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Football News: Premier League Preview

Monday 2nd January 2017

Middlesbrough v Leicester City 12:30pm

Fischer (out)
Husband (doubt)

After the disaster of two late goals consigning them to defeat after leading for so long on New Year's Eve, Boro will be able to take heart from the fact that none of the bottom three managed to win and close the gap to them significantly. Four losses in their last five games must be a real concern to Aitor Karanka, as the Teesiders seem incapable of getting themselves clear of relegation danger. It is going to be a long second half to the season for the Boro, unless they find a way to score more goals.

It is beginning to feel like last season was just a dream, that it never really happened as Leicester are where we all expected them to be last season. Their home form is actually decent, and is keeping them afloat, but away from home they have yet to win in the Prem. In fact, they have lost seven of the nine away games they have played so far. That has to change if the Foxes are not to suffer the ignominy of becoming the first reigning Premier League champions to get relegated the following season.

Everton v Southampton 3pm

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

This is not how it was supposed to be this season for Everton, after the joy of a new billionaire owner and new manager, four wins in the first five games gave Evertonians hope of European qualification. Since then the Toffees have struggled, with just three more wins in the fourteen games since and a gap has developed between themselves and the top six. All genuine hopes of qualifying for Europe through the league are gone now, with nine points being too much to bridge. Added to that, Everton are struggling to maintain good performances, with major inconsistency among the players not helped by Ronald Koeman's constantly changing formations. Koeman needs to develop that missing consistency if they are not to slip further down the table in the second half of the season.

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

Is this finally a season too far for Saints' policy of selling their best players? After years of selling them but still moving forward, this season feels like a huge backward step. There is a complete lack of goalscorers in the team, leading to them scoring just 19 goals in their 19 games so far. Until they can add some goals to the team, they are going to continue to struggle. Claude Puel will be hoping his rotation policy will finally pay some dividends, as the Christmas period has been an unmitigated disaster for Southampton so far. At least the players should be motivated to beat their former manager. Again.

Manchester City v Burnley 3pm

Sane (doubt)
Gundogan (out)
Kompany (out)
Delph (doubt)

Pep Guardiola's messianic-like status is taking a serious battering this season, as his Man City team are beginning to look entirely ordinary and unable to perform anywhere near the standards they set early on, as they won six in a row. For a team assembled at such huge cost, along with the (supposedly) greatest manager in the world, to be ten points behind Chelsea at the halfway point is a huge shock. Pep was not brought in to lead the Citizens to a top four finish, but he is in serious danger of missing out on that. At least Burnley should be a straightforward win, as they do not travel well at all.

Burnley need to find an answer to their away day woes as soon as possible, with still no win away from home. When at home, they manage to keep finding ways to win, including a comfortable 4-1 win last time out, but they are a completely different prospect away from home. Their last four away matches have resulted in four defeats with just one goal scored. It is clear to see where their problem lies. Sean Dyche will be hoping Andre Gray's hat-trick at home against Sunderland will set him on a scoring run which goes some way to solving the problem. Though the main issue is a lack of creativity, as they are not creating chances for the forwards to bury.

Sunderland v Liverpool 3pm

Kone (doubt)
Anichebe (out)
Pickford (out)
Denayer (doubt)
Kirchhoff (out)
Watmore (out)
Gooch (out)
McNair (out)
Cattermole (out)
Jones (suspended)

Two away defeats in a row have severely damaged the Mackems hope of getting out of the bottom three, so they will be glad to be back at home in the Stadium of Light for the next two games. Confidence will be rock bottom following a thrashing at the hands of one of the teams they are battling with in the bottom half, so it is not a time to be matched with one of the sides chasing the title. With their squad stretched and worn out from two tough games, they need to hope the crowd get behind them and that Liverpool are even more tired than they are.

Henderson (out)
Matip (out)
Grujic (doubt)
Coutinho (doubt)
Ings (out)
Brannagan (out)

Liverpool are currently looking like the only side that can worry Chelsea this season, with Man Utd have given themselves too much to do, Spurs and Arsenal being too inconsistent and Man City not good enough, according to the media. That makes this game a vital one for Liverpool, with pressure heaped on them to win, as well as Sunderland. With the Reds on a run of four wins in a row, conceding just one goal in those four games, the main issue for them looks to be one of complacency. That has been an issue this season, in games they have been expected to win, Bournemouth's remarkable comeback springs to mind. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping his players have learnt their lesson from that and will be up for it from the moment the match kicks off.

