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Premiership MatchDay 18 preview

last updated Wednesday 25th December 2013, 11:47 AM

MatchDay 18 Saturday, December 26, 2013
Time Home   Away TV Referee
12:45 Hull v Man Utd Sky1 M Oliver
15:00 Aston Villa v C.Palace   H Webb
15:00 Cardiff v Southampton   A Marriner
15:00 Chelsea v Swansea M Jones
15:00 Everton v Sunderland   L Probert
15:00 Newcastle v Stoke   M Atkinson
15:00 Norwich v Fulham   J Moss
15:00 Tottenham v West Brom   A Taylor
15:00 West Ham v Arsenal BT1 P Dowd
17:30 Man City v Liverpool BT1 L Mason
Premier League MatchDay 18 provides a festive feast of football on Boxing Day with just two points separating the top five as they head back out after Christmas.

Liverpool were able to claim the No.1 position after Arsenal could only draw with Chelsea in Monday Night Football, but it is all about finishing first at the end of the season and the title race is currently closer than ever.

It is so tight at the moment that Brendan Rodgers' Reds could drop to fifth if they lose to Manchester City, with Arsenal travelling to West Ham United, Chelsea hosting Swansea City and Everton at home to Sunderland.

Newcastle United are also very much in the running for a European spot ahead of their clash with Stoke City, while Tim Sherwood will be looking to celebrate the permanent contract he signed as Tottenham Hotspur manager with a win against West Bromwich Albion.

It is also a crucial period at the bottom of the table as Fulham prepare to visit Norwich City and Crystal Palace journey to Aston Villa, while Cardiff City will hope to put a turbulent time behind them against Southampton.

Thursday 26th December 2013

12:45 Hull (12) v Manchester United (8) ~ Sky Sports 1

Hull manager Steve Bruce could field the same starting XI for the fourth Barclays Premier League match in a row. With Robbie Brady (groin) unlikely to be fit to face his former club, Bruce may keep faith with a side that has drawn against Swansea, Stoke and West Brom. Sone Aluko (Achilles) and Stephen Quinn (hamstring) are both certain absentees.

Danny Welbeck is a doubt for United after suffering a bang on the knee during Saturday's win over West Ham. Michael Carrick (Achilles) and Robin van Persie (thigh) are unlikely to be involved and Marouane Fellaini (wrist) is definitely out but Anders Lindegaard should be back after a hip problem.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Robbie Brady (Hull) 4; Wayne Rooney & Robin van Persie (Man Utd) 10

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

Verdict: Hull 0 Manchester United 1

15:00 Aston Villa (13) v Crystal Palace (18)

Crystal Palace have just fallen back after an initial resurgence under Tony Pulis, having been beaten by Chelsea and Newcastle.

A victory away to Aston Villa could lift them out of the relegation zone, with Paul Lambert's men on a three-match losing stretch and eager to push back towards the top half.

Gabriel Agbonlahor returns from a one-match suspension but Christian Benteke is likely to be missing once more as he recovers from a knee problem. Midfielder Ashley Westwood serves a one-match ban while captain Ron Vlaar is unlikely to have recovered from a calf problem in time.

Dwight Gayle is set to replace suspended Palace striker Marouane Chamakh. Former Stoke boss Tony Pulis has almost a full XI of unavailable players, so is likely to continue with full-back Joel Ward in midfield. Ex-Aston Villa midfielder Barry Bannan could face his former club.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Aston Villa D W L L L; Crystal Palace L W W L L

Top scorers (all competitions): Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) 5; Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace) 4

Referee: Howard Webb.

Verdict: Aston Villa 1 Crystal Palace 1

15:00 Cardiff (15) v Southampton (9) 

It looked as though Malky Mackay's Cardiff reign was about to come to an end at the weekend after he was issued an ultimatum to resign or face the sack, but his dignified defiance and the widespread backing of fans convinced owner Vincent Tan to lift his threat.

The Bluebirds performed admirably against Liverpool but still lost 3-1 and will be determined to get back on track and increase their four-point cushion over the drop zone. Southampton are the visitors to Wales and are without a win in six games, which has seen them slide back into mid-table.

Craig Bellamy looks set to miss out with an ongoing knee problem. Manager Malky Mackay may decide to restore Fraizer Campbell and Kim Bo-kyung to his starting line-up, with Aron Gunnarsson possibly making way for the latter.

Dani Osvaldo, Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne and Kelvin Davis could all return for injury-hit Southampton. The quartet will have various injuries and ailments assessed on Christmas Eve. Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida were on the bench for Sunday's 3-2 defeat to Tottenham due to slight problems, while Artur Boruc (hand), Victor Wanyama (shin) and Guly do Prado (knee) remain sidelined.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Cardiff L D L W L; Southampton L L D D L

Top scorers (all competitions): Fraizer Campbell & Jordon Mutch (Cardiff) 3; Jay Rodriguez (Southampton) 7

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Verdict: Cardiff 2 Southampton 1

15:00 Chelsea (4) v Swansea (11) 

Chelsea can keep the pressure on at the top by picking up three points against Swansea at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho admitted it was important not to lose to Arsenal and will have been delighted with his team's solidity at the Emirates Stadium, but a greater cutting edge will be required after a dour stalemate.

