Football News: Weekend Premier League Preview

 

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Saturday 4th March 2017

Manchester United v Bournemouth Premier League 12:30pm

Mkhitaryan (doubt - hamstring injury)
Jones (doubt - hamstring injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Williams (doubt - knee injury)
Carrick (doubt - calf injury)
Pereira (out - knee injury)

Man Utd come into this match on the back of lifting the EFL Cup last weekend against another South Coast side. The red half of Manchester is in excellent form, finding ways to win even when not at their best, like in the cup final. With the Europa League and FA Cup still to play for, as well as the Premier League, their main issue now is keeping focus on each game as it comes. With a 16 league game unbeaten run behind them, so far that has clearly not been a problem, as you would expect with Jose Mourinho in charge. Jose's preparation is legendary in the football world, and he will need all of that to keep his players on their toes and concentrated on the Prem.
Most important player: Ander Herrera. The Spanish international has grown into his role as the destructive force at the centre of the Red Devils' midfield. While lacking the boundless energy of someone such as N'Golo Kante, he still gets round the pitch breaking up play, but he also possesses genuine quality on the ball to start the play off.

Ibe (doubt - knee injury)
Francis (very doubtful - hamstring injury)
Wilson (out - ACL knee injury)
Federici (out - cartilage knee injury)

Things are starting to look really bad for the Cherries, seven games without a win, four losses on the bounce, have left them in serious relegation danger. Unfortunately for them, their away form is terrible, with nine losses in the thirteen away games they have played so far. With a porous defence, allied to a misfiring attack, there is little to point to which would give Bournemouth much hope of picking up their form. They do seem to be a bit, similar to Arsenal, too nice to really fight and scrap for every point.
Most important player: Artur Boruc. The Polish goalie has always been prone to dropping clangers from time to time, but, of late, those clangers have become almost common place. If Bournemouth are to have any chance of surviving, they need the 'Holy Goalie' to play at his best.

Defining Battle: the area just in behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic is key to Utd's play. If the Mancunians get good possession in there with their creative players, they can slip the ball through to the big Swede and have faith that he is likely to put it in the back of the net. Bournemouth need to cut off his supply line and harry the attacking trio that United play off Zlatan. If they are given time and space, they will slice the Cherries to ribbons.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 3-0
Ed007 - 2-0

Leicester City v Hull City Premier League 3pm

Wague (doubt - dislocated shoulder)
Schmeichel (doubt - ankle injury)

Now the Leicester players have shown to all the world that they are capable of so much more than they delivered all season, and that they clearly backstabbed Claudio Ranieri, will they return to the half arsed players that have coasted through the season so far, with their heads clearly jammed up the other half of their rectum? Or has the criticism stung them so badly that they are going to pull their heads out and actually make an effort for the rest of the season, in order to avoid relegation? This game will go a long way towards telling us whether the players have really bucked up their ideas or not.
Most important player: Wes Morgan. It is time the captain started behaving like a captain. He failed the previous manager badly, now he needs to step up and ensure the rest of the team do too.

Mbokani (doubt - hamstring injury)
Markovic (doubt - knock)
Goebel (doubt - calf strain)
Dawson (doubt - calf strain)
Davies (doubt - hamstring injury)
Mason (doubt - fractured skull)
Henriksen (out - shoulder separation)
Keane (out - ACL knee injury)
Odubajo (out - patella fracture)
Luer (out - knee injury)
Lenihan (doubt - knee surgery)
Maguire (doubt - knee injury)

The Tigers resurgence under new boss Marco Silva seems to have come to a bit of a standstill, with a defeat and a draw in their last two matches seeing Hull drop back to 19th position, however they are just one point behind 17th and safety. A win would see them move onto the same points total as their opponents today. That would be a huge boost to the club, which came into the season looking like they had no chance at all of survival, after a summer meltdown which led to a depleted squad, owners at war with fans and the manager walking out. Now they look like a team with a genuine chance of survival, but they still have issues off the pitch between fans and owners, which need to be sorted if the club is to have any hope of progression.
Most important player: Harry Maguire. The centre back is not the quickest, so he will need to be on his game to cope with the pace of Jamie Vardy and ensure he does not go on a goalscoring run, following his double against Liverpool last weekend.

