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Football News: Weekend Premier League Preview

Friday 12th May 2017


Everton v Watford Premier League 7:45pm

Stekelenburg (doubt - groin strain)
Schneiderlin (doubt - thigh strain)
Lennon (out - medical condition)
Funes Mori (out - knee injury)
Coleman (out - broken leg)
McCarthy (out - hamstring injury)
Bolasie (out - ACL injury)

The Toffees have seen their season fizzle out, a bit, as the league has little left to play for, other than pride, which seems to be a rare commodity amongst football players, judging by how many teams see their results tail off once they only have pride left. They have lost their last two, not won in three games and only two wins in their last six matches. Safe and sound in seventh place, the poor recent results have made no difference, other than to end their faint hopes of moving up a place in the Premier League. Ronald Koeman will be looking to find ways to motivate his players, to try and get a performance from them, such as reminding them that their place in the squad is not safe. Especially if they continue to perform the way they have done!
Most important player: Romelu Lukaku. The big Belgian is one of the few with a genuine reason, other than pride, to perform, and I am not referring to his desire to get a move from Everton to a Champions League team. Lukaku has a golden boot in his sights for this season. Perhaps he could wear it next season and improve his atrocious first touch?

Britos (doubt - calf injury)
Holebas (slight doubt - foot injury)
Cathcart (out - knee injury)
Kaboul (out - hamstring injury)
Zarate (out - ACL injury)
Watson (doubt - groin strain)
Pereyra (out - knee injury)
Gomes (doubt - ?)

It seems to be a common theme in the midtable places, achieve the 40 points needed to be safe and the players stop trying and coast through the season. Watford have certainly been guilty of that, though some might argue that they have just not performed at all anyway under Walter Mazzarri. The last three matches have resulted in defeats, one-sided defeats which showed a real lack of attacking intent by the Hornets. The players performances can not have been helped by Mazzarri's insistence that they are too tired to play and his decision to rotate based on that, even when the players given the rest have been the only players that have shown any intensity or energy. It is difficult to find any reasoning for Mazzarri to continue in his role next season, unless the sole aim is to avoid relegation.
Most important player: Sebastian Prodl. It is difficult to pick a most important player from Watford as Mazzarri's constant tinkering has made it nearly impossible to even know which players he will pick or what position they will play for sure. One thing is for sure, anyone that has played more than 90 minutes will be told they are overloaded and need a rest. The whole club seems to be in as much of a confused mess as the owners, the Pozzo family, left Spanish club Granada.

Defining Battle: the main battle will be in the players' heads. Motivation will be the key in this game. Which team will be in their deckchairs on the beach mentally? The worry is that both teams are and this game is a dull affair, with a complete lack of intensity, desire and passion.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-0
Ed004 - 2-1
Ed007 - 2-0
Ed018 - 2-1
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 1-1


West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea Premier League 8pm

Evans (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Phillips (doubt - hamstring injury)
Robson-Kanu (late fitness test - hamstring injury)

No wins in six, one win in nine, the Baggies have looked like a team with nothing to play for since the moment they hit 40 points. Coming up against a Chelsea side looking to clinch the Premier League title, they really need to show something or be overrun with ease. There is little to give the West Brom fans hope of picking up a good result here, other than the hope Chelsea somehow bottle it under pressure of needing a win. There is a very real danger that Tony Pulis's team throws away a top half finish this season, with Man City and Swansea to follow as their final two games.
Most important player: Ben Foster. The England keeper is likely to be the busiest man on the pitch! He needs to have the game of his life to give the Baggies even a sniff of getting a result.

