Author Archives: Timothy Masters

Premier League previews, 1/2/15

Arsenal v Aston Villa, 13:30
Before the season starts these two are always top of the (alphabetically sorted) Barclays Premier League table, but it rarely takes long for the midlanders to make their way toward the middle of the bottom half most seasons, much to the chagrin of their fan base. For Arsenal time atop the table is less rare, but not common these days and the best they can achieve with a win here is fourth, still behind Southampton and ten points away from leaders Chelsea. The Gunners have won four of their last five while Villa haven’t tasted victory in seven consecutive league matches suggesting this will be very one-side, but Villa are dangerous on the break and could spring a surprise.

The chances are that Alexis Sanchez will miss this game due to a hamstring strain and neither Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Danny Welbeck is quite fit enough to return. Scott Sinclair could make his Aston Villa debut and Fabian Delph and Gabby Agbonlahor will return from injuries, adding pace to a Villa attack potentially fed by Carles Gil.

Swansea v Southampton, 16:00

If the games involving the teams around them at the top of the table are amenable to Southampton’s need they could finish the day five points clear of United and just two away from Manchester City in second, but there is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before that happens. Southampton are pretty-much the form team in the league, undefeated in six and with five wins in that period but Swansea carry a threat that the away manager will have to respect. The Welsh team haven’t won any of their last four games, and desperately need a victory in the wake of recent sales so expect this to be a hot contest and a good watch to boot.

Southampton have been bolstered by the return of Maya Yoshida and Sadio Mane from international duty, but Shane Long has joined a lengthy and influential injury list that includes Toby Alderweireld, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin. Swansea have Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kyle Bartley banned but Jonjo Shelvey back from suspension, but captain Ashley Williams is a doubt with a shoulder injury.

Premier League previews, 31/1/15

Hull v Newcastle, 12:45
Although they occupy different sections of the Barclays Premier League table, Hull and Newcastle have been on similarly bad runs of form of late and both come into this match with just a pair of wins in their last ten matches. With the away team basically looking safe from relegation the search for a new manager has been put on hold until the end of the season meaning the players are in a weird limbo of not knowing if they need to impress the current boss, or if work starts again in September.
Nikica Jelavic and Abel Hernandez and Alex Bruce could be involved for Hull, but James Chester will be out for two months. Newcastle have Gabriel Obertan, Mehdi Abeid and Davide Santon back after injury, but Siem de Jong and Paul Dummett are not available for John Carver.

Crystal Palace v Everton, 15:00
The worst run of form over their last ten games in the Premier League has seen Everton slip down the table to the stage where they’ve level with Palace and just four points above the relegation zone after starting the season in Europe and breaking their transfer record over the summer. Roberto Martinez is under surprisingly little pressure given how things are right now for his team in the table, but that will surely change if the form does not and the former Wigan boss might be fighting for his job.
Crystal Palace could give a debut to Jordon Mutch, but Shola Ameobi is not fit and Jerome Thomas misses out with a minor injury. For Everton James McCarthy, Darron Gibson and Sylvain Distin could all return, and Kevin Mirallas is expected to overcome a hamstring injury.

Liverpool v West Ham, 15:00
This is a tale of two strikers, with former Liverpool man Andy Carroll currently in scintillating form while his old club desperately await the return of Daniel Sturridge from a series of injuries that has devastated his season so far. There is just a point between these two in the table before kick-off and neither has lost in their last three matches, so it should be a great contest, and the away team definitely have the tools to hurt Liverpool through Carroll, former Liverpool winger Stewart Downing and Diafra Sakho, as well as their prowess at set-plays.
Liverpool will be boosted by the return of Daniel Sturridge but Mamadou Sakho is a doubt with a back problem. West Ham are hopeful that Carl Jenkinson, Alex Song and James Tomkins will be available, and Cheikhou Kouyate could feature after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Manchester United v Leicester, 15:00
When these two teams met in the league in the last part of 2014 there was a bit of a shock result, but since then the size and weight of Manchester United has told somewhat and Leicester are looking a little less plucky and a little more worn out with every game they face in the Premier League. Sitting bottom of the table, the Foxes are on a decent run of form over the last four games, but overall they’ve already lost thirteen matches in this division and today they face a team that has tasted defeat just once in their last ten games.
Michael Carrick is out for around four weeks but Ashley Young is close to full fitness and Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are doubts, but might still play. Matthew Upson could finally make his Leicester City debut, but Matty James is banned, Riyad Mahrez is away and Kasper Schmeichel and Chris Wood are still out injured.