Defining Battle: that will be between the Hull backline and the Foxes' forwards. Can Hull cope with the resurgent Vardy? Will Shinji Okazaki's incredible workrate wear them out? Or will Leicester be back to the performances they have been putting in all season, after feeling they proved a point last weekend?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-0
Ed007 - 2-1

Stoke City v Middlesbrough Premier League 3pm

Johnson (doubt - achilles injury)
Shaqiri (doubt - calf strain)
Walters (doubt - knee surgery)
Butland (out - broken ankle)
Ireland (out - broken leg)

Stoke's rollercoaster ride of a season has continued, with the last six games resulting in two wins, two draws and two defeats. Despite their inconsistency, they are sitting in the top half, just, of the Premier League. This could be the perfect game for them to bounce back from a devastating thrashing at the hands of Spurs last weekend. They do need to find an answer to their goalscoring issues though, with just 30 goals scored in the season so far. This despite Mark Hughes moving to a more open, attacking style of football with an increased number of flair players over the previous regime. Those changes are not bringing the desired results so far, with the struggle to score goals costing them badly this season.
Most important player: Marko Arnautovic. With Boro being extremely solid defensively, the Potters will need their Austrian winger to provide the quality to unlock the massed ranks of Boro defenders.

Chambers (doubt - foot injury)
Barragan (doubt - hamstring injury)
Friend (doubt - calf muscle strain)
Husband (doubt - shoulder injury)

Aitor Karanka's negative approach is looking likely to become his undoing, as Boro have slid down the table to sit just out of the relegation places on goal difference. It has been ten games since the Teesiders tasted victory in the Premier League, and they have not really looked like a team capable of turning things around in that time. While the defence has been solid, conceding just over a goal a game on average, the attack has been toothless, with just 19 goals scored in the Prem so far. With the teams around them all improving, the run in is going to be a long hard slog for Middlesbrough.
Most important player: Alvaro Negredo. There is a lot of pressure heaped on the Spaniard's shoulders right now, as he is almost their sole hope of scoring a goal. He will need to make the most of the chances that fall to him if they are to have any hopes of a victory.

Defining Battle: I expect the main battle to be between Stoke's forward, probably Peter Crouch, and the Boro centre backs. This will be a difficult game for the Stoke forward line, they will need to show real quality on the ball to break through a packed defence.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-0
Ed007 - 2-2

Swansea City v Burnley Premier League 3pm

Dyer (out - achilles tendon injury)
Sung-yeung (doubt - knee injury)
Montero (doubt - hamstring injury)

The Swans have become an all or nothing sort of team in the last few games, winning 4 and losing 3 of the last seven matches. That run has pulled them out of the drop zone, just about, with a home match against Burnley, who have yet to win away, next up. Things are looking up at the Liberty Stadium under new manager Paul Clement, at least for now. The style of football they were known for has returned and brought with it a point haul that, if they were to continue to get it over the rest of the games, would see them easily into safety.
Most important player: Martin Olsson. The way the Swans play requires width and that comes from the fullback on the left, as Gylfi Sigurdsson usually occupies the left sided midfield berth with Jefferson Montero out injured. Sigurdsson's tendency to drift infield leaves a lot of space for Olsson to exploit. The Swans need him to make the most of that space.

Gudmundsson (doubt - MCL knee ligament injury)
Defour (doubt - hamstring injury)
Marney (out - ACL knee injury)
Long (doubt - knee surgery)
Pope (doubt - ankle injury)
Barnes (out - suspension)

The Clarets desperately need to improve their away form, after 12 away games they have scored just 6 goals and have yet to register a single win on the road. Their away record of ten defeats and just two draws is that of a team propping up the table, yet they are currently sat in a fairly safe midtable position due to their stellar home form. Sean Dyche must be scratching his head and wondering how his team can perform so much better at home and yet be so terrible away from home. With it being such a close battle in midtable, a single point could make a huge difference to his budget for next season.
Most important player: Robbie Brady. The Irishman has a great delivery with his left peg, plus the ability to snatch a goal from a free kick in and around the box. Unfortunately, he also is poor defensively and can cost his side goals at the other end with his weak defending. If Dyche can help improve his defensive play, so he does not cost his team a soft goal like last weekend, then his set pieces could be the difference in turning draws into wins, rather than defeats into draws.

