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Premier League Preview - 17th - 18th December 2011

last updated Friday 16th December 2011, 7:32 PM

Sunday throws up some mouthwatering games this weekend as the Premier League enters the busy festive period.

Manchester City are still top of the table but, after defeat to Chelsea last time out, they face another difficult challenge when they host Arsenal.

That game signs ends the weekend, but before that on Sunday QPR welcome Manchester United to Loftus Road and Liverpool go to Aston Villa.

Elsewhere, Andre Villas-Boas and his Blues play Wigan, while rock-bottom Bolton Wanderers travel to the capital where Fulham lie in wait.

Saturday 17th December

15.00 - Blackburn (19) v West Brom (15)

Blackburn's defeat at Sunderland was a real kick in the teeth for Steve Kean with Rovers leading 1-0 until the 84th minute at the Stadium of Light.

This week they take on West Brom who themselves are on a poor run.

Roy Hodgson's Baggies have picked up only one point from their last three games and defeat at Ewood Park would see Blackburn go within two of their Black Country opponents.

Every week Kean comes out fighting and this will be no different - but his position remains a question of serious contention for the majority of Rovers fans.

Gael Givet is having further tests on the heart condition that saw him forced to leave the field last weekend and is expected to miss this match.

Givet's pulse rate rose to 250 against Sunderland and the French defender is having extensive tests in a Manchester hospital and could be out for a month if he is not given the all-clear.

Meanwhile, Martin Olsson and Junior Hoilett are also doubtful for Rovers with hamstring injuries but Steven Nzonzi returns from suspension.

Defender Steven Reid is West Brom's only injury doubt.

The former Blackburn player is battling to overcome a knee problem and will be assessed in the next 24 hours.

Five-goal leading scorer Shane Long has recovered from his recent groin problem.

Last season: Blackburn 2 West Brom 0, West Brom 1 Blackburn 3

Last five league matches: Blackburn L D L W L; West Brom L W L D L

Top scorers (all competitions): Ayegbeni Yakubu (Blackburn) 10; Shane Long (West Brom) 5

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

15.00 - Everton (12) v Norwich (10)

Everton have been boosted by the news that Landon Donovan will rejoin the club on loan during January and February.

The Toffees certainly need something fresh in attack as they have only scored 15 league goals this season and the American could provide that spark when he arrives.

David Moyes will have to do without him in the meantime, though, and this weekend Norwich visit Goodison Park.

Paul Lambert's side have impressed of late but find things more difficult away from Carrow Road.

Midfielders Jack Rodwell and Leon Osman (both hamstring) and Royston Drenthe (foot) all missed last week's defeat at Arsenal could make their returns for Everton.

Defender Sylvain Distin made his first appearance in over a month as a substitute at the Emirates Stadium and could be pushing for a starting place.

Norwich have no fresh injury concerns for the trip to Goodison Park.

On-loan Manchester United defender Ritchie de Laet (back) is expected to return to training next week.

Former Everton striker James Vaughan is on course for a return in the new year from his knee problem, along with centre-back Elliott Ward (knee).

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Everton L W W L L; Norwich L L W L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Apostolos Vellios (Everton) 3; Grant Holt & Steve Morison (Norwich) 6

Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

15.00 - Fulham (14) v Bolton (20)

Owen Coyle cuts a forlorn figure at the moment and it is no wonder considering his Bolton side are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League with just nine points from a possible 45.

Since demolishing Stoke 5-0 Wanderers have lost four successive matches and a poor result at Fulham on Saturday could spell the end for Coyle's time in charge.

Martin Jol will want a response from his charges after they dropped out of the Europa League on Wednesday night with the last kick of the game against Odense.

Fulham striker Bobby Zamora faces a late fitness test.

The 30-year-old has an issue with his left knee and will be assessed on Saturday, although midfielders Simon Davies (back) and Steve Sidwell (hernia) as well as goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer (spine) will definitely miss out.

The latter will be replaced by David Stockdale, while Fulham will be able to call upon skipper Danny Murphy (ankle) along with attackers Bryan Ruiz and Andrew Johnson after the midweek Europa League draw with Odense.

Bolton striker Ivan Klasnic is fit after recovering from a knee injury.

The Croatian sustained the problem in the 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa last weekend, a fixture missed by Wanderers midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, who has been sidelined with a hamstring complaint but could make his comeback at Craven Cottage.

Defender David Wheater is unavailable again as he serves the third game of his four-match suspension.

Last season: Fulham 3 Bolton 0, Bolton 0 Fulham 0

Last five league matches: Fulham L D D W L; Bolton W L L L L

Top scorers (all competitions): Andrew Johnson (Fulham) 11; Ivan Klasnic (Bolton) 7

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)

15.00 - Newcastle (7) v Swansea (11)

Newcastle have the opportunity to get back on track when they host Swansea City.

The Magpies are seventh in the table, level on points with sixth-placed Liverpool, but have lost their last two - conceding seven goals in the process.

Alan Pardew will see a home contest against the Welsh side as a good chance to take three points but Brendan Rodgers' outfit have acquitted themselves well on their debut Premier League campaign.

