It’s the weekend before Christmas and we’ll be wishing for some early presents this weekend. Some of the big hitters are out injured so it could be a good time to start looking for those “lesser known” names that could give you the edge this festive period. Predicting teams is a nightmare at this stage of the season, but here’s by educated guess as to how things may pan out…
Liverpool v Cardiff City
Liverpool: Mignolet, Sakho, Skrtel, Johnson, Flanagan, Henderson, Sterling, Lucas, Couthino, Suarez, Allen
Cardiff: Marshall, Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Cowie, Medel, Mutch, Kim Bo-Kyung, Campbell, Whittingham
Brendon Rogers is likely to name an unchanged XI from the one that humiliated Spurs last weekend. Daniel Agger is healthy again though after missing out last weekend due to illness, so it remains to be seen whether the Liverpool boss will keep his faith in the central defensive pairing of Skrtel and Sakho. There’s really only one choice for the armband this weekend and for those of you that have not yet brought Suarez in, you’ll be watching this game from behind the couch.
Andrew Taylor came into the Cardiff backline for the win against West Brom and looks set to keep his place alongside Turner. In the midfield, the only secure options look to be Medel, Mutch and Whittingham, as Malky Mackay continues to juggle the likes of Bellamy, Odemwingie, Cowie and Noone. The Cardiff boss may choose to play just the one striker up top against Liverpool, which would see Campbell continue to lead the line while Cornelius continues to gain his fitness from the bench.
Cardiff have failed to score in any of their last 4 away matches and while they’re no pushover, their impressive performances have come at home. Facing Pool at Anfield will be too big a task for the Eagles and Rodger’s men should dominate the Cardiff side. Pool have averaged over 2 goals per game and should come away with an even better average after this one.
Crystal Palace v Newcastle
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Gabbidon, Delaney, Ward, Mariappa, O’keefe, Puncheon, Jedinak, Bannan, Chamakh, Jerome
Newcastle: Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Sissoko, Tiote, Cabaye, Gouffran, Ameobi, Remy
Crystal Palace showed good fight against Chelsea and I’m sure Tony Pulis will look to keep some consistency in his team selection for the trip to Newcastle. The injury to Moxey meant that Mariappa stepped in at Stamford Bridge and should continue to deputise at right-back, with Ward on the left. After being subbed early against the Blues with a knock, Dikgacoi may be a doubt. If the South African fails to recover in time, we’ll see Stuart O’keefe continue in the middle of the park. Upfront, there’s news of Jerome Thomas picking up an injury, so we may not see him feature at Selhurst Park.
Pardew’s team selection will depend on the formation he chooses to roll out against Crystal Palace. The Newcastle boss welcomes back Yohan Cabaye after the Frenchman served his one match suspension last week. Cabaye will slot straight back into the Newcastle midfield and may do so alongside Anita if the Newcastle boss decides to go with 5 men in the middle of the park. This would see Ameobi drop to the bench. Ben Arfa is also looking at more game time over the festive period though, so the midfield is a bit of a guess at this stage.
Crystal Palace have kept clean sheets in their last 3 home matches but have scored the fewest goals this season. Although Newcastle will be favourites for this one, the Magpies have been pretty inconsistent on the road and Palace may be able to grind out a draw here. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Newcastle, but would be a nervous man for those 90 minutes.
Fulham v Man City
Fulham: Stekelenburg, Hughes, Riether, Senderos, Riise, Karagounis, Sidwell, Parker, Dejagah, Berbatov, Kacaniklic
Man City: Pantillimon, Boyata, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva, Navas, Negredo
I’ve been lucky enough to get tickets to this one, so will be hoping for goals! With Brede Hangeland still injured and an inconsistent backline, we may just see the home side continue to fetch the ball from the back of their own net. Amorebieta remains a doubt so Senderos should continue alongside Riise. If the Fulham manager decides to rotate his squad, we may see Kasami fill in for Karagounis. Upfront, Dimitar Berbatov continues to lead the line with Bent warming the bench.
I was really excited to see Aguero in action for this one, but will have to settle for the power of Negredo as the Argentine starts his 4-8 week recovery with a calf injury. Aguero’s absence may see Dzeko come into play, however Silva may be pushed forward to support the Negredo. Dedryck Boyata looks to be handed his first start as Man City have to do without the injured Pablo Zabaleta, after the fullback was forced off with a hamstring injury during the midweek game. Navas and Nasri look set to continue their roles on the flank. I don’t see City completely walking this game, but they should have too much for the struggling Fulham side. I’m going with a 2-1 win to the Citizens.