Kante (slight doubt - thigh strain)

This could be the moment that Chelsea clinch the title, after a long season of being chased by the rest, just one more win is enough to see the Blues build a gap too big for Spurs to catch. With two more games to follow, against two more teams with nothing to play for, there is no real pressure on the Pensioners. The five wins they have picked up in their last six games suggests that pressure is not an issue for the Londoners anyway. Maybe the real worry for Antonnio Conte is that his players might lose focus with the FA Cup final to come.
Most important player: Victor Moses. With the emphasis on getting the win needed, it will be down to the attacking players to create enough chances. So far this season, Moses has been overshadowed by his counterpart over on the opposite flank. It is time he reminded people he is an attacker playing at wing back.

Defining Battle: as ever the flanks are the key to Chelsea's game. West Brom do tend to play narrow, use their widemen to protect the fullbacks and concentrate on defending balls played into the box, which should, on paper, be the best way for a weaker team to blunt the Blues attack, as Man Utd showed recently. It is up to Chelsea to find a way to break that down.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-3
Ed004 - 1-2
Ed007 - 1-3
Ed018 - 1-3
Ed025 - 0-2
Ed033 - 0-1


Saturday 13th May 2017


Manchester City v Leicester City Premier League 12:30pm

Aguero (doubt - groin strain)
Bravo (out - calf strain)
Delph (doubt - knock)
Stones (doubt - muscle injury)
Gundogan (out - ACL injury)

The Citizens are coming into this game on the back of handing Palace a 5-0 thrashing, after two draws had cost them any chance of pipping Spurs to second place. This has been a season of what could have been. What could have been if they were able to defend. What could have been if they could actually perform anywhere near their best level on a consistent basis. What could have been had Vincent Kompany been fit all season. It is worrying that such an expensively assembled side, with a manager lauded as the best coach in the world, is so far away from being able to compete for the title. This Citeh side has spent obscene sums on defenders, but is still wholly reliant on one man with fitness issues at the back. They have spent a monster sum on the salary of Pep Guardiola, yet he has been completely unable to coach the team into producing consistent performances or to defend with any degree of certainty. Even a top three finish will not cover up the fact that this has been a failure of a season and that Pep's aura has taken a huge knock.
Most important player: Fernandinho. The Brazilian has become Pep's go to guy. While he is naturally known as a midfielder, more of a box to box midfielder than a defensive midfielder, as he likes to get a goal, he has had to fill a number of different roles for Pep this season. From being a holding midfielder, to right back, to left back, wherever there is a gap in the team, Fernandinho will be slotted in.

Huth (doubt - foot injury)
Drinkwater (out - thigh strain)
Morgan (doubt - hamstring injury)
Mendy (out - ankle injury)
Wague (out - dislocated shoulder)

The Foxes have continued their climb up the table under Craig Shakespeare to sit just inside the top half as the season comes to an end. They have won four of their last six to put themselves into a good position to finish in the top ten, just two points behind West Brom ahead of them in eighth, but just a point ahead of a chasing pack below them. Just two home games are left for Leicester after this, which will probably leave last season's champion with one prize to go for - the best pitch. The club crest is being prepared for the midweek game against Spurs, how will they be able to top that for the final game?
Most important player: Onyinye Ndidi. The young midfielder is growing into his role in the centre of Leicester's midfield. He will face his toughest test over the next couple of games with Citeh and Spurs.

Defining Battle: the central midfield will be the key battle, as Leicester's two will need help to avoid being overrun and outnumbered by Man City's system, which often brings the fullbacks in there to anchor the midfield and protect the defence.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 3-0
Ed004 - 3-1
Ed007 - 2-0
Ed018 - 2-1
Ed025 - 3-1
Ed033 - 1-0


Bournemouth v Burnley Premier League 3pm

Stanislas (slight doubt - cramp)
Afobe (out - hamstring injury)
Gosling (doubt - calf injury)
Wilshere (out - broken leg)
Surman (out - knee injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Federici (out - cartilage knee injury)

The Cherries are one of the midtable teams that are all within just a few points of each other due to inconsistent performances. Bournemouth's record over the last six is a perfect example, with two wins, two losses and two draws in those six games. With all the teams safe from relegation and no chance of European qualification, it is a pure guess what kind of game will take place. Will they be up for the final home game of the season? Or could they already be away on their holidays, more worried about whether to go on a lads do or take the WAG for a family break? That is about as exciting as gets at this stage of the season in the midtable zone.
Most important player: Harry Arter. The central midfielder has been lucky in recent games to avoid red cards, as his tendency to throw himself recklessly into challenges has seen him give away a number of fouls. He needs to calm down and keep his head or risk costing Bournemouth badly.

