Around the Grounds FPL Team News Gameweek 18
Welcome to Around the Grounds FPL Team News Gameweek 18. Despite the protestations of my fellow writer Mito, (yes we allowed him back for another go), there are of course many things to love about Christmas. The food, the togetherness of families, the presents, the time off work, the booze, the birth of Jesus, the annual chance to see all the Die Hard films in a 24-hour period, the carols, the snow – all of the above and lots more make Christmas what it is – but so does one other thing…. Boxing Day football! Game-weeks coming in quick succession and the chance to close or increase a mini-league deficit or lead. Now, first things first, be aware of the deadline for GW18 – 26 December 11.30am. As we said above, Mito makes another appearance, after all it is the season of goodwill to all men – although Arsenal fans may disagree after our favourite Colombian has written their intro! So welcome back Mito and from us both, we wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas and a successful GW18!
Talking of goodwill, let’s Go Around the Grounds to see if the managers have been kind to us with the team news.
Watford vs Crystal Palace (Mon 26 Dec 12.30)
Really? Palace in a lunch time kick-off again? At least last week it was versus Chelsea. This time they square off against 12th place Watford, who has scored 11 goals in their last twelve fixtures. Come to think of it, probably not the worst idea someone had. Get this one out of the way before you sit down for the Burnley vs Boro game right after. Back to this fixture, Watford have sandwiched one win between four losses and Palace have only managed 4 points since September. Wait, what? Heck even Bob Bradley would find that appalling. Last season they both won one of the face-offs, curiously enough it was when both were at the home of the other. Bit of advice on this one, just don’t…don’t bother with this game. Sleep in, eat leftovers, start your New Year’s resolution early, just whatever, but avoid this fixture and do something positive with your life. I’ll be watching though, so just tweet the site handle if you need to know anything. FML!!
Still some injury problems for Walter Mazzarri to contend with as Pardewless Palace travel to Watford. Sebastian Prödl and Stefano Okaka will be assessed nearer the time of the game, Adrian Mariappa and Roberto Pereyra remain sidelined and although Craig Cathcart returned to the bench at the Stadium of Light, it is understood Boxing Day will likely come too soon for a return to the starting XI. The manager said that Isaac Success has a chance of a start, while Ben Watson should return to the squad after missing the Sunderland defeat due to personal reasons.
Shocked. Saddened. Just two words to describe the emotions after the Grim Reaper came for Lord Pardew three days before the other Lord’s birthday. We feel we have lost a ‘friend’, maybe ‘adversary’ or ‘figure of fun’ would be more apt, but nonetheless this article will be a lot poorer without the tanned arrogant One who is beginning to collect more sacks than Santa himself.
No new manager announcement at the presser, rather assistant Keith Millen faced the press and said he has been told to take training and prepare the team for the trip to Watford. Regarding team news, Millen said that James Tomkins and Bakary Sako are not fit and a couple of others haven’t trained. Mathieu Flamini should be back, he’s always good for a yellow card. Connor Wickham, Loic Remy and Steve Mandanda all remain missing. All a bit of a shambles – Big Sam can’t come quick enough for the Eagles.
Arsenal vs West Brom (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
Well looky here, I got the Arsenal intro. *evil laugh* Relax Mitro and all you Gooners, I am not the Arsenal hater that I have been accused of, I also enjoy lying. 8th place West Brom comes in for a visit to the Emirates where they will hope that the struggling Gooners in their fragile state hand them at the very least a point. Perhaps Pulis is what the doctor ordered for Wenger and his men, when Everton and City pressured Arsenal they crumbled, Pulis will probably have 8 men stand next to Foster and the remaining 2 just chase around Alexis. Two weeks ago Arsenal were the likely team to fight CFC to the bitter end, now they are back in their customary spot of fourth place with their beloved sister Spursy one spot behind them. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
With this the season of miracles, the arch-angel Arsene has his very own as he tells us that Danny Welbeck trains for the first time in months today, while Aaron Ramsey has returned to full training. At this point Wenger ran out of miracles as he revealed that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is ruled out with a knock picked up at City, though the injury will likely keep him out for days rather than weeks. Now, where have we heard that before?! Santi Cazorla, Shkodran Mustafi, Mathieu Debuchy and Per Mertesacker all remain unavailable.