Stoke v QPR, 15:00
Two sides linked by Mark Hughes meet today in what might end up being a very big game in the overall season for QPR. Currently without a win in their last five games, the London side sit nineteenth in the table but just one win away from West Brom in fourteenth, so there is always hope for movement up the league if they can only get a victory. The problem lies with the form of Stoke, who’ve lost just one of their last five, and are extremely difficult to play against when ensconced in their own stadium.
Bojan Krkic is out for the rest of the year, but Mame Diouf will be available following Senegal’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations. QPR’s Yun Suk-Young is set to be involved for the first time this year and Richard Dunne is fit but the game comes too soon for Sandro, who has a knee injury.

Sunderland v Burnley, 15:00
Adjacent in the table, level on points, at this stage of the Premier League season you’d be hard pressed to tell which of these sides is new to the league and which is the more established, and you’d never guess that Sunderland spend so much more than their guests. In their last four matches Burnley have lost one and picked up five points while Sunderland have gained just one point, so the direction of travel is definitely suggestive if not absolutely convincing in the Claret and Blue favour, and if the away team do win it’ll be a really welcome boost at a tough time for the club.
Sunderland could bring back Adam Johnson and Wes Brown but Jack Rodwell and Lee Cattermole is yet to return to full fitness. Sean Dyche is likely to name an unchanged Burnley team for the ninth successive league match.

West Brom v Spurs, 15:00
Nobody is in better form than Tottenham over their last eight games in the league, and that is a big part of why Christian Eriks…sorry, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are just a point or two away from Arsenal in fifth and look like having a great chance of making the Champions League too. West Brom don’t have any hope of ending up in Europe, but they’ve not lost in three games and could well take themselves six points clear of the relegation zone with a win today making this a pretty decent time with all that has transpired for them of late.
Callum McManaman is available after his arrival from Wigan but Boaz Myhill, Jonas Olsson and Youssouf Mulumbu are all unavailable. Mauricio Pochettino will reshuffle his side, with Nacer Chadli set to re-join the squad after an absence for personal reasons.

Chelsea v Man City, 17:30
The big match, the grand occasion, this game is going to be plastered over every advertising hoarding and billboard from here to Singapore, and for the world of football the decider in the Premier League is always going to be a big deal. In reality, this match is far from deciding the fate of the league title, but there is a good if not great chance one of these two will win the league, and with Chelsea currently five points clear the result today could be absolutely pivotal with the rest of the year in mind.
Diego Costa is banned for three games, and of the injured trio of Cesc Fabregas, Branislav Ivanovic and Filipe Luis only Ivanovic is expected to feature. Manchester City pair Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony are in Africa.

Capital One Cup semi-final previews

27/1/15
Sheffield United v Spurs, 19:45

Although they lost the first leg of this tie, I’m sure the manager would have snapped your hand off for a 1-0 defeat and the chance to take Tottenham back to his place and get the crowd involved in the fight for a place in the final of the Capital One Cup. The Premier League half of this tie is by no means modest, but the sense of invulnerability that Chelsea and City had until a few days ago is definitely not there for Spurs and this is going to be a very difficult game for them, but they have the lead and know avoiding defeat will be enough to see them through to Wembley.

Spurs have no injuries to report going into this match, something that will make their manager the envy of his peers no doubt. United will have to assess a couple of players after their draw with Preston in the FA Cup, in which Diego De Girolamo put himself firmly in Nigel Clough’s thoughts.

