I love the festive season. Just 48 hours after an awesome gameweek 18, we’re preparing for yet another onslaught of Premier League action. This weekend might see a few boring draws though, but there’s a chance for big scores in a few of the match ups. There will no doubt be rotations that will hurt us, so our bench may prove to be vital this weekend…
West Ham v West Brom
West Ham: Adrian, Rat, Demel, McCarthy, Tomkins, Morrison, Nolan, Noble, Diame, Cole, Jarvis
West Brom: Foster, Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Brunt, Morrison, Mulumu, Long, Sessegnon, Sinclair
Although there isn’t much point in holding West Brom players in your side at the moment, many a fantasy manager would have been burnt by the rotation policy put in place by the Baggies’ caretaker manager for the game against Tottenham. No less than seven changes were made with the likes of Sessegnon and Mulumbu on the bench. These two midfielders should find themselves back on the pitch for the game against West Ham though, with Morrison in a slightly higher position up the field, tucked in behind Shane Long.
Ravel Morrison picked up a groin problem in training during the week and missed out on the loss to Arsenal. Should the midfielder not be fit in time for the West Brom game, we’re likely to see Joe Cole fill in on the flank. Sam Allardyce will also be without Collins after the defender picked up a calf injury. This could see McCarthy and Tomkins in the centre-back roles, with Demel and Rat on either side of them.
West Ham have had one win in their last ten and the Baggies have now gone 7 matches without a victory. Not exactly the kind of match that screams goals. We’re likely to see a low scoring draw, although the Baggies may just have enough to get past the home side. The Hammers are struggling with injuries at the back and the loss of Collins could prove vital.
Aston Villa v Swansea
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Luna, Baker, Agbonlahor, Westwood, Delph, Weimann, Benteke, Albrighton
Swansea: Tremmel, Rangel, Williams, Chico, Davies, Routledge, De Guzman, Britton, Shelvey, Hernandez, Bony
Aston Villa are still without Vlaar and Benteke and face a tough matchup against the Swans. Westwood should slot back in the centre of the midfield after serving his suspension, with Albrighton alongside him on the right. Agbonlahor will occupy the opposite wing with Kozak continuing upfront in the absence of the injured Benteke. Clark and Baker will be favourites to occupy the central defensive roles.
Alvaro Vazquez lead the line against Chelsea, although with little impact. Bony should come in to take up the lone striker role with Shelvey pushed up the pitch to support the new signing. Laudrup surprised us with a few changes for the game against Chelsea, but we should see De Guzman and Hernandez back in the starting XI against Villa. At the back, Chico should come back in to line up alongside Williams in the heart of the Swans’ defense.
Villa have really struggled to create good goal scoring chances this season and they’re up against a side that has a season average of almost 60% possession. This doesn’t bode well for the midlands side, especially when they’re missing their main striker. I’m going for a Swansea win, although I think it’ll be a tight game.
Hull City v Fulham
Hull City: McGregor, Chester, Davies, Bruce, Figuero, Livermore, Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Koren, Graham, Sagbo
Fulham: Stokdale, Hughes, Riether, Amorebieta, Riise, Karagounis, Sidwell, Parker, Dejagah, Berbatov, Kacaniklic
Hull remained unchanged for the defeat to Man Utd but may be forced to make a change or two for the visit of Fulham to the KC. Goalkeeper, Allan McGregor was forced off at half time with a knee injury, so we might see Harper continue to deputise in goals. Steve Bruce will likely stick with the favoured 3-5-2 formation and keep Bruce, Chester and Davies in defense, but has the option of bringing in Koren after the midfielder made an appearance from the bench against United.
Riise, Dejagah and Karagounis were rested for the trip to Norwich, but should all find themselves back in the starting line up for the match up against Hull. Kasami will find it difficult to keep his place, as will Taarabt, with the impending return of Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian failed a late fitness test for the Boxing Day game, but may be back in time to take his place in the Fulham attack. In goals, Stockdale will continue to deputise for the injured Stekelenburg, after the first choice keeper missed out on the Norwich trip due to an injured ankle.
Hull City gave Man Utd a scare on Boxing Day and will take confidence from the fact that they were up by 2 goals to nil after just 13 minutes. I think this may just give them the edge they need to get past the Craven Cottage side. Hull have looked impressive at home and could easily control this game from the midfield. I’m going with a victory to the Tigers, but I do think Fulham can get on the scoresheet.
Man City v Crystal Palace
Man City: Hart, Kolarov, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva, Milner, Negredo
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Mariappa, Gabbidon, Delaney, Ward, Parr, Puncheon, Jedinak, Bannan, Chamakh, Jerome
Joleon Lescott found himself back in the starting line up against Liverpool, but will have to compete with the fit-again Nastasic for a place alongside Vincent Kompany. The festive season always brings with it the threat of rotation and it’s this sort of game that could hurt us. Big hitters like Silva, Toure and Negredo could find themselves resting on the sidelines as Dzeko, Milner and Javi Garcia look for game time.
