By Ryan Moran
- Ranieri prepares to face the side he managed from 2000 to 2004.
- Manager less Swansea travel to the Etihad to face second placed Manchester City
- After defeating Chelsea, Europa League competitors Manchester United are next in the firing line.
Leicester, UK- Ex-Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri will make the walk out onto the King Power Stadium pitch, hoping to lead Leicester to a victory over his former employees on a week where Jose Mourinho’s job may be safe for now after Champion’s League qualification.
Leicester City vs Chelsea
Mourinho’s blushes were spared after Wednesday’s 2-0 Champion’s League win over FC Porto secured qualification to the knockout stages on a week where Bournemouth beat the Blues in their own back yard. Chelsea’s former manager Ranieri finds himself in a position searching a long way down to find his former employees while his new side lay down the gauntlet at the top of the Premier League, contrasting the rock bottom place the Foxes occupied 12 months earlier.
Riyad Mahrez’s hat trick ended Garry Monk’s 22 month tenure as Swansea boss and with Manchester City losing, the midfielder’s feat became even more significant with his side climbing back to the top of the table. In contrast, many thought Chelsea’s luck was about to improve until the Cherries decided to ruin the party through Glenn Murray late on. Now in a lowly 14th position, the Blues target condemning the home side to only their second defeat of the season, their only defeat coming against Arsenal. Jamie Vardy ended his goal in 11 consecutive game record, failing to score against Swansea, shock horror, and will be hungry to further increase his impressive goal tally. Diego Costa looked much improved against Porto, showing desire to score but lacked quality and confidence at times in the final third as his lack of goals continue to frustrate both the player and the fans after being so effective in last year’s title race.
Manchester City vs Swansea City
In a stop start title chase for City so far this campaign, a 2-0 defeat to Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, courtesy of a brace from Marko Arnautovic, once again gave Leicester the chance to reclaim top spot from the Citizens. Swansea were playing the Sky Blues’ current top spot rivals and couldn’t prevent the Foxes from leapfrogging Saturday’s opponents. For their trip to the Etihad Stadium the Swans will be without manager Monk as the ex-Swansea player was given his marching orders as the club now sits a point above the relegation spot, following a poor run of results from October.
The new manager at the helm will try to get the best out of an attacking duo capable of producing the goals their side need to claw away from the drop zone. In Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew, Swansea have both pace and trickery in Ayew and strength in Gomis which scared Chelsea on the opening day of the season in their 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. As for the home side, a weak defence has cost them points in recent weeks, missing captain Vincent Kompany at the heart of the back line. Injuries to key attacking players such as Sergio Aguero and David Silva has also stalled their progress in the league with three points being a must against the struggling Swans.
AFC Bournemouth vs Manchester United
The Vitality Stadium has proved a good omen for AFC Bournemouth already this term, with strong home results keeping the Cherries in contention of maintaining their top flight status at this current time in the season. A 1-0 victory away at Stamford Bridge through Murray will also boost confidence and morale in the home camp ahead of Manchester United’s visit. Their extended injury list has not prevented Eddie Howe’s side from being competitive as the players who have come into the side such as Joshua King, Junior Stanislas and on loan striker Murray have dug in to fill the void left by Callum Wilson and Max Gradel in particular.
As for United, their exit from the Champion’s League and entry into the Europa League following their 3-2 defeat at Wolfsburg in Germany will affect the side’s confidence going into Saturday’s fixture as they also played out a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford against West Ham last Saturday. Similar to Bournemouth, injuries to senior players mean Louis Van Gaal is forced to field young reserve players such as Guillermo Varela at right back in midweek in a key game. Going to a side high in confidence and full of fight, the Red Devils will have to be quick out the blocks to not find themselves up against the game early as Tottenham remain close enough to move above the away side should Spurs win and United lose at Bournemouth.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal
As the pressure grows on other managers in the league, Arsene Wenger remains safe after guiding Arsenal to the knockout stages of Europe’s top competition where at one stage it looked highly unlikely, following early defeats at Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb, but hat trick hero Olivier Giroud scored all the goals in a 3-0 victory over the Greek Champions to confirm their places as runners up in their group. The striker is now their top goal scoring striker in Europe, overtaking Dennis Bergkamp.
The board at Aston Villa know exactly what it is like when the pressure grows on a manager with top flight status at stake, already replacing Tim Sherwood with ex-Arsenal player Remi Garde. While the Frenchman’s reign started positively with a draw at City, the Villains haven’t quite lived up to that billing with defensive issues once again being their main downfall, the main reason they are six points adrift at the bottom of the table. With the issues of Jack Grealish being the main talking point, the midfielder needs to knuckle down and do the talking on the pitch, being named by many as one of Villa’s key players this term. More stories of his wild nightlife appeared in the media and was told to train with the reserves, not where you need your key players in this time of need. A draw last time out against Southampton, goals from Joleon Lescott for Villa and Oriol Romeu for the Saints, was a positive result but wins are needed when you are six points from the nearest side to you. Villa’s only win came under Sherwood again Premier League newcomers Bournemouth but even they are seven points clear of Garde’s side. Wins need to come, and fast starting at Villa Park against the Gunners side high in confidence who occupy a top four place.