28/1/15
Chelsea v Liverpool, 19:45

The first leg of this tie looked to be going in Chelsea’s favour until Raheem Sterling showed once more why he’s one of the best youth prospects to come out of England in the last decade or so, and for Liverpool to make it to the first Wembley final of the season they’ll need a bit more of that quality. Dominance over Chelsea in terms of possession and invention wasn’t the issue last time out as much as finishing, and Jose Mourinho hasn’t lost to Liverpool in his second spell as manager of his favourite British club which shows you that he knows exactly how to set up to get the right result against this generation of Reds.

Chelsea are set to recall a number of key players including Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic after the FA Cup defeat to Bradford City which saw the likes of John Obi Mikel and Andre Schurrle rotated in. Liverpool will assess striker Daniel Sturridge and have rested Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel in anticipation of this match.

FA Cup previews, 25/1/15

Bristol City v West Ham, 14:00
Bristol City are riding high in SkyBet League One going into this game, and with one of the best sides in the Barclays Premier League as their opposition this will be a tough game and a big test for a team used to winning this term. Their loss tally in the league is just three for the season to date, and the worry for the manager might be the potential loss of momentum a heavy defeat could create so this is a sensitive choice for him, but the same applies to some extent for Sam Allardyce and West Ham and the task is far from impossible for the smaller outfit.
James Tomkins and Guy Demel could make it back in time to pull on a West Ham jersey today, but the match comes too early for James Collins and Diafra Sakho. Kieron Agard and Aaron Wilbraham are the injured players for City.

Aston Villa v Bournemouth, 15:00
The only reason this is not the most obvious pick for ‘shock of the day waiting to happen’ is that Bournemouth are the top team in the SkyBet Championship, and if they did beat Villa it wouldn’t actually represent that much of a giant killing with the gap between the two. Paul Lambert’s side sit fifteenth in the Premier League table, having not won any of their last six matches and even with Bournemouth drawing one and losing two of their last three this is still as close to an even matchup as you’ll get in a cross-division cup tie these days. With Villa at home the task does become more difficult of course, but if Lambert rotates his squad a lot it might even be an even matchup at kick-off.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and Joe Cole are due for late fitness tests, but Libor Kozak, Ron Vlaar, Chris Herd and Philippe Senderos remain unavailable for Paul Lambert to call upon.

Brighton v Arsenal, 16:00
Brighton welcome the ever-stylish Arsenal to what is still their new stadium, even if the shine is starting to fade a tiny bit as they settle in. So far the year isn’t exactly going to plan for the South Coast club and they sit in the bottom half of the Championship table, but a win over what will probably be the Arsenal second string would make a huge difference and could be the springboard Brighton need to make the second half of the season special. For Arsenal, this is a game they can only really lose, as they are expected to brush aside the smaller team and won’t get much credit if they do, but the rotation means the players involved will be hungry to prove they’re worth picking in the league.
Lewis Dunk, Jake Forster-Caskey and Craig Mackail-Smith are fit for Brighton, but Greg Halford is missing, alongside long-term absentees Kazenga LuaLua and Dale Stephens. Arsenal have their normal injury issues, with Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Mathieu Debuchy out, while Arsene Wenger recently expressed his belief Abou Diaby might never regain full fitness following another ankle issue.

Selected FA Cup tips, 24/1/15

Blackburn v Swansea, 12:45
Although Swansea are an established Premier League side now, and capable of going toe-to-toe with many of the biggest teams in the land they are still operating somewhere between the top flight and the Championship in terms of infrastructure, and one of the ways they struggle to keep up is in squad depth terms. The loss of Wilfried Bony was probably inevitable after the summer of speculation they endured, and now the club is down one world-class striker it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Blackburn can take advantage of the reduced goal-threat.
Blackburn defender Tommy Spurr, could start for the first time this season, and Rudy Gestede could play after missing last weekend’s match. Swansea should hand a debut to Kyle Naughton but Wayne Routledge misses out and Ashley Williams is set to be rested.

