It’s been almost a week and half since the last round of EPL games and many of us hardcore EPL fans have already begun to show the first signs of withdrawal symptom. But fret not for we shall suffer no more as the EPL springs back into action this weekend with a whole bunch of tantalizing fixtures, with Manchester City vs Chelsea the pick of the bunch.
Ferguson wants consistency from Nani
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has said he wants greater consistency from winger Nani.
The Portuguese international, whose contract expires in 2014, has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford after struggling with form with United this term.
Nevertheless Ferguson is still keen to retain the services of the winger, though Nani is said to want a guaranteed spot in the starting eleven,
Ferguson said: “Nani is definitely one of the best match-winners in Europe. He scores incredible goals. He has an incredible talent for winning matches. We would like him to stay.”
“He has a year-and-a-half left and we’d prefer to keep him. He wants guaranteed first-team football and will get it if he plays like he did [against Reading].”
Newcastle can challenge for a trophy says Pardew
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew says his side has a real shot of winning the Europa League after the Magpies made it to the last 16 with a 1-0 victory over Metalist Kharkiv.
Pardew said: “With Ben Arfa coming back and Cheick to add to that, I really feel as though we can give this comp-etition a good go.”
Newcastle have not won a trophy since 1969 when they won the European Inter-Cities fair cup against Hungarian side Ujpest.
Laudrup DVD reminder for players
Swansea boss Michael Laudrup has compiled a DVD montage of Bradford’s giant killing exploits ahead of Sunday’s League Cup final to remind his players of the danger of being complacent.
The Swans are hoping to win their first ever major honor and are overwhelming favorites to beat their opponents who sit 72 places below them in English soccer.
However, Laudrup insists his side will not be taking anything for granted against a team that has already knocked three EPL sides on their way to Wembley.
“I can show the DVDs from the Wigan game, the Arsenal game and the two games against Aston Villa,” said Laudrup.
“I’ll be very proud,” he said. “It’s [Swansea’s] first final, at Wembley, it’s huge. It will be a great day for everybody in this town so let’s hope it ends as well as it starts.”
|Tottenham v Newcastle||2-1||2-1|
|Chelsea v Wigan||4-1||4-0|
|Norwich v Fulham||0-0||2-1|
|Stoke v Reading||2-1||0-0|
|Sunderland v Arsenal||0-1||1-2|
|Swansea v QPR||4-1||0-0|
|Southampton v Man City||3-1||0-1|
|Aston Villa v West Ham||2-1||1-0|
|Man Utd v Everton||2-0||2-0|
|Liverpool v West Brom||0-2||2-0|
A correct result is worth ONE point, while a correct score earns THREE points.
Last time out I got FIVE correct results, including TWO perfect scores, giving me a combined total of NINE points.
The record high score is 13-points from Week 14, lets see if I can get near to that tally in Week 27.
|Fulham v Stoke||2-1|
|Arsenal v Aston Villa||3-0|
|Norwich v Everton||1-1|
|QPR v Man Utd||0-2|
|Reading v Wigan||3-2|
|West Brom v Sunderland||1-0|
|Man City v Chelsea||2-1|
|Newcastle v Southampton||3-1|
|Bradford v Swansea||1-2|
|West Ham v Tottenham||0-1|
Fulham v Stoke
Fulham seem to be in free-fall at the moment, they have only won one of their last five games and now lie only six-points away from the relegation zone. However, their opponents Stoke are not in the best of form either, having only picked up four points since the turn of the year.
Kieran Richardson could make a comeback after recovering from calf-injury, but Mahamadou Diarra and Kerim Frei are still out and face long spells on the sidelines.
U.S. international Brek Shea is in line to make his EPL debut for Stoke after recovering from a foot operation, while fellow new signing Marc Wilson may also feature after being named in the match squad.
Both teams are in a bit of a rut at the moment, but Fulham do have a good record against Stoke. They also have creative players, such as Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, who can create a goal from nothing with a moment of magic, and that is why I think they will edge this one.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
Arsenal are in desperate need of win to lift their spirits after suffering two consecutive defeats, first in the FA Cup and then in the Champions League, which leaves the Gunners facing the prospect of their eighth year without a trophy.
The North Londoners are all but out of the Champions League and now must turn all their attention to securing a spot in next season’s competition. Saturday would seem the perfect game from which to bounce back. Arsenal play Aston Villa who are contenders for relegation this season and traditionally have a poor record against the Gunners.
Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna is out after hurting his knee during Wednesday’s Champions League game, however fellow full-back Nacho Monreal will return to the starting line-up after being cup-tied midweek.
Aston Villa will welcome back Gabriel Agbonlahor and Karim El Ahmadi who missed their last game through illness, while Charles N’Zogbia is also available after shaking off a thigh problem.
Arsenal really need to win this game to keep the pressure up on their rivals for a Champions League spot—Tottenham and Everton—who they will face in their next two EPL games.
