The festive season games are coming thick and fast and we’re only just recovering from the onslaught of points that game week 14 brought us. The game of the weekend has to be the one at the Emirates, but this weekend also offers some intriguing matchups that will be vital to those teams hovering near the bottom of the log.
Man Utd v Newcastle
Man Utd: De Gea, Evans, Vidic, Rafael, Evra, Valencia, Nani, Jones, Cleverly, Kagawa, Hernandez
Newcastle: Krul, Coloccini, Debuchy, Williamson, Santon, Tiote, Sissoko, Cabaye, Ameobi, Gouffran, Remy
United are under huge pressure and they’re going to be without their key player for the game against Newcastle. A loss to Everton at Old Trafford means that Moyes’ men are now sitting way down in 9th, 12 points off the lead. Rooney will serve his 1-match ban after picking up his 5th yellow in the loss to the Toffees, so we may see a rare appearance for Hernandez, should Moyes decide to partner the Mexican with Welbeck upfront. Van Persie remains a major doubt and Jones will be back in the midfield. If Welbeck is played out wide, Kagawa may be used up the middle, just behind Hernandez.
Alan Pardew’s consistency in team selection did not pay off for the trip to Swansea. An unchanged side went goalless in a 3-0 drubbing against the Welsh side and this may see the Newcastle boss make a few changes this weekend. Hatem Ben Arfa is back in contention, as well as Steven Taylor. Williamson and Coloccini look set to retain their places in the heart of the Magpie’s defense, but they’ll be subject to a barrage of United attacks as the former champions look to make amends for the loss on Wednesday. United need this win badly and will probably end up scraping it.
Crystal Palace v Cardiff
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Gabbidon, Delaney, Ward, Moxey, Dikgacoi, Puncheon, Jedinak, Bannan, Chamakh, Jerome
Cardiff: Marshall, Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Bellamy, Medel, Mutch, Kim Bo-Kyung, Odemwingie, Whittingham
Marouane Chamakh was the Palace hero in the game against West Ham and is likely to continue his partnership with Cameron Jerome up front in a 4-4-2 formation. Bolasie serves the last of his 3-match ban, making space for Jason Puncheon on the right hand flank.
Malky Mackay decided to bring in Gunnarsson for the matchup against Stoke, but I’d expect Kim Bo–Kyung to win his spot back for the trip to Palace. Bellamy will be itching for a start and with the games coming thick and fast, the Cardiff boss may hand the Welshman a place at the expense of Don Cowie on the right. Frazier Campbell continues upfront as summer signing, Andreas Cornelius, builds his match fitness from the bench. It’s Palace that will come into this game with the momentum and with a home ground advantage, you’d expect the Eagles to have enough to come away with the maximum points.
Liverpool v West Ham
Liverpool: Mignolet, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Flanagan, Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas, Couthino, Suarez, Allen
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, O’Brien, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Diame, Nolan, Noble, Downing, Miaga, Jarvis
Sturridge and Enrique remain sidelined, but Rodgers does have the option of putting Iago Aspas up front in a 4-4-2 formation. The Liverpool boss handed Sterling a place on the flank in a 4-3-3 formation against Norwich and will likely retain the same formation for the visit of West Ham. Those without Suarez will be kicking themselves and really need to start figuring out how to make space for the Uruguayan in their side. With West Ham still struggling to find goals, Skrtel and Agger in central defense offer us the possibility of a clean sheet and bonus points.
Sam Allardyce continues to utilize his squad, making 4 changes in the midweek game against Palace. At the back, Rat looks likely to retain his spot after recovering from a hamstring injury. Ravel Morrison picked up his 5th yellow of the season in the midweek loss and will not be available for the trip to Anfield. This could offer Matt Jarvis the chance to display the skills he showed during his stint at Wolves. With Andy Carrol still sidelined, it’s a battle between Maiga and Cole for a spot up front. The Hammers will battle to get anything out of this one. Liverpool look lethal upfront and their defensive record at home is impressive. Pool should walk it.