Birmingham v West Brom, 15:00
The rise up the Championship table Birmingham have experienced since new manager Gary Rowett took over has been pretty special, and coming into this game against local rivals West Brom there will be a feeling amongst the fans and players that this might just be their day. The Baggies have won just one of their last six games in the Barclays Premier League and don’t really have enough players to put out a second string of similar quality, so expect Birmingham to look to build on one loss in their last six and try to create a small shock this afternoon.
Birmingham are still without the injured trio of Matt Green, Will Packwood and Gavin Gunning. West Brom centre-back Jonas Olsson will not feature, while Youssouf Mulumbu and Jason Davidson are absent through international commitments.

Sunderland v Fulham, 15:00
Although the relegation of Fulham came at a fortunate time, with the club needing to offload some old heads and a great youth generation ready to be blooded in their place, the changes at the club have created an instability that is obvious if you look at their form over the last ten games or so. Runs of consecutive wins and then losses speak of a team not 100% sure where it is at present, but a game with a Sunderland team that hasn’t won any of their last five Premier League matches might just help them get back some motivation to win.
Sunderland are likely to be without Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson through injury, but Liam Bridcutt is back from a ban. Fulham captain Scott Parker is a doubt, but Lasse Vigen Christensen could return from a hamstring problem.

Southampton v Palace, 15:00
The all-Premier League ties at this stage in the competition aren’t normally between two contenders, and with Palace missing a number of key men due to the Asian and African Cups this is going to be a very long afternoon for Alan Pardew and his new men. Playing away against a Southampton side that has won five of their last six games is no easy feat, and there are a number of pundits that have suggested the Saints could even be an outside contender for the cup come season’s end.
Southampton are missing Toby Alderweireld, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin through injury while Maya Yoshida, Sadio Mane and Emmanuel Mayuka are on international duty. Crystal Palace have Marouane Chamakh available, but Yannick Bolasie and captain Mile Jedinak are both away with DR Congo and Australia respectively.

Spurs v Leicester, 15:00
There are two ways to look at Leicester City Football Club right now, depending on the fullness of your glass. Over the last four games the Foxes have shown some fighting spirit and won twice, tasting defeat just once along the way, and that seems to suggest they’re on their way to a better second half of the season. The other method of presentation is looking at their seven losses in ten games and position at the bottom of the table, three points from safety, and as a backdrop that might for the away team to sacrifice their chances today in order to try and stay in the Premier League for another season.
Erik Lamela is available for Spurs after nearly a month out but Nacer Chadli remains absent and Nabil Bentaleb is away with Algeria. New Leicester signing Mark Schwarzer is in line for his debut, but Matty James is serving a suspension and striker Chris Wood is out with an ankle problem.

Liverpool v Bolton, 17:30
For so long a Premier League team, Bolton Wanderers fans must now look wistfully at West Ham and their former manager and wonder what might have been if their famously shifty chairman had decided to back him that fateful January. Today the Wanderers have a trundle to Liverpool ahead of them and a game against probably the second string to some extent, and with Bolton having long just once in their last ten league matches there is no reason they can’t at least make life difficult for their hosts.
Steven Gerrard will be rested, which could mean a look at highly-rated youngster Jordan Rossiter, and Glen Johnson, Joe Allen and Mario Balotelli could play after resuming training. Bolton have Lee Chung-yong, Craig Davies, Marc Tierney, Mark Davies and Max Clayton out.

Capital One Cup semi-finals, 20/1/15

Liverpool v Chelsea, 19:45
This may not be a Champions League semi-final, but with the odds of Liverpool taking a top four spot in the table reducing week-on-week there has been a far greater emphasis on winning any trophy in the press conferences from Brendan Rodgers, and lord knows the whole club would like to send Steven Gerrard off to LA with one final bit of silverware too. Chelsea are a side that has all you need to win a tournament, scary squad depth, massive amounts of money and the best-paid manager in the land to guide them, and if Liverpool can’t win this by at least a couple of goals it will be incredibly hard for the fans to back them in getting a result in leg two, and making it to Wembley.
Steven Gerrard is set to return to the Liverpool team and Adam Lallana could feature after returning from a thigh injury. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has an almost fully-fit squad to choose from, with Thibaut Courtois back after three games out, but Cesar Azpilicueta is set to miss out with a groin problem.

