Welcome to GW17, the last game-week before Christmas and looking at the fixtures, it’s potentially another high scoring week on offer. We start off at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime as Luis Suarez will be looking to continue his high-scoring returns, with Cardiff as his next victims – and we end with a cracker of a London derby as Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates on Monday night. Obviously there’s loads in-between and to ensure you give yourself the best chance of maximising these Christmas points, lets waste no further time and go around the grounds to catch up on the latest team news.
Liverpool vs Cardiff City (Sat 21 Dec 12.45)
Most punters will have this one down as a home banker and it’s difficult to argue with the reasoning having seen Liverpool score 14 goals in their last three games, Luis Suarez looking irresistible and scoring for fun, while Cardiff have scored just four goals in eight games. But hold on a sec, this is Christmas, the time of strange results and its worth pointing out that Cardiff won their last league game at Anfield 4-0. That surprised you didn’t it? Well, don’t read too much into that, for the game was in 1959!! With the continuing saga of Cardiff manager Malky Mackay’s future still up in the air, he will be hoping that another Suarez master class is not the nail in his coffin at the club. It could be a long afternoon for Cardiff keeper David Marshall and his defence.
Brendan Rodgers was ecstatic to report that Suarez has agreed a new deal with the club, with Suarez saying, “I am delighted to have my future secured for the long term” – we shall see, young Luis, we shall see – not sure this deal will do much to put off the likes of Real Madrid, or indeed his agent, but there you go. Poor old Hannibal Lecter just wanted to be in a cell with a window where he could see a tree or even water as part of his deal – Goofy runs off with £200k a week – how times have changed. Rodgers says he has no fresh injuries to contend with and says that Steven Gerrard is recovering well from his hamstring injury and has begun light running. Jose Enrique and Daniel Sturridge remain on the side lines with their captain. It is likely that Rodgers will keep the same team that performed so magnificently at Tottenham last week.
The Cardiff press conference descended into farce with the non-appearance of manager Mackay. Instead assistant David Kerslake appeared and was bombarded with questions about the manager and the owner, which he was either unable to answer or been told not to answer. No team news was given for the weekend, but it is thought the squad will be the same as for last week’s win over WBA. Mackay did say earlier this week that striker Andrea Cornelius is not yet ready for the first team, although it would appear at the time of writing that young Cornelius may have more chance of appearing at Anfield than Mackay. A Cardiff director has since come out and said that Mackay will travel with the team to the game, but clearly this situation can and is liable to change at any time.
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
Palace welcome Newcastle to Selhurst Park knowing that a win will likely see them jump clear of the relegation zone, while the Toon will be looking to continue a decent run of form that has seen them win five of their last seven matches and rise to 6th in the table. Both teams have, of late, tightened things at the back – Palace have conceded just three goals in their last six, while Newcastle have let in six goals in seven games, hence we’re not expecting a whole load of goals here. Having said that, while other more notable strikers have struggled of late, it’s the likes of Palace’s Marouane Chamakh and Toon’s Yoan Gouffran that have caught the eye and even found themselves on the radar of many a fantasy manager looking for a bargain 3rd striker. It’s maybe worth noting that Newcastle have won on their last four league trips to Selhurst Park.
Alan Pardew is pleased to report he has no new injuries leading into the game, while midfielder Yohan Cabaye is welcomed back from suspension.
Tony Pulis has a number of injury concerns ahead of the game – Kagisho Dikgacol, Stuart O’Keefe and Jonny Williams all face late fitness tests, while Jerome Thomas and Adlene Guedioura are already ruled out. Jack Hunt, Paddy McCarthy & Glenn Murray remain on the road to recovery as they push for a return in the New Year. Defender Dean Moxey should be available for the game after missing last week’s defeat at Chelsea.
