Football News: Midweek Premier League Preview

 

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Tuesday 25th April 2017


Chelsea v Southampton Premier League 7:45pm

Cahill (very slight doubt - illness)

Chelsea have been leading a long time now, but this is the first time that lead has looked vulnerable, with Spurs cutting it down to just four points. It seemed like the champions elect were wobbling and about to drop that crown, then they faced their hunters in the FA Cup semi-final at the weekend. A 4-2 win will have lifted any heads that had dropped after two defeats in four league matches had brought the doubters out in force. With Chelsea having an excellent home record, the Premier League title to play for and Saints having little at stake, on paper this game should be a safe three pointer for the Blues. However, we all know that football is not played on paper and the Pensioners will need to be at it right from the start or they could pay the price.
Most important player: David Luiz. He is the centre of the trio at the back for a reason, he controls the line and organises them at the back. The Brazilian defender is also an excellent passer of the ball, which gives them an extra dimension, allowing them to spring forward extremely quickly on the counter.

McQueen (doubt - groin strain)
van Dijk (out - foot injury)
Austin (doubt - dislocated shoulder)
McCarthy (out - hamstring injury)
Targett (doubt - hamstring injury)

With little left for the Saints to play for, other than trying to finish above West Bromwich Albion in eighth, the last thing they really wanted is to face Chelsea. They do have one possibly significant advantage over Chelsea though, as Soton had the weekend off to rest and relax, while Chelsea were involved in a hard-fought semi-final. Claude Puel will be hoping that makes a real difference to the mindset of the opposition, though their choice to leave Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench suggests they are prioritising the Premier League over the FA Cup. Having been given a lesson by Man City last time they played, Puel will want to see more from his players in this match. His main priority has to be to find a way to nullify those Chelsea counters.
Most important player: Oriol Romeu. The Spanish midfielder has been sorely missed while serving a ban and a visit to his former club will be a good chance to prove a point for him. The protection he provides to the back four will be vital.

Defining Battle: between the Southampton backline and the Chelsea front three. Will the Saints be able to cope with the quick breaks, will they modify their system to cope, or will they be unable to find a way to deal with it, like so many before them this season?

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


Wednesday 26th April 2017


Arsenal v Leicester City Premier League 7:45pm

Oxlade-Chamberlain (doubt - knock)
Mustafi (doubt - thigh injury)
Ospina (doubt - back injury)
Perez (out - thigh strain)
Cazorla (out - plantaris injury)
Reine-Adelaide (out - ankle injury)

Last season's top two bump heads and neither team are in the European places before kick off, I wonder when the last time that happened at this time of the season? Arsenal are coming off the back of an excellent result, if yet another dodgy performance, which owed more to Citeh's inability to finish than it did to the Gunner's defensive stoicness. Arsene Wenger seems to have converted to a back three for the long term, following a trend established by Antonio Conte. However, Arsenal do not have an N'Golo Kante in midfield to provide defensive cover, they do not have a top class finisher up top to convert the chances and they lack a defence suited to playing as a back three. So far it has faced the utterly inept Boro attack (and been one of the few teams to concede a goal to them) and a City side which has looked utterly lost in recent weeks. Is that really enough of a test to convince Wenger that this is the way to go for the long term?
Most important player: Aaron Ramsey. With Granit Xhaka filling the Cesc Fabregas role (strolling around offering little bar the occasional foul), Ramsey is having to try and be Kante and carry the lazy midfielder partner. Luckily for Kante he only has to do it some weeks, against the weaker opponents, Ramsey is now doing it each game. It is likely he will be the target for any criticism aimed at the midfield, as it seems he is always the target, despite being one of the very few players at Arsenal that can honestly say they have done their best every week.

