Football News: Weekend Premier League Preview

 

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Saturday 15th April 2017

Tottenham Hotspur v Bournemouth Premier League 12:30pm

Vorm (late fitness test - knee injury)
Winks (out - ankle injury)
Rose (out - MCL injury)
Lamela (out - hip injury)

Spurs have continued to apply pressure on Chelsea above them, with six straight wins there really is not much more they can do to close the gap at the top. With the return of Harry Kane, Spurs will have much more belief than they did at the end of last season, with an implosion much less likely. As well as the experience gained last season, they also have the performances without Kane to lift their confidence, and now they have their top scorer back as well. However, with a seven point gaps to the leaders, and just seven games left to play for them both, all the pressure is pretty much off their shoulders, as they are completely reliant on other teams doing them a favour.
Most important player: Hugo Lloris. The young Tottenham squad will need his experience and leadership if they do hit a tough spell. He is in a position now to be the difference between the challenge fading out and them pushing the leaders as far as possible.

Stanislas (doubt - groin strain)
Surman (out - knee injury)
Gosling (late fitness test - knee injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Federici (out - knee injury)

Despite losing last time out, the Cherries are seven points clear of the drop zone and beginning to look safe from relegation. Their form is decent, with just one defeat in the last six, following their previous six ending in five defeats. Eddie Howe's men can finally feel confident of survival, especially as they have two of the bottom three left to play this season. Those will be the games targeted to get points, while this weekend's match with Spurs is a bonus, of sorts. Any point/s gained will be unexpected. That gives them a freedom in their play that their opponent will not have, the kind of freedom that saw Palace shock leaders Chelsea, perhaps? Probably not, but you can never say never in the Premier League!
Most important player: Jordon Ibe. Bournemouth need their big money summer signing to finally step up and show why they paid big money for the young winger. None of their other wingers have shown an ability to impact games for ninety minutes, most, other than Mark Pugh who is more of a workhorse than an impact player, have shown an ability to affect games from the bench. Howe needs Ibe to become the man to make a difference from the start, allowing the others to be impact subs for him.

Defining Battle: Bournemouth are going to struggle in central midfield, there is a very real danger of Spurs completely overrunning them in there. If the Cherries are to have any hopes of a shock result, they need to be up for the battle in there and give as good as they get.

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


Crystal Palace v Leicester City Premier League 3pm

Townsend (slight doubt - heel injury)
Remy (doubt - calf strain)
Dann (out - knee injury)
Tomkins (doubt - calf strain)
Campbell (doubt - hamstring injury)
van Aanholt (doubt - ankle injury)
Wickham (out - ACL injury)
Souare (out - broken leg)
J Benteke (doubt - knee injury)

Palace have now won five of their last six matches and added to the shock victory over Chelsea with a humiliating thrashing of Arsenal last weekend. Following that win over the Gunner, Sam Allardyce has to keep his charges focused, so that they do not fall foul of Leicester this week, like they did of Southampton following the win over Chelsea. While six points clear of the drop zone, they are still not safe yet and Allardyce will be keen to remind his players of that.
Most important player: Martin Kelly. Having spent his time in Liverpool's academy as a centre back, he broke through at right back, during an injury crisis there and had been playing as a full back ever since. Now returned to centre half, again due to an injury crisis, Kelly is slowly starting to look comfortable there. Most of his former coaches did always say they expected him to return to centre half, now is his chance to prove himself in his natural position. He needs to perform, because Damien Delaney's return to full fitness has given Allardyce an alternative if he is not playing well.

Morgan (late fitness test - back spasm)
Mendy (doubt - ankle injury)
Wague (out - dislocated shoulder)

The run is over, six wins in a row, including the Champions League, has now been followed by two defeats, again if you include the Champions League. Have the players got over the stick they took following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri and once again got out the cigars and slippers? Or are they just hopeless on the road? Just one league win and 11 (yes eleven!) league defeats on the road this season does raise the possibility that they are having similar problems to Burnley. Strong at home but terrible anywhere else.
Most important player: Onyinye Ndidi. The Nigerian is not quite N'Golo Kante, but he does a passable imitation of him in the Foxes' midfield. His contribution is essential, it allows more freedom for the rest of the side to get forward.

