Premier League Preview, Dec. 19-21
The season chugs on towards the half-way point, and while this weekend’s fixture list might be lacking a marquee matchup, the need for points is still critical for all of the teams.
And now, on with the preview:
Portsmouth vs. Liverpool
Fratton Park is the venue for a match between teams looking farther up the table than they would like to be.
Table watch: Portsmouth is in 20th place on 11 points while Liverpool is in sixth place on 27 points.
Stay up, Pompey: ”I think and I hope we have shown we can stay up, because that is what I’ve come into this club for. I know the situation is difficult, but if we play like we did at Chelsea I think that we have enough quality to stay up. Hopefully things will be better in the next game now.” – Portsmouth’s Frederic Piquionne, to Sky Sports
Starting a streak: “It was an important win for us. We had chances to score some more goals, but the three points were the key. We needed to get the three points, relax and get ready for the next game against Portsmouth. The main thing for us is to win games in a row. If we beat Portsmouth then we can talk about the possibility of three games in a row.” – Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, to the team Web site.
Aston Villa vs. Stoke City
An in-form Villa will hope to stay hot against the Potters this weekend.
Table watch: Aston Villa is in fourth place on 32 points while Stoke City is in 11th spot on 21 points.
History lesson: Aston Villa squandered a 2-0 lead at home to Stoke City last season, and it proved to be a result that derailed its hopes of cracking the top four last season.
Turning things around: Stoke has just one win in its last seven matches in all competitions.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Tottenham Hotspur
To break into the top four, Spurs will need results on the road. On Saturday, they’ll seek three points at Ewood Park against Blackburn.
Table watch: Blackburn is in 12th place on 19 points while Spurs are in fifth place on 30 points.
Different stories: Rovers fell to Birmingham, 2-1, in mid-week while Tottenham Hotspur smacked Manchester City, 3-0, to inch closer to the top four.
Another striker: Despite an already deep strike force, Spurs could be in the running for Chile international Humberto Suazo, who’s rumored to come with a $20 million price tag.
Fulham vs. Manchester United
After discarding Wolves’ reserve team in mid-week, United will pay a visit to Craven Cottage.
Table watch: Fulham is in ninth place on 23 points while the Red Devils are in second position on 37 points.
Last time: Last season, Fulham pulled a shock win over nine-man United at Craven Cottage.
Patching up the back four: Injury worries find Patrice Evra as United’s only fit first-choice defender for this clash.
Manchester City vs. Sunderland
City’s top four dreams are slipping a bit as Sunderland comes calling.
Table watch: City is in eighth place on 26 points while Sunderland is in 10th place on 21 points.
Death by 1,000 cuts: With only two losses this season, the latest coming on Wednesday at White Hart Lane, you’d think that City would be sitting pretty. Instead, with a whopping eight draws, Mark Hughes’ bunch is six points off of the fourth and final Champions League place.
Slumping a bit: After dropping Wednesday’s home game with Aston Villa, the Black Cats could find themselves out of the top 10 after the weekend if they don’t get a result.
Arsenal vs. Hull City
The Gunners will look to keep the pressure on United and Chelsea with a home win over the Tigers on Saturday.
Table watch: Arsenal is in third place on 32 points while Hull City is in 16th place on 17 points.
They said it: “It is very tough in the Premier League, but the most important thing is now to focus on the next game against Hull. It is very important to win on Saturday because we have to get closer to Chelsea and that’s why we are very disappointed tonight. We couldn’t take a big step, we dropped some points and it is very frustrating.” – Arsenal’s Abou Diaby, to Goal.com
They said it, part two: “The Premier League is physiologically brutal it does take it’s toll and rest and recuperation is key but at the end of the day we have our preparation for a big game on Saturday and what Arsenal do I don’t know. That is probably an advantage to Arsenal because you don’t what side he is going to pick. Unfortunately, for Arsene he has a list of injures and it is getting longer but he has a big squad and we are going to go to the Emirates with the experience of last season in our mind.” – Hull City manager Phil Brown, to the Daily Telegraph
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Burnley
Mick McCarthy’s strategm of resting his first-team players at Old Trafford will be put to the test this weekend as Burnley visits Molineux on Sunday.
Table watch: Wolves are in 18th place on 16 points while Burnley is in 13th place on 19 points.
All or nothing?: After stealing the mid-week headlines with his team sheet, McCarthy will have more explaining to do if his team fails to beat Burnley. Considering the facts that Wolves beat Spurs at White Hart Lane last week and the Clarets are one of the worst road teams in the league – it could well work out.
Everton vs. Birmingham City
Everton will try to keep above the relegation zone with a home win over surprising Birmingham on Sunday.
Table watch: Everton is in 15th place on 17 points while Birmingham City is in seventh place on 27 points.
Streaking: A win at Goodison Park for Birmingham would equal a 50-year-old club record of six straight wins in the top flight.
Injury list: American international Landon Donovan should arrive in January, but until then, the Toffees are missing Phil Neville, Joseph Yobo, Victor Anichebe, Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta due to injury.
West Ham United vs. Chelsea
A visit from the first-place team may not help the Hammers climb out of the drop zone at Upton Park on Sunday.
Table watch: West Ham is in 19th place on 14 points while the Blues are in first place on 40 points.
Bad omens: West Ham has no wins its last six London derbies and the Hammers have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 11 home games.
Watch the set pieces: If West Ham scores, it could be on a set piece. Chelsea has allowed 14 goals in league play this year – 12 of which have been from set pieces.
Wigan Athletic vs. Bolton Wanderers
The Latics will host Bolton in the Monday game this week.
Table watch: Wigan is in 14th place on 18 ponts while Bolton is in 17th place on 16 points.
Match facts: From our friends at Eurosport - Bolton have picked up just one point from their last four Premier League away games. … The Trotters have kept one clean sheet on the road in their last 20 matches. … There have been only two goals scored in the last three Premier League meetings between Bolton and Wigan. … Bolton have conceded 12 goals in five north west derby games this season. … Wigan have scored at least once in 10 of their last 11 league games. … But the Latics have the worst defensive record in the division (38 goals conceded).