Pulis says his players will train Christmas Eve and then assessments will be made over Jonny Evans and James Morrison. Evans has been struggling with a calf injury that has kept him out of the last two matches while James Morrison has been suffering from man-flu this week. The only other question mark is striker Saido Berahino with Pulis saying, ‘he needs games to get to the level we want’ – sounds like some U23 action for the stroppy striker.
Burnley vs Middlesbrough (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
Oh thank you FPL Gods, for you bless us with this encounter. I absolutely love pillow fights although this is not the sexy kind I usually enjoy. Fully expect two teams who will circle around each other, keeping their distance, while jawing at one another and making sure a friend is holding them back. These two have combined for 32 goals which is worse than 4 solo teams and only four more than Palace. Sounds like thrilling stuff is on the cards. Burnley is a decent side at home and Boro know how to tie when playing away. Not sure what that says for this fixture, but that is about the most exciting thing I could find.
Burnley defender Matt Lowton misses out through suspension so Jon Flanagan will likely deputise at right back. Sean Dyche reports no injury worries, so Johann Berg Gudmundsson is available again, but may have to be happy with a place on the bench following his injury.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka says only Viktor Fischer is a definite absentee – the midfielder has a knee injury which is expected to keep him out of action for 2-3 weeks. This means that Gaston Ramirez and Cristhian Stuani have recovered from injury, which will be a boost to Boro.
Chelsea vs Bournemouth (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
Eleven straight wins, one away from putting the Cherry on top. No Diego for this one, so that should make a certain Steve Cook happy. Should it really matter though? Not whether Cookie is happy, but that The Prince of Darkness Costa is not available. On paper, Conte and his men should continue their fine form. CFC scored an average of three per game in their last four at home. Bournemouth averaged giving up two in their last four away. Sounds like Antonio might have to wear sneakers, it could be a busy day of him jumping into his staff members arms. Having said that, maybe there is a Boxing Day miracle in store for us all? CFC have beaten their last 4 average to bad opponents by only 1-0…….. NAH! Who we kidding, expect The Blues to roll on.
Chelsea go into Monday’s game without the suspended Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante but there is some good news as Eden Hazard has been passed fit, much to the relief of many a FPL manager. Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi will likely replace Costa and Kante, unless Antonio Conte decides to play Hazard as a false forward. John Terry remains unavailable while Oscar is on a slow boat to China.
Eddie Howe is of course expecting a tough afternoon at the Bridge but can at least use the memories of last season’s victory as inspiration. The Cherries go to Chelsea with doubts over Andrew Surman and Junior Stanislas while the in-form Nathan Ake is ineligible to face his parent club. The manager also warned against expecting too much of striker Callum Wilson after his long-term injury.
Leicester vs Everton (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
Does anyone really know what these two will do? This game could be exciting and full of goals or they could leave us wondering what in the blue hell was that?! The Foxes have one win since GW9, but it was the mauling of City. They also showed great heart against Stoke when they were down a man and two goals and got a draw out of it. Everton has one win since GW10, but it was against an Arsenal side that was in incredible form when they lost to the Toffees. Leicester has only one loss at home all season despite all their inconsistencies and Everton is not exactly great when playing away. But, this is Leicester and Everton so if it sounds like a Foxes win is likely, it probably isn’t, unless they are doing reverse psychology on us and… these two confuse me.
Leicester are of course hit by suspensions to Jamie Vardy, Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs – Luis Hernandez and Ben Chilwell will likely deputise for Huth and Fuchs at the back. Danny Drinkwater resumed training today after a period out with his knee injury and Claudio Ranieri will give him the maximum time to prove his fitness. Ranieri says he isn’t worried about Vardy’s absence – ‘last season we played Swansea without him and scored four!’
The Toffees may be forced to play deputy keeper Joel Robles at Leicester after Ronald Koeman admitted that first choice stopper Maarten Stekelenburg is a big doubt for the game as he is struggling with a knock. Oh well, could even things out with Vardy missing. Midfield battler James McCarthy has been ruled out for 2-3 weeks with a slight hamstring problem but Koeman says Leighton Baines is fine despite missing training this week. Phil Jagielka remains suspended meaning Ramiro Funes-Mori will again buddy up with Ashley Williams at the back.
