By Ryan Moran
- Jose Mourinho sacked after nine defeats from his first 16 games this term.
- Arsenal face a Manchester City side one place and one point behind them in the table.
- AFC Bournemouth travel to the Hawthorns unbeaten in their last four games.
London, UK- Sunderland make the trip south to face a manager less Chelsea side embarking on their uphill climb, out of unchartered territory.
Chelsea vs Sunderland
Although it was growing ever likely Jose Mourinho was going to face the sack at some point this season, for many Chelsea fans and players it will take some getting used to. The Blues begin their redemption at home to a Sunderland side under the expertise of Sam Allardyce, who for a while ground out results like you have to at the uglier end of the table. However, as Bournemouth and Newcastle’s fortunes have turned in their favour the Black Cats now have to do the same, starting at Stamford Bridge.
The home side are currently in turmoil, Diego Costa’s sleeping gesture after Jamie Vardy’s opener on Monday highlighted the lack of unity within the squad, turning and pointing the finger. One of few players Mourinho has been able to call on this season has been Willian, the midfielder’s been outstanding at times especially from set pieces with dangerous deliveries towards the opposing goal. Sunderland, also onto their second manager of the season, have had mixed results with this mainly down to lack of finishing especially in their 1-0 defeat to Watford. Jermain Defoe struggled to put away the chances when they fell his way in the 18 minutes he was on the field for, and if Allardyce can get Defoe firing there is a good chance the Black Cats won’t be in danger come the end of the season.
With Chelsea one point above the relegation zone, only two points and two places separate Sunderland who are currently 19th, a win for either side could provide a massive boost for momentum going into a busy Christmas period.
Arsenal vs Manchester City
Second placed Arsenal host third placed Manchester City who trail the Gunners by a point as both sides hope to capitalise on any slip by Leicester at the top. Both sides made strong starts to their league campaign while their European form contrasted dramatically, in recent weeks they have stuttered with the home side losing to West Brom and the away side suffering two defeats in their last five games, to Liverpool and Stoke respectively. With Leicester’s form showing no sign of disappearing, only a win for both sides will keep the pressure on the Foxes at the top.
The Gunner’s recent turn in form has seen them recapture their early position in the table with striker Olivier Giroud receiving praise for his contribution, both in Europe and in the league. The Frenchman’s penalty in his side’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa was his 50th league goal for Arsenal, following on from his first ever hat-trick for Arsenal against Olympiacos. The Citizens looked fatigued in their 2-1 victory over Swansea, a deflection off of Kelechi Iheanacho sealed victory in second half stoppage time, but managed to claim all three points to keep up with the teams above as the teams below stuttered. Wilfried Bony opened the scoring in that game but with the return of Sergio Aguero it is likely the Ivorian will drop to the bench at the Emirates.
If Leicester draw and Arsenal defeat City, the Gunners will claim top spot but if the result goes in City’s favour the sides switch positions in the league regardless of Leicester’s result.
Everton vs Leicester City
If there was ever a game that was going to produce goals it is most likely going to be this one. Both sides possess strikers in unstoppable form with Jamie Vardy leading the goal scoring chart on 15 while Romelu Lukaku has scored 12, accumulating 27 goals between them in 16 games.
Leicester dealt the last blow in Mourinho’s ill-fated reign reign at Chelsea, defeating the champions 2-1 at the King Power Stadium, the double act of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez put the Foxes into a 2-0 lead before a Loic Remy header halved the deficit. Everton couldn’t protect a one goal lead, courtesy of Lukaku, taking a point from Norwich who slipped into the relegation zone. For both sides, two players have paved the way to success, Vardy and Mahrez have scored 26 goals between them while Mahrez has also played a key part in creating the chances for Vardy. Gerard Deulofeu plays the same role for Lukaku, driving down the right hand side and playing the ball into the corridor of uncertainty for the Belgian to finish. A leaky Leicester defence allow chances, mostly from wide positions as N’Golo Kante guards the back four in a similar way to Nemanja Matic with the same success the Serbian had last season.