Fulham vs Man City (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
City travel down to the Cottage in hot form – 47 goals scored already in just 16 league games, they’ve knocked six past both Arsenal and Tottenham and more worrying for the rest of the league the goals are coming from all over the park – Aguero (13), Yaya (8), Negredo (7), Nasri & Silva (4 each), Dzeko (3). Things don’t appear to bode well for Fulham then, especially as they have the joint-worst defensive record in the league and have lost eight of their last nine games! It’s tough to see how Fulham get anything out of this game – City are unbeaten in their last nine against the Cottagers, while Fulham have managed just one clean sheet in their last 22 PL games vs City and none in their last 18. Many fantasy managers will be relying on Alvaro Negredo in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero, though he comes with a word of warning – the Spanish striker has only scored once in seven away games for City.
Manuel Pellegrini reiterates that Aguero will be out for between four and eight weeks, while defender Pablo Zabaleta may only be missing for a week or two, not the month that was originally thought. Matija Nastasic, Stevan Jovetic and Micah Richards will also sit out the trip to Fulham. The manager says he hasn’t yet decided who will replace Zabaleta at right back, but he has a number of options in Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Dedryck Boyota or James Milner.
Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen has confirmed that Clint Dempsey has undergone and passed a medical with a view to a returning to the club on loan for January and February. Meanwhile, the club has no new injuries, but striker Hugo Rodallega could make a return to the squad after recovering from his groin injury. Defender Brede Hangeland is still unavailable.
Man Utd vs West Ham (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
Both teams come off successful midweek Capital One quarter final victories, but now have to focus on their league position. Big Sam will be hoping to reverse the Hammer’s record at Old Trafford, which reads nine defeats in the last ten matches there – indeed they have only won once in their last nine league games this season and are only a point clear of the relegation zone. Despite last week’s victory at Villa, United are still in eighth place, but will know that if they can safely negotiate what looks like a relatively attractive looking fixture list over the Christmas period, they could easily close the gap on the top four and press on into the New Year. Goals have been an issue for United at Old Trafford this season – they have scored just eight in eight games and will be very wary of a West Ham unit that has twice gone to Spurs and won. The Reds have not lost three successive home league games since 1978/79, but despite West Ham’s atrocious away record, this could be a nervy one for the home fans.
Big Sam reports that defender James Tomkins has recovered from a groin injury and his addition will be the only change to the squad that dumped Spurs out of the League Cup in the week. The manager did emphasise however that rotation will be unavoidable for him at this time of the year, saying, “it’s impossible to use the same eleven players over Christmas”. Kevin Nolan is still suspended, while defender Winston Reid is about a month away from a return and Stuart Downing and Andy Carroll remain unavailable.
The big news at United this week was the surprise groin injury Wayne Rooney has picked up in training. Surprise, surprise, Moyes is as helpful as ever, saying the striker “has a chance” of playing tomorrow. Given the number of times he also said RvP had a chance over the last month, this translates into “Rooney won’t play”…..in my opinion. Meanwhile, Nani’s hamstring injury is worse than originally thought and he is likely to be missing for a few weeks.
Stoke City vs Aston Villa (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
Stoke welcome Aston Villa to the Britannia knowing a win would help them leapfrog their opponents in the league. Despite being a point ahead of Stoke, it’s Paul Lambert who will be more concerned about his team’s recent form, which has seen them lose their last two games. Stoke have only lost the once in seven matches, though Mark Hughes will know that his team have to turn draws into wins if they are to become a permanent fixture in the top half of the table. Villa won this match 3-1 last season, including a goal from Christian Benteke and Lambert will be desperate for his striker to return to the scoring trail sooner rather than later – “Bentekecount” is now at 11 hours and 59mins since his last goal.
Villa striker Gaby Agbonlahor misses the match through suspension after picking up his 5th yellow card in the defeat to United, but midfielder Fabian Delph returns from his ban. Defender Ron Vlaar remains a major doubt as he is struggling to shrug off a calf problem, but there is better news of midfielders Chris Herd & Gary Gardner. Herd should be back after missing the United game with a facial injury and Gardner reports he is fit and ready to return to the first team after a year out. Charles N’Zgobia and Jores Okore remain out.