Man Utd vs Sunderland (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
As Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth, so Moyesie and Januzaj return to Old Trafford – the current crop are looking to avoid a slaughter from Zlatan rather than King Herod and that’s pretty much where the similarities end. United stand 6th but are showing signs of mounting some sort of challenge after three successive wins while the Black Cats habit of a win every 3rd game or so has seen them climb off the bottom in recent weeks. They do however remain in the drop zone and will need every ounce of luck to avoid a third successive loss at Old Trafford. While most eyes will focus on evil King Ibra, maybe it will be Wayne Rooney who plays the pantomime villain to upset the FPL apple cart – the hair-challenged striker has scored three goals in the last two meetings between United and Sunderland at Old Trafford. The Black Cats have kept just two clean sheets this season, both at home, while United have scored in all but one of their home matches.
Mourinho says that Luke Shaw is United’s only injury absentee for Boxing Day, implying that Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly have both recovered from their injuries and Phil Jones is fine after missing training earlier this week. In transfer news the manager said that Morgan Schneiderlin has asked to leave the club amidst interest from West Brom and Everton. At which point we imagine he probably immediately regretted doing so.
Of course, young Januzaj is ineligible to face his parent club, but may come along for the ride to see his old mates. Javier Manquillio, Billy Jones and Steven Pienaar have all trained this week, but Jack Rodwell, Paddy McNair, Jan Kirchoff, Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch all remain out.
Swansea vs West Ham (Mon 26 Dec 15.00)
While shepherds watched their flocks by night, so Bob Bradley looked over his sheep and….yeah let’s not go there. Two invaluable if unimpressive wins has lifted West Ham away from the relegation zone, for now anyway, while two reverses mean Swansea go into Christmas locked in the bottom three. And so the two meet, in the foggy haze of the valleys, a huge game which may have monumental repercussions for both teams. The Swans have won their last two at home, thankfully for them otherwise they’d be stranded at the bottom – the last three meetings between the two at the Liberty have all ended in bore draws with 2 goals scored between the teams in those three matches. However those last two home victories for Swansea has seen a dozen goals scored and with Boxing Day a traditional goal fest, surely we can discount a dull result here?
Bradley says he is fearful for his job if results don’t improve soon but at least has some promising news on the injury front as he reveals that Federico Fernandez is very close to a comeback – ‘we will see if Fernandez makes it’, while Sung-yueng Ki has returned to full training and could feature for the Hammers. Everyone else is fit. Just rubbish.
Slaven Bilic says there are a couple of niggles in the squad but he expects no-one new to miss out and is looking for an improved performance at Swansea. Diafra Sakho has been ruled out for around eight weeks with his ongoing knee injury, while midfielder Pedro Obiang misses out through suspension. Striker Simone Zaza has started running according to the manager, but is unlikely to feature in Wales.
Hull vs Man City (Mon 26 Dec 17.15)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Unless you are languishing at the bottom of the league with less hope of survival than a turkey. So what better present for Hull than the visit of the Wise Man, or Pep as he also calls himself. Yep, City travel to Hull on Boxing Day, which can only be slightly worse than visiting the mother-in-law. Either way a beating for the host will be expected with City on a high after their win over the Gooners last weekend, despite the continued absence of Sergio Aguero. Hull have not won in six and have only ever beaten City once in the Premier League in eight attempts. Even the most optimistic Hull fan will do well to anticipate a home win here for whom it is likely to be a long, lonely Christmas.
Last week’s improved display at West Ham has given Hull some confidence that they can battle to survival, though Mike Phelan and his men know they come up against a huge test vs City. Phelan will try and keep a largely unchanged team and has said that striker Abel Hernandez is still a couple of weeks away from a return. Moses Odubajo, Alex Bruce, Will Keane and Greg Luer also remain missing. Ryan Mason and Josh Tymon will return to the squad while there is positive news of keeper Allan McGregor who has resumed training.
Pep says ‘we’re going to prepare like it’s NOT Christmas.’ Oki doki mate, you know best. The anti-Santa says that Pablo Zabaleta has joined Vincent Kompany, Ilkay Gundogan and Fabian Delph on the treatment table, though he is hopeful that the full back may be able to train before Monday, while Sergio Aguero is of course suspended. The good news is that Fernandinho is available again after serving his ban.
