A happy new year to all VAVEL readers! Despite the hectic schedule, the Premier League schedule isn't slowing down just yet!
Game of the week
Chelsea vs Manchester City: Etihad Stadium, Sunday 16.30 (Sky Sports)
Chelsea are in need of a result, so playing Manchester City is probably not ideal! Frank Lampard’s team were improved in the draw against in-form Aston Villa, but fans were still disappointed to see dropped points. Lampard’s biggest dilemma is how to get the most out of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
The £130-million German duo were touted as being the game changers for Chelsea. They were expected to light up the attack. Unfortunately, after a bright start, Havertz has struggled after picking up coronavirus and he is also struggling to adapt to the number-eight position. Equally, Werner has blown hot and cold but his struggles have compounded over December.
Manchester City had to postpone their match with Everton because of a COVID-19 outbreak within their camp. Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus will not be involved after picking up the virus. Sergio Aguero could be called upon to make his comeback but Guardiola has been reluctant to throw the Argentine back into the action. It means City could, one again, be without a recognised striker leading their attack.
Up until this moment, Pep Guardiola’s team were exercising their defensive nous, recording their eighth clean sheet in ten matches against Newcastle United. This new-feel City are a lot less exhilarating than they have been in the past but they are managing games well.
Lampard needs a win to ease the pressure and he might get it. City will be the favourites and that means that the hosts can sit back, soak up pressure, and hit their opponents on the counter. It’s also worth noting that the City camp has suffered as a result of the virus. As of this moment, the game looks like it’s going ahead but we will have to wait for updates.
Everton vs West Ham United: Goodison Park, 17.30 (BT Sport)
Everton might feel the benefit of an extended rest after their match against Manchester City was postponed. They are in the midst of an injury crisis, though, and it means they are still set to be without a number of their key performers. Still, their form is good and they have reason to be confident.
West Ham United made several changes against Southampton but they still managed to take a point from their visit to St Mary’s. They also welcomed back Michail Antonio, a big boost in their quest for more goals.
The Toffees will feel a little more fresh but West Ham are due a victory. Everton have been grinding out results, winning their last four matches, but they didn’t concede first in any of those games. If they do let in the first goal, they may lack the craft to fight back.
Manchester United vs Aston Villa: Old Trafford, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
It was a sluggish display from Manchester United against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but they found the victory in classic “Fergie-time” fashion! One would expect several changes from that game. Scott McTominay and Fred should replace Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba whilst Antony Martial, Juan Mata and Luke Shaw could also come in from the start. Freshness could be key.
Aston Villa have not been sluggish at all in recent matches. Their battling display to take a point against Chelsea was indicative of their progress this season. They genuinely went toe-to-toe with Lampard’s team and the game could have swung either way. However, with a third game in quick succession, fatigue could be kicking in for the Midlanders.
Villa risk being a little dead on the ground because they don’t have the squad depth of their opponents. They have a lot of good players in reserve but they are not at the level of their starting eleven. Therefore, while United remain unconvincing, it’s tough to see them losing.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Leeds United: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 12.30 (BT Sport)
Jose Mourinho amused the world with his jibe at the Premier League on Instagram, but he had a valid point. Tottenham Hotspur were told that their match against Fulham would be postponed less than four hours before kick-off. Scandalous! While the players may physically benefit by not having that match, it’s a lot of unnecessary mental strain.
In the other camp, Leeds United were not victims of any postponements but they did rack up a resounding 5-0 victory against West Bromwich Albion. From bizarre 20-yard own-goals to some sublime solo efforts, it was a 90 minutes of dreams for Marcelo Bielsa’s men.
Spurs had been struggling to score goals of late, but Leeds will give them the opportunity to rectify this issue. It’s the way they play. High risk, high reward. Harry Kane and Heung-min Son will be itching to fire in some goals on the counter.
Crystal Palace vs Sheffield United: Selhurst Park, 15.00 (Sky Sports)
Sheffield United are winless and luckless. Mistakes have been made, particularly in the transfer market, but the Blades need to stick with Chris Wilder. He is at the centre of this football club.
Again, this game is one that doesn’t scream goals. But Palace will be buoyed by their point against Leicester. They will back themselves to shut out the visitors.
Brighton & Hove Albion vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Molineux, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
Graham Potter was criticised for making wholesale changes against Arsenal, but he will be lauded as a genius if they get three points against Wolves. He is yet to win a home match, this season.
This is a great opportunity for the Seagulls to end their home hoodoo. Wolves look very light in attack and they need to sign a striker in January, at least until Raul Jimenez is back on the field.
West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal: The Hawthorns, 20.00 (BT Sport)
Sam Allardyce would have read the riot act after their embarrassing humbling against Leeds. Defensively toothless. However, they did demonstrate a strong defensive resolve just a few days earlier at Anfield. Against Arsenal, a big team by name more than nature, they can have the excuse of stripping back their game and putting organisation first.
Arsenal are on the up after two wins in two but asking for a third victory might be a stretch. On paper, they should get three points against Albion but you can be sure that Allardyce will make it tough. Mikel Arteta might also be without the talented Bukayo Saka, who has a slight injury.
A damp squib awaits!
Burnley vs Fulham: Turf Moor, 12.00 (Sky Sports)
Another six-pointer for both teams. Fulham have already had one match postponed so they would like this one to go ahead. The Cottagers were unbeaten in four matches, however, they didn’t win any of those games either. Foundations to build on for Scott Parker, but he needs to find a way to turn one point into three.
Burnley fought hard to victory against Sheff United. Dogged, determined and perhaps a little bit lucky. They didn’t create too much but they made the most out of what they did. They deserved a bit of fortune, especially after the Boxing Day scandals at Elland Road. An injury to Charlie Taylor isn’t ideal given the club’s current injury troubles across the field.
It’s a tough ask for a similar Burnley eleven to make it back-to-back wins. Against the Blades, they looked a little tired but that didn’t deter their efforts. Fulham should, theoretically, have a little more energy in their tank but it really depends how badly COVID-19 has affected their squad.
Newcastle United vs Leicester City: St James’ Park, 14.15 (Sky Sports)
Newcastle United’s performance against Liverpool was probably one of their best of the season under Steve Bruce. His players worked tremendously hard and they illustrated some good attacking intent. They rode their luck at times but, let’s be fair, they were playing the Champions of England.
By contract, Leicester fell from grace somewhat, as they slumped to a draw against struggling Crystal Palace. Brendan Rodgers’ decision to rest Jamie Vardy proved to be a costly one as his replacement, Kelechi Iheanacho, missed a first-half penalty.
Leicester will hope to benefit from resting several players against Palace. They might just do that. Newcastle will have to come out a little more than they did against Liverpool and the likes of James Maddison and Vardy will be waiting to pounce.
Southampton vs Liverpool: St Mary’s Stadium, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Southampton have been tremendous but, of late, it has been their defensive discipline that has come to the forefront. Again, it highlights a significant improvement from the start of the season, when the Saints were all over the place.
Liverpool are in dire need of a victory after two slip-ups against relatively small opposition. A lack of efficiency in the final-third has been costly. However, the return of Thiago Alacantara will be a welcome boost. The Spaniard was immediately opening doors on the field and he will ease the creative burden on the full-backs.
Southampton have stalled a little bit but they are still having a wonderful season. They will give Liverpool a tough match but the hunger of the Reds to get back to winning ways will be tough to counter.