Hughes says he has a few injury doubts ahead of the game. Both Peter Crouch and Jon Walters are rated doubtful for the game, but an even bigger concern is the groin injury defender Ryan Shawcross picked up against United in the week. With fellow central defender Robert Huth still missing with a knee injury, Hughes is obviously desperate for Shawcross to play and will give him as long as possible to prove his fitness – although the manager did also say that he wouldn’t risk his defender tomorrow if it meant he missed the rest of the Christmas fixtures.
Sunderland vs Norwich (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
Norwich travel up to the Stadium of Light to battle with a Sunderland side who, for them, have had a half-decent week. A point and clean sheet at West Ham last weekend was followed by them knocking Chelsea out of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night and manager Gus Poyet will be hoping his team can finish off the week in style. Chris Hughton, meanwhile, would like nothing more than another cheeky win on the road to take his side through the 20pt barrier by Christmas, but their recent record at Sunderland isn’t good – they’ve lost four and drawn one of their last five visits. Well, only one side in PL history has been bottom at Christmas and survived the drop (West Brom in 2004/05), so the Black Cats will be hoping that Norwich’s record of conceding more goals on their travels than any other team this season is maintained, while the Canaries will be relying on the outstanding recent form of striker Gary Hooper, who has notched four goals in his last six games.
Norwich striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel and midfielder Robert Snodgrass are both fit and will be in tomorrow’s match day squad. Fellow midfielder Anthony Pilkington is likely to be out until mid-January, while Alex Tettey and Elliott Bennett remain longer-term casualties.
Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher and midfielder Jack Colback will return after missing the Chelsea game through illness, but keeper Keiren Westwood and defender Carlos Cuellar remain unavailable.
West Brom vs Hull City (Sat 21 Dec 15.00)
Managerless West Brom welcome Hull to the Hawthorns and will be looking to end a run of four successive defeats that ultimately cost Steve Clarke his job and has seen the Baggies drop perilously close to the drop zone. Hull meanwhile, have inched themselves up to mid-table and a win on Saturday would put them on 22pts at Christmas, a figure that Steve Bruce would probably have bitten your hand off for if offered it at the start of the season. In their only PL fixture at the Hawthorns, Hull managed a convincing 3-0 victory in 2008. With West Brom not scoring in their last two games and Hull scoring just once in the last three, a goal glut here is difficult to imagine!
West Brom caretaker manager Keith Downing reports he has a fully fit squad to pick from, which includes keeper Ben Foster, who has been missing since picking up a toe injury in GW2. Foster played 45mns for the reserves in the week and has declared himself “fit and ready to go”, meaning the temporary boss will have to decide whether to throw his no.1 back into action immediately or stick with Boaz Myhill for now. Victor Anichebe has recovered from illness.
Bruce reveals that Robbie Brady will miss out with an ongoing groin strain and is doubtful for the Christmas period, while striker Sone Aluko and midfielder Stephen Quinn remain on the treatment table.
Southampton vs Tottenham (Sun 22 Dec 13.30)
Stuttering Southampton vs Teetering Tottenham – who will prevail in this one? Well, it’s sure been a bad week for Spurs – humiliated at home by Liverpool and West Ham, managerless and currently the butt of a whole load of jokes, you would be mistaken for immediately marking this down as a home banker, but one look at the Saint’s recent form will also show you that they are winless in five matches and have even dropped below United in the league – oh the shame of it! Despite losing to Spurs at St Mary’s last season they had previously won the last six matches at home to Tottenham and both managers will be doing everything in their power to clinch a win here and make Christmas slightly more enjoyable.
Spurs winger Andros Townsend is out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury picked up in the defeat to West Ham, while defenders Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul remain injured. Midfielder Paulinho is suspended but captain Michael Dawson will return at the heart of the defence after missing the midweek Cup defeat through suspension. Caretaker manager Tim Sherwood has to choose whether to recall Roberto Soldado or stick with Emmanuel Adebayor and/or Jermain Defoe. Danny Rose is fit again and will slot back into the left-back position.
Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino says defender Nathaniel Clyne, who has missed the previous two games through injury has trained this week and will be assessed before the game, although it is thought he won’t be rushed back in front of the hectic schedule. Saints have no new injuries, meaning Artur Brouc, Kelvin Davis, Victor Wanyama and Guly Do Prado continue to miss out.