Keane (late fitness test - calf injury)
Mee (late fitness test - shin injury)
Marney (out - ACL injury)
Barton (out - suspended)

Now the Clarets have earned their first away win and reached safety, there is no real targets left for them to aim at. The season has petered out now, though I am sure Sean Dyche will be delighted he has the chance to relax and begin the preparations for next season. I am also sure that he will not be allowing his players to relax, as each place further up the table his team finishes will increase his available transfer budget. For a manager like Dyche, who has had to sell to keep the club afloat, then used to build the club's infrastructure, actually having a decent transfer kitty will be a huge thing. It is a chance to show he belongs at the top level.
Most important player: Stephen Ward. The Irish left back needs to prove he belongs at this level as, unlike many of his team mates, he has struggled to impress. With the transfer window fast approaching, he will want to show that he is good enough to be first choice left back next season as well.

Defining Battle: the midfield will be key in this game, with both teams matching up like for like systems and formations, though playing them in a very different tactical manner. While the Cherries will look to dominate the ball and pass it around, Burnley will look to get it forward quickly.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-0
Ed004 - 2-0
Ed007 - 1-0
Ed018 - 1-1
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 1-2


Middlesbrough v Southampton Premier League 3pm

Ayala (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Ramirez (late fitness test - thigh strain)
Valdes (late fitness test - rib injury)

Now that their relegation has been confirmed, maybe they can also break a winless run, like their North-East neighbours Sunderland did. Eight games without a win goes a long way to explain why they are going back down, the questions now surround whether Steve Agnew has done enough to get the manager's job on a permanent basis. His inability to get the players to raise their game and perform significantly better than they did before, would suggest he is not the man for the job long term. Agnew's insistence on picking Stewart Downing, even though he is offering little of use to the team's performance, smacks more of trying to keep a senior player happy than good management.
Most important player: George Friend. The left back looked a Premier League quality player as he helped Boro to promotion last season. Injury has robbed him of the chance to prove if that was right and his return has been underwhelming since regaining fitness. His loss was keenly felt as it badly affected the team's balance, however, they really need Friend to get back to his best.

van Dijk (out - foot injury)
Austin (late fitness test - dislocated shoulder)
McCarthy (out - hamstring injury)
Targett (late fitness test - hamstring injury)

Soton's form has dipped noticeably of late, it has been five games since the South Coast side picked up a win. How much of that is down to Claude Puel's defensive style and how much is down to having nothing to play for is a question Puel will need answered in his favour, with the spectre of a takeover on the horizon. Is the issue more about Saints constant sales of the best players? Even teams like Borussia Dortmund have dips when they continously sell their better players, and they take part in a league which has fewer competitive teams. Eventually, even the best scouts and youth coaches will be defeated by the job of constantly rebuilding a team following the sales of the best players.
Most important player: Manolo Gabbiadini. The Italian started with a bang, but has struggled since his return from injury, with very few chances coming his way. Saints desperately need his to get back to the goalscoring form he showed on initially arriving.

