Premier League Preview, Dec. 12-13
How many “Liverpool must win” stories can be written about this year’s squad?
Well, at least one more.
Already 12 points adrift of Chelsea and headed for the Europa League, the shine off the 2009-2010 campaign is fading fast.
At least Sunday’s latest all-or-nothing fixture with Arsenal is at Anfield. Of course, the Reds have already dropped seven points at home this season.
Table watch: Liverpool is seventh on 24 points while the Gunners are in third place with 28.
Getting healthy: The hosts will be able to field the closest thing to a first-choice squad they’ve had in a while as Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Alberto Aquilani should all feature.
They said it: ”He did well. It’s going to take him some time to get up to speed in terms of match fitness but the boy’s a player, there’s no doubt about that. He can see a pass, he’s on the same wavelength and he will turn into a fantastic player for this club.” – Gerrard, to ESPN about Aquilani
The last time: Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin slammed home four goals in a 4-4 game last April at Anfield, denting the Reds’ title hopes.
There are, of course, nine other matches this week.
And here are a few more capsules:
Stoke City vs. Wigan Athletic
A hopefully fully dressed Stoke City side will host the Latics on Saturday.
Table watch: The Potters are in 11th place on 20 points while Wigan is in 14th spot on 17 points.
Friends again: Stoke boss Tony Pulis and striker James Beattie have buried the hatchet after a dressing room argument last weekend.
“I’ve been in football 17 years and I know what to expect. I’ve always had certain golden rules and one is what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room for lots of reasons,” Pulis tod the team’s Web site.
They said it: “We all know how difficult Stoke away is going to be, but it’s a winnable game. We’ve just got to dust ourselves down, put Saturday’s game behind us and go and perform there.” – Wigan reserve keeper Mike Pollitt, who might be forced into action, to the team’s Web site.
Birmingham City vs. West Ham United
Birmingham hopes to keep quietly piling up points as West Ham comes calling.
Table watch: Birmingham City is in 9th place on 21 points while the Hammers are mired in 17th position on 14 points.
New cash coming?: Birmingham’s January transfer kitty has been well documented, but the BBC is reporting that David Gold and David Sullivan are interested in buying a stake in West Ham.
Streaking: Birmingham is unbeaten in its last six games, where it has notched 14 of a possible 18 points.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Manchester City
Bolton finds itself in the drop zone and will hope to climb out at the expense of Man City.
Table watch: Bolton is in 19th place with 12 points while City is in sixth slot on 25 points.
Sickness: Citizens Craig Bellamy and Vladimir Weiss are reported to have H1N1. After last week’s big win over Chelsea, City should still be feeling plenty confident at the Reebok.
Drawing a line: Bolton manager Gary Megson was pretty plain this week to the Manchester Evening News: “It needs saying – we need a result.”
Burnley vs. Fulham
The Clarets welcome in Fulham to Turf Moor on Saturday.
Table watch: Burnley is in 13th place on 17 points while Fulham is in eighth spot on 22 points.
Home fortress: Only Arsenal, United and Chelsea have better home records this season than the Clarets.
Trend watch: The last dozen matches in this series have ended in a win for the home side.
Chelsea vs. Everton
The Blues will try to shrug off last week’s loss to Man City when struggling Everton visits Stamford Bridge.
Table watch: Chelsea is still in first place on 36 points while Everton is in 15th spot on 16 points.
Perfect at home: In the top four divisions of English Football, only Chelsea has a perfect home record.
On the other hand: Everton has forged a draw on its last three visits to the Bridge.
Donovan watch: We’re reporting that Landon Donovan is headed to the Toffees for a January loan spell. Sounds like fun.
Hull City vs. Blackburn Rovers
The Tigers are north of the drop zone, and will work to remain so when Blackburn comes to town.
Table watch: Hull City is in 16th place with as many points while Blackburn is in 12th spot with 18 points.
Trouble at the back: Anthony Gardner and Andy Dawson are injury doubts for Hull, according to the Hull Daily Mail.
Which could lead to goals: Any Hull defensive issues would help Rovers, who have failed to score in three league matches.
Sunderland vs. Portsmouth
The Black Cats will look to push deeper into the top half of the table at Portsmouth’s expense this weekend.
Table watch: Sunderland is in 10th place on 20 points while Pompey is still in last with 10 points.
Shuffling the deck: With eight players out injured or banned, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has his hands full filling out a team sheet for this one. Anton Ferdinand (ankle), Bolo Zenden (hamstring), Kieran Richardson (suspension), George McCartney (hamstring), Phil Bardsley (suspended) and John Mensah (calf) join longterm absentees Craig Gordon and Lee Cattermole for the Black Cats.
Money troubles: Pompey has spent the last few weeks dealing with financial woes, ranging from blocked TV payments to hints of administration.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Spurs will look to bounce back from a come-from-ahead draw with Everton last week as Wolves invade White Hart Lane.
Table watch: Spurs are in fourth place on 27 points while Wolves are in 18th spot on 13 points.
Luka watch: After playing more than an hour in a friendly game, Luka Modric could return to league action after missing time with a broken leg, according to multiple reports.
They said it: ”I know it’s slightly different when you go away, but the principles are the same. We need to shut players down and win tackles all over the pitch. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.” – Wolves’ Joey Craddock, to soccer365.com
Manchester United vs. Aston Villa
The Red Devils will try to keep the pressure on Chelsea when Aston Villa comes to Old Trafford Saturday.
Table watch: Manchester United is in second place on 34 points while Villa is in fifth place on 26 points.
They said it, part one: “We know on any given day that we can beat anyone. We have got a squad full of top quality talent. Nobody should be afraid going into the game on Saturday.” – Aston Villa’s Richard Dunne, to Sky Sports
They said it, part two: “We won’t take our foot off the pedal now. We’re starting to play well now and we are scoring some goals too. Hopefully that continues. There’s an awful long way to go and we are not getting carried away. But we have been there before and know what is required. It is about doing the business now.” – United’s Michael Carrick, to the team’s Web site