That time again, make sure you know everything there is to know about the upcoming games this round!
Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Parker, Dembele; Lennon, Bale, Holtby; Dempsey.
Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, S.Taylor, Santon; Gouffran, Cabaye, Tiote, Gutierrez; Sissoko; Cisse.
Adebayor apparently won’t join up with the squad until Friday, meaning his inclusion on saturday is looking doubtful. Dempsey will then start up top with Holtby slotting in behind and Bale back on the left.
Newcastle should go in unchanged from the side that has performed so well over the last two weeks, with the only battleground at CB between Yanga Mbiwa and Taylor.
Tottenham are undefeated in their last 9 games, so they enter this game on a bit of a hot streak. Lots of these games have been draws however, and they have only scored over 2 goals at home twice this year (against West Ham and Reading). Newcastle however, have been extremely leaky away from home, conceding 26 goals this year, which makes them the second worst team away from home in terms of conceded goals. It remains to be seen then how their new attack power will stand up to Tottenham’s handy defence.
Newcastle are a very hard team to gauge at the moment. Their three new signings have made their mark on the team, and along with Cabaye and Tiote returning returning to bolster the midfield things are looking up for the Magpies. I still think Tottenham’s defence will be very hard to stretch, as it is filled with a lot of pace to match Newcastle on the break. Newcastle should score however, but it remains to be seen how Tottenham will cope without a proper striker
Cech; Azpilicueta, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole; Ramires, Luiz; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres.
Al Habsi; Scharner, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McArthur, McCarthy, Beausejour; Maloney, Kone, Di Santo.
Chelsea should see a few changes ringed this week. Hazard returns, meaning Bertrand is left out of the XI- while Torres will probably be preferred over Ba (despite his face-mask acquisition midweek). Luiz is fit and could bolster the CM post, as Lampard played a half for England midweek and is probably due a rest. Azpilicueta was missed last week at RB and should slot back in, with Ivanovic pushing to a CB slot to replace Cahill– who played a significant portion of the midweek international.
Much less drama at Wigan, with Kone expected to return following Ivory Coast’s elimination from the Cup of Nations. His return will see either Espinoza or Di Santo left out.
Chelsea need a win- more so for Rafa Benitez’s sake than theirs. Chelsea’s home defence has been solid this year- conceding a mere 11 goals from their home ties all year. However, they have been surprisingly unimpressive at Stamford Bridge this year, winning only 6 games from their 12 appearances. They have conceded a mere 11 goals at home this year though- So Wigan will be hard pressed to win this one.
Wigan however, have been very ordinary in recent weeks. Their good is very good, but their bad is just so far off Premier League pace it’s frightening. They have won only 1 of their last 10 games, and have conceded a whopping 20 goals away from home. Chelsea should be in for a good day at the Bridge, but it largely depends on which Wigan team arrives- Jekyll or Hyde.
Bunn; Martin, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Johnson, Tettey; Snodgrass, Hoolahan, Pilkington; Holt
Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Duff, Karagounis, Sidwell, Emanuelson; Ruiz; Berbatov.
The only doubt for Norwich remains Pilkington- his failure to play will see Bennett deputise on the left flank- while a switch to a 4-4-2 to accommodate new signing Becchio is also an option.
Fulham have only two injuries according to Martin Jol, who will be without Karim Frei and Momo Diarra. This means that all of Emanuelson, Richardson and Kacaniklic will be vying for the LW position- with the former getting the nod for me. Sidwell‘s return will see Baird relegated to the bench, while Berbatov is expected to play up front. Rodallega will be next in line should he fail to be fit.
Norwich’s home record is actually quite good- they have only conceded 14 goals all year at Carrow Road. Remember Norwich’s barnstorming run where they were unbeaten for 10 games? Yeah well since then they’ve lost 5 out of their last 8, and drawn the other 3. They’re in a bit of a rut, but a home game against the travel sick Fulham will be just what the doctor ordered.
Fulham’s away woes have been well documented, and while their form has been criticised they’ve still managed to pick up maximum points in 2 of their last 5 games. The fact remains though that they have still only won 2 away games all year, and conceded a sizeable 25 goals in the process.
I think Norwich should get all 3 points here, but a draw certainly is on the cards in a low scoring affair.
Stoke City (4-5-1)
Begovic; Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson; Walters, Adam, Cameron, N’Zonzi, Etherington; Crouch.
Federici; Kelly, Mariappa, Pearce, Harte; Kebe, Karacan, Leigertwood, McCleary; McAnuff; Pogrebnyak.