West Bromwich Albion v Hull City 3pm

Berahino (doubt)
Evans (doubt)

The good win over Soton on New Year's Eve will have lifted spirits in the Albion camp, after a defeats to three of the top six knocked them out of their stride a little. They had been steadily climbing the table on a good run of results, before the difficult fixtures of three of the top six in four games intervened. The Baggies are still tight on Everton's heels, in the race to be 'best of the rest', thanks to the victory over one of their rivals to that crown. With a run of games coming up that sees them play most of their rivals for that seventh place, West Brom can put themselves in pole position with a good result against relegation strugglers Hull.

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

The Hull squad was stretched thin before the Christmas period, so this game away at the Baggies is going to really test their fitness. There are likely to be some extremely tired legs out there, as Mike Phelan has little in the way of rotation options available to him. Luckily for Phelan, his players have had an extra day to recover over most, as the Tigers played their last match on the 30th, rather than the 31st. That could be the difference between them, as Hull's draw with Everton was a punishing match and Hull play at a high tempo when they can. It has been eight games since they last won, they really need to get a run going soon, before it is too late for them to save themselves.

West Ham United v Manchester United 5:15pm

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

The Hammers had gone on a run of three wins in a row and were looking like they were finding their feet again, after such a poor start to the season. Leicester put an end to the run, with a hard fought 1-0 win on Saturday, but West Ham now look like they have got themselves out of the relegation battle and into the fight for best of the rest. The new stadium is beginning to feel more like home now their record there is improving, so they will fancy their chances of getting something against Man Utd. They will need to improve their goal tally if they are to have any chances though, which is mainly about keeping Andy Carroll fit (if that is possible) so they can improve on their record of just 9 goals scored in their 9 matches at the London Stadium.

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

With their cross-city rivals floundering and dropping out of the top four, the Red Devils could potentially go above them with a win at West Ham. A run of five wins in a row, and unbeaten in ten, suggests Man Utd are up and running. With thirteen points to make up on the leaders Chelsea, they have possibly (probably even?) left themselves too much to do to win the league, but Jose Mourinho's past record, allied to United's vast spending power, suggests it is only a matter of time before they do. To that end, they really need to be in that top four at the end of the season, so the pressure is on the team. The way they are playing, with almost a return to the Alex Ferguson style of swashbuckling attacking football, they will present no end of problems to a Hammers defence which is struggling badly this season.

Tuesday 3rd January 2017

Bournemouth v Arsenal 7:45pm

Pugh (doubt)
Cook (out)

This season has, so far at least, been a roaring success for the Cherries, as a safe place in midtable is about all they could hope for before the season kicked off and that is where they currently sit. Eddie Howe will have to find ways to motivate his players, as there is almost no chance of getting near the European places above them either. With Arsenal fighting hard to stay in the title race, this is probably not the best time to face them, except for one vital thing: Bournemouth had an extra days rest. Normally that would make little real difference, but this is the third game in a short time period, every day's rest is crucial to the players. Especially a team like Bournemouth, who do not have the large squad to rotate and one like Arsenal's, which is always dictated by injuries.

Ozil (doubt)
Gibbs (out)
Walcott (out)
Debuchy (out)
Cazorla (out)
Mertesacker (out)
Welbeck (doubt)
Akpom (doubt)
Sanogo (doubt)

Arsenal had put themselves back firmly into title contention, after two wins in a row, when it looked like there was a possibility that their usual implosion which drops them out of the title race had come early. Instead the Gunners have picked themselves up and moved back up to third, keeping Chelsea within sight. Does that mean Arsene Wenger has finally solved the soft underbelly problem? They certainly showed more fight in the last two games, so maybe so. Only time will tell, but the signs are good.

