Not only does the festive season rotation play havoc with our sides, it also brings with it the increased chance of suspended players due to picking up 5 yellows. Keep an eye on those you’re looking to bring in, as they may just be on their way to a red flag in the coming weeks. This weekend brings some fantastic matchups and I can’t wait to see how everyone emerges after the snow has settled on the this festive season.
Man City v Arsenal
Man City: Pantillimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva, Aguero, Negredo
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
This one’s going to be a cracker! (festive season pun intended!) City welcome back David Silva after the midfielder returned from injury to start for City in the midweek Champion’s League game. His return will mean that Navas is likely to take a seat on the bench to accommodate the Spaniard. Clichy is a doubt with a foot injury but was rested midweek and is expected to be back in time to face the Gunners. If he doesn’t make it though, Kolarov is more than capable of filling in. Nastasic remains sidelined.
The Gunners will have the same personnel available to them that they had against Everton last weekend. Sagna remains sidelined and Jenkinson will be tasked with keeping the likes of Aguero and Negredo at bay. Wilshere is expected to line up on the flank after being rested midweek, with Cazorla, Arteta and Ramsey making up the rest of the midfield. Walcott is back to full fitness now though and Wenger may choose to use the Englishman to try get behind the City defense. City have won all 7 of their home games, scoring 29 and allowing just 2. The Gunners claim at being title contenders will be put to the test this month and I think City will just be too tough an obstacle to overcome. I’m going with a City win, with at least 2 goals for the home side.
Cardiff v West Brom
Cardiff: Marshall, Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Cowie, Medel, Mutch, Odemwingie, Campbell, Whittingham
West Brom: Myhill, Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Brunt, Yacob, Mulumu, Long, Sessegnon, Amalfitano
Andrew Taylor is back for the Cardiff outfit and should slot into the Bluebirds defense at the expense of Declan John. Upfront, Malky Mackay has the option of using Bellamy on the right, although Odemwingie and Cowie ware also options for the Cardiff boss. Campbell is expected to lead the line, although Cornelius is in contention after building up his match fitness over the past few weeks.
Lugano is expected to make way for the returning Jonas Olsson as the Swede returns from suspension to take his place in the Baggies backline. In the middle of the park, Steve Clarke has the option of Mulumbu, Morrison, Yacob and Brunt and is expected to field Amalfitano on the flank. Sessegnon looks set to keep his spot behind the lone striker, despite looking sluggish over the past few weeks. I’m hoping Shane Long is given the chance up front. It’s a really tough match to call as both these sides have struggled recently. Sitting at 15th and 16th place, both sides have negative goal differences and may just end up cancelling each other out. I’m going to go for a draw on this one. Cardiff have looked fairly decent at home, but if there had to be a winner, I’d be leaning towards West Brom.
Chelsea v Crystal Palace
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Schurrle, Ramires, Lampard, Hazard, Oscar, Torres
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Gabbidon, Delaney, Ward, Mariappa, Dikgacoi, Puncheon, Jedinak, Bannan, Chamakh, Jerome
Mourinho has a bit of a selection headache ahead of the matchup with Crystal Palace. David Luiz and Oscar both recovered from injuries to take their place in the side that faced Steaua during the week. Hazard and Schurrle have done enough to warrant thier places on the wing, but will come under threat from Willian and De Bruyne. Mata was also rested midweek and could take his place in the Blue’s midfield as the Chelsea boss looks to utilize his squad over the busy festive period. After being given 90 minutes during the week, Demba Ba is unlikely to start at Stamford Bridge, so it’ll be a toss up between Torres and Eto’o for the striker role.
Jerome and Chamakh look set to continue in the roles together upfront after impressing over the past few weeks. Behind them, Bannan should keep his place on the wing, even with the return of Bolasie after serving his 3-match suspension. At the back, Mariappa will continue to deputise for the injured Dean Moxey, after the defender was forced off early in the game against Cardiff. Chelsea and Crystal Palace have the exact same records over the past 6 EPL games, but it’s Palace that have struggled to win away from home. After a 3-2 loss to Stoke, Mourinho will be looking to shut up shop at the back. The Chelsea defense has been poor this season but they have the perfect opportunity to register a clean sheet against the goal-shy Eagles. I’m expecting them to put at least 2 past Speroni as well.
Everton v Fulham
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo, Osman, Barry, Barkley, Pienaar, Lukaku, Mirallas
Fulham: Stekelenburg, Hughes, Riether, Senderos, Riise, Karagounis, Sidwell, Parker, Dejagah, Ruiz, Kacaniklic
Roberto Martinez finally has the chance to field both Barkley and Osman after James McCarthy picked up his 5th yellow of the season against Arsenal. Gerard Deulofeu will be pushing for a start and will threaten the game time of both Mirallas and Pienaar. The South African hasn’t lived up to his ability this season and may just find himself playing second fiddle to the young Spaniard if he doesn’t start performing. Upfront, Lukaku will be a favourite for the captain’s armband this week as the inform Toffees take on a pretty dismal defense.