Spurs v Sheffield Utd, 19:45
If the first semi-final in the Capital One Cup is contentious and difficult to call it seems likely that this one will be painted as a bit one-sided, and if Sheffield United can’t pull something big out of the bag in the first, London-based leg of the tie then it’s unlikely that impression will change over the course of the two games. Tottenham have a squad that can cope with the demands of European football, making domestic cups a bit simpler, and the b-team players like Soldado, Townsend and Kaboul are probably still good enough to overcome the Blades without too much trouble, allowing Christian Eriksen a rare night off from carrying the Tottenham attack on his back.
Tottenham are without Nabil Bentaleb but fit-again Emmanuel Adebayor could start alongside Ben Davies, Paulinho and Andros Townsend, with Mauricio Pochettino likely to rotate his squad. Sheffield United welcome back defender Chris Basham, Ryan Flynn’s Achilles problem will take a late fitness test, and Iain Turner is out with a hamstring injury.

Premier League previews, 18/1/15

18/1/15
West Ham v Hull, 13:30
Although West Ham are having a good season in the wider context both they and Hull will be somewhat concerned with their recent direction of travel and want to arrest the decline here today if at all possible. The Hammers are still in the top seven, but haven’t won any of their last four league matches, while Burnley have won two of their last four but no more than that in their previous ten attempts, which goes some way to explaining why they’re in the relegation zone at present. Beating Everton recently is a good sign for Hull’s chances of a revival of course, but this will be a very different challenge to the cultured Toffees.
Alex Song is set to return to league action following illness and Winston Reid and Guy Demel are back in training after injury and could be involved too. Hull are hopeful of having Gaston Ramirez and Sone Aluko fit but Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic face lengthy spells out.

Man City v Arsenal, 16:00
It seems to be the case with most high-end players that move to the UK these days that the first teams to be offered the chance to sign them are the really big spenders in Manchester and maybe West London, as you’re likely to get a higher pay-off as the selling team, and it appears that was what happened before Alexis Sanchez moved to Arsenal. With hindsight it’s easy to say City made an error in not signing the Chilean, but for today and the neutral it is definitely a good thing as it gives us a head-to-head between Sanchez and Sergio Aguero, arguably the two best attackers in the league this year, and makes Arsenal dangerous enough that they could realistically shock their hosts for the day.
Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri will be out for around three weeks and Edin Dzeko is doubtful, so the return of Sergio Aguero comes at the perfect time for their team. Arsenal defender Mathieu Debuchy and midfielder Mikel Arteta have been ruled out for three months each and Kieran Gibbs is doubtful, but Calum Chambers is expected to be fit.

19/1/15
Everton v West Brom, 20:00
Over the last five Barclays Premier League games only Sunderland can match Everton’s abject form, with the Toffees and Black Cats both having gained just a single point from a potential yield of fifteen, and that’s not really what the Everton faithful were expecting after such a promising year last time around. Thirteenth in the table and eighteen points away from Manchester United in fourth, Everton have gone from potential Champions League qualifiers to possible outside relegation candidates, and with the away team having picked up four points from their last two games this could be a tough evening for Roberto Martinez.
Sylvan Distin and Tony Hibbert will have late fitness tests, but ever still have a host of players out including Steven Pienaar, James McCarthy, Tim Howard, Leon Osman and Darron Gibson, which will make selection for this one a challenge. Only Jonas Olsson is out for the away team, and is expected to return at the start of February from a calf injury.