Morgan (doubt - hamstring injury)
Slimani (doubt - groin strain)
Mendy (out - ankle injury)
Wague (out - dislocated shoulder)

The Foxes have one aim left for this season, to finish as high as possible in order to hold onto as many of their better players as they can. Whether it would be a good thing to hold onto players that let the club down so badly this season or not is a different matter. Fifteenth is not a good position to be in for last season's champions, with a group of players that were coveted and chased last summer by the big boys. Having rescued themselves from the relegation dogfight, just about, Leicester have failed to pick up a win in their last two games, and dropped out of the Champions League. Has the bubble burst now? Do the players now think they have proved the point that it was all Claudio Ranieri's fault and so have lost focus and dropped their effort once more? Hard to say from just two league games, but they do still look a better outfit than they were at the end of Ranieri's time, if not at anywhere near the level of last season.
Most important player: Onyinye Ndidi. The Nigerian midfielder has been trying to fill the huge gaping hole left either side of Danny Drinkwater by Kante's sale. He may not be at the level of Kante, yet, but he has certainly shown promising signs so far.

Defining Battle: the wide areas will be key, especially if the Gooners stick with their back three formation. They will have need their wide forwards to push back the Leicester fullbacks or risk them doubling up on the wingback with the wingers. If the Foxes can gain the ascendancy in wide areas, they can take control of this game.

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


Middlesbrough v Sunderland Premier League 7:45pm

De Roon (doubt - ankle injury)
Leaditter (doubt - hamstring injury)
Valdes (doubt - rib injury)
Ramirez (out - suspended)

After sixteen games without a win, Boro will not get a better chance to pick up a win this season. Even a win here would not really be enough to give them a genuine chance of survival this season, their lack of goals has cost them any real hope. Now they are just left to play for pride, which is doubled in this game, with it being a local derby against the Mackems. At the end of the day, this match is really an irrelevance between two clubs destined for relegation, under two managers who are only in the role due to the lack of a better available (and affordable) option. The sad thing is, Middlesbrough's tactics throughout the season have meant that they failed to even provide entertainment for their fans as they just slid limply out of the league.
Most important player: Stewart Downing. His season has been an utter disaster and he has failed to live up to the big billing he received on his return to his boyhood club. It is time he showed he is not finished as a Premier League footballer.

Jones (doubt - concussion)
Oviedo (out - hamstring injury)
Kirchhoff (doubt - knee cartilage injury)
Watmore (out - ACL injury)
McNair (out - ACL injury)
Larsson (out - suspended)

What is there left to say about the Mackems? Dire to watch, have not won in eight games, losing six of those and David Moyes is only still in charge because the club are out of money. The belt tightening in preparation for the Championship began a long time ago, it seemed the players accepted their fate a long time ago as well. While they enjoyed winter breaks in New York, at the club's expense, low paid workers were fired to save cash. Sunderland deserve exactly what they have got, a miserable relegation.
Most important player: Jordan Pickford. Pickford is just about the only saleable asset they have, he needs to perform to his best so that they can use the money to rebuild for next season.

Defining Battle: if the two teams play as they have been performing all season, the main battle will probably be between anyone watching and their eye lids to keep them open and stay awake for the full 90 minutes! With this being a local derby and a relegation battle, then it is probably safe to assume it will not be quite so boring as their usual games. In this game it will be all about the midfield, as a scrappy derby match tends to come down to who takes charge of the central midfield.

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


Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur Premier League 8pm

Tomkins (doubt - ankle injury)
Dann (out - knee injury)
Wickham (out - ACL injury)
Souare (out - broken leg)
J Benteke (doubt - knee injury)
Remy (doubt - knee injury, calf injury)

In recent weeks, Palace have managed to beat Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, showcasing Sam Allardyce's ability to set up his teams to stop the opposition. This clash with Spurs will be another chance for him to do what he does best and organise his players in a deep lying defensive formation with pace on the break. If there is one man you would want to be in charge for a game like this, when you are Palace, it would be Allardyce. While he may be limited and unable to step up a level, we have never yet got the chance to find out, however what he does do, he does extremely well. With the Eagles now in sight of a top half finish, this could be Allardyce's big chance to stick two fingers up to the FA following his England debacle.
Most important player: Luka Milivojevic. I have been dreading typing that! The Premier League's most difficult to spell player has been excellent since his arrival in January. He has provided excellent protection to the Palace defence and given the attackers more freedom to break on the opposition.