Southampton v Man City
Southampton: Gazzaniga,Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse, Davis, Lallana, Lambert, Cork
Man City: Pantillimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Milner, Aguero, Negredo
Southampton have lost their last 3 in a row and haven’t exactly got it easy this weekend. Clyne and Wanyama were both subbed off in the second half against Villa with injuries and will be fighting to be fit in time for the Man City visitors. Kelvin Davis looks to be near match fit again so Paolo Gazzaniga’s place between the sticks is not secure. If Clyne doesn’t make it, we’re likely to see the young Calum Chambers deputise at the back. Fonte is back after sitting out the midweek game with a knock and it’ll be a toss up between Osvaldo and Lambert to lead the line.
City Skipper, Vincent Kompany, returned to the fold during the week and looks set to take his usual spot in the heart of the defense against Southampton this weekend. We may see a few more change ups at the back after Kolorov replaced Clichy in the game against West Brom. Micah Richards will also be looking for a start so Zabaleta’s position is far from secure. Negredo should find himself back in the starting XI after being rested last time out. Nastasic, Silva and Jovetic are still sidelined. Pellegrini will see the congested December period as a chance for his side to make up the lost points and stamp their authority at the top of the league. City to win, but not comfortably.
Stoke v Chelsea
Stoke City: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Muniesa Walters, Whelan, N’Zonzi, Arnautovic, Adam, Crouch
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Mikel, Ramires, Willian, Hazard, Mata, Torres
Stoke have come away with their fair share of draws over the past 3 months, but they’ve only managed 3 wins. Hughes will know that they need to start picking up more 3-pointers if they want to avoid the drop. Unfortunately for the Potters, they welcome Chelsea to the Britannia, so it’s likely they’ll be targeting another solitary point. Marko Arnautovic returned to the midfield during the week after recovering from a hamstring injury. Walters sat on the bench for the draw to Cardiff, nursing a thigh injury, but should be fit to start this weekend. At the back, Wilson is expected to continue alongside Shawcross in the central defense. It’ll be a battle between Adam and Ireland for the spot just behind Peter Crouch.
Mourinho may have Oscar back as an option in the midfield, but to be honest, the Chelsea boss has his fair share of talent to choose from. With Lampard playing the full 90 during the week, we may see the likes of Schurrle or Willian come in for the Englishman. Cole is expected to take Azpilicueta’s sport at the back and Luiz may also be back in contention. Juan Mata seems to slowly be gaining Mourinho’s trust and will see the busy festive period as a chance to show the sort of form that saw him as a near essential player last season. Mourinho will want more solidarity at the back and with Stoke struggling for goals lately we may just see a rare clean sheet for the Blues. I’m going for a tight win for the visitors.
West Brom v Norwich
West Brom: Myhill, Jones, McAuley, Lugano, Ridgewell, Brunt, Yacob, Amilfitano, Long, Sessegnon, Mulumbu
Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, Bennet, Bassong, Olsson, Hoolahan, Elmander, Howson, Fer, Redmond, Hooper
Steve Clark has a few decisions to make at the back for the West Brom side. Should Billy Jones not be fit in time, Steven Reid will continue to deputise and Jonas Olsson will need to be replaced after picking up his 5th yellow against City. This may see Diego Lugano get his first start of the season. Mulumbu is back in the midfield and should line up just behind Sessegnon who found himself on the bench for the mid-week game.
With Snodgrass and Pilkington still sidelined, Redmond and Hoolahan look set to continue in their wide roles. Hooper should make his way back into the side for the trip to the Hawthorns with either Johnson or Elmander making way. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is still sidelined with a toe injury and Michael Turner has been relegated to the bench after the return of Seb Bassong to the Canaries’ defense. This game will be a tough one to call. You’d expect West Brom to have the upper hand playing at home but I think Norwich will put up a good fight. I still have to lean towards to Baggies win though.
Sunderland v Tottenham
Sunderland: Mannone, Dossena, O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley, Borini, Ki, Colback, Giaccherini, Larsson, Fletcher
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Naughton, Chiriches, Chadli, Sandro, Paulinho, Townsend, Holtby, Soldado
Gus Poyet rested Seb Larsson and Steven Fletcher for the game against Chelsea, giving Jack Colback and Jozy Altidore a run. The introduction of Altidore gives Poyet the option of playing 2 upfront, instead of the lone striker role that Fletcher has fulfilled. Larsson’s spot in the starting XI is under threat from Borini and Giaccherini will be hoping to keep his place on the right wing. Former Man Utd partners, Wes Brown and John O’Shea have locked down their positions at the back and Victor Mannone seems to have displaced Kieran Westwood for the place between the posts.