Defining Battle: while the obvious, and possibly more entertaining battle, will be in central midfield, where the moronic antics of Joey Barton will no doubt be in evidence, for me the deciding factor in this match will be how well the Burnley centre halves deal with Swansea's attack. They need to nullify the threat of Fernando Llorente if Burnley are to avoid travelling home to the North-West of England with yet another defeat.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed007 - 2-1

Watford v Southampton Premier League 3pm

Kabasele (doubt - hip injury)
Zarate (out - ACL knee injury)
Janmaat (doubt - groin strain)
Watson (doubt - groin strain)
Pantilimon (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Amrabat (doubt - ankle injury)
Pereyra (doubt - knee meniscus injury)

Like most teams in the midtable region this season, Watford are woefully inconsistent, struggling to a draw against a hopelessly out of form Bournemouth, then following it up with a win at Arsenal the following week. The battle for midtable teams is so tight, that a team can easily move up or down three or four places with one good or bad result. With Saints just one point below them, and having a game in hand due to their EFL Cup exploits, Watford can ill afford to lose this match. A good win could see them finish the weekend in the top half of the Prem, something that would make a lot of difference to the team morale heading into the final few games.
Most important player: Troy Deeney. Top scorer and club captain Deeney has yet to break into double figures for the season. While his contribution to the team performances is instrumental, he really does need to add more goals if Watford are to progress this season.

van Dijk (out - ankle injury)
Austin (out - shoulder injury)
McCarthy (doubt - hamstring injury)
Targett (out - hamstring injury)
Pied (out - ACL knee injury)

The defeat in the EFL Cup final came on the back of Saints' biggest league win of the season, a 4-0 triumph over Sunderland, so it is unlikely to have dented confidence and morale as much as could have been possible otherwise. A defeat like they suffered, in a match when they were clearly the better side, but just failed to score enough and suffered from their lack of a top class keeper, can sometimes see a team slide down the table, as their morale can crumble and their drive vanish with safety all but ensured in the league. That is still a possibility for Soton, but the imminent return to fitness of new signing, experienced Uruguayan international centre back Martin Caceres, could be the boost the team needs to keep up their level of performance.
Most important player: Martin Caceres. While he may not be quite ready, and even if he is fit enough, he may only be on the bench, his mere presence is enough to ensure the current pairing raise their game in order to keep their place while Virgil van Dijk is out injured.

Defining Battle: the flanks is the key in this game. Both teams are very reliant on their fullbacks to provide attacking width, the one whose fullbacks are most successful in this match is likely to win. Which pair of fullbacks will be brave enough to maraud forward when faced with an attacking frontline that wanders all over the pitch trying to unsettle defences.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed007 - 2-3

West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace Premier League 3pm

Dawson (doubt - concussion)
Phillips (late fitness test - hamstring injury)

Having already reached the 'magic' 40 points total, the Baggies have total freedom to go out and play for the rest of the season, with no pressure on their shoulders. They enter this game in good form, with a five match unbeaten run to build on here. One thing that can be sure is that Tony Pulis will not let his team slacken up and will want them to keep the pressure on Everton above them. With an excellent home record, eight wins so far in thirteen home games, Albion will certainly have plenty of confidence facing anyone at The Hawthorns.
Most important player: Jonny Evans. The centre back has seemingly recovered from his injury problems since joining West Brom from Man Utd. He has also shown that he has some genuine quality when he can stay fit. They will need him if they are to close down Everton for seventh place.

Flamini (doubt - muscle injury)
Remy (doubt - muscle injury)
Sako (doubt - hamstring injury)
Wickham (out - ACL knee injury)
Mandanda (doubt - knee surgery)
J Benteke (doubt - knee injury)
Souare (out - broken leg)

Is this finally the revival Palace were expecting when they appointed Sam Allardyce? It may be only two wins in four matches, but it may be the start of something, as they have begun to show signs of fighting for their lives in the Premier League. Only goal difference is keeping them inside the relegation places right now, despite the terrible run of form they suffered prior to Alan Pardew's sacking. Now they have a glimmer of light with plenty of time left in the season to save themselves. It looks like Allardyce's proud boast of never being relegated could be safe for another year.
Most important player: Luka Milivojevic. The Serbian midfielder only joined Palace in January from Olympiakos. His position protecting the defence is vital to the way Allardyce sets out his team to play.

Defining Battle: with the battering ram of Christian Benteke up against the most physical defence in the Premier League, he will need to be at his best to get anything out of them. If Benteke gets the ball down and uses his quality, then Palace will have a significant edge.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed007 - 2-0

Liverpool v Arsenal Premier League 5:30pm

Sturridge (doubt - hip injury)
Henderson (doubt - bruised foot)
Lovren (doubt - knee injury)
Ejaria (doubt - ankle injury)
Grujic (doubt - hamstring injury)
Ings (out - knee injury)

Liverpool's recent form has been little short of disastrous of late, but they always manage to raise their game when they face one of the other big boys in the league. The visit of Arsenal is no doubt another of those times when the players that coast against the lesser sides suddenly find they can play at 100% when the big teams come around. With a demoralising defeat against Leicester City last weekend to address, the players should be fired up even more than they usually are against the other top 6 sides.
Most important player: Adam Lallana. One of the main culprits for going missing when it matters and turning up when the big clubs are there. Liverpool need him at his best, pulling the strings and controlling matches.