Liverpool vs Stoke (Tues 27 Dec 17.15)
Having got the Boxing Day fare out of the way, our game-week continues on Tuesday as Stoke visit Liverpool. The high-flying Liverpool who have recovered somewhat from their slippy period when they lost to Bournemouth and drew with the Hammers and have won their last two to reclaim second place, albeit six points behind Chelsea. Stoke come bearing gifts of Grant, Martins Indi and Allen and if that isn’t enough to whet the appetite of the scousers then I’m not sure what is. Liverpool won last season’s encounter 4-1 with young Divock Origi bagging a brace while Daniel Sturridge was not only fit but he also scored – indeed Stoke have lost on their last three league visits to Anfield and with Chelsea having already played another home victory will likely be called for if they are not to fall further behind the leaders.
Klopp dispels rumours that Philippe Coutinho is almost ready to return: ‘He’s not in training. He can’t rush. It was a serious injury, we need to wait.’ A comeback vs City on New Year’s Eve is ‘very unlikely’. The boss said that Joel Matip could have been risked vs Everton but it was decided to give him more time and that he is improving by the day, while Daniel Sturridge is described as ‘available, but not 100%. We have to manage him.’
Stoke go to Anfield without the suspended Marko Arnautovic, but Ibrahim Afellay is welcomed back into the squad for the first time this season and defender Marc Muniesa may also return after recovering from a knee injury. Keeper Jack Butland had further ankle surgery last week so Lee Grant continues between the sticks, while defenders Geoff Cameron and Phil Bardsley as well as midfielder Stephen Ireland remain out. Manager Mark Hughes says Xherdan Shaqiri was rotated for the Leicester match and is not injured.
Southampton vs Spurs (Weds 28 Dec 19.45)
And so it came to pass, the end of our Christmas story sees a journey not to Bethlehem, but to Southampton. Almost as historical I know. Now just as Harry Kane was proving to be as popular as that bottle of cheap aftershave from Granny on Christmas Day, so we must look deeper into this fixture. For while many FPL managers have kicked Kane out of their stocking, so it seems that Spurs quite enjoy a trip down to the south coast – for Mauricio Pochettinoi’s men have won three and drawn the other of their last four visits to St Mary’s. Young Kane did score on his last visit but at this time of Christian cheer, it may be Eriksen to keep an eye on as the inform midfielder has scored five goals and assisted two others in his last five matches.
Saints striker Jay Rodriguez will be hoping for another start after his impressive brace at Bournemouth, while midfielder Oriol Romeu returns from suspension. Jordy Clasie has picked up a groin injury and joins Charlie Austin, Jeremy Pied and Matt Targett on the sidleines. Jose Fonte will be expecting a recall after being given a rest last week.
There is good news for the Spurs as Pochettino reports that Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Vincent Janssen should all be ok to make the trip to St Mary’s. The only definite absentee is Erik Lamela who continues to struggle with a hip injury.
Suspension Report for GW18
Any player who receives 5 yellow cards before 31st December will face a one-match suspension. There are a number of players on four yellow cards so we thought it prudent to detail those suspended and those nearing a suspension in case it affects your transfer decision.
Suspended for GW18:
Matthew Lowton (Burnley)
Diego Costa (Chelsea)
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Christian Fuchs (Leicester)
Robert Huth (Leicester)
Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
Pedro Obiang (West Ham)
One yellow card away from suspension:
Harry Arter (Bournemouth)
Dan Gosling (Bournemouth)
Jeffrey Hendrick (Burnley)
Dean Marney (Burnley)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)
James McArthur (Crystal Palace)
Sam Clucas (Hull)
Jake Livermore (Hull)
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
Fernando (Man City)
Aleksandar Kolarov (Man City)
Antonio Barragan (Middlesbrough)
Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough)
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Lynden Gooch (Sunderland)
Billy Jones (Sunderland)
Steven Pienaar (Sunderland)
Jodi Amat (Swansea)
Kyle Naughton (Swansea)
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)
Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
Victor Wanyama (Tottenham)
Troy Deeney (Watford)
Michail Antonio (West Ham)
Thanks for reading Around the Grounds FPL Team News Gameweek 18. This article was written by Cookie & Mito
Fixture Tracker – the next 6 games