Having said that, the Swans have yet to win away this term.

This one could provide a contest between two in-form goalkeepers - the impressive Tim Krul and Michel Vorm.

Newcastle skipper Fabricio Coloccini (thigh), fellow central defender Mike Williamson (ankle) and midfielder Cheick Tiote (knee) will all be assessed before Alan Pardew names his team.

Midfielder Dan Gosling is suspended following his sending-off at Norwich last weekend, while Steven Taylor (Achilles) and Danny Guthrie (groin) remain on the injured list.

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers is set to restore midfielder Joe Allen to his starting line-up after the 21-year-old Wales international missed the win over Fulham through suspension.

Allen is likely to replace Luke Moore in the centre of the park, while Wayne Routledge is set to keep his wing slot ahead of Nathan Dyer.

Striker Danny Graham may also be recalled to the starting line-up ahead of Leroy Lita after the club record signing grabbed a goal as a substitute against the Cottagers.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Newcastle W L D L L; Swansea D L D L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Demba Ba (Newcastle) 11; Danny Graham (Swansea) 5

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

15.00 - Wolves (17) v Stoke (8)

Wolves and Stoke meet at Molineux.

Mick McCarthy's side sit just outside of the relegation zone but will want to move further away from danger.

Stoke's Europa League tie at Besiktas in midweek was a dead rubber and Tony Pulis rested a number of players for the trip to Turkey.

Expect a return to full-strength and a good old English battle here.

ves have slight injury concerns over winger Matt Jarvis (thigh) and midfielder Dave Edwards (groin), but manager Mick McCarthy is hopeful both will be fit to face the Potters.

Defender Jody Craddock (hamstring) and defender Kevin Foley (ankle) are unlikely to be available.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis could revert to the side that defeated Tottenham 2-1 last weekend.

The Welshman left all the 11 players who started that match at home out for their midweek Europa League trip to Istanbul, allowing them a break.

Full-back Andy Wilkinson is set to miss out after suffering a recurrence of his back problem against Besiktas, while Ryan Shotton is expected again to be preferred to Jermaine Pennant on the right wing.

Last season: Stoke 3 Wolves 0, Wolves 2 Stoke 1

Last five league matches: Wolves W L L W L; Stoke L L W W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Steven Fletcher (Wolves) 6; Kenwyne Jones & Jonathan Walters (Stoke) 6

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

17.30 - Wigan (18) v Chelsea (3) - ESPN

Two important wins for Chelsea mean Andre Villas-Boas can breathe a little easier - the pressure was mounting on the Portuguese boss a few weeks back but his side now find themselves in a much stronger position going into the game at Wigan.

The Latics' last home game ended in a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Arsenal but that result has been sandwiched in between two impressive away victories, against Sunderland and West Brom.

If Roberto Martinez can get his team to reproduce that form at the DW then they could cause Chelsea some problems.

Wigan defender Antolin Alcaraz is doubtful after he suffered a rib injury in last week's defeat of West Brom and faces a fitness test.

The Paraguay international was making his return from suspension against the Baggies.

Fellow defender Emmerson Boyce, who has not featured for six weeks, could take his place.

Goalkeeper Chris Kirkland is in contention for a place on the bench after recovering from the back problem which cut short his loan at Doncaster.

David Luiz returns from a one-match suspension which forced him to miss Monday night's victory over Manchester City.

Midfielder Michael Essien is on course to return from knee surgery in a month's time.

Last season: Chelsea 1 Wigan 0, Wigan 0 Chelsea 6

Last five league matches: Wigan L D W L W; Chelsea W L W W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Franco Di Santo (Wigan) 4; Frank Lampard & Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea) 8

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Sunday 18th December

12.00 - QPR (13) v Man Utd (2) - Sky1

Manchester United are down in numbers and Darren Fletcher is the latest player to need a lengthy lay-off.

Crashing out of the Champions League was a major blow for Sir Alex Ferguson's side but they at least got back to winning ways against Wolves.

A run of victories over Christmas will be the top priority for Ferguson before he possibly strengthens in the January transfer window, starting against QPR on Sunday at 12pm.


Manchester United are down in numbers and Darren Fletcher is the latest player to need a lengthy lay-off.

Crashing out of the Champions League was a major blow for Sir Alex Ferguson's side but they at least got back to winning ways against Wolves.

A run of victories over Christmas will be the top priority for Ferguson before he possibly strengthens in the January transfer window, starting against QPR on Sunday at 12pm, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1.

Rangers sit in mid-table but have not picked up a win in their last three matches - losing to Liverpool most recently.

Rangers sit in mid-table but have not picked up a win in their last three matches - losing to Liverpool most recently.

QPR defender Anton Ferdinand will miss the visit of the Premier League champions with a hamstring problem.

Rangers manager Neil Warnock can, though, welcome back defenders Fitz Hall (hamstring) and Matthew Connolly (ankle), as well as striker DJ Campbell (foot).

Midfielder Kieron Dyer (foot) remains out.

Dimitar Berbatov will return from an ankle injury for United.