Swansea vs Everton (Sun 22 Dec 16.00)
Two of the more congenial managers in the Premiership meet down at the Liberty as Swansea entertain an Everton side who are sitting pretty in 5th place and on an unbeaten run of nine games. The Swans meanwhile are slightly less straightforward to predict – in their last seven matches they have drawn three, won two and lost two, but interestingly, they have never beaten Everton in a competitive match – in fact they have never scored against the Toffees in the Premier League.
Roberto Martinez says Leighton Baines is back in training and will be back very soon – the left back who has missed the last four games with a toe injury will definitely be ready for Boxing Day – indeed the manager didn’t actually rule him out of tomorrow’s match – those owners of Bryan Oviedo beware. James McCarthy is due back from suspension and Martinez has been speaking highly of the midfielder, implying that he may walk straight back into the starting XI. He also talked up defender Antolin Alcaraz, who he said is now match fit and available for selection. Gerard Deulofeu is out for up to eight weeks with a hamstring injury and has returned to Barca for treatment, meaning Kevin Mirallas should expect more guaranteed starts. Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone remain long-term absentees and the manager said he may look to replace them for the short-term in the transfer window.
Swans keeper Michel Vorm is missing and is likely to be out for at least a month after undergoing a knee operation in the week – the keeper had hoped to delay the operation until after the Christmas schedule, but after suffering more discomfort in the game at Norwich last week, it was decided the injury could not be managed any longer. Gerhard Tremmel will deputise. Michu has emerged as a late doubt for the game after Michael Laudrup revealed the Spaniard will need an ankle operation at some point on his ankle – no decision has yet been taken on when the operation will take place – weren’t we told the same thing about Vorm? What is it with these Welsh doctors? Anyway, Michu is a doubt and unlikely to play. Nathan Dyer also misses out with ankle ligament damage, while defender Angel Rangel is suspended. The good news is that midfielder Leon Britton is back in training following a broken toe, which has kept him out of the last five games and defender Chico Flores, although due back from suspension, is battling a knee complaint, but hopes to be ok for the match.
Arsenal vs Chelsea (Mon 23 Dec 20.00)
What a way to end the game-week and take us into Christmas – a good old cracker of a London derby as Chelsea take the short journey to North London to meet the league leaders. Without really hitting top gear, Chelsea have manoeuvred themselves into 3rd position, just two points behind the Gunners, courtesy of four wins out of five, while Arsenal will be looking for a strong reaction to last week’s humbling at the Etihad. It’s the Blues who have the form in this fixture, having won their last three over Arsenal – and could Jose spring a surprise and start Juan Mata? The Spanish midfielder has scored in each of his four starts against Arsenal.
Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny is ruled out with the leg injury he sustained at City, but he is recovering quicker than expected and could be back for the Boxing Day trip to West Ham. Jack Wilshere serves the first of his two match ban, but happier news of Lukas Podolski, who is finally available having recovered from injury and not featuring since GW2, though he is very unlikely to start the game.
The Special One says that Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry & Branislav Ivanovic will all start on Monday, though he has still to decide if Gary Cahill or David Luiz will partner the captain at the heart of the defence. I’m assuming Cashley did himself little favours when he gate crashed the Arsenal Christmas party this week after Mourinho had cancelled the Chelsea party – poor love, doesn’t really get it, does he? Mourinho said that Cashley would either “be on the bench or at home” – go on Jose son, give it to him! Michael Essien is suspended after picking up his 5th booking. Jose gave no clues as to his preferred midfield or striking options, though it’s worth noting that Samuel Eto’o has never scored for Chelsea away from the Bridge.
Suspended players this week:
Any player who picks up 5 yellow cards prior to 1st January will serve an automatic 1 match suspension. The following players all have 4 yellow cards to their name, meaning, if they collect just 1 more, they will receive an automatic 1 match suspension. Worth a quick check on the list, before you make your transfers, especially later in the season when the suspensions become 2 or 3 games
This article was written by Cookie and the Suspension data compiled by Mutley. From us both, we wish you all a successful GW17 and a very Happy Christmas.