Defining Battle: for me it will be the battle between Jamie Vardy and Palace's centre backs. Will they drop off and deny him space, as usual, even though they are at home, which then drags the midfield deeper and gives Leicester possession higher up the pitch. If they drop too deep, they will be giving Riyad Mahrez chances on the edge of the box. Pushing up and they leave space in behind for Vardy to run into.

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


Everton v Burnley Premier League 3pm

Besic (doubt - fitness)
Funes Mori (out - knee injury)
Coleman (out - broken leg)
Lennon (doubt - knock)
McCarthy (out - hamstring injury)
Bolasie (out - ACL injury)

The Toffees have responded well to a couple of disappointing results with a big win to end the reigning champions run of league wins. That revived their hopes of a top six finish, with Arsenal still to play this season. The young defenders that injury forced them to turn to have looked to be growing as players by the game. With Arsenal struggling for form, Man Utd struggling to convert draws into wins, there is even a very good hope of a top five finish, which is a big carrot for an Everton side which only a year ago looked more like a relegation battler than a European challenger. Impressive work from Ronald Koeman, especially as the team have not had the benefits of Steve Walsh's recruitment yet.
Most important player: Ross Barkley. How will the England man react to the night club incident? At times this season he had looked like he was finally beginning to make good on his promise. Other times he has looked completely lost and unsure what role he had in the team. With the emergence of Tom Davies, he has lost some of the pressure that had been heaped on his shoulders as the academy product that fans are desperate to see make his mark.

Defour (slight doubt - dead leg)
Gudmundsson (late fitness test - MCL injury)
Marney (out - ACL injury)
Long (out - knee surgery)

Burnley are the worst team in the Premier League on their travels this season, with a win still yet to arrive. Having faced the two worst teams in the Prem and still not picked up a win, the Clarets will not go into this match with high hopes. With safety from relegation not entirely assured and the midtable battle being so tight, the pressure will still be on them to pick up a result.
Most important player: Joey Barton. So far he has been poor, at best, far more prominent for his inability to handle a non-league player, than for any meaningful contribution to the side. Now facing the team he supports, the Clarets really need him to raise his game against them if they are to have any hopes of a surprise result.

Defining Battle: with Burnley's midfield being so ineffective of late and Everton's midfield showing signs of developing into an excellent one, there is a real chance of the Toffees overrunning the Clarets there. Burnley manager Sean Dyche will need to show some tactical acumen to alter the balance of play or face yet another poor away result.

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


Stoke City v Hull City Premier League 3pm

Butland (slight doubt - fitness)
Allen (out - hamstring injury)
Adam (slight doubt - knock)
Walters (late fitness test - knee injury)
Afellay (out - knee injury)
Ireland (doubt - broken leg)

This season has been a huge step back for Mark Hughes and his Potters team. Last season they finished above Chelsea in the league, this season they will be nowhere near the Londoners. While that is in large part due to the vast turn around in Chelsea's performances, there has also been almost as large a deterioration in Stoke's. Where once you knew every team dreaded having to face Stoke, as they were very unlikely to get a good result, the fear factor is fast being lost. Four defeats in a row have seen the Midlands side slip into the bottom half and raised the very slim chance of relegation, as they have still not reached the forty point total expected to ensure safety. It is time for Hughes to sort out the problems quickly, Stoke can ill afford to lose their regular place in the top half of the table.
Most important player: Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international offers nothing defensively, so it is about time he started to offer something to the team in the attacking third. Shaqiri had the talent to earn a move to Bayern Munich, but his lack of workrate and end product has been a real problem for Stoke this season.

Meyler (out - MCL injury)
Maguire (late fitness test - knee injury)
Elabdellaoui (doubt - back injury)
Mbokani (late fitness test - hamstring injury)
Mason (out - fractured skull)
Keane (out - ACL injury)
Odubajo (out - patella fracture)

Hull are very like Burnley, strong at home, weak away, and just about outside the relegation places on the strength of that home form. Under Marco Silva, they have shown a remarkable improvement, never allowing the poor away results to derail their season. With just two points separating them from the drop zone, it is time they improved their away form with a decent result, especially as they face a team in such poor form as Stoke. The Tigers will need to roar and show real bite, instead of the whimper that usually comes out for away matches.
Most important player: Andrea Ranocchia. The Italian defender, on-loan from Inter Milan, is unwanted back home, being seen as a defensive liability by many. Yet he has been a central figure in Hull's revival.