Man Utd v West Ham
Man Utd: De Gea, Evans, Ferdinand, Rafael, Evra, Valencia, Jones, Cleverly, Young, Rooney, Welbeck
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, McCarthy, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Morrison, Diame, Noble, Maiga, Cole, Jarvis
The bad news just keeps coming for Man Utd fans as it emerged during the week that Wayne Rooney is battling with a groin injury. The United boss hopes to have the striker back for the Christmas period but failed to state how soon he was hoping that to be. Welbeck looks set to keep his place upfront if Rooney doesn’t recover in time and he may have fellow Englishman, Ashley Young on his flank after the winger scored a stunner in the midweek match up against Stoke. This could see Januzaj drop to the bench. After tormenting the Aston Villa defenders last week, Valencia should retain his spot on the right hand side. In defense, Vidic remains a doubt and we may see Ferdinand come into the heart of the United defense to line up alongside Johnny Evans.
Razvan Rat returned to the fold during the midweek Capital One Cup and will be in contention for a start in the West Ham defense. His inclusion will depend on whether Allardyce decides to give George McCarthy another go at left-back. Kevin Nolan is still serving his 3-match suspension so Ravel Morrison is likely to have the more advanced midfield role. With Downing, Carrol and Petric still out, Allardyce will need to consider keeping Joe Cole and Matt Jarvis on the wings, with either Carlton Cole or Maiga in the middle.
United have finally managed to string together a few clean sheets and I think they’ll continue to do so against a goal-shy West Ham side. 2-0 for the Home side.
Stoke City v Aston Villa
Stoke City: Begovic, Cameron, Muniesa, Wilson, Pieters, Arnautovic, Whelan, N’Zonzi, Walters, Ireland, Crouch
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Luna, Baker, Westwood, El Ahmadi, Delph, Weimann, Benteke, Albrighton
Robert Huth remains on the sidelines and Ryan Shawcross limped off early in the midweek game. We should see Wilson continue in the central defensive position with Muniesa alongside him and Pieters moving out to the left. Stephen Ireland replaced Charlie Adam for the matchup against Hull and should keep his place behind Crouch. Assaidi is expected to make way for the return of Jon Walters.
Vlaar looks to be a major doubt for the trip to the Britannia so we may see Clark and Baker in the centre of the Aston Villa defense, with Luna and Lowton on either side of them. Gabby Agbonlahor picked up his 5th caution of the season so we should see Albrighton run out on the right-wing, with Wiemann on the left. N’zogbia remains sidelined and Benteke looks set to retain his role upfront. With just a single win their last 5, the Villa side will need to dig deep if they want to move up into the top half of the table this weekend. I can’t see them getting a win at the Brittania though. I think it’ll be the home side that comes away smiling after this one.
Sunderland v Norwich
Sunderland: Mannone, Dossena, O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley, Colback, Cattermole, Borini, Giaccherini, Ki, Altidore
Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Turner, Bassong, Olsson, Snodgrass, Elmander, Howson, Fer, Redmond, Hooper
The festive season always brings with it surprises in team selection, so predicting a starting line up is always tricky, even for a team like Sunderland. Fletcher is available upfront and may be paired with Altidore in a double pronged attacked, but Poyet also has the option of leaving Altidore upfront on his own and pushing Ki further up the pitch, leaving Giaccherini and Borini in the wide roles. Johnson and Larsson though, will be fighting for a starting berth in the Black Cat’s midfield.
Hughton welcomes back Robert Snodgrass after the midfielder recovered from his knee injury. This should really be the only selection headache for the Norwich boss as he looks likely to field the same XI that started against Swansea. If Snodgrass does start though, it’ll be Redmond who makes way. Johnson and Howson should continue in the centre of the midfield with Elmander and Hooper leading the charge. Besides hosting Man Utd in game week 19, Norwich have a really nice run of games and their midfield offers a few alternatives for the 4th and 5th midfield slots in our sides. They certainly have the ability to get one past the Sunderland defense, but I think Poyet’s side could grab the 3 points here.
West Brom v Hull City
West Brom: Myhill, Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Brunt, Yacob, Mulumu, Long, Sessegnon, Amalfitano
Hull City: McGregor, Chester, Davies, Bruce, Figuero, Livermore, Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Meyler, Graham, Sagbo
The West Brom first choice keeper is fit again and may find himself back between the posts in place of Myhill. Foster played 45 minutes for the reserve side during the week and will be pushing for a return to the starting XI. Further up the pitch, Shane Long looks set to continue to lead the attack with Sessegnon behind him. The former Sunderland man hasn’t been in the greatest of form though and Morrison will be pushing for a start. Brunt and Amilfitano look set to keep their places on the wing with Mulumbu and Yacob inside them.
