Chelsea aim to maintain nine point gap over rivals as Allardyce begins Palace rescue
The first game of the day will see the return of Sam Allardyce to the EPL, when his Crystal Palace side travels to Vicarage road to face Watford. Alan Pardew surely didn’t have the best Christmas day celebration as he lost his job as manager of Crystal Palace just days to Christmas and the club wasted little time in appointing his successor. The eagles have been in a free fall for a while, as they have lost eight of their last ten matches, with just a win and a draw. It was only a matter of time before inevitable change of a manager occurred.
Crystal palace are just a point above eighteenth placed Sunderland and are now fully into the relegation dogfight, so it makes perfect sense that they went for a manager that has never been relegated from the Premiership. He helped Sunderland escape an almost certain relegation last season. They will go into today’s game against Watford with the new burst of energy and inspiration that seems to happen to teams whenever there’s a recent managerial change and that could help them get a positive result from this game.
Watford are six points and five places above Crystal Palace and would like to add more daylight between both clubs with a victory today so as not to get drawn into the relegation battle. The hornets are also not on a great run of form as they have lost four of their last six games and will be desperately looking for a win at home today to shake off last week’s loss to Sunderland. Odion Ighalo started in the last match and we should expect him to start again today and his compatriot, Isaac Success to come in at some point during the game.
Six matches will kick off at 4pm today and we should be expecting a huge goal rush from these games. Arsenal will host West Brom at the Emirates with the intention of snapping their two game losing streak in the league. The gunners went fourteen games without a league defeat until they were beaten by Everton and Manchester City in successive weeks. They have fallen nine points off the league leaders and will definitely need to beat the baggies today to hang on in the title battle. West Brom have been solid defensively this season especially away from home where they have conceded only eight goals and we will be expecting them to defend resolutely and try to hit Arsenal on the counter or with long balls out to Salomon Rondon upfront.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will sit this one out for Arsenal after lasting just 12 minutes as a substitute before being forced off in the second half of their 2-1 defeat to Manchester City because of injury, while Danny Welbeck is back in full training although isn’t expected to feature today. For the baggies, former Manchester United defender, Jonny Evans, who has missed the club’s last two games, is still a doubt for this fixture. Arsenal have won all of their last six home league meetings against West Brom and have kept a clean sheet in four of the last five. Alex Iwobi started for Arsenal in last week’s defeat to Manchester City and should start this one too.
About twelve kilometres from the Emirates, at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will be hosting Bournemouth at the same time and the blues will be looking for their twelfth straight win and fourth straight clean sheet. Chelsea’s winning run has been very remarkable and it has given the team belief that they can go all the way this season after their disastrous last season. However, they would have to prosecute today’s match without N’golo Kante and Diego Costa due to suspension, a situation that should profit Cesc Fabregas and N’golo Kante. Taking nothing away from Bournemouth, Chelsea will be happy that it’s this fixture that Kante and Costa will miss because they should be able to handle the Cherries without the duo. Eden Hazard is also a doubt for this one. Bournemouth will be without their best defender as Nathan Ake will be ruled out the game due to the terms in his loan agreement, which will be a real blow for Eddie Howe’s side.
Junior Stanislas is in a race to get fit for this match, but the New Year’s Eve match against Swansea looks more realistic for a return to action for the striker. Victor Moses should continue his strong showing for the blues this season, while for Mikel Obi, his time at Chelsea might just be coming to an end as he’s yet to play any part for the blues this season.
Manchester United will take on Sunderland this afternoon and there’s a new sense of belief right now at Old Trafford as the red devils are on a three game winning streak and eight game unbeaten streak in the EPL. Jose Mourinho seems to have gotten his team in the right direction as they are begining to look like a classic Mourinho side and will want to end the year in style. They have won three consecutive matches in the Premier League for the first time since August and will want to make it four straight wins in the same campaign since April 2015. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been at the forefront of their revival banging in goals for fun, while the central defensive pairing of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo has looked surprisingly solid.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has missed United’s last two matches with an ankle injury but is expected to return for this game, while Adnan Januzaj is ineligible to play for Sunderland against his parent club due to the terms in his loan agreement. Sunderland picked up a valuable win over Watford last weekend but have been dire on the road this season. They have lost six of their eight away matches in the league this season and have failed to score in each of their last two away from home, scoring in just one of their last six away matches. David Moyes, who still believes he was treated unfairly during his time at at Old Trafford, would love to dampen the mood at the theatre of dreams today. Victor Anichebe should play some part in today’s game, if Moyes doesn’t decide to be ultra defensive.
