Blog by: Souvik
The EPL heads into the final gameweek of 2013, still head and shoulders above any other league in terms of breath taking footballing action and excitement. With its top 8 teams separated by a mere 8 points, it certainly is living up to its billing as arguably the best as and certainly the most competitive league in the world.
The big ones
With the number of teams staggered at the top end of the league, there seems to be always a game every gameweek that gets billed as the “big one”. This time around it’s more than one.
i) Newcastle vs Arsenal
6 points and 5 places on the table is all that separates the resurgent Newcastle from their visitors, Arsenal. The magpies will be looking to exact revenge, having been humiliated by the gunners in a 7-3 drubbing at the Emirates exactly a year to the date. Alan Pardew and his men have managed to turn the table once again after a tumultuous 2012/13 season which saw Newcastle flirting with the possibility of relegation. They are certainly a team on form, having won 8 of their last 10 in the league; having scored 9 in their last couple of games. On the team news front, midfield enforcer the magpies will welcome back Cheick Tiote into the folds, after the Ivorian served up his one game suspension against Stoke for 5 yellow cards.
Arsene Wenger saw his side reclaim pole position on Boxing Day as the Gunners came back from a goal down to secure all three points away to West Ham. The gunners have been revitalised by the returns of Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski in recent weeks but will now have to do without their Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey who had to walk from their game at Upton Park with a thigh injury which will keep away from action for at least the Christmas period. While the Gunners will be without the services of their standout midfielder, they should welcome back the services of both Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny for their trip to the North-East.
ii) Chelsea vs Liverpool
Jose Mourninho, who sees Liverpool as fellow title contenders will be out to further dent Liverpool’s hopes of a first ever title since 1989/90. The Blues, who will be without their Brazilian midfielder Ramires will looking to improve upon their record against Liverpool in the league in recent times having won only 1 of their past 5 Premier League games against the Merseysiders, of which 3 were losses. Mourinho is likely to rotate again in this busy schedule of fixtures which in most probability will see the returns of Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill into the starting line-up.
It took the whole of Manchester City to stop the juggernaut that is Luis Suarez at the moment. Even then, the enigmatic talent was able to produce to clear cut opportunities for his side which due to the faults of a linesman and an erratic Raheem Sterling went astray. With 19 goals from 13 games this season the Uruguayan, is on the verge of a record breaking season, having already broken a few already. In the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, Suarez has become the most vital cog of the Liverpool machinery going forward (if he wasn’t already) and he has delivered this season at every time of asking so far. For Liverpool to get anything out of this game, Suarez will have to be again at his impeccable best. Brendan Rodgers will also be also be without the services of Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates (both knee) who remain side-lined through injuries of their own. Victor Moses meanwhile will be unable to take any part in this game against his parent club.
City on the run
Manchester City will be looking to continue on their run of 7 games unbeaten in the Premier League and look for their 10th home win on the trot. Manuel Pellegrini’s men seemed to have to have hit top gear and with no fresh injury worries, will be looking to add 3 more points to their tally when they play host to 17th placed Crystal Palace who themselves have been on a run of their own.The introduction of Tony Pulis as the Eagles’ manager have got Palace on a roll themselves, having won 3 of their last 5 games after looking like a certain relegation fodder in the early parts of the season.
Pulis has probably the most daunting task in the form of facing the free-scoring Manchester City. City, who will be without the services of Aguero, Jovetic , Demichilis and Richards have already scored an astounding 41 goals more than Palace this season. Whilst the millions spent on the likes of Aguero, Negredo and Yaya Toure have yielded Pellegrini 53 goals, the Palace faithful have seen their side struggle to get on the scoresheet with a mere 12 goals to their name, with Aguero himself scoring more than Palace so far.
United coming back
The motto of never giving up seems to be deeply sewed into the fabric of the red devils. Three wins on the trot and an inspiring win at that against Hull, and life is so much different for the red section of Manchester. United will be looking to put the pedal to the metal and build up on their momentum as they look up to see themselves only 5 points off a Champions League place and eight point off the lead. David Moyes will however have to overhaul his whole right side with Rafael injured and Valencia suspended because of seeing red in their previous game. Phil Jones also remains out.
Their hosts, Norwich meanwhile will look to bounce back from their disappointing home loss to Fulham. That ended the Canaries’ run of three games unbeaten at a time when Chris Hughton would like to put some gap between Norwich and relegation zone. While Hughton will have Johnny Howson back available, centre-back Michael Turner misses out on this one after picking up his fifth booking for the season.
Everton vs Southampton
Everton have taken their performance up a notch this season under Roberto Martinez and their home form has been largely responsible for their stellar position in the table thus far. The Toffees however welcome Southampton to Goodirson Park on the back of their first and rather surprising first loss at home this season to bottom of the table Sunderland. With goalkeeper both Tim Howard and Gareth Barry missing out on this one due to suspensions, the task of stretching their unbeaten streak to 8 at home to Southampton will be that bit difficult. In other team news Darron Gibson, Arouna Koné and Gerard Deulofeu miss out as well due to injuries.
