Manchester United FC coach Jose Mourinho . / AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY
Last weekend, Chelsea showed the rest of the Premier league that it would take a huge effort from any team that intends to impede the Conte express as they went to the Etihad, the home of Manchester City and their celebrated coach Pep Guardiola, took in the sights at the Eastlands and conquered the citizens. One thing was glaring from the match at the Etihad, to defeat this Chelsea side you will have to play an almost perfect game and mistakes cannot afford to be made against the Blues. If you have them on the ropes, make sure you deliver the knockout punch or else they would find their way back into the contest and finish you off.
This weekend will be very important for Premier league teams as it signals the beginning of the very hectic December fixture list for them. There will be some eye catching fixtures this weekend as Manchester United take on Tottenham, Champions Leicester City host Manchester City, Arsenal battle Stoke at the Emirates and West Ham travel to Merseyside to face Liverpool. We would begin our previews this weekend with the clash at the Emirates between Arsenal and Stoke City.
Arsenal will go into today’s clash against Stoke City at the Emirates knowing that a comfortable win will put them at the top of the table at least until Chelsea take on West Brom tomorrow. Both teams are on a decent run of form with the home side getting three wins from their last six league matches, with no loss in the league since the opening day, while for Stoke City, they have won four of their last six matches after a very terrible start to the season. The gunners are in blazing form after scoring nine goals in their last two games(five against West ham and four against Basel) which were both played away from home and would hope to continue in that manner today. The fact that they have won their last six matches against Stoke City at the Emirates should also be a huge boost to them going into this encounter. The only worry in the Arsenal camp might be the purported transfer talk surrounding two of their biggest stars, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Mark Hughes and his Stoke City side have been able to turn around their fortunes after a dreadful start to the season when they lost four of their first five matches of the season and didn’t get a win until the eighth week of the season. Their new found form has been built largely on a very improved defensive display as they have conceded only three goals from their last seven games. The back four of Glen Johnson, Bruno Martins Indi, Marc Muniesa and Erik Pieters seem to have developed a very good understanding stemming from playing together consistently. Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin are both back in training after injury layoffs and that would be a big boost for Arsene Wenger going into this fixture and the busy yuletide season. For Stoke City, Bruno Martins Indi should be able to feature in this game after scan results showed that he didn’t fracture his cheekbone in last weekend’s win over Burnley, while Ryan Shawcross might not be fit enough to get back into the side just yet. This should be a very entertaining encounter and I think Arsenal will get the better of the Potters in this fixture.
In today’s late kickoff, Leicester City will host Manchester City at the King Power Stadium. The Champions know that they need to deliver a statement performance if they are to be taken seriously and also avoid being drawn fully into the relegation dogfight this season. They have been dire in the league this season, especially away from home, but have reserved some of their best performances this season in Europe, although they lost scandalously to Porto in their final group game in the UCL (it could be argued that they made a lot of changes since they had already won the group). Leicester City have won just once in their last nine league games and are just two points off the relegation zone, while Manchester City have not been having the best of times themselves.
The citizens were beaten at home by Chelsea last weekend in a game they would feel they lost by themselves and haven’t won at home since September, although their fortunes have been different away from home as they have won their last three on the road and would love to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat to the erstwhile champions with a win over the current champions. Danny Drinkwater will be serving the last of his three-match ban and would not be available for this game, while the game will be too early for a Kasper Schmeichel return from injury and Nampalys Mendy, who made his first appearance since August in midweek might play some part in this game. For Manchester City, they will be without Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi through suspension, while Raheem Sterling remains an injury doubt. Kelechi Iheanacho should be able to get a run of games with the absence of Aguero and we should expect to see Ahmed Musa for the Foxes at some point in today’s game. There should be goals in this fixture as both teams are not great at keeping clean sheets.
In today’s other fixtures, Odion Ighalo and his Watford team will host an Everton side winless in their last four league games, while Victor Anichebe will hope to add to his goals tally when his Sunderland side travel to Wales to face Swansea at the Liberty stadium and Jordon Ibe, who recently declared his intention to play for the Super Eagles, will hope to be in the starting lineup when Bournemouth face Burnley at Turf Moor. Hull City will host a Crystal Palace side that just snapped a six-game losing streak with a 3-0 thumping of Southampton last week.
Tomorrow’s game between Manchester United and Tottenham at Old Trafford is the biggest fixture of this weekend and a lot of football fans will be hoping it lives up to expectation. United will go into the fixture on the back of four consecutive home stalemates, all of which they totally dominated but couldn’t finish off the opposition. They will need to start winning games, especially this one, if they really hope to be taken seriously either as contenders for the title or a top four finish. Tottenham are a place and six points above their opponents and would love to stretch that gap with a win at Old Trafford. The Red devils will be buoyed by the fact that they were able to get a relatively easy win and book their place in the last thirty-two of the Europa League in midweek. Eric Bailly returned for them in that match, having been out with injury since late October. Tottenham play a very high pressing game, while United like to keep the ball and this will be an interesting battle between two very astute football minds.
Chelsea will welcome West Brom at the Bridge tomorrow looking for their ninth consecutive league win, a feat that was unprecedented in late September, while the Baggies are not doing too badly themselves with three wins from their last four league games. Chelsea will have to work very hard to break down this disciplined West Brom side and continue their winning run.
Southampton and Middlesbrough are separated by two points on the log and both teams will clash tomorrow at St Mary’s and the Saints, who were bashed 3-0 by Crystal Palace last weekend will find little comfort against a Middlesbrough side that has lost just once in their last six league games. Both teams have the classic number nine upfront in the form of Charlie Austin and Alvaro Negredo, although Austin dislocated his shoulder in midweek against Hapoel and Shane Long might come in. It depends on the striker who’s at his best on the day to help his club’s fortunes. The Saints also have Dusan Tadic back after an injury layoff.
The final game of this weekend will see two teams that suffered devastating losses last weekend seek redemption of some sorts against each other. Liverpool will welcome West ham to Anfield desperate to get all three points and banish last weekend’s painful loss to Bournemouth. The Reds lost two-goal leads twice in that 4-3 defeat and would be hoping to finish off the Hammers early enough tomorrow and not give them a glimmer of hope for any kind of comeback. West Ham were destroyed by Arsenal at home last weekend and a repeat of that gutless performance by the Hammers will see them torn apart by this Liverpool side. They need to reproduce the kind of performances they showed last season when they defeated the Merseyside giants 3-0 at Anfield. Thirty-seven goals were scored last weekend in the league and we will watch with keen interest this weekend if that tally will be surpassed this weekend.