Claudio Ranieri must be wondering what to do to get his team functioning at the same capacity as they did last season. The foxes have lost three of their last six matches and sit just three points above the relegation zone. They will host Everton at the King Power stadium and will be desperate for all three points against the toffees. Leicester are quite formidable at home and have only lost once in their last twenty-three home games. They will be without Christian Fuchs and Robert Huth for today’s game after the duo picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season last weekend, while Jamie Vardy, who was unfortunate to be shown a straight red card in their 2-2 draw with Stoke last weekend, will sit out this one after Leicester failed in their attempts to overturn the decision. Danny Drinkwater, who has missed the foxes’ last four matches through suspension and injury, remains a slight doubt here with a knee injury.
Everton are currently struggling for form and the win over Arsenal just helped paper the crack over their terrible form as they had just won one game in their previous ten before that win and lost to Liverpool in the merseyside derby last Monday. Phil Jagielka should be back into the side after missing the derby due to suspension, while Maarten Stekelenburg and James McCarthy, who were both forced off with injuries during the 1-0 defeat, are expected to miss out. Ahmed Musa has been in and out of the starting eleven, but is expected to play some part in today’s game.
Today’s final match will see Hull City host Manchester City and the tigers will be desperate for a change in fortune after last weekend’s painful loss to West Ham. Hull City were very unlucky to leave the London stadium empty handed as they totally outplayed the hammers. Against Manchester City, the tigers will need to be at their utmost best to even get a point against the citizens. Ryan Mason, who missed the 1-0 defeat against West Ham with a knock, should be back in the squad for today’s game. Manchester City have been able to shrug off the consecutive defeats they suffered to Chelsea and Leicester with consecutive wins over Watford and Arsenal and they will be looking to make it three in a row this evening against Hull City.
John Stones might get back into the team after Pep Guardiola apologised to him following his absence from the team against Arsenal, while there’s a chance that Pablo Zabaleta might be in the team after discovering that his knee injury isn’t as severe as first thought. Fernandinho is available after serving his three-match ban, but Sergio Aguero still has one more game to go before being able to return to first-team action. Kelechi Iheanacho has not really taken advantage of the Argentine’s absence needs to make a statement today if he’s picked to start today.
Liverpool will host Stoke City tomorrow fresh off their last gasp win over Everton in the merseyside derby. The defeat to Bournemouth seems like a blip on the Liverpool radar as they have picked up seven points from the available nine since then and they are the team really putting pressure on the runaway leaders Chelsea. Daniel Sturridge returned to first-team action in the Merseyside Derby and made a positive impact from the bench, he is in line to start his first league game since October, while Philippe Coutinho isn’t expected back until Liverpool’s clash with Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. Stoke will have their hands full against Liverpool and will need to have probably their best performance of the season to get something from the reds. The potters have a bad record against Liverpool at Anfield and they have lost their last three matches there.
The final game of matchweek eighteen will see Tottenham visit St Mary’s to face Southampton on Wednesday. Spurs are currently in fifth place, three points above a vastly improving Manchester United side and one point below fourth placed Arsenal so they know that they need to get all three points against the saints if they are to keep being on the heels of their neighbours and stave off Manchester United. Vincent Janssen, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld are all doubts, though the latter pair may start, while Erik Lamela is hoping to have overcome a hip problem in time to feature in some capacity. Southampton are on a good run of form with three wins from their last five league matches and the visit of this Tottenham side will present a very good opportunity for these saints to test themselves. Jose Fonte was dropped in last weekend’s win over Bournemouth but should be back in the side. Southampton have not beaten tottenham at home in the league since 2005 and they will be looking to change that, while Spurs will be looking for their third dtraight win in the league after victories over Hull and Burnley.
The final matches of the first half of the season will begin on Friday and run through Sunday, which means we will have our fill of premiership football during this festive season and I will be previewing those games on Friday so mark it on your calendar as you enjoy the very best of EPL action. Happy Holidays!