The Bulgarian has missed the last three games after aggravating the problem during the Carling Cup defeat to Crystal Palace at the end of November.

Darron Gibson is also a doubt, whilst Darren Fletcher begins an indefinite spell out of the side to recover from a chronic inflammatory bowel condition and Nemanja Vidic is out for the season with a knee injury.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: QPR L W L D L; Man Utd W W D W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Heidar Helguson (QPR) 6; Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 14

Referee: Howard Webb.

14.05 - Aston Villa (9) v Liverpool (6) - Sky1

Sunday's Christmas cracker also sees Aston Villa host Liverpool at Villa Park.

Alex McLeish's side earned him a much-needed three points at Bolton last weekend but his antagonistic relationship with the fans shows little sign of abating.

It has been a solid if unspectacular start to his tenure since switching from Birmingham City in the summer with Villa currently ninth in the table with 19 points from 15 games.

McLeish's style of football has frustrated certain sections of the fans this term but if they overcome Kenny Dalglish's men then they will be just four points behind Liverpool.

Watch this one from 2.05pm.

Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has five goals this season, will have to serve a one-match suspension after picking up five yellow cards this season.

Emile Heskey is in contention to partner Darren Bent up front.

Midfielder Fabian Delph is available after missing last weekend's victory at Bolton with a knee injury.

Defender Eric Lichaj (hip) is Villa's only long-term casualty.

Jordan Henderson looks likely to continue as Charlie Adam's partner in central midfield at Villa Park.

Jay Spearing serves the second of a two-match ban while Steven Gerrard (ankle) has not played since late October and Lucas Leiva (knee) is out for the season.

Winger Stewart Downing is set to face the club he left in the summer while Maxi Rodriguez will be hoping to make successive league starts for the first time since May.

Last season: Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 0, Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 0

Last five league matches: Aston Villa W L D L W; Liverpool D W D L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Darren Bent & Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) 5; Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 8

Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).

15.00 - Tottenham (4) v Sunderland (16)

Tottenham's impressive run ended in a controversial defeat to Stoke last weekend with Harry Redknapp unhappy with the performance of referee Chris Foy.

The chairman Daniel Levy has this week claimed that Redknapp is not considering the possibility of taking the England job next year, and believes that Spurs can mount a serious title challenge this season.

The north Londoners are fourth in the table but have a game in hand over the teams around them.

They host Sunderland at White Hart Lane with Martin O'Neill taking charge of the Black Cats for the second time.

A repeat of the gutsy comeback victory against Blackburn will be his remit.

Tottenham have defender Younes Kaboul suspended following his red card at Stoke last weekend.

Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker are all set to return after sitting out the Europa League victory over Shamrock Rovers.

Spurs are sweating over the fitness of centre-back Ledley King, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury.

Tom Huddlestone (ankle) and Michael Dawson (Achilles) are long-term absentees while Niko Kranjcar, Sandro and Steven Pienaar are all in contention after playing against Shamrock.

Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole is available after suspension, while striker Nicklas Bendtner and midfielder Craig Gardner have returned to training after groin and hamstring problems respectively.

Keeper Craig Gordon played in a training ground game earlier in the week, as did striker Fraizer Campbell (knee), although the latter is still some way from joining in with the main group, while keeper Simon Mignolet (fractured nose and eye socket) and defender Michael Turner (knee) remain on the sidelines.

Last season: Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2, Tottenham 1 Sunderland 1

Last five league matches: Tottenham W W W W L; Sunderland L D L L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Jermain Defoe & Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham) 8; Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) 5

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).

16.10 - Man City (1) v Arsenal (5) - Sky1

It has not been a good few weeks for Roberto Mancini and Manchester City - falling out of the UEFA Champions League before a defeat at Stamford Bridge.

City's lead at the top of the table has been cut to two points and in-form Arsenal come to town on Sunday.

The Gunners were made to work for three points against Everton and it was once again left for Robin van Persie to score the winner - the red-hot Dutchman netting a sumptuous volley.

If Arsenal win this one then they will be only six points off City and considering their terrible start to the campaign, that would be some achievement.

Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta is set to switch flanks to play at left-back.

City are without regular left-backs Gael Clichy (suspended) and Aleksandar Kolarov (groin) so Zabaleta will move across with fit-again Micah Richards returning at right-back.

Richards has missed the last two games with a calf problem.

Arsenal have no fresh injury worries ahead of their trip to the Etihad Stadium.

Full-back Kieran Gibbs is recovering well from his hernia problem and could feature over the Christmas period, while midfielder Jack Wilshere remains on course for a mid-February return from his ankle injury.

Defenders Andre Santos (ankle), Carl Jenkinson (back) and Bacary Sagna (ankle) remain out, along with goalkeepers Lukasz Fabianski (knee) and Vito Mannone (shoulder), and midfielders Abou Diaby (hamstring) and Ryo Miyaichi (ankle).

Last season: Arsenal 0 Man City 0, Man City 0 Arsenal 3

Last five league matches: Man City W W D W L; Arsenal W W D W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Edin Dzeko & Sergio Aguero (Man City) 13; Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 19

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

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