AVB’s side got back to winning ways at a very cold Craven Cottage on Wednesday evening and have the chance to kick on with the matchup against Sunderland. The Spurs boss continues to rotate his midfield though and it’s difficult to know what he’ll do next. Erik Lamela got a start out wide, while Mousa Dembele missed the trip to Fulham with a hip complaint. Defoe looks to be in contention again upfront after replacing the misfiring Roberto Soldado. Vertonghen is a doubt after rolling his ankle and with Rose still out injured, we’re likely to see either Naughton or Fyers come in for the injured Belgian. I think Sunderland may have enough to hold Spurs to a draw, but they’ll have to dig deep.
Fulham v Aston Villa
Fulham: Stekelenburg, Hughes, Riether, Senderos, Richardson, Kasami, Sidwell, Parker, Kacaneklic, Dejagah, Berbatov
Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Clark, Baker, Luton, Westwood, El Ahmadi, Delph, Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor
Fulham have a second home game in a row and will be desperate to come away with maximum points after narrowly missing out against Spurs on Wednesday. Riether is back in the side after serving his 3-match ban but Fulham are still without Brede Hangeland. At left back, Kieran Richardson faces competition from John Arne Riise after losing his spot in the mid-week game. Berbatov recovered in time to face his former team and Kasami may find himself slotting in behind the Bulgarian once again.
At the beginning of the season we would never have guessed that we would see Benteke warming the bench. The Belgian’s goals have dried up since his return from injury and he made way for Kozak and Agbonlahor to lead the line in a 3-5-2 formation. The switch up in formation meant that Bacuna and Luna were utilized as wing-backs. Vlaar took his place in the 3-man defense but is a doubt for the trip to Craven Cottage. Should he not make it, we may see Lambert revert back to the 4-3-3 formation, with Baker and Clark in central defense. Fulham have been woeful this season but I’m backing them to pull it together with the introduction of Rene Meulensteen. Fulham to win it 2-1.
Arsenal v Everton
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo, Osman, Barry, McCarthy, Pienaar, Lukaku, Mirallas
Arsene Wenger showed the first signs of festive season rotation by benching Giroud, Wilshere, Arteta and Gibbs for the game against Hull. I think we’ll see these players return for the matchup against Everton though. Wilshere’s place will be under threat from Walcott though, who continues to build up his match fitness from the bench. At the back, Sagna remains sidelined and Jenkinson should continue to deputise.
Everton will arrive at the Emirates in high spirits after taking maximum points at Old Trafford. Roberto Martinez has options in the middle of the park and may continue to rotate the likes of Mirallas, Barkley, Osman and Deulofeu. Baines is still out and Oviedo looks set to continue in the left-back role. The Toffees continue to perform above our expectations and there really is no reason why they can’t take points away from the league leaders. I think these teams will end up cancelling each other out and a scoring draw is a huge possibility.
Swansea v Hull City
Swansea: Vorm, Tiendalli, Williams, Chico, Davies, Dyer, De Guzman, Britton, Shelvey, Hernandez, Alex Pozuelo
Hull City: McGregor, Figueroa, Chester, Davies, Livermore, Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Brady, Mayler, Graham, Sagbo
Laudrup has revealed that Bony and Michu are recovering well from their injuries, but won’t be back in time for the home game against Hull. The Swans’ boss has a problem upfront, as Alvaro Vasquez limped off early in the victory against Newcastle. This could open the door for Jonjo Shelvey to lead the line with Dyer and Hernandez offering support just behind him. The former Liverpool midfielder would be my pick as a great differential this weekend. Rangel is still out and Vorm has reclaimed his No. 1 jersey.
James Chester has returned from injury and replaced the suspended Curtis Davies for the loss at the Emirates. Davies is back this week though, so we may see Alex Bruce make way. Robert Koren lost his place for the mid-week match and may find himself continuing to warm the bench as Steve Bruce reverts to a 3-5-2 formation with Graham and Sagbo partnering up front. I think this would be a more evenly matched game if it were at the KC Stadium, but a trip to Wales might just be a little too much for the Hull side. Even with the lack of strikers, the Swans should have enough to take the 3 points.
That’s it from me. Good luck to all!