, Phelan has little in the way of options to change things around. All he can do is ensure his players scrap for every ball and hope it is enough to see them through. Rock bottom and without a win in seven, it is going to take a miracle to rescue them now.

Oviedo (doubt)
Stekelenburg (doubt)
McCarthy (out)
Bolasie (out)
Besic (out)
Pennington (doubt)
Kone (doubt)

The Toffees look to have pulled themselves out of the slump they hit after flying out of the traps well. Two wins in three games, against last season's top two in the Prem, have been a real lift to the confidence following a run of poor results. Everton look a more cohesive unit again now, a team working to a plan, and the plan is mostly working now. Their away form has been patchy, with five of their six defeats this season coming on the road, so this is a good chance to improve that record against rock bottom Hull.

Saturday 31st December 2016

Burnley v Sunderland

Marney (doubt)
Hendrick (suspended)

Burnley, though woeful on the road, have an excellent record at home, so they will be confident heading into this game despite the Mackems side showing signs of recovering. In fact, their home record is that of a team in the European places, and their hopes of staying up this season rely completely on their good home record. Six wins in ten games at home is a record to be proud of following promotion last season. This is a chance for them to put some daylight between themselves and relegation.

Pickford (out)
Kirchhoff (out)
Manquillo (doubt)
Pienaar (doubt)
Watmore (out)
Gooch (out)
McNair (out)
Cattermole (out)
Rodwell (doubt)

Things are looking up on Wearside, though the Mackems are still in the bottom three, they are showing signs of actually having the potential to survive. For the first ten matches, there was little in the way of signs of life, but now they have hope, and fight. Four wins in their last eight games is the record of a midtable team, rather than a relegation battler. Midtable mediocrity is where Sunderland aspire to be these days!

Chelsea v Stoke City

Terry (doubt)
Kane (doubt)
Obi Mikel (doubt)
Pedro (suspended)

Top of the table, a record twelve wins in a row and managing to win even Diego Costa and N'Golo Kante, everything is going Chelsea's way so far. The manager, Antonio Conte, has plenty of experience of team's on winning runs, from his time in charge of Juventus. Also, his main skill is his man-management, so he should have no trouble keeping the team on their toes and fired up for each match. With a six point lead in the table, that is the biggest issue they should face over the course of the season, stopping complacency from creeping in.

Muniesa (doubt)
Bardsley (out)
Cameron (out)
Butland (out)
Ireland (out)
Arnautovic (suspended)

Having gone four games without a win, the last thing Stoke needed right now was a visit to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the form they are in. Mark Hughes has been experimenting with various formations this season, which seems to be causing them issues in getting some consistency in their game. Hughes might well decide to abandon his attempts to use a back three, as they have so far struggled with organisation in defence while using it. A match against a rampant Chelsea side is a time to be focused and solid, rather than trying something new.

Leicester City v West Ham United

Vardy (suspended)

The Foxes are in serious danger of relegation. It is no longer about the possibility of them being dragged into a dogfight at the bottom, now they are in the mix. Just one win in the last ten games is horrible form, that of a team going down. It is almost the same team that scrapped their way to the title last season, yet now they are almost meekly surrendering. The togetherness, both on the pitch and in the stands, that bolstered their efforts last season has almost vanished. The crowd are beginning to lose patience with the lack of desire that the players are showing at home, so this game is vitally important. If Claudio Ranieri is unable to turn it around quickly, the team could feel the full force of the crowd's ire. If that happens, then relegation will beckon.

Sakho (out)
Lanzini (doubt)
Zaza (doubt)
Tore (out)
Collins (out)
Oxford (doubt)
Byram (doubt)
Henry (out)
Masuaku (out)

West Ham look to have pulled themselves into safety with three wins in a row, but they know a slip up could easily see them dragged back into the basement of the table. Slaven Bilic will be looking to his players to build on the back of the 4-1 Boxing Day thrashing of Swansea City and ensure they do not mentally relax. With the squad stretched by injuries, this run of games is key for the Hammers. If they can get through this in a good position, it will allow them to push on and cement a place in the top half again this season.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough

Rooney (doubt)
Shaw (out)
Wilson (out)

Things are looking up down Old Trafford way, despite the league position not reflecting the improvement, as the Red Devils remain in 6th place, despite four wins in a row. The football is looking more like what was expected from a Jose Mourinho side, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba starting to look like top class internationals, as they settle into the English Premier League. Just three points separate the red half of Manchester from European qualification for next season.

Fischer (out)
Barragan (suspended)

For the promoted teams, such as Boro, this is the kind of match that anything gained is a bonus, so they can enter this game with no fear. Having already picked up a few unexpected results, they can have a lot of belief in their chances of surprising United in their own backyard. Three defeats in their last four games does suggest this is going to be a really tough ask for them, coming on the back of a punishing defeat at Burnley on Boxing Day, with a more winnable match against Leicester to come in just a couple of days time. The Teesiders will find their squad being stretched to its maximum, with Aitor Karanka having some tough choices to make with regards to team selection.

Southampton v West Bromwich Albion

Clasie (out)
Austin (out)
McCarthy (doubt)
Targett (out)
Pied (out)
Hesketh (doubt)
Gardos (doubt)
Redmond (suspended)

Saints need to recover quickly from their hammering at the hands of Spurs on Wednesday evening. Despite taking an early lead, and matching the visitors for much of the game, they were ripped apart defensively far too often. With their distinct lack of firepower up front, Saints can ill afford to be so open at the back. Claude Puel now needs to find a way to tighten things up ahead of the visit of the Baggies. With Tony Pulis sides always being dangerous from set pieces, Puel will be particularly alarmed with how easily Spurs were able to score from headers.