The Gunners’ disappointing week has lead to call for Wenger to be sacked, and if they were to lose them game and their following two against Spurs and Everton, that could be a real possibility. However, the Gunners have played well in the league recently and I think they will easily take this one.
Norwich v Everton
Both of these sides enjoyed a good first half of the season, but have not performed as well during the second half.
Everton lost last week to Manchester United and look as if they may be beginning to run out of steam, which is a tad strange for the Toffees as they are traditional better during the second half of the season.
Norwich have not won since December 15, and have only picked up four points since the turn of the year, which has seen them slowly drift towards the relegation zone. However, the Canaries are still six points off the drop zone and should be safe come the end of May.
Norwich should welcome back captain Grant Holt who missed their last outing with a back injury. Alexander Tettey and Andrew Surman are both minor doubts, though goalkeeper John Ruddy is definitely out with a thigh problem.
I think this will be exciting and entertaining game, but both teams seem to be having trouble in front of goal and that is why I think this will end in a draw.
QPR v Man Utd
QPR lost heavily away to Swansea in their last outing and look all but certain to be relegated—the hoops sit rooted to the bottom of the EPL, seven points from safety.
Harry Redknapp believes 37 points will be enough to save QPR, which is probably true. However, that would leave the Hoops needing to win 7 of their last 12 games, and that seems highly unlikely to happen for a team that has only won twice this season.
Meanwhile Manchester United have all but wrapped up the EPL, after Man City’s loss away to Southampton left them 12-points behind United.
QPR’s January signing striker Loic Remy is a serious doubt for the Manchester United’s visit with a groin problem, though Junior Hoilett and Samba Diakite are both fit again and could feature.
Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Paul Scholes all look set to miss out through injury, but Van Persie should return after sitting out United’s FA Cup win over Reading.
Despite QPR’s position, Loftus Road is still a tough place to go and I think they will give Manchester United a good run. Nevertheless, I still expect United to take this one.
Manchester City v Chelsea
Manchester City’s aspirations of retaining their title is all but over after their shocking loss away to Southampton, and the champions now must focus on secure second spot in the league.
The Champions were awful against Southampton, with probably 10 of their 11 players performing well under par. To be honest, many of their players have failed to reach the standards they attained last season and I would not be surprised if there is a clear-out during the summer.
Chelsea have had an indifferent start to 2012, but they are only four points behind City in the league and could still realistically take the second spot.
Manchester City Captain Vincent Kompany looks set to miss to miss his fifth consecutive game as he struggles to overcome a calf injury, while Gareth Barry is also a doubt with an ankle problem.
Chelsea have no injury worries and are likely to recall Frank Lampard, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Eden Hazard and Demba Ba who were all rested during midweek in the Europa League.
Rafa Benitez is targeting a top two finish for the Chelsea, and if the Blues were to beat City they would be within one point of the Champions. Chelsea have a good record against City in the EPL and have won 10 of their last 15 visit to Manchester. However, they have lost on their last three travels to Manchester and I expect a reaction from City after their dismal display at Southampton, so I’m going for a City win.
Bradford v Swansea (League Cup Final)
This final is like something out of a Hollywood movie, and for one set of fans it will have a fairytale ending.
Both teams are in the League Cup final for the first times in their respective Histories, and were both extreme outsiders to win the Cup when the competition started. It is the underdogs against the super underdogs.
Bradford have already dismissed three EPL teams—Wigan, Arsenal, and Aston Villa—on route to the final, and would be only the sixth team outside of the top flight to lift the trophy were they to win.
Swansea are having a terrific season under new boss Michael Laudrup, and will be chomping at the bit to win their first major trophy.
Bradford will assess Rory McArdle’s fitness before the game, after the defender returned from an ankle injury midweek.
However, there will be no such luck for Swansea’s Chico Flores who injured his ankle in the Swans 4-1 win over QPR., with the Spaniard out he is likely to replaced by Garry Monk or Kyle Bartley.
Bradford have done magnificently well to get to the final, and will not be fazed by the prospect of facing Swansea after dispatching the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa. However, I think this game may be one hurdle too many for the Bantams.
West Ham vs Tottenham
It’s the East-Enders versus North-Londoners as West Ham face Spurs in one of the EPL’s many London Derbies.
West Ham lost away to Aston Villa last week, but are stronger at home and will be looking to unsettle Tottenham with their direct and physical play.
Tottenham have been playing well, which in part has been due to the performances of Gareth Bale, who has been spectacular in recent weeks scoring five goals in his last five games. Spurs currently sit in fourth place, and are looking good for a spot in next year’s Champions League—which many feel Tottenham need to retain Bale’s service—however, if the Welshman carries on at this rate I would not be surprised if Real Madrid come knocking on Spurs door.
Jermaine Defoe is still out for Tottenham with an ankle injury, though Emmanuel Adebayor should take his place.
I expect West Ham to play well and try to bully Spurs into not playing their normal game. Spurs are having trouble scoring at the moment, and with Jermaine Defoe out injured they could struggle, however, Gareth Bale is in electric form at the moment and I expect him to inspire Spurs to win over their East London neighbors.