Elneny (doubt - ankle injury)
Cazorla (out - plantaris injury)
Sanogo (doubt - calf injury)
Debuchy (doubt - hamstring strain)
Perez (doubt - hamstring strain)
Ozil (doubt - back injury, cold)

Once again the Gunners are in familiar territory, sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, a position that almost feels like it belongs to them in recent years. This time around is different, somehow, as this time there is a real top 6 battle, rather than just top 4, with fourth being the bottom of the pile. Despite this, finishing fourth would still not be good enough for this team, especially not when they are so far behind the league leaders. The club have players that should be challenging for the title, not for the Champions League places.
Most important player: Alexis Sanchez. The Gooners are almost becoming a one man team, with Sanchez at the centre of everything they do. The Chilean is top scorer and top assist maker, as well as the hardest working player in the team. He has been in stunning form this season.

Defining Battle: the central midfield will decide this game. With Jordan Henderson almost certainly missing out, Liverpool will be light in the centre of their midfield and looking to others to step up in his absence. Arsenal are known for being light in midfield, so it will be interesting to see if either side can outfight the other.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-2 Liverpool concede equaliser whilst players are admiring Firmino's new top knot.
Ed007 - 1-3

Sunday 5th March 2017

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton Premier League 1:30pm

Alderweireld (doubt - groin injury)
Vertonghen (doubt - ankle injury)
Kane (doubt - knock)
Rose (doubt - MCL knee ligament injury)
Lamela (doubt - hip injury)
Trippier (doubt - ankle injury)

Spurs' home form has been excellent, with eleven wins from the thirteen games played and still unbeaten at White Hart Lane this season. Last time out they gave Stoke a 4-0 thrashing. That sees them return to second, though Man City and Arsenal can potentially go above them if they win their game in hand. With that in mind, the pressure is on the North Londoners and they need the result. The question is whether they can get that result, as they have shown a tendency to stutter when the pressure mounts. Not just last season, when they imploded against Chelsea, but last month as well, when they flopped against Liverpool and in the Europa League, all three times their discipline looked suspect. They need to seriously look at those discipline issues if they are to challenge for the league title.
Most important player: Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder's ten assists have been a key part of Spurs play this season. He could do with adding more goals to his game though, starting with this match against Everton, if he is to really cement his place as one of the better attacking mids in the Prem.

Calvert-Lewin (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Bolasie (out - ACL knee injury)
Besic (doubt - ACL knee injury)
Lennon (doubt - illness)

The Toffees have cemented their place as the best of the rest this season, sitting four points clear of eighth place West Brom heading into the weekend. It has now been nine league games since they tasted defeat in the Premier League, though they have had more draws away from home than Ronald Koeman would like. Despite this, it has been a long time since they were defeated away from Goodison Park in the league. All five away defeats coming before Christmas, the last of them against Watford on 10th December. They will not make it easy for Spurs to push on in their pursuit of Chelsea.
Most important player: Idrissa Gueye. With Spurs having a strong central midfield, boasting Moussa Dembele (yes I know a few teams also boast one of those) and Victor Wanyama, offering bite and power, they will need the combative presence of Gueye more than ever. With the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin giving him more freedom than before, maybe he can even add to his first goal that he picked up last weekend.

Defining Battle: with both sides lacking genuine wingers at the moment, this game could swing on the wing backs of both sides. Spurs are likely to play a back three again, which will allow their wing backs more freedom to charge forward, but the Everton pair of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are also looking for every opportunity to get forward. Which pair can push the others back is likely to give their team the edge.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 3-1
Ed007 - 1-1

Sunderland v Manchester City Premier League 4pm

Jones (doubt - head injury)
Mannone (doubt - illness)
Pienaar (doubt - calf strain)
Rodwell (doubt - hamstring injury)
Anichebe (out - MCL knee ligament injury)
Kirchhoff (doubt - knee cartilage injury)
Watmore (out - ACL knee injury)
McNair (out - ACL knee injury)
Cattermole (out - hip injury)
Denayer (doubt - illness)

It is beginning to look really desperate for the Mackems, with two damaging defeats in a row leaving them marooned at the foot of the table, three points behind local rivals Boro, who occupy the final safe place. There is little that can be pointed to in order to give the Black Cats any kind of hope for a good end to the season. There has not even been much sign of fight from the players, even Jermaine Defoe's goals have dried up lately. There is an air of resignation around the place, as it seems the whole club has accepted relegation as inevitable this season.
Most important player: Jermaine Defoe. Without his goals they would be dead and buried already, the last thing they can afford is him to go through a drought.