Defining Battle: the main battle could be for the crowd to stay awake, with two teams not exactly showcasing attacking play in recent weeks! I expect Soton's right side pairing to give Boro's left a really troublesome day, both James Ward-Prowse and Cedric Soares have an excellent delivery which Friend and Downing will need to try and stop at source.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 0-0
Ed004 - 1-2
Ed007 - 1-2
Ed018 - 1-2
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 0-2


Sunderland v Swansea City Premier League 3pm

Cattermole (doubt - achilles injury)
Gibson (doubt - groin injury)
Oviedo (doubt - hamstring injury)
Kirchhoff (out - knee injury)
Watmore (out - ACL injury)
McNair (out - ACL injury)

After ten games without a win, the Mackems achieve one the moment their relegation was settled. It must have been so frustrating for the fans to watch the players flop miserably all season long, then pick up a win the moment it no longer matters. Having put a huge dent in Hull's attempts to stay up last week, will they now do the same to Swansea? And why does it feel like the players are more bothered about trying to attract a buyer for a move away from Sunderland in the summer, than they were about fighting to keep the Mackems afloat in the Premier League? Or could that just be me being cynical?
Most important player: Jordan Pickford. The young goalie will need to have another excellent game if Sunderland are to have a chance of winning.

Montero (out - hamstring injury)
Routledge (late fitness test - hernia)
Rangel (late fitness test - metatarsal fracture)
Dyer (out - achilles injury)

Just when it looked like it was all over for the Swans they have woken up. After a run of six games without a win, five of which were defeats, they have picked up two wins and a draw from their last three matches. That has been enough to put them one point ahead of Hull and outside the relegation places. They have also closed up to within three points of Palace, who are not safe yet either. There is a chance that they could turn the final game into a three way battle against the drop.
Most important player: Leon Britton. The club captain is the fulcrum of the side who makes them tick. The 34 year old has no like-for-like replacement and his return to the side has made them look a far more cohesive outfit.

Defining Battle: the flanks will be very important in this match, as Swansea are particularly narrow in their play and can be got at down the flanks.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 0-0
Ed004 - 1-1
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 1-2
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 1-2


Stoke City v Arsenal Premier League 5:30pm

Afellay (out - knee injury)
Ireland (out - broken leg)

Just two wins in the last ten games has seen the Potters slide down the table, out of the top half and down to 13th. Having managed top half finishes in each of his previous seasons with Stoke, Mark Hughes will be looking to his players to repeat that again this season. With the midtable pack being so close together, a good finish to the season would almost certainly give him that top half finish once more. Anything less would be worrying signs of regression for a team that is getting more and more inconsistent under his control.
Most important player: Geoff Cameron. The American is usually used in a defensive role, but this season he has been mainly playing in the midfield and has done fairly well. Like most of the Stoke squad, he is an ageing presence and the club will need to look to replace him soon. For now though, he is essential to the team and the way they play.

Oxlade-Chamberlain (doubt - hamstring injury)
Koscielny (slight doubt - foot injury)
Cazorla (out - plantaris injury)
Reine-Adelaide (out - ankle injury)

This has not been a good season for the Gooners, sitting there in fifth, after their usual exit from the Champions League the moment the knockout stages arrive, looking up at Spurs, fan unrest against Arsene Wenger growing, while the man himself still refuses to confirm his plans for next season. It beggars belief that any professional organisation of the size of Arsenal has ended up in a situation where they are waiting on the decision of one man over his contract, with it having only months left to run. With just the FA Cup final and possibility of once again lifting the fourth place trophy to look forward to for the Gunners, this will he, won't he saga is creating a tension around the stadium at every game that is not needed or helpful. It just feels like Wenger is desperate to stay but wants to be sure the agreement is not going to be booed and jeered, so he is hanging on until he can announce it at the right time. I just wonder what will happen if there is no right time?
Most important player: Mesut Oezil. With more freedom in the new system, the German is able to play the way he wants to with no shackles forcing him to defend. If he is on form, he can create chances for fun.