Marouane Chamakh returns to the Crystal Palace line up after serving out his one-match suspension against Aston Villa. This will see Bannan return to the wing and Bolasie should find himself back on the bench. O’Keefe and Dikgacoi are still doubts, leaving Pulis with a problem. They’re playing at the Etihad where City are averaging 4 goals a game and will need to beef up in their first third of the pitch. This could see Ward in the midfield with Mariappa, Gabbidon, Delany and Parr at the back of a 4-4-1-1 formation.
If Pellegrini doesn’t ring too many changes, we could see Man City put at least 4 past Crystal Palace. There are likely to be changes and with that, the possibility that they won’t play quite as smooth a game as we’re used to seeing at the Etihad. Even so, City have the squad to play a completely different XI to the one that ran out against Liverpoool and still easily put Palace away. I’m going for the obvious, with at least 3 goals for the home side.
Norwich v Man Utd
Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Bennet, Bassong, Olsson, Snodgrass, Elmander, Johnson, Fer, Redmond, Hooper
Man Utd: De Gea, Evans, Vidic, Smalling, Evra, Januzaj, Carrick, Cleverly, Young, Rooney, Welbeck
Norwich should continue with the same four midfielders that ran out against Fulham, with Snodgrass and Redmond flanking Fer and Johnson. We’ll see some changes at the back though as Michael Turner misses out due to suspension. This should see Bennet fill in alongside Bassong. Up front, Elmander and Hooper look likely to continue the attack, although Chris Hughton does have the option of pairing Hooper with summer signing, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.
United welcomed back Michael Carrick after the Englishman emerged from the bench against Hull City. He’s likely to lineup alongside Cleverly as Phil Jones is out for a couple of weeks with a knee injury. Moyes has a problem with the right back position as Rafael limped off during the Boxing Day match. The Utd Manager doesn’t even have the option of dropping Valencia back, as the midfielder is suspended after picking up a red card in the victory against Hull. This could see Smalling shift over to the right with Vidic partnering Evans in the centre of defense. Young and Januzaj are likely to occupy the wing roles with Rooney and Welbeck upfront.
Norwich managed to pick up a shock win against Man Utd last year and certainly have the ability to do it again. The champions showed their winning mentality against Hull City though, coming from 2 goals down to win the game 3-2. This will boost the confidence in the Manchester side and with Carrick back from injury, they’ll be hoping to control the game from the midfield. I see a Utd win, but Norwich do have the firepower to get on the score sheet. I’m going with a 3-1 scoreline.
Cardiff City v Sunderland
Cardiff: Marshall, Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Noone, Medel, Mutch, Gunnarsson, Campbell, Whittingham
Sunderland: Mannone, Roberge, O’Shea, Celustka, Bardsley, Larsson, Cattermole, Borini, Giaccherini, Ki, Altidore
The only changes we’re likely to see in the Cardiff side are further up the pitch, as the back four seem pretty set. Medel missed out on the loss to Southampton due to illness, allowing Frazier Campbell to come back in after suspension. Medel should be fit for the visit of Sunderland and will take his place in the middle of park, with Mutch and Gunnarsson likely to line up on either side of him. Odemwingie may find himself on the bench with Whittingham and Noone looking to flank Campbell up front.
A slightly different looking Sunderland backline managed to get themselves a clean sheet against Everton and the Black Cats manager will be looking for a repeat of the fine defensive form shown at Goodison Park. Wes Brown missed out due to a suspension and will still be on the sidelines for the trip to Cardiff, with John O’Shea likely to be sitting alongside him with a shoulder injury. This will see Roberge and Diakite continue at the back. Further up the pitch, there’s stiff competition for places in the midfield, with Giaccherini fighting for a place on the wing, after sitting the last one on the bench. Fletcher failed to capitalize on his starting place on Boxing Day, which may see him back on the bench for Jozy Altidore.
After the inevitable sacking of the Cardiff Manager, the home side could go either way. The departure of the popular Scot could light a fire in the bellies of the Cardiff players, but I think they’ll find it tough going against the Sunderland outfit. The crowd at Cardiff will be unhappy and it won’t make for a very good atmosphere. I’m going for a low scoring draw. Both sides are struggling for goals at the moment and can ill-afford to lose this one. We might see a really cautious approach from both managers which bodes well for those who own defenders from either side.
Everton v Southampton
Everton: Robles, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Osman, Barkley, Pienaar, Lukaku, Mirallas
Southampton: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Rodriguez, Davis, Ward-Prowse, Lallana, Lambert, Cork
An eventful Boxing Day fixture saw both Howard and Barry picking up cards, meaning the Merseyside team will be without their services for the game against Southampton. Mirallas only played 45 minutes in the loss to Sunderland but is expected to be back for the home game after Martinez confirmed the subbing was due to the Belgian having a stomach bug. Barkley found himself on the bench once again but I’d expect to see him back in the starting XI, along with Robles in goals and Baines on the left of the defense.
