By Ryan Moran
- Louis Van Gaal left his pre-match conference after five minutes.
- Guus Hiddink takes his place in the Chelsea dug out on Saturday for second spell in charge.
- AFC Bournemouth hope to record fourth consecutive victory at home to Crystal Palace.
Manchester, UK- Louis Van Gaal’s anger for the press reached boiling point when asked about speculation over his job, leaving after five minutes.
Stoke City vs Manchester United
Times are tough at United, who are without a win since 21st November when they beat Watford 2-1 at Vicarage Road. Consecutive defeats to bottom sides Bournemouth and Norwich mount the pressure on Van Gaal whose side travel to the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day in search of their first win in four games. Bastian Schweinsteiger also misses the trip as the midfielder serves the final game of a three game ban for violent conduct in his side’s goalless draw with West Ham. In the Van Gaal’s pre-match conference, his anger over job speculation was highlighted when he told the press he had only attended the conference because of the Premier League rules.
Stoke City also lost last time out to high flying Crystal Palace at home, and Mark Hughes will want a positive reaction from his players – and what a statement it would be, condemning United to a fifth consecutive game without victory. Hughes, a former United player, also realises the Potters will have a difficult task ahead of them as the visitors will want to bounce back from a poor run of results, speaking in his pre-match conference:
“The players there are representing a global brand and the players have a responsibility to produce the goods more often than not, so they will be desperate to get back on track at the weekend.”
Liverpool vs Leicester City
Premier League leaders Leicester hope to add their fourth consecutive victory at Anfield against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, winless in their last three outings.
The German’s side were comprehensively beaten by an alert Watford side last time out who punished the Reds for mistakes from the first whistle, Adam Bogdan dropping the ball at the feet of Nathan Ake to open the scoring. The good news for Liverpool fans is Simon Mignolet has recovered from his hamstring injury and is available for selection against Leicester, along with Dejan Lovren while Martin Skrtel is out for six weeks with a hamstring injury.
The visitors travel back to Merseyside on the back of a 3-2 victory over Everton at Goodison Park, courtesy of two penalties from Riyad Mahrez. While the Algerian and Jamie Vardy performed well in last year’s survival campaign, the pair have reached new heights this season, Mahrez himself being directly involved in 20 of Leicester’s 37 goals, contributing 13 goals and seven assists. His influence will be noted by the coaching staff at Liverpool, not many have been able to prevent Mahrez and Vardy’s influence however with Arsenal recording Leicester’s only defeat this season.
Southampton vs Arsenal
Arsenal kept the pressure on Leicester with a 2-1 victory over Manchester City with Olivier Giroud once again on target at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night. Their hosts however have been on a downward slide in recent weeks as Ronald Koeman’s side are without a win in their last five games. The Saints’ did beat Arsenal 2-0 on New Year’s Day the last time these two sides met.
Southampton’s goalkeeping dilemma takes a positive turn with the return of Maarten Stekelenburg recovering from a toe injury. Arsenal have no new injury concerns for their trip down to St Mary’s Stadium looking to keep up the pace with leaders Leicester while keeping the four-point gap with Manchester City. As for Southampton, with the lower sides stringing wins together, a turn in fortune will be needed soon before they are dragged into a dog fight.
Manchester City vs Sunderland
Monday night’s defeat to Arsenal leaves Manchester City playing catch up with four points separating third placed City from the second placed Gunners. Away side Sunderland find themselves five points from safety and without a prolific goal scorer. The Citizens have struggled without captain Vincent Kompany to command the back four, the Belgian is expected to return for the visit of the Black Cats.
Inconsistency has left City stuttering in their race for the Premier League title, injuries to key players such as Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero have denied the home side the opportunity to have a similar side each week and the lack of a leader especially in the back four has allowed them to leak goals.
The Black Cats have capable strikers in the form of Jermaine Defoe, Fabio Borini and Steven Fletcher, none of the three have provided the amount of goals needed to keep Sunderland up. Borini got the consolation goal against Chelsea but without any points to show from the game, it’s another win they need in their game of catch-up with the rest of the table. With the return of Kompany, a win against City would be a massive boost for the side and if one of the strikers notched up a goal on their tally, it may serve Sam Allardyce’s side well for the rest of the campaign.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Norwich City
Tottenham finally climbed into the top four at the expense of Manchester United, and the team who defeated United travel to White Hart Lane this Saturday. The 2-1 victory over the Red Devils becomes even more impressive with the victory coming at Old Trafford. The Canaries hope to build on their win by taking points off the hosts. Mauricio Pochettino’s side claimed victory over his former side, Southampton as they hope to maintain their position in the top four.
The travelling side sit two points above the drop while Spurs are one of three sides on 29 points, the other sides being Crystal Palace and United. Newcastle are level on points with Norwich, therefore neither side can afford to slip up on Saturday. Cameron Jerome added his fourth goal of the campaign against United, far from impressive, more goals will be needed to guide his side to safety.
Harry Kane and Dele Alli were on the scoresheet as the home side leapfrogged the Red Devils into the top four. Both players are recognised on the international circuit, Alli needing to keep up the level of performances to keep in contention for a place on the plane to France for Euro 2016 along with Kane. Another hopeful taking to the field is Nathan Redmond, a starlet in a bottom side causing troubles on the wing, his four goals are the highest tally for the Canaries with Jerome on four, Redmond’s two assists put him at the forefront of Norwich’s goal contribution.
Chelsea vs Watford
Guus Hiddink watched from the stands as his Chelsea side claimed their first victory in three attempts with Branislav Ivanovic, Oscar and Pedro finding the net. Chelsea loanee Nathan Ake opened the scoring for Watford against Liverpool in a 3-0 victory, the Dutch defender will be unavailable to play against his parent club however.
The striking pair of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have provided a real threat for Watford this season, Deeney scoring five and four assists while Ighalo has 12 goals and two assists. A goal threat has been the Blues’ problem with Diego Costa struggling to find the target and Jose Mourinho not selecting Loic Remy to lead the line. Defensively, the home side have been a shambles, John Terry unable to sustain the same level of performance as last season. Under Hiddink, the squad are playing for their places with older players such as Terry and Ivanovic playing for new contracts at the end of the season.
AFC Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace
The Vitality Stadium will witness a hard fought contest with two sides unbeaten in their last three games, the home side have won three consecutive games, while Palace have won two and drawn one.
Palace are level on points with both Manchester United and Tottenham with the latter in the top four, while it is unlikely the Eagles will make a top four spot, their current form gives them a good chance. Yohan Cabaye has a chance of recovering while Mile Jedinak is likely to make an appearance.
The Cherries are on a winning run dating back to their 1-0 win at Chelsea followed by a 2-1 victory over United. Eddie Howe’s side are a team on the ascent with injuries no problem for a side with all players fully buying in to the cause. However, their latest injuries will need some replacing with Junior Stanislas and Joshua King missing out through hamstring injuries. The home side have a suitable replacement up front in Glenn Murray who scored the winner against Chelsea.
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
Aston Villa vs West Ham United
Swansea City vs West Bromwich Albion
Newcastle United vs Everton
Manchester United hope to rebuild their Champion’s League push away at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day.
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