Defining Battle: Hull have a pair of full backs that struggle defensively but are good going forward, Stoke have a pair of wingers that offer next to nothing defensively but have ability on the ball. While the Stoke wingers have been struggling for form this season, if they can exploit the Tigers' weaknesses defensively, they could finally start to rediscover their form.

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


Sunderland v West Ham United Premier League 3pm

Oviedo (out - hamstring injury)
Kirchhoff (out - knee injury)
Watmore (out - ACL injury)
McNair (out - ACL injury)
Larsson (out - suspended)

The Mackems are deservedly bottom of the Premier League, they have been the worst team in the top flight since the moment David Moyes took charge. They have not even managed to score a goal in the league since their shock 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back at the start of February! They are a team resigned to relegation, under a manager with no ideas of how to change things and are slinking out of the league with an embarrassed look on their faces.
Most important player: Jordan Pickford. The young keeper is certainly getting plenty of opportunities to learn his craft playing for Sunderland. They really need him to have some 'worldies' just to keep the scores respectable, let alone give them a chance of a result.

Antonio (out - hamstring injury)
Byram (slight doubt - ankle injury)
Cresswell (slight doubt - knock)
Reid (doubt - groin strain)
Obiang (out - high ankle sprain)
Ogbonna (out - knee surgery)
Tore (out - knee injury)
Arbeloa (doubt - calf injury)
Henry (out - ACL injury)
Noble (out - suspended)

West Ham's win last weekend against Swansea raised two possibilities in my mind. Are the Swans really that bad that they made the Hammers look good? Or, is it possible that West Ham have finally woken up from the slumber that threatened to put them in relegation trouble? Having seen a fair bit of Swansea under Paul Clement this season, it is most likely a combination of the two factors that saw West Ham pick up the win after a run of five straight defeats and seven without a win. Either way, it is now time for Slaven Bilic to pick up his team and revitalise them for the final few games. His job depends on it.
Most important player: Cheikhou Kouyate. With Mark Noble suspended, the Hammers need Kouyate to step up and show some leadership qualities in midfield. The Senegalese has been a utility player for Bilic but now he has a chance to fill his preferred role in the centre of midfield. He needs to perform well to hold down a place there in the long term.

Defining Battle: Sunderland are weak all over the pitch, their one hope is being able to match up to West Ham's depleted central midfield and win the battle there. With two of Bilic's preferred options in there out, the Mackems need to take advantage and dominate that area of the pitch.

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


Watford v Swansea City Premier League 3pm

Prodl (late fitness test - rib injury)
Kaboul (out - hamstring injury)
Behrami (late fitness test - hamstring injury)
Zarate (out - ACL injury)
Watson (late fitness test - groin strain)
Pereyra (doubt - knee injury)
Doucoure (slight doubt - overload)
Cleverley (slight doubt - overload)
Gomes (slight doubt - ?)
Britos (out - suspended)

The Hornets have an early chance to bounce back from their thrashing at the hands of a rampant Spurs side last weekend. Three defeats in their last six have left Watford mired in midtable mediocrity. Under normal circumstances, for a team with Watford's resources, you would think midtable mediocrity was a good position to be in. With these owners, who knows. When hiring Walter Mazzarri, there were noises about him being a longer term appointment than the usual, but now there are question marks over his future. A good run of results at the end of the season will go a long way towards helping him keep his job.
Most important player: Troy Deeney. The club captain has been dropped to the bench a lot lately, with talk of exhaustion affecting him coming from the club. With Deeney denying that he is tired, there have been signs of a rift between him and the manager.

