By Ryan Moran
- Manchester United are without a win in five games following defeat to Stoke.
- Diego Costa misses the trip to United after receiving five yellow cards.
- Citizen’s superior goal difference means a win will move them above Leicester.
Tuesday night sees first against third with three points for Manchester City only making for an even tighter race with half the season still to play.
Leicester City vs Manchester City
Last season, this fixture was a David versus Goliath tie in which Manchester City would be expected to travel back to Manchester with all three points, 12 months on, no longer is that the case. The rollercoaster ride that has been the Premier League has seen Leicester come to prominence in a big way with Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy taking to the limelight like ducks to water. While injuries to key players have hindered City’s title chase, the calibre of their squad and purchasing power diminishes that as being an excuse.
Liverpool inflicted Leicester’s second defeat in 18 games, the other coming against Arsenal in a 5-2 defeat, for a team smouldering in the relegation zone only 12 months ago, their rise to the top is something to be admired. Even though the Citizens have underperformed on many occasions already this campaign, they possess a midfielder in his prime, fresh from undermining Sunderland, Kevin De Bruyne has been a real starlet taking centre stage in the absence of Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Two assists and a goal on Boxing Day suggest the Belgian will be hungry for more, the home side failed at the hands of second placed Arsenal they will lay down a gauntlet if Claudio Ranieri’s side can record victory over City.
Manchester United vs Chelsea
The Judas story of Stamford Bridge took another turn as Diego Costa’s desire for goals has suddenly reappeared while Manchester United’s ability of winning in the league has disappeared. Louis Van Gaal is a man under real pressure and has seemed even more so since Jose Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea. Juxtaposing the form of United in their last five games to the way the Blues started the season shows just how unpredictable the Premier League can be, even for the teams with the purchasing power both sides have, you can’t always buy victory.
Costa’s brace was a welcome return from the shadow that has represented the striker for the last 17 league games, however the Spaniard received his fifth yellow card and as a result will miss the trip to Old Trafford. Bastian Schweinsteiger has served his three game ban and is back in contention for a place in Monday’s clash. Oscar will hope to put the demons of the missed penalty behind him as Guus Hiddink searches for his first win in his second reign as Blues boss. Defeat for United allows teams as far down as 11th placed Stoke the opportunity to leapfrog the Red Devils with the worst case scenario of Van Gaal’s side dropping as far as 10th in the league. The away side are far from out of the woods, two points above the drop zone with victory a necessity if Europe is to be achieved come the end of the season.
Arsenal vs AFC Bournemouth
Arsenal’s defeat at Southampton didn’t hinder their title push as Leicester also succumbed to defeat at Anfield. The Boxing Day hangover will need to be put well in the past with Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side the visitors at the Emirates Stadium on Monday, a team unbeaten in their last six games including victories over Chelsea and Manchester United as well as a draw with sixth placed Crystal Palace with a depleted squad.
Not even in form striker Olivier Giroud could prevent the Gunners from a 4-0 loss. While the Cherries’ free flowing has seen them win over many supporters, it will be a tactic they will struggle to use to the same effect against Arsenal. Southampton’s physical style with pace in attack caused the Gunners all sorts of problems, highlighting defensive problems which have stalled Arsenal’s title hopes in previous years. Three points is a must for both sides, for Bournemouth to creep away from the dreaded drop zone and for Arsenal to keep in touching distance of Leicester at the top.
Watford vs Tottenham Hotspur
A Watford team punching well above their weight in expectation welcome a Tottenham side who never quite reach the expectation they set themselves each year, the Champion’s League places. While we are approaching the half way stage with Spurs in the top four, it is a long time until May comes around.
Harry Kane’s brace not only secured Tottenham’s top four place, it also broke the record of most goals scored in a calendar year by a Tottenham player with 27, beating Teddy Sheringham’s 26. With this being the last game of 2015, Kane can increase his goal tally beyond 27 against Watford.
The deadly duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo once again featured heavily in a 2-2 draw with Chelsea as both strikers found the back of the net but defensively the Hornets have been resolute only conceding a goal per game on average. The return of Nathan Ake is a bonus with the defender having been unavailable against his parent club Chelsea.