Southampton on the other are coming off a comfortable 3-0 win over the now manager less Cardiff. There is however not much joy to have on the team news front for Mauricio Pochettino as Guly de Prado, Artur Boruc, Victor Wanyama and Daniel Fox are all sidelined through injury, while Morgan Schneiderlin is suspended. Saints don’t have a particularly good record at Goodirson, having won on only 1 of their previous 14 Premier League trips.
Sherwood in search of home sweet home
Tim Sherwood goes into the game looking for his first home win ever since being given charge of the affairs at White Hart Lane. The Englishman will have history in his side as Spurs have only lost 2 of their previous 38 home encounters against Stoke. Tottenham seemed to have found a new edge going forward with now Tim Sherwood at its helm. The long term effects of this more expansive style of football is nowhere in sight but it certainly is more exciting. Tottenham welcome back Paulinho after the Brazilain served his 3 game ban for his reckless tackle on Luis Suarez. Meanwhile Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, Andros Townsend and Sandro all remain out due to injuries. Kyle Walker on the other hand misses out due to a suspension.
The Potters go into White Hart Lane in search of their first away victory in eight attempts. Mark Hughes will have to inject some much needed spirit into the team, after they were handed 5-1 drubbing away to Newcastle where they were reduced to nine men for large portions of the game. The reds mean both Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan missing out on the action at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile Robert Huth and Asmir Begovich also miss out due to injuries of their own.
Cardiff vs Sunderland
This one already has the feel of a relegation six pointer as it pits two team stuck at the wrong end of the table but with vastly different turns in fortune in the recent past. Only 11 days after assuring Malky Mackay of his place as manager of Cardiff, their enigmatic billionaire owner Vincent Tan, pulled the plug on Mackay’s tenure after the Bluebirds lost 3-0 at home to Southampton. Craig Bellamy remains the only one missing out for Cardiff due to an injury.
Sunderland meanwhile are coming off a win at Goodirson Park, thus becoming the first one to do so in the league this season. Gus Poyet’s team has been playing with much fervour but hadn’t produced the results to match their performance so far. The Argentine will now will look at the Boxing Day result to kick start their season. Wes Brown remains suspended for his red card against Norwich. Kieran Westwood and Carlos Cuellar remain on the doctor’s table while John O’Shea, who missed the game at Everton remain a doubt as well.
West Ham vs West Brom
The early kick-off on Saturday sees two teams who seemed to be as floating on like a rudderless ship. Without a win in their last five games for both team, the games gives each of them an ideal opportunity to inject some much needed momentum. Sam Allardyce might be forced to play George McCarney in the centre again as James Collins still remain a doubt. Ravel Morrison remains a doubt as well.
Caretaker manager Keith Downing would have been pleased to see his side get a fighting point away to White Hart Lane on Boxing Day and is likely to call upon the same group of men for this game as well with no fresh injury to worry about. The picture however is far from rosy at the Hawthorns as West Brom remain winless in their last 8 Premier League games.
Hull vs Fulham
The best way to shrug off a disappointing loss is to play in the very near future. Steve Bruce will hope that this busy Christmans schedule will help his team take their minds off what was a heart-breaking loss. Up 2 goals in the opening 15 minutes, the Tigers succumbed Manchester United and Wayne Rooney. Hull who have had a good home record so far will want to build on their home advantage and take all three points from the game. Steve Harper is likely to start in goal after replacing Alan McGregor in goal in the previous game due to a knee injury.
Rene Meulensteen has certainly instilled some steel in the Fulham core as they came back from a goal down to record a vital away win against Norwich on Boxing Day. Dimitar Berbatov might be back in the frame but might not find himself back in the starting line-up after Adel Taarabt impressed mightily in the forward role against the Canaries.
Aston Villa vs Swansea
Paul Lambert and his men will be looking to eke any kind of result from this one after being on the losing side for the previous 4 games. One of their biggest problems has been scoring goals, one thing they have failed in 5 of their last 6 home games. With star striker Christian Benteke well off his usual standards and hampered by injuries as well, the task has been even more difficult. Lambert will welcome the sight of Ahsley Westwood who is available again, but will have to sweat over the fitness of Ron Vlaar and Benteke.
The Europa League seemed to have taken its toll on Swansea. The juggling act has meant no wins for the Swans in their last 4 games in the league. The problem has been compounded by key players missing at this crucial run-in. Michu still remains out and has been joined on the sidelines by Nathan Dyer and Michel Vorm. With Wilfired Bony yet to find his feet in the Premier League, the going has been rough for Laudrup this season. The returns of Chico, Ben Davies, Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez however may spell good news for the Welsh side.