Premier League previews, 17/1/15

Aston Villa v Liverpool, 15:00
The last few games have gone very well on paper for Liverpool and the return of Daniel Sturridge is certainly going to provide them with an extra boost, if and when it actually happens, but today they face a side that have caused them real problems over the last few games and all their good work could be undone. Villa have danger on the break and confidence in the fixture, although on the other hand they’ve not won in six and have a goal difference of -12 to their name, so it could go either way, but the form makes this game look more in Liverpool’s favour than it is in reality.
Paul Lambert is considering giving an start to new signing Carles Gil, defender Ciaran Clark serves a one-match ban and Joe Cole is injured. Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling is back in the squad his Caribbean break, while Steven Gerrard and Adam Lallana have a chance of featuring despite knocks.

Burnley v Crystal Palace, 15:00
At the time of writing the smallest possible points margin separates these two teams from those in the relegation zone, but be that as it may they are technically not in the bottom three and today is a chance for a win over a near rival. Palace have superior goal difference, but over the last three games they and Burnley have an identical D-D-W record and have picked up points against sides way above them in the table, so this game could be a close and interesting affair, as well as a significant one in the long term.
Burnley have doubts over Jason Shackell and Kieran Trippier, but Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes are expected to be recalled. Crystal Palace could hand a debut to Yaya Sanogo and Marouane Chamakh is back after injury, but Yannick Bolasie is on international duty.

Leicester v Stoke, 15:00
One of the major concerns many people have expressed about new Leicester signing Andrej Kramaric, stolen from under the noses of Vitesse via Chelsea, is that he may not be physically ready for the Premier League yet, and if there was even a game to test that this is the one. Stoke are not a great football team in front of their own fans, but when they’re on the road the gloves really come off, and even with the home side in decent form this won’t be an easy afternoon for the bottom team in the Barclays Premier League table.
Leicester are hoping new record signing Andrej Kramaric will get a work permit in time, but Matty James suspended and both Dean Hammond and Esteban Cambiasso are doubtful. Stoke’s Erik Pieters is a doubt but Steven Nzonzi has overcome a knock, and Victor Moses could also feature, having recovered from a thigh strain.

QPR v Man Utd, 15:00
The home loss suffered to Southampton in their last match was the first time United had tasted defeat in ten Premier League matches, and although they’re nowhere near Ferguson levels there was a growing sense of inevitability about their climb up the Barclays Premier League table. Travelling to play QPR isn’t quite a gimmee, as the London side are far better at home that on the road, but Louis Van Gaal couldn’t have asked for many better away games in which to remedy the mistakes of their previous match and a home win would be a shock if it came to pass.
QPR defender Armand Traore has been ruled out and both Sandro and Yun Suk-Young remain sidelined with injuries but midfielder Niko Kranjcar is fit. Manchester United have doubts over Robin van Persie, but Rafael and Marcos Rojo are in contention after recovering from injuries.

Swansea v Chelsea, 15:00
Most teams would be pretty happy to only lose 20% of their matches in the league, but the pair of defeats Chelsea have suffered in the last ten games represents a real problem for a side Gary Neville had picked as the best he’s seen in years, and one tipped to possibly emulate Arsene Wenger’s invincibles. Now they face Swansea with the ‘undefeated’ question off their back and knowing it’s a straight-up dogfight with City from now until May, and with the home team having not won in three matches Chelsea will fancy an away win here.
Bafetimbi Gomis will start up front for Swansea, and although Jonjo Shelvey is banned again and Ki Sung-yueng is away on international duty Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jefferson Montero both hope to play after injury. Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is nursing a broken thumb, and Cesar Azpilicueta is still sidelined and will return to training next week.

Spurs v Sunderland, 15:00
Sunderland and Everton share the dubious distinction of having the worst form in the league over their last four league games, and with that in mind the Black Cats travel south as they try to avoid doing the same in the league table. Spurs have exactly the same record as Chelsea in their last ten matches in this competition, and that sort of form should be daunting for Gus Poyet, who saw his side lose somewhat unfortunately to Liverpool in their last game, which was played at the Stadium of Light.
Harry Kane is set to return to the Spurs team after being rested, but Erik Lamela and Ryan Mason remain sidelined by injury. Sunderland’s new signing Jermain Defoe is available, and while Liam Bridcutt is suspended Lee Cattermole and Anthony Reveillere are in contention.