Defining Battle: gone are the days when it actually was a battle between the two sides, with Arsenal usually suffering at the hands of the Potters. The Stoke right is particularly weak defensively and is facing up to pace, skill and workrate of Alexis Sanchez. It looks, on paper, an unequal battle, Hughes will need to find a way to even it out.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-3
Ed004 - 0-1
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 1-3
Ed025 - 1-1
Ed033 - 1-2


Sunday 14th May 2017


Crystal Palace v Hull City Premier League 12pm

Townsend (slight doubt - achilles injury)
Ward (slight doubt - broken nose)
Sakho (out - knee injury)
Cabaye (late fitness test - knock)
Tomkins (late fitness test - ankle injury)
Dann (late fitness test - knee injury)
Wickham (out - ACL injury)
Souare (out - broken leg)

After looking like they were moving easily to safety, Palace have suffered a run of three defeats in a row, culminating in a hammering by Man City, which witnessed the Londoners in a very un-Allardyce like collapse. Anything other than a defeat to Hull will mean they are safe for another season, so it could be one of those bus-parking performances that Sam Allardyce teams have been known for in the past. The only issue with that, as has been shown repeatedly this season, is that the team is not able to defend very well and is best when attacking.
Most important player: James McArthur. The Scottish midfielder is doing a lot of running around at the moment, but he is accomplishing very little. It is about time he started to make more of the opportunities he is getting.

Markovic (out - ankle injury)
Meyler (out - MCL injury)
Elabdellaoui (doubt - back injury)
Mason (out - fractured skull)
Keane (out - ACL injury)
Odubajo (out - patella fracture)

The Tigers have an immediate chance to pick themselves up after the disaster of last weekend. Nothing less than a win will really do for the Humbersiders, though even that may not be enough to give them a realistic chance of survival with Spurs the visitors on the final day. A good win at Selhurst Park cranks up real pressure on Palace for the last game, with it meaning there would be just one point between the two sides. Anything else leaves Hull waiting on other teams results. It is win or bust time at the bottom!
Most important player: Samuel Clucas. The midfielder has been a revelation since arriving from the lower leagues and is now the heartbeat of the Hull side. The one weakness is that he needs to score more goals, particularly this weekend!

Defining Battle: the key to this game is how well Palace's makeshift defence handles the Tigers' attackers. Though you can be quite sure Allardyce will not be experimenting with Jeffrey Schlupp as centre back again, it does mean he is using reserve defenders that he has little faith in. Will they have another stinker, or can they raise their game?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed004 - 2-0
Ed007 - 2-0
Ed018 - 0-0
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 0-1


West Ham United v Liverpool Premier League 2:15pm

Kouyate (out - wrist injury)
Masuaku (slight doubt - foot injury)
Sakho (out - back injury)
Carroll (doubt - groin strain)
Antonio (out - hamstring injury)
Obiang (out - high ankle sprain)
Ogbonna (doubt - knee surgery)
Tore (out - knee injury)
Henry (out - ACL injury)

Recent form has improved, with no defeats in five, to return the Hammers to a safe midtable position. That is mainly down to improvements in defence, as they are still struggling to score goals, with just four goals scored in those four matches, they have conceded half as many. Despite these improvements, the pressure is growing on Slaven Bilic from above, rather than from the fans. These last couple of matches could be vital for Bilic's future, though arguments over the direction the club makes in the forthcoming transfer window could be more telling.
Most important player: Manuel Lanzini. The Argentinian has stepped up of late and begun to repay the faith shown in him to replace Dmitri Payet. It is still worrying that West Ham have no players who have managed to notch double figures in goals this season. As the key creative player at the London Stadium, the attacking midfielder really needs to set up more and score more himself.

Mane (out - knee injury)
Henderson (out - plantar fasciitis)
Ings (out - ACL injury)

As we well know this season matches like this, against midtable and lower sides, are the ones the Reds struggle to pick up results in. With third place currently in their hands, depending on Man City's results, and fourth place theirs to lose, can they finally show some consistency against the lower sides? The flowing, exciting, attacking football Jurgen Klopp's team were using to steamroller team after team in the first half of the season has vanished of late. What is left is a tentative, almost negative side, with a midfield who seem afraid to make forward runs for fear of leaving gaps for fast breaks to exploit and a front line that seems devoid of movement without Sadio Mane. Confidence seems entirely absent and there is a complete lack of vocal leadership on pitch to drive the players on. That could end up costing Liverpool badly.
Most important player: Adam Lallana. His energy and running are the key to opening up defences and pressing opponents. It can be infectious and wake up team mates that have been extremely lethargic in the last few matches.