Cork (out - ankle injury)
Britton (slight doubt - hamstring injury)
Rangel (out - metatarsal fracture)
Dyer (out - achilles injury)

Since the 'new manager bounce' wore off, the Swans under Paul Clement have been uninspiring at best. Their play is slow, laboured, with little quality on show. They are on a run of five games without a win, the only one of those matches that did not end in defeat was against the equally poor Middlesbrough. Has Clement got it in him to inspire the Jacks to lift their game? There has been little sign of him doing so thus far and time is fast running out.
Most important player: Leroy Fer. The Dutch midfielder has been relegated from the Prem in both of the last two seasons, he is now in serious danger of making it a hattrick! The Swans really need him to refind his shooting boots and get them out of danger.

Defining Battle: the main battle here is Swansea's wingers versus the fullbacks of Watford (or wingbacks if they use that system). The Swans are heavily reliant on widemen to create what few chances they get, keep them quiet and they have very little else to offer from open play.

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


Southampton v Manchester City Premier League 5:30pm

Davis (doubt - ankle injury)
Boufal (doubt - muscle injury)
Gabbiadini (doubt - groin strain)
van Dijk (out - foot injury)
Austin (slight doubt - dislocated shoulder)
McCarthy (out - hamstring injury)
Targett (out - hamstring injury)
Romeu (out - suspended)

Their 1-0 win at the Baggies last weekend brought Saints nicely into play in the battle for eighth place in the Premier League. With two games in hand, Soton have a four point gap to close up on West Brom following that win. However they do have a difficult run in to the season, which will make it very difficult for them to get the points they need. They are in good form, with four wins from their last six games, they need to play at their best to beat Citeh.
Most important player: Jordy Clasie. The Dutchman has a huge hole to fill in Saints midfield as the defensive cover provided by Oriol Romeu has been immense this season. Romeu's suspension has meant Clasie is now the key component in the midfield.

Sagna (out - groin strain)
Jesus (out - metatarsal fracture)
Gundogan (out - ACL injury)

When Pep Guardiola arrived with a huge fanfare and went on to win his first six Premier League matches in a row, it seemed like he had answered all the questions that were being asked of his managerial ability and City would stride away to win the league at a canter. Since then, Citeh have consistently failed when it mattered, including a run of three draws, followed by throwing away a final chance at making a difference in the title run with a crushing defeat against Chelsea. With the pressure now off the Citizens, Hull were dispatched and City kept themselves in a top four place. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Pep has a lot of questions still to be answered about just how good he actually is.
Most important player: David Silva. Despite James Richardson's reservations about him, Silva makes City tick. If he plays well, they play well. On his day he can destroy teams with ease.

Defining Battle: how well can Clasie handle Silva? Will the Spaniard's brilliance defeat the Dutchman's solidity? If Silva gets time and space, he can exploit it better than almost anyone else in the Premier League.

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


Sunday 16th April 2017

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool Premier League 1:30pm

No current injury problems or suspensions.

The Baggies have looked a completely different side since achieving safety. Four defeats and just one win in the six games since then says a lot about how the players have mentally lost focus. Tony Pulis has an excellent record against Liverpool that he will want to keep, he will have been doing his best to get his players back from the beaches they have clearly gone to in their heads. The defeat to Saints, last time out, has put their once safe eighth place in jeopardy, maybe that is the jolt they need to wake up.
Most important player: Jose Salomon Rondon. West Brom have struggled for goals, they need the forward to rediscover the scoring touch he showed for a short while this season.

Mane (out - knee injury)
Lallana (out - thigh injury)
Henderson (out - foot injury)
Ejaria (out - ankle injury)
Ings (out - ACL injury)

Liverpool seem to have returned to form once more just as it matters. Too late for a genuine title challenge, barring a collapse of epic proportions by Chelsea, but in time for them to rescue their ambitions of a return to the Champions League next season. Six games without defeat, four of them wins, including a major turn around against a side they usually struggle against, Stoke, has given them a platform for a top four finish. They just need to get over their struggles against the lower half teams to clinch the spot. First though, they have to deal with Tony Pulis, a manager they usually struggle against. Having already overcame Stoke at the Britannia, another game they have a lot of difficulties with, they will enter this match with their confidence boosted.
Most important player: Simon Mignolet. With Pulis' likely to look to bombard the box with crosses, Mignolet will be crucial to Liverpool's hopes. They will need him to be dominant and catch or clear any high balls within reach.