Rene Meulensteen deployed a 4-3-3 formation against Villa last weekend and will likely stick to the game plan that saw Fulham take home 3 points against the midlands side. Sidwell looks to have taken his place above Kasami in the pecking order and Ruiz and Taarabt will need to make use of any game time given to them to stake a claim at a starting XI berth. Hangeland is still out and we’ll likely see Meulensteen stick with the same back four that produced a clean sheet against Villa. Everton are playing some unbelievable football and if they can show any kind of form that they displayed against the log leaders last weekend, they should walk this. They’re undefeated at home for the last 16 matches and with 4 clean sheets at Goodison Park this season already, should be able to take the 3 points pretty comfortably.
Newcastle v Southampton
Newcastle: Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Sissoko, Tiote, Anita, Gouffran, Ameobi, Remy
Southampton: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse, Davis, Lallana, Osvaldo, Cork
The trip to Old Trafford saw Alan Pardew make just a single change to the Magpies lineup. With Anita coming in for Ameobi, Newcastle beefed up their midfield and bossed the game in the middle of the park. Cabaye is the only player unavailable to Pardew this week after picking up his 5th yellow of the season against the former champions. This could see Anita continue in midfield, or it could open the door for Ben Arfa to work his way back into the reckoning.
Pochettino is likely to name an unchanged side that saw the Saints draw 1-1 with City. I think the only change we could see here is upfront, as Ricky Lambert looks to work his way back into the starting XI and recapture the form he showed last season. Gazzaniga will continue in goals with Boruc still sidelined. Newcastle should have enough at home to get past Southampton. The Magpies are sitting at the top of the current form table with 5 wins in their last 6 and they’re facing a team that will be a little deflated after the past few results. I’m going with a 2-1 victory to the home side.
West Ham v Sunderland
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, McCarthy, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Morrison, Diame, Noble, Maiga, Cole, Jarvis
Sunderland: Mannone, Dossena, O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley, Colback, Ki, Altidore, Giaccherini, Larsson, Fletcher
West Ham are struggling. Languishing down near the relegation zone, Sam Allardyce’s side have won just 1 in their last 8. The Hammers will welcome back Ravel Morrison from suspension, but will be without Kevin Nolan, after the midfielder saw red against Liverpool. Downing is injured, so we’re likely to see Joe Cole take his place on the wing for West Ham. It’s tough to call the predicted backline as the West Ham boss has rotated his players quite frequently. McCartney should get another start at left back and Razvan Rat looks to be sidelined after missing the trip to Liverpool.
Gus Poyet opted for a 4-4-2 formation last week and paired Altidore with Fletcher upfront. The only changes we may see here are in the Sunderland midfield. Larsson and Johnson are under threat of rotation with Giaccerini and Borini offering alternatives on the flank. Dossena may find himself back in the starting XI at the expense of Celustka. West Ham are playing at home, but it’s Sunderland that have the better form coming into this one. The Hammers could find themselves in serious trouble if the Sunderland outfit continue to build on the decent start that Gus Poyet has had with the side. We’re likely to see a draw here, but Sunderland may just sneak it.
Hull City v Stoke City
Hull City: McGregor, Chester, Davies, Bruce, Figuero, Livermore, Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Meyler, Graham, Sagbo
Stoke City: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Arnautovic, Whelan, N’Zonzi, Assaidi, Ireland, Crouch
Robbie Brady missed out on a starting place against Swansea as Steve Bruce rolled out a 3-5-2 formation, proving rather successful against the Welsh outfit. Graham and Sagbo look set to continue upfront and if Bruce decides to stick with 3 at the back, we should see Chester, Davies and Bruce tasked with keeping out the Stoke side. In the middle of the park, Meyler looks set to keep his place with Elmohamady on the flank. Koren also offers the Hull boss an alternative in any formation.
The suspensions are racking up quickly at this time of year and Walters will have to watch from the sidelines as he picked up his 5th yellow of the season in the win against Chelsea. Assaidi certainly made a claim to a spot in the Stoke midfield after climbing off the bench to score the winner at Stamford Bridge. Stephen Ireland could replace Charlie Adam in the spot just behind Peter Crouch. Should Pieters not make it back in time for the trip to Hull, Muniesa will continue to deputise in the left-back role. The Potters arrive at the KC Stadium in a buoyant mood, but the Hull side has looked impressive at home. I’m going with a bit of a drap draw.