Pulis shifted Cameron into the midfield last week to bolster it defensively, and it worked- I expect him to continue in this role. If he doesn’t, his shift to the backline will probably see Shotton drop out and Whelan included into the midfield.
Reading have shifted winger McAnuff into the hole in recent weeks in favour of Guthrie. Akpan and Carrico continue to push for a CM berth that is currently occupied by Karacan and Leigertwood– McDermott remains unlikely to tinker with a winning combination.
Stoke’s defensive worries look a little better following an assured performance against Arsenal- and they only conceded through an unlucky deflection off of Cameron. Have Stoke turned a corner? It remains to be seen, but the fact they’ve lost 4 out of their last 5 and have been winless since Boxing Day still remains. With an increased defensive focus and a home game against Reading, surely they can get the three points.
Reading’s away form is worse than Fulham’s- they have only won once on the road all year and drawn twice- meaning their away loss tally of 9 is the biggest in the PL. They have however only lost 1 of their last 8, and are mirroring the type of form that saw them earn promotion in the first place.
I think this week is the week though where Reading come crashing back to earth. They hate travelling at the best of times, so a trip to the intimidating Brittania is not something they’d be looking forward to. Stoke should win another low scoring affair.
Mignolet; Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Colback; Larsson, Vaughan, N’Diaye, Johnson; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
Sunderland’s selection hinges on their mindset. If they wish to attack Arsenal, Larsson will shift central with McClean jumping onto a wing and Vaughan missing out. Recently however, they have stuck with the defensive CM partnership of Vaughan and new boy N’Diaye, so I will expect that to continue. How Graham fits into their plans is a mystery for me.
Arsenal will start as they should have last week, before Wenger intervened. Cazorla and Podolski will slot into the team in favour of Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Sunderland have been quietly going about their business in a period which has seen them pick up a few handy points against mid-tabled rivals- before they came crashing down against Reading last week. They have however, only scored 14 goals at home- a stat which is only better than relegation candidates QPR and Villa. Signs are pointing towards another dour affair at the Stadium of Light, but Arsenal have been known to turn it on.
Wenger’s side have been scoring for fun at home, but on the road it’s another story. They have the second best defensive record away, conceding only 11 goals- but have also only scored 16 goals. They will need to work for a full 90 minutes in order to get a result here, as unfortunately it looks like another low scoring tie.
I think the points will be evenly split here- both sides goalscoring record is too poor to ignore.
Vorm; Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies; Ki, Britton, De Guzman; Routledge, Michu, Hernandez.
Cesar; Onuoha, Samba, Hill, Fabio; Derry, Mbia; Wright-Phillips, Taarabt, Townsend; Mackie.
Much of the same for Swansea, who only could conceivably swap Michu into the midfield in place of Ki, and including Shechter up front. I’ll tip the Spaniard to continue leading the line though.
For QPR, Townsend should keep his LW slot after debuting impressively last week, while Mackie remains as the striker at the front of the queue following Remy‘s injury. Zamora is also a chance to lead the line.
Swansea have the best away defensive record- but at home it’s not as impressive. Their free-flowing game can leave them susceptible on the counter- something that QPR revolve their game around. The Swans have been picking up results often this year- their loss last week v West Ham was their first in 8 appearances.
QPR are defensively very sound- having notched up clean sheets in 3 of their last 4 games. Their problem is that they are completely toothless in attack however, so I can’t see them troubling the Swans- especially at the Liberty Stadium.
Swansea should have too much attacking power for QPR- their task will be trying to break a fairly solid defence though.
Boruc; Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Cork; Puncheon, Ramirez, Rodriguez; Lambert.
Man City (4-4-1-1)
Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Nastasic, Clichy; Milner, Y Toure, Barry, Silva; Aguero; Dzeko.
The Saints will stick to what they have the last few weeks, with Lallana certainly pushing for an inclusion. Rodriguez would probably be the man to go should they decide to start with their captain on the pitch. Forren is also pushing for a debut at CB.
Toure returns to bolster the Man City midfield, meaning Garcia or Barry will probably drop to the bench. Dzeko and Aguero both scored last week vs LFC, so I’ll tip them to start again- but away from home it’s perfectly reasonable to assume Dzeko will make way for Tevez.
Southampton, while being free scoring away from home, have been surprisingly unsuccessful at St Mary’s this year. At home they have conceded less goals than Everton have at Goodison Park, highlighting their defensive returns. Cracking Man City, who run the leagues equal best away defence looks doubtful however, as their 15 goals scored at home this year doesn’t fill me with a great deal of confidence.