Berahino (doubt)

Two successive defeats has seen the Baggies drop behind the Saints in the table ahead of their clash at St. Marys on New Year's Eve. Manager Tony Pulis will fancy his chances of getting back to winning ways, after having to face three of the top six sides in their last four matches. Though they lost to all three, the games were tight with little to choose between the sides. With a home match against strugglers Hull to follow on Monday, Pulis should be able to put out a full strength side without worrying about fatigue in the next match.

Swansea City v Bournemouth

Montero (out)
Taylor (doubt)
Sung-Yeung (doubt)

Following the aberration of the short-lived Bob Bradley era, when long ball football was found to be a complete failure, Swansea are looking to move on, following his swift removal from the role of manager. Once again Alan Curtis will be asked to fill in while they find a new manager. His first task is to find some way to restore a bit of defensive solidity as the defence, which was struggling before Ashley Williams was sold to Everton, has been absolutely hopeless since he left. Three bad defeats in a row has left them in serious trouble of relegation, with Huw Jenkins once again having to accept he has got it wrong.

Stanislas (doubt)
Cook (out)

There is a lot to be happy about if you follow Bournemouth these days. They are fairly safely sat in mid-table of the Prem, with a seven point buffer over the bottom three, their home form is excellent, they have a young, highly coveted manager and there is money to spend in the January transfer window. Despite this, they still have reasons for worry, as their away form is poor, they have lost 3 matches in their last four games in the Premier League and a number of the clubs below them are improving. That is why this game is particularly important for the Cherries, as they could do with taking advantage of the turmoil at the Liberty Stadium.

Liverpool v Manchester City

Matip (doubt)
Grujic (doubt)
Coutinho (doubt)
Ings (out)
Branagan (out)

This is a match that is vital to both teams, in their quest to chase down Chelsea neither club can afford to drop points. Liverpool are currently on a run of three wins in a row and are unbeaten at Anfield so far this season. Facing Man City is a chance to finally put to bed all the questions about the defence, as City's attack is amongst the best in the league. Jurgen Klopp will have to think carefully about how he approaches this match, with less than 48 hours to rest and prepare for the game with Sunderland on Monday.

Stones (doubt)
Gundogan (out)
Kompany (out)
Delph (doubt)

Pep Guardiola must be counting down the days until the January window opens, so he can buy some defenders. With the first half season almost over, it is clear that the Citizens only have one defender worth his salt and he is always injured. Without Vincent Kompany in the side, Citeh's defending is shambolic, at the best of times. Guardiola's insistence on passing it around in even the most dangerous areas of the pitch, their own six yard box, is creating unnecessary pressure on a team that clearly lacks confidence in its ability to defend. Man City are so busy creating their own problems, teams do not have to worry about finding ways to get at them, they can just pressure City into giving them chances all on their own. This is something Guardiola has to sort out quickly, as Liverpool's attack is the most potent in the Premier League this season, the last thing City need is to give them any helping hands.

Sunday 1st January 2017

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur

Janmaat (doubt)
Behrami (doubt)
Success (out)
Pereyra (out)
Okaka (doubt)
Mariappa (doubt)
Dja Djedje (out)
Kenedy (doubt)
Watson (doubt)
Britos (suspended)

The Hornets have gone three games without a win, which must be a concern to Walter Mazzari, as they are not entirely safe just yet. Facing a team battling for the top four and coming off the back of a good win is not the kind of match he would have wanted to be facing right now. Just those three matches without a win show how tight the Prem is in the midtable, as two losses saw Watford drop from seventh to twelfth, then a draw in the last match jumped them back up a couple of places to tenth. With a midfield pack that tight, they need to pick up a win soon, before this becomes a run of defeats.

Alderweireld (doubt)
Lamela (out)
Walker (suspended)
Vertonghen (suspended)

Spurs seem to have got the kick up the backside they needed after the poor defeat they suffered at the hands of Man Utd. Suddenly they look like a team on the up, a team capable of getting a top four place, a team with scoring options other than Harry Kane. After months of looking almost completely toothless going forward, but defensively solid, they now look strong defensively and an attacking threat. They have been struggling to pick up wins on the road, but the thrashing of Saints on Wednesday showed signs that they have turned the corner and can start looking at moving up the table, rather than worrying about dropping down the league.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace

Gibbs (doubt)
Walcott (out)
Oxlade-Chamberlain (doubt)
Debuchy (out)
Cazorla (out)
Mertesacker (out)
Welbeck (doubt)
Akpom (doubt)
Sanogo (doubt)
Mustafi (doubt)

Two damaging defeats in a row seem to be out of the system, after their late win against the Baggies on Monday. Now the Gunners have a run of very winnable fixtures, ones that they really need to pick up maximum points from to show that they are genuine title challengers. The response against West Brom suggests that this time around they are at least not the soft touch they have often been, they just need to ensure they build on that result and put themselves in the mix for the title. With bitter rivals Spurs just one point behind them, they can ill afford another slip up.

McArthur (doubt)
Ledley (doubt)
Tomkins (out)
Sako (out)
Wickham (out)
Remy (out)
Mandanda (out)
J Benteke (out)
Souare (out)
Delaney (suspended)

The Sam Allardyce era got under way with a point against Watford, which is a step up from the two previous results, which were both defeats. Taking over a team in chaos, the first thing he has done is install some order and defensive organisation, one of the main things missing under Alan Pardew. Allardyce will make sure that Palace stop giving up easy chances and force opponents to work against them to beat them. That is a huge step forward for a team that was a soft touch previously.

Written by Tris Burke December 30 2016 05:34:21