Following a great win, in a breathtaking Champions League match, Citeh are now looking to make it four wins in a row in the Premier League. Currently eleven points behind league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, City can ill afford any more slip ups now. With the Mancunian derby postponed due to United's participation in the EFL Cup final, they have that to look forward to in the future. For now though, Pep Guardiola's players have to concentrate on beating the bottom team and racking up points. A good win at Sunderland will set them up nicely for the midweek visit of Stoke. Wins puts pressure on Chelsea, ahead of the two clashing next month.
Most important player: Sergio Aguero. The little Argentine has hit form after the unfortunate injury to Gabriel Jesus saw him returning to the City side. He has changed his game, to add pressing the defence and running the channels. Just so long as he continues to score goals, as well as work for the team, City will still have hopes of lifting the league trophy at the end of the season.

Defining Battle: the only real battle I can see in this match, which should be by far and away the most one-sided game of the weekend, is between Defoe and the keeper, Willy Caballero. Defoe's tendency to take potshots from anywhere he receives the ball against a keeper with a tendency to fail to make even the simplest of saves could be very interesting. That is if Sunderland can manage to get the ball to Defoe in dangerous areas of the pitch. With City's defence being as hopeless as the entire Mackems team, there is always a possibility of a poor pass or long ball opening up the goal.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 0-2
Ed007 - 0-3

Monday 6th March 2017

West Ham United v Chelsea Premier League 8pm

Carroll (doubt - groin injury)
Ogbonna (out - knee surgery)
Sakho (doubt - back injury, hamstring strain)
Tore (out - knee injury)
Arbeloa (doubt - calf injury)
Henry (out - ACL knee ligament injury)
Antonio (out - suspended)

The last two matches saw the Hammers disappointed to come away with draws, but this game would see Slaven Bilic delighted to achieve the same result as runaway league leaders Chelsea visit the London Stadium. West Ham's real battle this season is to maintain a top half place, with 8th placed Baggies currently nine points clear of them. With top scorer Michail Antonio suspended, the pressure will be on to find someone else to fill in up top, unless Andy Carroll can prove his fitness in time. One thing that does leave me wondering, is what is so wrong with Sam Byram, the right back Bilic brought in from Leeds United? Since this season started, the Hammers boss has done everything possible to avoid playing Byram, no matter who he has to play out of position at right back to avoid it! Is he really so bad?
Most important player: Darren Randolph. This is a game when you need your keeper to have the game of his life! If he can produce one of those special performances that keepers sometimes do, then West Ham will have a chance.

Hazard (doubt - knock)

Chelsea's form has dropped off lately, but there is little in the way of improvement you can hope for when you are comparing your form to a thirteen game winning streak! Since that streak was ended with a 2-0 defeat away to Spurs, Chelsea have been held to a draw twice and won four in the six games since the loss. While it is not the form they were showing, it is hardly that of relegation battlers and it is likely to be enough to see them to the title at the end of the season. Unless a capitulation of massive proportions was to take place over the final third of the season, this title is theirs. One thing that is particularly unlikely under Antonio Conte is a late collapse, as he is driven by the memory of that happening to him as a player at Juventus.
Most important player: David Luiz. With the pressure on at the top, though the gap is large, the Pensioners need Luiz to be at his best. A mistake or two right now could cause a few of his team mates to lose their focus, just when they need to keep it.

Defining Battle: Chelsea's left hand side can win this game almost on their own, with Slaven Bilic's insistence on playing a makeshift right back each week. How well that player (likely to be Cheikhou Kouate) deals with the threat of Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso will decide this match. Whoever it is will need the help of the right winger to have any hope. If the Hammers right winger can keep Alonso pegged back, then if gives West Ham every chance, but allow him to get forward and his excellent delivery will make them struggle.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-3 Andy Carroll should have been punished for a push leading up to the West Ham goal.
Ed007 - 0-2

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