Defining Battle: the battle in this match will be a mental one. Both sides have been struggling mentally this season. The Baggies have completely lost focus since reaching safety, while Liverpool switch off against anyone outside of the top 7 teams. If either are not up for this match mentally, they will lose this game.

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


Manchester United v Chelsea Premier League 4pm

Young (slight doubt - groin strain)
Rooney (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Mata (out - groin/pelvis injury)
Smalling (out - knee injury)
Jones (out - toe injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Williams (doubt - knee injury)

How can one team go on a run of 21 Premier League games without defeat but gain so little from it? Jose Mourinho must ask himself that question every day. Way back in October, when they started out on the run, they were in seventh place, now they are in fifth. Now they have a chance to avenge themselves on the last team to beat them in the league, the team that sacked Mourinho last season and the team that are top of the table. What they can not afford to do is miss as many chances as they have been wasting all season long. If they are to have any chance of a positive result against the high-flying Pensioners, they need to make the most of their chances.
Most important player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While he is the player who is probably most at fault for missing chances, he is also the player who puts them away for the Red Devils. Their play is very reliant on the big Swede and United need him at his best.

No current injury problems or suspensions.

This is one of the last potential banana skins for Chelsea to navigate this season. However, even a defeat here would not really change the picture, as a seven point lead gives them a degree of comfort. A win, on the other hand, would be hugely demoralising for Spurs, as it is probably their best hope of dropped points. The Blues quickly put the shock loss to Palace at Stamford Bridge behind them, to win two in a row, making it five wins out of six. There is not much more they can do than that to ensure they lift the title at the end of the season.
Most important player: Cezar Azpilicueta. Having moved from right back to left back and now to centre back and covering at right wing back sometimes, the Spaniard has been excellent once again. His quality and experience will be needed as Chelsea seek to close out the title chase.

Defining Battle: the main battle will be between United and the Chelsea goal, as they need to optimise the chances they get for a change. You can be sure that Chelsea will make the most of their opportunities, so it is up to Man Utd to do the same.

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


Monday 17th April 2017

Middlesbrough v Arsenal Premier League 8pm

Husband (late fitness test - knock)
Fabio (slight doubt - concussion)
Ramirez (slight doubt - ankle injury)
Friend (late fitness test - calf strain)
Chambers (doubt - foot injury)

It seems Steve Agnew is as powerless to stop Boro's slide down the table back to the Championship as Aitor Karanka was. Fourteen games without a win has left them almost dead and buried, with six points to make up on Hull. While they do have a game in hand over the Humbersides, their form is so poor they show little sign of making up that gap. There has been little sign of an improvement, even with Agnew's attempts to make the side play a more open and attacking style.
Most important player: Adam Clayton. His drive and determination is vital to Boro. He just needs a bit more quality around him to feed the ball to.

Koscielny (doubt - achilles injury)
Ospina (out - back injury)
Cech (slight doubt - calf strain)
Perez (out - thigh strain)
Cazorla (out - plantaris injury)

Three defeats in the last six games and five in the last eight has seen Arsenal slip down from second in the league to sit outside of the European qualification places in sixth place. The pressure has been cranked up on manager Arsene Wenger, who, as ever, is defiantly ignoring the criticism, despite his team's struggles. Still the will he, won't he stay saga over his future is hanging over the club like a sword of Damocles. It is now becoming the only thing that matters, holding back the club badly.
Most important player: Theo Walcott. For some unknown reason, Wenger has decided that Walcott is captaincy material while the club is going through a rough patch. Walcott really needs to show some leadership fast, for the first time in his career, if Arsenal are to pick themselves up out of the slump they are in.

Defining Battle: The Gunners' attack has a lot to do to unlock Boro's only strength, their defence. The Teesiders hopes of a decent result rest on keeping Arsenal out and maybe snatching a goal at the other end. With Arsenal's confidence at a low ebb, there is hope for Boro that they may fold if they go behind.

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

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