Newcastle v Southampton, 17:30
Changing manager is never easy, especially when you lose the boss to a side below you in the table, but looking at the Newcastle form over the last ten games gives you some sense of why the board were happy to let Alan Pardew leave with their blessing. One win in their last six is not a pretty picture, and today the Magpies are visited by the best team in the Premier League over the last five matches, and a Southampton side fresh off a win at Old Trafford to boot.
Newcastle midfielders Siem de Jong and Mehdi Abeid won’t be involved against Southampton. Jonas Gutierrez is still building up his fitness and Papiss Cisse and Cheick Tiote are on international duty. Southampton have key men Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld out, but Jack Cork is fit after an ankle problem.

Premier League previews, 11/1/15

Arsenal v Stoke, 13:30

Although the home side are significantly further up the table than their guests for the day, this game will have the slightly unpredictable nature of a grudge match or derby as Stoke and Arsenal share more than just a few years in the Premier League. Previous games between the two have ended with serious injury being sustained by Arsenal players, and with that anger in their hearts the Gunners will go out today and try to advance themselves further toward a top four they’re not yet a part of. In form terms Stoke have the slight advantage over the last three matches, but overall you’d still favour a home team set to welcome some key men back.

Arsenal have Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini fit again and Olivier Giroud back from suspension, but Danny Welbeck is still injured and Wenger must choose between David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Stoke’s new signing Philipp Wollscheid is in the squad, but Marc Wilson is a doubt with a knee problem, and Mame Diouf is away at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Man Utd v Southampton, 16:00
The international nature of the Premier League means that even though these two teams have very little in the way of recent history to create any kind of animosity, there will still be a bit of bite about the game today, as the two managers know each other well and don’t exactly get along. Old Dutch feuds aside, this is a clash between two top-four sides capable of playing great football, and while United may have the advantage on paper Southampton have collected ten points in their last four to United’s six, and will believe they can get at least a point.

Manchester United have had some great news with the return of Angel di Maria, Rafael, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia, and Ashley Young is their only absentee. Southampton could hand a debut to Eljero Elia following his transfer from Werder Bremen and both Nathaniel Clyne and Jack Cork have overcome injuries but Maya Yoshida is on international duty and Sadio Mane could be out all month with a calf complaint.

Premier League previews, 10/1/15

Sunderland v Liverpool, 12:45
The speculation surrounding Liverpool and the chances they’ll spend this month has been intense, but if you look at the squad Brendan Rodgers has built there isn’t a lot of room for new players, at least not unless others can be sold. It’s fair to say not all of his signings have been a success, but the return of Daniel Sturridge could do something to mask the mistake he has made in signing Ricky Lambert and refusing to use Mario Balotelli, and buy the embattled manager a spot more time.
Sunderland midfielders Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell are struggling to bit fit in time for this one, but Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giaccherini are ready to play even if Sebastian Coates is ineligible against his parent club. Liverpool’s Adam Lallana, Joe Allen, Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Brad Jones all remain sidelined through injury, while Kolo Toure is now on international duty.

Burnley v QPR, 15:00
The glitz and glamour of Burnley versus QPR may not be immediately apparent from afar, but when you get up close to this match between two of the Barclays Premier League strugglers the heat and intensity may damn-near take your eyebrows off. Only two points separate them in the table, both teams only have one win from their last five games and almost all the bookies rate these as two of the favourites to be relegated, so this might end up being a weekend highlight for the competition alone, as well as the significance.
Burnley could be unchanged for a seventh straight league match, although Sam Vokes is pressing for a start. QPR could give a debut to forward Mauro Zarate, and although Sandro is still short of fitness, several key players who were rested last weekend will return.