Vorm (doubt - knee injury)
Winks (out - ankle injury)
Rose (doubt - MCL injury)
Lamela (out - hip injury)
Carter-Vickers (doubt - knee injury)

A run of seven wins in a row has brought the North London team within reach of the league title, with just four points now separating them from Chelsea. However their away form has held them back, with just six wins in their fifteen away matches and all three of their losses coming on their travels. Added to that, their loss at the weekend to their title rivals in the FA Cup semi-final was particularly dispiriting. Could Spurs still be all Spursy when it matters? Right now the signs are that there is nothing to panic about yet, they played extremely well, despite losing 4-2, at the weekend. There were no signs of capitulation. The game turned on a tactical error by Mauricio Pochettino, choosing to put Son Heung-Min at wing back, after he had been playing so well further forward. Even the best managers get it wrong sometimes, the key is making sure he learns from it and uses square pegs in square holes in future.
Most important player: Hugo Lloris. It is time for the captain to step up and lead the team following the weekend's defeat. This is the moment for him to help his young team mates through what could potentially be a turning point of their season.

Defining Battle: as Sam Allardyce has already intimated, following the victory over Liverpool, his team will look to shut down the fullbacks and stop them providing the width that Spurs thrive on. Will the fullback pair of Ben Davies and Kyle Walker, who were rested at the weekend, be able to do better than Liverpool's pair managed?

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


Thursday 27th April 2017


Manchester City v Manchester United Premier League 8pm

Silva (doubt - hamstring injury)
Aguero (slight doubt - muscle injury)
Fernandinho (slight doubt - muscle injury)
Stones (out - muscle injury)
Sagna (doubt - groin strain)
Jesus (slight doubt - metatarsal fracture)
Gundogan (out - ACL injury)

Having broken their run of four games without a win by picking up two wins in a row, Citeh entered the weekend's FA Cup game in high spirits against an Arsenal side still in disarray. What followed was a game they were the better side but ended up losing in extra time. The one thing Pep Guardiola would have wanted less than losing was extra time with this midweek Manchester derby coming up. Now he has to pick up his players' spirits and freshen their tired legs. Pep will also be worried that three of his key players in Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero and David Silva picked up injuries which could rule them out. That is their only player, other than Vincent Kompany, with a clue about defending, their only out and out goalscorer and their playmaker all doubtful. With Raheem Sterling's contribution, after replacing Silva, being so poor that the sub was subbed, Pep would be tearing his hair out, if he had any.
Most important player: Kevin De Bruyne. If David Silva is missing, there will be a lot of pressure heaped on De Bruyne's shoulders to create opportunities and provide some quality playmaking. Normally he is more about pace and movement, with an added excellence from dead ball situations, now he will need to be the fulcrum of their play.

Pogba (doubt - muscle injury)
Herrera (slight doubt - ankle injury)
Ibrahimovic (out - ACL injury)
Rojo (out - ACL injury)
Mata (out - groin/pelvis injury)
Smalling (out - knee injury)
Jones (out - toe injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Williams (doubt - knee injury)

Still the unbeaten league run goes on, now stretching to twenty-three matches (yes 23!) and the last three have all been wins. However, they also have injury problems of their own, losing key striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and yet another centre back, Marcus Rojo this time, to a season ending injury. The Red Devils are in a much better position to deal with the loss though, as they have two excellent young forwards chomping at the bit and desperate to get a run of games, in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. While it does mean a change of style, with the loss of Zlatan's ability to hold up the ball, it does provide them with a real surge of pace up top and no loss of goal threat. The only question is how much their Europa League run will affect them, as Jose Mourinho could well prioritise that, and the chance of a European trophy, over a top four finish.
Most important player: Ander Herrera. The Spanish midfielder has been a revelation this season, making a first team spot his own, after a few years of struggling to hold down a place. While Paul Pogba gets all the headlines, good and bad, Herrera is the key figure in the United midfield.

Defining Battle: the central midfield will be the key. Can the Citizens' midfield provide any protection at all to the creaky defence? Especially as it looks likely they will have to make do without Fernandinho. With legs likely to be heavy after the extra time defeat, they could struggle to avoid being overrun in the central midfield.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-3
Ed003 - 3-2
Ed004 - 2-1 (City getting a dodgy penalty)
Ed007 - 2-3
Ed033 - 1-1

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