Tottenham vs Newcastle United
Steve Mclaren’s hope for keeping the reigns at Newcastle took another step in the right direction following a 2-0 victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, only his second loss in the league. A Martin Skrtel own goal and Georginio Wijnaldum’s late chip secured three points to take over their derby rivals mean the Magpies only occupy the last relegation spot on goal difference, joint on points with Bournemouth and Norwich. It doesn’t get any easier for Mclaren’s side as they travel to White Hart Lane to face a side who have only lost once in the league but were held to a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns last time out. Dele Alli’s volley opened the scoring but James McClean cancelled Alli’s goal out with a header before half time as no one could find a winner.
Erik Lamela scored a hat trick in the Europa League as Spurs ran out 4-1 winners against AS Monaco of Ligue 1 with Tom Carroll scoring the other goal on a Thursday night at White Hart Lane. The home side are three points away from the fourth spot, occupied by Manchester United, the only team to beat them so far this term, but have a superior goal difference, a win keeps the pressure on United but also keeps their opponents in the relegation zone with both sides fighting for different accolades on Sunday.
Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion
Klopp’s Liverpool failed to take advantage of Tottenham’s draw with their opponents in the last round of fixtures as the Reds were defeated at St James’ Park by Newcastle United. A draw in Europe was enough to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League but sums up a bad week for what has been a successful start as Liverpool boss for the ‘normal one’. The quality of the squad has come under scrutiny with fans taking a dislike to the midfield three of Joe Allen, James Milner and Lucas Leiva against Newcastle and their lack of participation in attack. While Roberto Firmino has come under pressure for another unimpressive display against Swiss side FC Sion, not creating or scoring enough chances. His heavy price tag of £29 million looms over the Brazilian as the attacker seems to have failed to settle into life at Anfield.
The Baggies under Tony Pulis have been like any Pulis side, safe from relegation. The away side were never in trouble of being in a relegation dog fight but have got the wins that keep them comfortably in mid table, clear of trouble. West Brom denied Tottenham the chance to go one point behind United with the 1-1 draw. With Liverpool now going two games without a goal, this could be a chance for the away side to condemn more misery on the Merseyside outfit, likely to grind out a 1-0 result if Pulis’ side did secure victory. McClean started his Baggies’ tally with a header last time out, the Irishman will hope to add to that as the fixtures come thick and fast over Christmas.
Crystal Palace vs Southampton
Romelu Lukaku’s close range strike denied Palace a win at Goodison Park after Scott Dann headed his side in front in the Eagles last league game and will hope to get back to winning ways back at Selhurst Park. Southampton’s draw with Aston Villa denied them the chance to move above Liverpool, Romeu’s equaliser keeping them within two points of their sixth placed opponents. The Saints currently occupy 12th position in the league, which in itself speaks loudly on how congested and tight mid table is, pushing for those European places.
Palace have struggled in recent times against Southampton, failing to win in their last 12 league meetings, drawing four and losing eight with the Eagles’ last victory over the Saints coming in the Championship in 2008 with a 3-0 win. Pardew will hope to turn his side’s fortunes as Palace keep up their impressive form already this term that has seen them move within three points of Tottenham and six points from a top four place.
Norwich City vs Everton
Norwich City’s early form saw the Canaries safe from any early relegation talk but at Britwatch, we all thought they would be caught up in the drop come the end of the season. We are a long way away from the end of the season but Alex Neil’s side find themselves equal on points with Newcastle, who are in the relegation zone. A Troy Deeney penalty and a late Odion Ighalo strike didn’t help their cause in their last fixture and now welcome a side with a striker in scintillating form.
Lukaku added another goal to move to six goals in his last five league games, the second top scorer in the league behind Vardy with 11 goals in 14 appearances. His partnership with Gerard Deulofeu has been crucial to the Toffee’s success, the Spaniard a constant threat down the right accompanied by Seamus Coleman attacking from right back crossing the ball into dangerous areas for the Belgian to finish the moves. The return of John Ruddy will be a welcome return as Declan Rudd has lost on the three occasions he has been fielded between the sticks for his side.
The weekend’s other fixtures:
Sunderland vs Watford
West Ham United vs Stoke City
Everton make the trip to Carrow Road to face a Norwich City side creeping towards the relegation zone in the lunch time kick off on Saturday 12th December.
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