Chelsea v Newcastle, 15:00
The team from the top take on the team exactly halfway up, or down the Premier League table, depending on your bent. Newcastle fans would have every right to be pessimistic after the last five years or so under the current owners, but as usual they’ll relish the trip down south and could provide some much-needed support to a team not expected to win today. Chelsea may have failed to win either of their last two games, but that only puts them in ‘wounded tiger’ territory rather than suggesting they’re there for the taking.
Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul is back, but Papiss Cisse and midfielder Cheick Tiote are both on Africa Cup of Nations duty. Chelsea have no fresh injury concerns ahead of their clash with Newcastle.

Everton v Man City, 15:00
There is going to be a lot of style and intelligent play on show this afternoon at Goodison Park, but for Everton fans this season the side has been worryingly free of the bite and fight that David Moyes used to instil in the squad. Gareth Barry is still trundling around trying to avoid being sent off, but aside from that the obduracy is gone, with the Merseysiders coming into the game thirteenth in the table and on a run of four consecutive Premier League losses.
Leighton Baines is fit for Everton and Antolin Alcaraz returns from suspension but Sylvain Distin has a groin problem and joins a long injury list. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany is available and both Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko are in the squad, but Yaya Toure is in Equatorial Guinea to play in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Leicester v Aston Villa, 15:00
Although they’ve not lost a game in their last two outings, Leicester City were fortunate to get a draw against a frankly crap Liverpool side and have only won one of their last ten Premier League matches, making them seem the idea opponents for virtually any other team in the table. Sadly for Villa their record over the last ten is only one game better, and with Paul Lambert’s side being away from home that will balance it out even more making this a potentially tight game, and vital contest in the context of the two seasons.
Mark Schwarzer could make his Leicester debut but Andrej Kramaric will not, and although Dean Hammond and Andy King are fit to return Danny Drinkwater is a doubt, Esteban Cambiasso and Jeff Schlupp are injured and Riyad Mahrez is away. Villa’s Ron Vlaar is out for up to six weeks, Fabian Delph is banned but Gabriel Agbonlahor, Nathan Baker and Kieran Richardson could return from injuries.

Swansea v West Ham, 15:00
After twenty games in the league, both West Ham and Swansea are in the top half of the table, ahead of sides like Liverpool and Everton, and if you’d offered that to the two managers prior to the season commencing they’d have snapped your hand off like a starving lion. Now comes the consolidation, and the decision from the board as to whether they’re going to push onward toward a European spot, and this match is vital with neither team having won recently and both requiring a boost to get back on track.
Swansea will be without Man City target Wilfried Bony and Ki Sung-Yueng, who are both away on international duty, Jonjo Shelvey is banned again and Jefferson Montero is still out with a hamstring injury. West Ham striker Diafra Sakho is out with the back injury, Cheikhou Kouyate is away with Senegal, but Alex Song is not having retired from international football.

West Brom v Hull, 15:00
Another ‘relegation six-pointer’ is due to take place today, and even with the large number of games between now and the end of the year there is a chance that this one could have a massive effect on who will stay and who will go from the Premier League at the end of term. Recently, Hull have won two of their last three games while the home side come in off a run of three losses and a draw, so it’ll be extremely close, but if Hull can win they could go as high as twelfth in the table.
West Brom head coach Tony Pulis has a near full-strength squad for his first Premier League game in charge, with Youssouf Mulumbu and Jonas Olsson as the only absentees. Hull defenders Michael Dawson and James Chester are expected to be fit, but Sone Aluko, Mohamed Diame, Gaston Ramirez, Andy Robertson and Liam Rosenior are all injured.

Crystal Palace v Spurs, 17:30
I’m willing to bet most Spurs fans assumed that this season, finishing in the top four would be a case of beating Arsenal, Liverpool and maybe Everton out of the running, so it will feel strange to see all of those teams below them in the league and still be fifth, looking up at Southampton of all people. Palace haven’t won a game in eight and recently installed a new manager, meaning they’ll be motivated in a number of ways, and this is going to be a much tougher London derby than it looks on paper for the visiting Spurs.
Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie and Mile Jedinak are both on international duty and James McArthur should be fit despite a rib problem. Tottenham will be without midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, who has joined Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations, and both Ryan Mason and Erik Lamela are absent through injury.