Crystal Palace v Swansea City 8pm

Fryers (out)
McArthur (doubt)
Ledley (doubt)
Wickham (out)
Remy (doubt)
Mandanda (out)
J Benteke (out)
Souare (out)
Sako (doubt)

Just one win in thirteen matches has seen Palace slide down the table to rest just outside the relegation places. The change of manager has so far had little effect, but that should change over the next few weeks to see the Eagles become more difficult to beat than they currently are. With a mere two point lead over Sam Allardyce's previous club Sunderland, Allardyce will need to work fast to save his present club. At least having Swansea visit gives the London club a chance to put a bit of distance between them and the rock bottom South Wales club. The important thing for Palace is to ensure they do not lose.

Routledge (doubt)
Llorente (doubt)
Montero (out)

Four points away from safety, four defeats in a row and propping up the league table with their fourth manager (if you count Alan Curtis as caretaker) of the season set to be appointed. Things could not get much worse for the Swans. All season they have had the look of a team going down, the change to bring in Bob Bradley just made things worse, as he struggled to adapt to the players available to him at Swansea. This match is a highly unusual one this season, it is a chance for Swansea to do the league double over their opponent, having beaten them 5-4 in a crazy game on their own patch. A win puts them in touching distance of Palace, anything else leaves them running out of time to revive their fortunes.

Stoke City v Watford 8pm

Walters (doubt)
Muniesa (doubt)
Cameron (out)
Butland (out)
Ireland (out)

Stoke are having a rollercoaster ride of a season, slow to start, then off and running, only to hit a slight stop start section before sliding down again. Five games have now gone by since they last won, despite putting in some good performances in most of them. However, no matter how well they are playing, bottom half of the league is not good enough for Mark Hughes, who is there to bring European football to the Potteries. A severe lack of goals is costing them, with Wilfried Bony still looking a shadow of the player he was at Swansea. The last time these two squared off, the Hornets were five places above them and the Potters still managed to beat them, on their own turf. Watford are now just one place above them, though Stoke are a place lower than they were last time around. This is a big chance for Hughes to get them back on track and moving once more the right way.

Zuniga (doubt)
Amrabat (doubt)
Janmaat (out)
Behrami (out)
Success (out)
Pereyra (out)
Okaka (doubt)
Mariappa (doubt)
Dja Djedje (out)
Kenedy (doubt)
Watson (doubt)

Walter Mazzari took on the job knowing it would probably be short-lived, despite his talk of a long term project, as Watford chop and change their manager regularly. It is probably no wonder that performances have been so inconsistent and the defence has struggled so badly. There is no stability at the club and things are not being helped by Mazzari's lack of English requiring him to speak through a translator. They are on a poor run of form, four games without a win and just one win in the last seven games, that could easily see them slide into the relegation zone if they are not careful. They probably have enough points already on the board to see them through, but they are not quite safe yet.

Wednesday 4th January 2017

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea 8pm

Lamela (out)

Spurs have a chance to gain revenge on one of the two teams that managed to inflict defeat upon them in the first half of the season. Like Chelsea they are on a good run of form, with two 4-1 wins in a row in their last two matches, the tail end of 4 wins in a row. They are suddenly looking the real deal, after struggling to get going early in the season, with the whole team looking jaded and young stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli looking out of sorts and struggling to score. Now both players are scoring, the team look together and the wins are stacking up, but they are still ten points behind a bitter rival, in Chelsea. If the north Londoners are to have any hope of winning the league this season, they really can not afford to lose.

Alonso (doubt)
Terry (doubt)
Musonda (doubt)
Kane (doubt)
Mikel (doubt)

What is there to say about Chelsea? They have set a new Premier League record of 13 (yes thirteen) wins on the bounce as they climbed up from eighth in the league to lead by six points at the halfway point. Away from home they have only scored half as many as they have managed at home, but they have only conceded half as many as they have scored. Yes, I really am reaching for things to say about Chelsea now! They just keep finding ways to win, even when they are playing poorly or missing two key players. Antonio Conte's man-management skills have come to the fore, as he has managed to get the most out of pretty much every player in the squad, which has sustained the run of wins. How long can they maintain it?

Written by Tris Burke January 02 2017 06:06:09