Crystal Palace vs Swansea City
The Eagles are flying high, unbeaten in five, while the Swans swam clear of relegation for another week as Alan Curtis picked up his first win in charge since the departure of Garry Monk with a 1-0 win over West Brom. Crystal Palace currently occupy the guaranteed Europa League spot with Manchester United and Watford one point behind them, a slip up at lowly Swansea could prove costly come the end of the season while Swansea need all three points to move further away from relegation, currently sitting one point and two places above the relegation zone.
Other than Aston Villa, Swansea have scored the least amount of goals along with Stoke but have failed to prevent the ball from going in at the other end. Ki Sung Yeung provided the winner early on against the Baggies but Jefferson Montero and Wayne Routledge need to be on the scoresheet along with Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis to avoid a relegation scrap.
Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha have done just that as well as providing the goals as Palace’s midfield frequently find themselves on the scoresheet rather than the front men. Bakary Sako has given them the option of a direct approach in open play while their strong defensive record has allowed them to play the counter attacking football used by Chelsea in their victorious Champion’s League campaign with the midfield protecting the back four and being used as the outlet on the counter attack.
Everton vs Stoke City
Romelu Lukaku is proving he is worth the £28 million price tag Everton paid Chelsea for his services this season after work with Duncan Ferguson. His work rate to make space and fight for the ball against defenders has been a revelation that has seen the Belgian notch up 13 goals using his size and strength to create chances for himself especially. Defensively Everton need to be tighter, the return of Phil Jagielka leading that back line can only improve their weakest area.
Their visitors sit level on points but two places below after beating Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day. The work rate from the wingers to support the full backs was a real credit to Mark Hughes’ side especially the energy both Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri showed to get backwards and forwards to attack and defend. United found this hard to break down and with Seamus Coleman and Gerard Deulofeu down Arnautovic’s left wing, he will surely be required in defensive positions frequently. The Potters set up makes them hard to beat while the Toffees attacking quality makes them a constant threat, it will be interesting to see how the tie is played out.
West Bromwich Albion vs Newcastle United
By no means has it been the season of goodwill for Tony Pulis as his West Brom side are now five games without a win. Three draws and then two defeats on the bounce have seen the Baggies move within three points of Newcastle who occupy the last position in the bottom three. A last minute defeat to Everton denied the Magpies the chance of moving out of the relegation zone. This game with Newcastle will see Pulis struggle again with key players Salomon Rondon and James McClean continuing to serve three game bans.
Newcastle have been without their first choice goalkeeper Tim Krul but Rob Elliot has stepped up to the mark however the rare mistake has usually cost his side much needed points in tight games. The ex-Charlton keeper’s decision to punch a corner resulted in Tom Cleverley’s winner, looping over the stranded Elliot. In attack Newcastle have been wasteful with the Premier League yet to see the best from Aleksandr Mitrovic, his inability to find the target opened the door for Cleverley’s winner on Saturday. Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum have excelled in snippets but a relegation fight needs a team effort, something Newcastle have struggled to do under new manager Steve McLaren.
Sunderland vs Liverpool
While it is clear Jurgen Klopp is no fan of the busy football schedule over Christmas, the German may be warming to it after his Liverpool side inflicted Leicester’s second defeat of the season. A boost in confidence would have been granted but problems were clear with a lack of clinical finishing on show, 13 shots on target and one goal to show for their efforts.
Daniel Sturridge is likely to return for the Reds as the striker tries to shake off more injury problems. The visit of Sunderland sees Fabio Borini face his former club since joining the Black Cats in the summer. Sam Allardyce’s side are five points from safety and the gulf in class was exploited by De Bruyne on Boxing Day in a 4-1 defeat. Having conceded four more goals than any other side in the league, there’s no question problems lie in defensive areas, an area Liverpool will want to exploit to finish more chances with less efforts on goal.
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
Norwich City vs Aston Villa
West Ham United vs Southampton
Manchester United face Chelsea on Monday 28th December with eight fixtures taking place just two days after the last round of fixtures.
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