Southampton will be without Morgan Shneiderlin after the midfielder picked up his fifth yellow of the season in the win against Cardiff. This will allow James Ward–Prowse the opportunity to come back into the Saints’ midfield. Osvaldo is still struggling with a leg injury, allowing Lambert to keep his place upfront. At the back, Lovren may return to the side at the expense of Yoshida after recovering from an illness that kept him out of the Boxing Day match. Clyne is still a doubt and Kelvin Davis will be pushing for a start ahead of Gazzaniga in goal.
Both sides will be without key individuals in the middle of the pitch and this may prove to be decisive. Everton have only lost one game at Goodison Park this year after the 1-0 defeat to Sunderland, but they face a side desperate to return to the sort of form they showed at the beginning of the season. I think these teams may end up cancelling each other out and we could see a draw, with goals for both sides.
Newcastle v Arsenal
Newcastle: Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Sissoko, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Gouffran, Tiote, Remy
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Walcott, Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
Alan Pardew has a bit of a selection headache with the return of Tiote from suspension. Tiote’s absence from the Boxing Day fixture allowed Ben Afra a run against Stoke and the Frenchman impressed with 2 assists. I’m hoping Anita will make way for Tiote, but the Newcastle boss also has the option of playing a 4-4-2 formation, with Sissoko, Anita, Cabaye and Gouffran playing behind Ameobi and Remy.
Jack Wilshere’s return to the Arsenal side after suspension is made a little easier with Aaron Ramsey being ruled out for the festive period. The Welshman’s thigh injury means that Wilshere can slot into the middle of the park alongside Arteta, with Walcott and Cazorla on either side of them. Ozil and Giroud are due a rest, but I’m not sure if Arsene will be brave enough to give them that rest at St. James’ Park. Podolski does offer an alternative to the Frenchman though.
Newcastle are unbeaten this season against Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd and Tottenham and I wouldn’t be surprised if this impressive list included Arsenal by the end of Sunday. Pardew is a master tactician and will look to be solid against the Arsenal attack with the hope of quick counter attacks. I’m going for a draw, although I think Newcastle could even come away with a win here.
Chelsea v Liverpool
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Schurrle, Hazard, Oscar, Torres
Liverpool: Mignolet, Sakho, Skrtel, Johnson, Cissokho, Henderson, Sterling, Lucas, Couthino, Suarez, Allen
Jose Mourinho rested Cahill and Azpiliqueta for the game against Swansea, bringing Cole and Luiz into the Chelsea backline. I’d expect Cahill to return for the Liverpool matchup. Azpiliqueta’s role on the left hand side will come down to whether Mourinho decides to go with Cole’s experience against a great Liverpool attack. Ramires is suspended after picking up his 5th yellow of the season, giving Lampard the chance to come back into the midfield. Torres may be given another go up front after being rested last time out and Oscar is likely to line up just behind the Spaniard.
I’m not sure if we’ll see any changes to the Liverpool side that lost out at the Etihad on Thursday. Flanagan is still out injured, so Cissokho is likely to keep his place at left-back. Skrtel and Sakho look set to continue in the central defensive roles, but Rodgers does have the option of recalling Daniel Agger to the starting line up. Sterling looked exceptional up the right hand side against City and Rodgers will be hoping the youngster can cause problems for either Cole or Azpiliqueta. Suarez drew a rare blank on Boxing Day and will be looking to get back on the score sheet at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho plays a tactical game against the big sides that is quite frankly – boring. This was evident in the goalless draws to both Man Utd and Arsenal and we’re likely to see much of the same against Liverpool. Chelsea’s defensive game will probably make this a low scoring affair. A low scoring draw is likely, but something’s telling me that Chelsea will come away with the 3 points. If the Blues backline can deal with the pace of Sterling down the right, they should have enough to grind out a result against Rodgers’ men.
Tottenham v Stoke City
Tottenham: Lloris, Naughton, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose, Chadli, Eriksen, Dembele, Sigursson, Adebayor, Soldado
Stoke City: Sorensen, Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters, Assaidi, Palacious, N’Zonzi, Walters, Adam, Crouch
Tottenham will be without the suspended Kyle Walker after the defender picked up his 5th yellow of the season. Kyle Naughton looks set to fill in. Dembele is still a doubt, which would allow Holtby the chance to fill in alongside Eriksen in the midfield. Adebayor and Soldado will lead the charge in a 4-4-2 formation with Sigurdsson and Chadli likely to take the roles on the wing.
Stoke have a few changes to make for the trip to White Hart Lane after both Wilson and Whelan were sent off during the loss to Newcastle. The Potters are also without first choice keeper, Asmir Begovic due to a broken finger. Sorensen will continue in goals with Muniesa likely to line up alongside Shawcross in defense. Palacios should come into the midfield and Ireland will battle it out with Adam for a spot behind Peter Crouch.
Tottenham have the chance to dominate the game in the midfield and shouldn’t have too much trouble holding off the Stoke side. Lennon is also in with a shot of making the Spurs side and should he line up on the wing, could cause all sorts of problems for the Potters. I see Spurs putting at least 2 past Stoke, with a good chance of a clean sheet to back it up.
That’s it from me, good luck guys!