Manchester United vs Norwich City
Louis Van Gaal’s side retained the last Champion’s League place for another week, their 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth not proving as costly thanks to Tottenham’s shock defeat to Newcastle. Norwich earned a point at Everton, coming from behind to share the spoils. Injury problems at United have been instrumental in United’s downfall, the younger players not fulfilling the parts played by senior players, as expected. However, the finger cannot always been pointed at the inexperienced.
David De Gea’s misjudgement of a wind assisted corner meant his side were 1-0 down within minutes of the start of the game, a highly rated player worldwide making a huge error highlights the troubles in the United camp at the moment. As for the Canaries, a turn in fortunes for the sides around them meant their point at Everton couldn’t prevent them falling into the bottom three. If there was ever a time to play the Red Devils, now is a good time with their injuries and decreasing confidence.
Southampton vs Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham’s slip up against Newcastle cost them a top four place while Southampton haven’t won in their last four, seeing the Saints drop to 12th, their last win a 1-0 victory over Sunderland on 7th November. The sides meet at St Mary’s, Mauricio Pochettino’s old workplace, where Tottenham haven’t lost in their last three visits in both league and cup.
While Spurs’ loss to Newcastle didn’t have a profound effect on the standings, it gave Crystal Palace a chance to close the gap leaving the sides now level on points. Any more slip ups from the North London side allows Palace the chance to overtake going into a busy Christmas period where momentum will be key. Momentum is something Southampton need to gather as the Saints have steadily lost ground on their Europa League place they were flirting with earlier on in the season. Saturday’s fixture allows both sides the chance to redeem themselves and rebuild momentum as the fixtures start to pile up.
Watford vs Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp has given his admiration for the way Watford have tackled the Premier League so far this season but has also said his side won’t ‘go there to clap our hands for them.’
The 10 goals scored by Odion Ighalo has definitely propelled the Hornets into the position few newly promoted teams can dream of, a top 10 finish. While it seems a long way off, Quique Sanchez Flores still has strength in depth at his disposal that the Spaniard has yet to field.
The likes of Victor Ibarbo have been kept out of the side because of the goals Ighalo and Deeney have been contributing, but as fixtures start to pile up players need rotating. Flores will need to try and test these players, very few can go into a new league and change a game instantly, these players need minutes under their belts, whether a home tie against Liverpool is the right time is another question. Liverpool have entered a rut under Klopp, a draw to West Brom and a loss to Newcastle has seen the Reds move away from Europe. This recent form suggests a dangerous side for Watford, a side with something to prove, lacking consistency in the squad due to injury and squad rotation because of various competitions. The constant injuries to Daniel Sturridge have played a key part with the striker showing real signs to the manager of what he is capable of, defined by the two goals against Southampton. With the home side above them in the league and teams not far behind, this form needs to take a new direction.
West Bromwich Albion vs AFC Bournemouth
The fairy tale story of AFC Bournemouth continues and what a story it is, back to back victories over Chelsea and Manchester United with an injury hit squad shows the belief the whole club has of achieving the impossible. The Cherries are now unbeaten in four but face a trip to a stubborn West Brom side capable of an upset, not too dissimilar from the one they completed over Arsenal in a 2-1 victory.
Credit to Eddie Howe on what a fantastic job he is doing down on the south coast but his side aren’t out of danger yet but a win over the Baggies at the Hawthorns could pull the away side clear for a short while. With four points between them, a win for the away side cuts the deficit to a point. The confidence oozing from both Junior Stanislas and Joshua King is a testament to the belief Howe has shown in the players, and now they are producing the results needed for their side along with Glenn Murray who was unable to add a third when he came on for the final stages of the victory over United. The Baggies are not a side to be underestimated having taken a point from Liverpool, Divock Origi denying Tony Pulis’ side all three points. Both sides are unbeaten in their last four games, can one side end the other’s unbeaten streak?
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
Swansea City vs West Ham United
Newcastle United vs Aston Villa
Stoke City vs Crystal Palace
Chelsea’s post Mourinho reign starts at Stamford Bridge with Sunderland the opposition, one of seven Saturday fixtures on 19th December.
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