Defining Battle: the wide areas are key for both teams, with both heavily reliant on full/wing backs for width. A lot depends on which side can get the upper hand in the wide areas and stretch their opponent.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-3
Ed004 - 1-3
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 2-3
Ed025 - 0-1
Ed033 - 0-1


Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Premier League 4:30pm

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

The shock defeat to West Ham has killed their title hopes for another season, but this match is important to lay down a marker for next season by handing a potential title rival a defeat. It is also important for Mauricio Pochettino's hopes of hanging onto his better players heading into next season. A good end to the season leaves the players heading into summer on a high, keen to see what this young squad can do. A poor end could leave the players feeling like they have already gone as far as they can do. With the move to a new stadium on the horizon, interest in all of Spurs' top players from around Europe, this will be a very intriguing summer. Will Daniel Levy loosen the purse strings and invest for the title?
Most important player: Dele Alli. This is a match where temperament could be everything, as Tottenham look to avoid a repeat of last season's implosion at the end of the season. One player with a particularly suspect temperament is Alli, for all his quality as a player. He needs to remember to count to ten when things are not going his way and ignore any provocation that may come his way. His goals and assists are all the answers he needs.

Young (out - hamstring injury)
Rashford (late fitness test - knee injury)
Shaw (major doubt - foot injury)
Fosu-Mensah (out - dislocated shoulder)
Ibrahimovic (out - ACL injury)
Rojo (out - ACL injury)
Wilson (out - ACL injury)
Williams (out - knee injury)
Fellaini (out - suspended)

So far it seems Jose Mourinho's decision to stop worrying about the Premier League to concentrate on the Europa League is almost vindicated. If you can vindicate a decision to decide the most expensively assembled squad in footballing history is incapable of challenging for a top four place as well as attempting to win the Europa League. Sometimes it feels like Jose ties one hand behind his back for matches, just so he can complain that he is having to play with one hand tied behind his back. His constant whines about how many games his team has to play seems to have covered up the fact that he has rotated his players well and none of them, even David De Gea, have played in all of the games. All of them have had rests and games off, plenty of chances to recover from the schedule they have. Added to that, it was Jose himself who complained the squad was too large and he wanted to offload more of the players to go with a smaller squad. The more deeply you look at the issues around the Red Devils, the more you realise that most of them are down to Jose Mourinho himself. Gone are the days when a smiling Mourinho made light of issues and just found ways to keep his teams winning each week. In his place is a dour, miserable, moaning old man, constantly finding problems where none exist in a quest to absolve himself of any blame for those times when his tactical approach fails to bore the opponent to sleep long enough for United to sneak a goal. Has the pressure got too much for him, after all his years with it heaped on his shoulders, or is he just missing his family and struggling to settle in Manchester? Hotel living, no matter how much people who have never had to do it will snigger, is not a nice experience when it has to be done for an extended period. Especially when it is away from your family.
Most important player: Juan Mata. The Spaniard will be fresh, having not started against Celta de Vigo, and has the ability to unlock defences with a good pass.

Defining Battle: the key here is the battle within Mourinho. Will he again cede the initiative in the match and just look to use it as another reason to whine or will he set out to try and beat Spurs? It is likely, either way, his team will have the team bus parked in the goalmouth, while they attempt to hit on the break. The question is how decisive will they be on the attack? Or will they just sit back and be happy to keep the score down to give Jose yet another reason to moan about players being tired and how difficult it all is and how the whole world is against him?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed004 - 3-1
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 6-2
Ed025 - 3-0
Ed033 - 1-0

Written by Tris Burke May 12 2017 06:45:12