Premier League Week 18 Preview
A festive feast of football
Week 18 in the Barclay’s Premier League means Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day, or simply ‘the day after Christmas.’ Britain is unique in that it is the only major European country to hold fixtures at this holiday time, and we thank them for that. What better way than to wash down your leftover turkey than with some festive football action? And with all 20 Premier League teams playing on this very special day, spread over four different kick-off times no less, what a day of football this will prove to be. Usually we take a look at three of the most tantalising fixtures from the upcoming weekend, but this week we are celebrating the fact that there are four opportunities to watch live action by selecting a match from each kick-off time.
Stoke City V Manchester United, Saturday 26/12/15 at 12.45 GMT
Could Jose Mourinho to Manchester United really happen? That remains to be seen, but a defeat here for Louis Van Gaal’s side could see the end of the Dutchman’s troubled tenure. His rather pragmatic brand of football could be tolerated by the Old Trafford faithful only if results remained positive, and of late they have been anything but as United have gone four games without a win. A visit to the Britannia would surely not have been the fixture Van Gaal would have picked to turn his side’s fortunes around, however, as The Potters have already defeated Chelsea and Manchester City there this season. Mark Hughes’s team’s results have been somewhat erratic as they have also managed to lose at home to the likes of West Brom and Watford. New Year’s day 2015 saw a 1-1 draw in this fixture – Van Gaal would probably take that right now. Geoff Cameron remains a serious doubt for the home side whist Matteo Darian is similarly a doubt for United.
Stoke City 3.25, Draw 3.20, Manchester United 2.25
Liverpool V Leicester City, Saturday 26/12/15 at 15.00 GMT
Whilst Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp are in the midst of a Christmas nightmare, Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri are walking in a winter wonderland, probably pinching themselves every morning to see if what is happening is real. And it is. The Foxes have been nothing short of sensational in their rise frombottom at Christmas last year to top this, and their recent victories over Chelsea and Everton prove that they are not going to go away easily. Liverpool have taken only one point from their previous three matches while Saturday’s visitors have collected nine. Despite the bookmaker’s odds, an away win here would surprise nobody considering the form of the respective teams. Leicester are unbeaten away so far this season, and Liverpool only managed to rescue a last minute point at Anfield last time out, and are coming off the back of their most disappointing and convincing defeat of the season at Watford. This one finished 2-2 on 1st January 2015, and a repeat is currently 13.00. Simon Mignolet should return in goal for the Reds, but Martin Skrtl is definitely out after limping off at Vicarage Road last time out. Daniel Sturridge may also be fit to feature, but with the fragile striker, that is a big maybe. Rather worrying for the Foxes, star striker Jamie Vardy is a major doubt for Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury – replacing his 15 goals would be a big ask, although 13 goal Riyad Mahrez should be overlooked at the home side’s peril.
Newcastle United V Everton Saturday 26/12/15 at 17.30 GMT
Newcastle’s upturn in form came to a rather limp ending last weekend with a disappointing 1-1 home draw against bottom side Aston Villa. Steve McClaren will be desperate for his side not to lose momentum and it could be a good time to play Roberto Martinez’s Everton who, despite scoring plenty of goals, mostly through in-from RomeluLukaku, have been conceding them at a rather worrying rate. The away side are four games without a win and have slipped back to tenth in the table – six points off the Champions League places. Newcastle meanwhile have moved clear of the relegation zone but will be keen to put more distance between themselves and 18th placed Swansea who are currently only one point behind. This fixture was last played on 28th December 2015, and it was a classic…the home side eventually running out 3-2 winners. A repeat is not out of the realms of possibility, especially considering Everton’s current defensive woes. Both Phil Jagielka and James McCarthy could return for the away side to strengthen them in the defensive department, while Newcastle could be without PapissCisse who was taken off after only 33 minutes in last weekend’s game with a groin strain.
Newcastle United 3.20, Draw 3.50, Everton 2.20
Southampton V Arsenal, Saturday 26/12/15 at 19.45 GMT
Somebody get some water – Arsenal and Mesut Ozil are on fire. After their victory over Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night, the Gunners must be seen as perhaps the strongest candidates for the Premier League title this season, and that is to give no disrespect to Leicester. Traditionally injuries have been the catalyst for an Arsenal collapse at around this time, and although the usual medical crisis has come to bear, the squad that Arsene Wenger has assembled have dealt with it magnificently. There is no doubt that in Ozil, the London side perhaps possess the classiest player in the league, and in Olivier Giroud, have one of the league’s in-form strikers. Their hosts on Saturday could only hope that a semblance of Arsenal’s form could rub off on them – Ronald Koeman’s side have been in free-fall lately and have claimed only one point from the last fifteen available, and that was at home to rock-bottom Aston Villa. The omens don’t look good for the Saints heading into this fixture, although they may be buoyed by the fact Alexis Sanchez will not be fit to return after a reoccurrence of his hamstring injury, as well as the fact they claimed a 2-0 victory here on New Year’s Day 2015. The home side could welcome back Martin Stekelenburg in goal, while Arsenal still only have the seven first team players out. T doesn’t seem to have affected them so far.
Full 26th December fixtures – all kick-off times are 15.00 GMT
Aston Villa V West Ham United
AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace
Chelsea V Watford
Manchester city v Sunderland
Swansea City V West Bromwich Albion
Tottenham Hotspur V Norwich
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct asof 18.00 GMT on Tuesday 22nd December
By: Steve Paget