Aston Villa v Man Utd
Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Clark, Herd, Baker, Westwood, El Ahmadi, Sylla, Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor
Man Utd: De Gea, Evans, Vidic, Rafael, Evra, Valencia, Jones, Cleverly, Kagawa, Rooney, Januzaj
There’s a shift at the back for Aston Villa as both Vlaar and Luna are doubts for the visit of Man United. Should both these players fail to make it in time, we’ll see Herd and Baker cover at the back. In the middle of the park, Fabian Delph serves a 1-match suspension so Yacouba Sylla will cover for the midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation that will see Wiemann and Agbonlahor line up on either side of Benteke upfront.
Wayne Rooney returns from his 1-match suspension but Van Persie has just been ruled out with a thigh strain. Valencia was dropped for the game against Newcastle, but should find himself back on the wing. It’ll be a battle between Januzaj, Young, Welbeck and Nani for a spot on the left flank. Evra did miss the midweek game but may be back in time for the trip to Villa Park. Buttner does offer an alternative should the Frenchman not be fit in time. In any other season it would have been easy picking the result in this one. United have had a disastrous season by their standards though. Moyes’ men should bounce back though. With Rooney leading the charge, as long as the midfield can start supplying the strikers with decent ball, United should be able to trouble an Aston Villa side that is struggling with injuries at the back.
Norwich v Swansea
Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Turner, Bassong, Olsson, Johnson, Elmander, Howson, Fer, Redmond, Hooper
Swansea: Tremmel, Tiendalli, Williams, Amat, Davies, Dyer, De Guzman, Jose Canas, Shelvey, Hernandez, Michu
Norwich are still without the services of Snodgrass and Pilkington, but may end up being a good source of mid priced options over the next couple of weeks. Leroy Fer has shown real promise and will line up in the midfield with Redmond, Johnson and Howson. Van Wolfswinkel is back to full fitness but is likely to start on the bench as Elmander and Hooper lead the line for the visit of Swansea. At the back, Whittaker and Turner are expected to continue after shutting out West Brom last weekend.
Jordi Amat should deputise for the suspended Chico Flores after the defender picked up his 5th booking of the season against Hull. Tremmel looks set to continue in goals as Vorm is likely to be protected until his scheduled surgery in January. Upfront, Laudrup welcomes back both Michu and Bony and may well decide to put both of them straight into the starting setup. He does have the option of Jonjo Shelvey playing in an advanced role though, so we might see Bony start from the bench. Both of these sides have been pretty unpredictable this season. Swansea have an amazing pass completion record but have failed to capitalize on all their possession. I think this will be a tight game and either of them could take it. Norwich may just have the upper hand at home though.
Tottenham v Liverpool
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose, Chadli, Sandro, Paulinho, Lennon, Holtby, Soldado
Liverpool: Mignolet, Sakho, Skrtel, Johnson, Flanagan, Henderson, Sterling, Lucas, Couthino, Suarez, Allen
Rose is back for the North London side and should find himself at the left back position as AVB deals with injuries to Vertonghen and Chiriches. Reports suggest that Chiriches may be fit for the Liverpool matchup though, but if the defender fails to make it, Etienne Capoue will be available to fill in. I’m really hoping that the Tottenham boss starts to show a bit of consistency in the midfield. Sandro, Paulinho and Lennon seem to have locked in their places in the middle of the park, but Townsend and Lamela offer AVB the option to mix it up once again. After Soldado’s hat-trick midweek, it would madness not to give the Spaniard the starting spot upfront and the opportunity to capitalize on the confidence gained during the Europa League matchup.
Steven Gerrard is out for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury and it looks as though Henderson may join the Liverpool skipper on the sidelines thanks to a bruised ankle. If Henderson doesn’t make it back in time for the visit to White Hart Lane, we may see Victor Moses slot in on the flank, with Lucas and Allen teaming up in the centre of the Pool midfield. Sturridge and Enrique remain sidelined and Agger is a doubt after falling ill last week. Tottenham have picked up their game since the thrashing at the hands of City a few weeks ago and have now scored at least 2 in each of their last 3 EPL games. Suarez alone has just 1 goal less than the entire Spurs side this season, but I think it’ll be the home side that may scrape a win here. Lennon will look at getting in behind the advancing Liverpool wing-backs and I think Spurs have enough in them to win a hard fought battle.
This weekend has the potential for both upsets and big scoring games. A few well calculated punts could be your answer in making up those points you need in your mini-league. At this time of year you need guaranteed starters and your bench may be called on more than you’d like. Hopefully you’ve been building the squad you need to see through the Christmas madness! Good luck!