Man City need to win this- a draw would see the title virtually United’s before March. They have only lost 1 game on the road however all year, so they go into this tie rightly as favourites.
I can’t see City losing this, but I can see them drawing. I still think they have enough attacking prowess to net at least once- so I’ll tip them for the win.
Aston Villa (4-4-1-1)
Guzan; Lowton, Clark, Vlaar, Bennett; N’Zogbia, Sylla, Westwood, Agbonlahor; Weimann; Benteke.
West Ham (4-3-3)
Jaaskelainen; O’Brien, Reid, Tomkins, Taylor; Noble, Nolan, Diame; Jarvis, Carroll, Cole.
Villa have switched back to a much more manageable 4-4-1-1 recently, meaning Sylla and Westwood are left to patrol the midfield and spray it wide.
Taylor deputised at LB last week for the Hammers, and it was their first clean sheet in a while, so I’d expect that to continue- unfortunately that leaves Demel on the bench.
Where to start. Villa have been a nightmare to tip all year, as their defence has been letting down a fairly promising attacking squadron. They have conceded a huge 49 goals all year, but only 18 of those have been at home. That said, they still have only scored NINE goals in all games at Villa Park, meaning they’ll struggle to break down West Ham’s very physical defence.
West Ham away from home have the worst goal scoring record in the PL, netting only 7 times. This, coupled with their indifferent form that’s seen them lose 6 of their last 10 makes it an incredibly tough game to pick. A 0-0 is definitely on the cards, but Villa’s defence is so ordinary most people’s grandparents could score against them. West Ham should win and get their season back on track after a mid year blip.
Man United (4-4-2)
De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa; Van Persie, Rooney.
Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Mirallas, Osman, Fellaini, Gibson, Pienaar; Anichebe.
United are looking very strong at the moment- with the only battleground perhaps between Nani and Valencia for a spot on the left. Vidic was rested v Fulham last weekend and is poised for a return- possibly at Evans‘ expense.
Everton will surely drop Heitinga for Neville, after the Dutch international was at fault for all three Villa goals. Elsewhere, Anichebe may start up top after Jelavic‘s lacklustre performances.
For Everton, Fellaini is the key. If he plays deeper, closer to the defence, I can see this being a very dour encounter- if he plays in the hole though, goals will flow. Last week his move to the hole saw Everton net thrice, but still concede 3 times also. They have also lost only 3 games all year, meaning this won’t be a cakewalk for Sir Alex’s title destined bunch.
United have the best home record by far, winning 11 of their 12 games. They have netted 32 times (the league’s highest) and should score freely against Everton (especially if Heitinga plays on RVP!) I fully expect them to win this, but I have a feeling it’ll be a high scoring affair.
Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard; Downing, Suarez, Sturridge.
West Brom (4-4-1-1)
Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Fortune, Yacob, Brunt, Dorrans; Morrison; Lukaku.
Liverpool will go in unchanged again, with Sturridge the only slight doubt- I fully expect him to play though.
West Brom are without Popov who spat his way to a 3 match ban. Ridgwell will deputise at LB, while Long started last week alongside Lukaku and could potentially play behind him, with Morrison moving to the left and sending Dorrans to the bench. Reid started ahead of Jones at RB last week, so who starts this week is up for grabs.
Liverpool, strangely enough, have the best home record in the PL, conceding merely 10 goals! They’ve been getting results when it matters, picking up impressive draws with Arsenal and City during a period where they’ve lost only 1 in 6 (to United).
West Brom are a train wreck at the moment. They’ve lost 5 of their last 6 and last week’s game v Tottenham was the first in 5 games they haven’t conceded 2 goals or more.
I can’t see them beating a Liverpool side who are high on confidence, especially with the defensive record they have.
I expect Liverpool to go in unchanged, while Swansea could feasibly move Michu to the midfield to give them more thrust. Away from home though, my thoughts are they will shut up shop in the midfield and play on the break- Dyer would be a perfect candidate to return then, perhaps at the expense of Routledge or Hernandez.
Liverpool = the best home team defensively; Swansea = the best away team defensively. It should be a low scoring affair, with Swansea focussing most of their attention to the following League Cup final v Bradford.
I can see Liverpool netting, with Sturridge and Suarez causing havoc up front at Anfield. A draw wouldn’t be out of the question though!
Here’s what we reckon will happen this week. Last week I managed to notch 7 points, with Andy close behind on 5. Matt brought up the rear with 2 points. (1 point for a correct result 3 points for a correct score).
That’s all from me this week, make sure you stay tuned to twitter to see all the breaking team news before locking your team in! Good luck to all!