Steve Bruce seems quite set on the 3-5-2 formation that Hull rolled out for the visit of Stoke to the KC Stadium last weekend. Brady found himself on the bench and may need to get used to it as David Meyler looks set to continue in the 5-man midfield. At the back, Chester, Bruce and Davies should keep their places with Figueroa and Elmohamady as wing-backs. The Hull side grinded out a draw in the matchup last weekend and I can see this one being a draw as well. We should hopefully see goals though.
Southampton v Tottenham
Southampton: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Rodriguez, Shneiderlin, Davis, Lallana, Osvaldo, Cork
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose, Chadli, Sandro, Dembele, Lennon, Holtby, Soldado
Lallana missed the game against Newcastle with a knock but should slot straight back in for the Tottenham visit. This week it’s Nathaniel Clyne who nursing a knock and with Fonte back in contention, it looks like it’ll be Chambers who continues at right-back. It will be a battle between Shneiderlin and Ward–Prowse for a spot in the middle of the park and Lambert will have to contest Osvaldo or Davis for a place further up the pitch.
The Spurs midfield will see a few changes this weekend as Townsend is sidelined and Paulinho serves his one-match suspension. We’ll likely see Chadli and Lennon on the flanks with Sandro and Dembele inbetween them. Eriksen has upped his fitness and will fight Holtby for a place just behind Soldado. Spurs will find it hard going against the Saints but Pochettino’s men have really struggled for form of late. The Spurs side will be looking to put in a good performance on the back of losing their manager and I think they’ll come away from St. Mary’s with the 3 points. The Saint’s should have enough firepower to sneak a goal or two though.
Swansea v Everton
Swansea: Tremmel, Tiendalli, Williams, Chico, Davies, Routledge, De Guzman, Jose Canas, Shelvey, Hernandez, Michu
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Pienaar, Lukaku, Mirallas
Besides the 3-0 drubbing of Newcastle earlier in the month, Swansea haven’t kept a clean sheet since October and will find it extremely difficult keeping out the likes of Lukaku. They’ll be without Rangel at the back as he serves his one-match suspension, but they do have Chico back. Tiendalli should deputise at right-back with Amat dropping back onto the bench. Shelvey’s place in the midfield will depend on whether Bony comes back into the starting XI. Should Bony be recalled, Michu may drop back behind him, forcing Shelvey to drop deeper into the Swans’ midfield.
Mirallas will find himself back in the Everton starting XI after Deulofeu suffered a hamstring injury against Fulham. We may see McCarthy return as well, but it’ll be a battle between himself, Osman and Barkley for a spot alongside Barry. Although Baines is making good progress, it doesn’t look like he’ll quite be ready for the trip to Wales. Many would have been banking on the Everton defenders getting a clean sheet last weekend against Fulham, but ended up disappointed. I think they may just be rewarded for their faith this weekend. I’m going for an Everton win with a clean sheet.
Arsenal v Chelsea
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Walcott, Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Ramires, Lampard, Hazard, Oscar, Torres
Arsenal look set to be without Laurent Koscielny after suffering a deep laceration in the loss to City last weekend. Vermaelen will continue to deputise at the back with Gibbs perhaps returning to the starting XI after being rested for the trip to Manchester. Wenger will be without Wilshere after he was suspended for a “rude gesture” towards the City fans, so we should see Walcott continue down the right with the possibility of Cazorla coming back in to the starting XI to line up on the left.
Mourinho has kept Oscar on the bench for the last 2 games after the Brazilian returned from injury, but we should see the midfielder back in the starting XI as Chelsea prepare to close the gap on the Gunners. After being rested midweek, Hazard should take his place on the left hand side, with either Willian or Schurrle on the right. We’re likely to see Lampard and Mikel in the middle with Fernando Torres leading the charge. At the back, the Chelsea boss will need to choose between Cahill and Luiz for a spot alongside John Terry.
Arsenal have looked particularly jaded over the past week or 2 and their relatively small squad is starting to show signs of fatigue. The 7 day break between the thrashing at the Etihad and this match should aid them though. Chelsea have lost a bit of their spark and this could end up being a very evenly matched game. I’m leaning toard a 1-1 draw, but I think if there had to be a winner, Wenger’s men may just have enough to nick it.
Good luck and have a very Merry Christmas!