Swansea are still striving to hit the heights of last season after a steady rather than spectacular first half to the campaign, with the weekend loss to Everton leaving them in 11th place.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is likely to rotate his squad, meaning Ashley Cole could start at left-back and captain John Terry could be rested. Michael Essien is available after missing the Arsenal draw through suspension, while his fellow midfielder Marco van Ginkel (knee) is a long-term absentee.

Swansea forward Michu is to undergo ankle surgery in the coming week, while goalkeeper Michel Vorm has already had a knee operation and Nathan Dyer is sidelined by an ankle ligament problem. Garry Monk is also absent with a knee problem but Leon Britton has returned from a broken toe.

Last season: Chelsea 2 Swansea 0, Swansea 1 Chelsea 1

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 8; Wilfried Bony (Swansea) 9

Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire).

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Swansea 0

15:00 Everton (5) v Sunderland (20) 

Everton's triumph at the Liberty Stadium propelled them to within two points of first place and, with a friendlier-looking set of fixtures in the next few weeks, they have emerged as surprise challengers in Roberto Martinez's first season at the helm. They have been beaten just once in the league and there will be a lot of scrutiny once again on promising youngsters such as Ross Barkley as Sunderland visit Goodison Park.

Bottom of the table at Christmas, history is against the Black Cats staying up, but Gus Poyet drew confidence from their recent Capital One Cup victory over Chelsea and will now want to build on Saturday's goalless draw against Norwich.

Everton left-back Leighton Baines could be back in contention after five games out with a broken toe. Striker Nikica Jelavic should also be available after missing Sunday's win at Swansea with a minor hamstring injury. Midfielder Steven Pienaar and defender Sylvain Distin suffered knocks at Swansea but neither are serious while veteran full-back Tony Hibbert has overcome his latest knee problem.

Defender John O'Shea is fighting to be fit for Sunderland. The Republic of Ireland international damaged a shoulder during Saturday's goalless draw with Norwich and is being assessed. Defensive partner Wes Brown begins a three-match ban following his dismissal against the Canaries, while keeper Keiren Westwood (shoulder) and defender Carlos Cuellar (hip) are still out.

Last season: Sunderland 1 Everton 0, Everton 2 Sunderland 1

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Romelu Lukaku (Everton) 8; Emanuele Giaccherini & Phil Bardsley (Sunderland) 3

Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

Verdict: Everton 2 Sunderland 0

15:00 Newcastle (6) v Stoke (10)

Sixth-placed Newcastle are just four points off the Champions League places after an impressive run of six wins in their last eight games. Alan Pardew is convinced his French imports can cope with what will be for many of them their first experience of a gruelling Christmas schedule, and there were few signs of fatigue in a 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace.

It will not be an easy task for the Magpies against Stoke, though, with the Potters moving into the top half of the table on Saturday after defeating Aston Villa 2-1.

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will be without midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote, who is suspended after collecting a fifth booking of the season. Midfielder Jonas Gutierrez is nursing a calf problem picked up in training, but Pardew otherwise has no fitness concerns.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes must decide whether to reward Charlie Adam for his impressive second-half performance against Aston Villa with a start. Hughes also has Stephen Ireland available after the Irishman was forced to sit out the clash against his parent club. Defender Robert Huth (knee) will miss all the Christmas fixtures.

Last season: Newcastle 2 Stoke 1, Stoke 2 Newcastle 1

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Loic Remy (Newcastle) 8; Peter Crouch (Stoke) 5

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Verdict: Newcastle 2 Stoke 0

15:00 Norwich (14) v Fulham (19)

There have been some encouraging signals for Fulham under Rene Meulensteen, but they remain in the bottom three ahead of Thursday's trip to Norwich. Having conceded four against Everton and Manchester City, Meulensteen has targeted the next few games as an opportunity to gain quick points.

Norwich are six points clear of trouble after a decent spell before Christmas, when they defeated West Brom before drawing with Swansea and Sunderland.

Norwich midfielder Jonathan Howson faces a late fitness test on a back problem and is a doubt for the relegation showdown. Defender Russell Martin missed the 0-0 draw with Sunderland to rest a sore ankle but will return against Fulham.

Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov faces a late fitness test after missing the 4-2 defeat to Manchester City with a groin injury. In defence, both Brede Hangeland (back) and Philippe Senderos (abductor) are missing as well as Matthew Briggs (hernia).

Last season: Norwich 0 Fulham 0, Fulham 5 Norwich 0

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Gary Hooper (Norwich) 6; Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham) 4

Referee: Jon Moss.

Verdict: Norwich 1 Fulham 1

15:00 Tottenham (7) v West Brom (16)

All eyes will be on the dugout as Tottenham welcome West Brom to White Hart Lane. Sherwood is the new man in charge of Spurs after signing a deal until 2015 and will be desperate to follow up a thrilling 3-2 win over Southampton which kept his side in touch with the leading pack. Emmanuel Adebayor was the star of the show at St Mary's with two goals and it will be down to interim

Baggies boss Keith Downing to try and devise a plan to combat the striker. Downing was able to halt a four-match losing streak at the weekend as a 1-1 draw with Hull kept three points between Albion and the bottom three.

New Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood looks set to be without winger Aaron Lennon, who has an abdominal injury. Mousa Dembele's twisted ankle is not too serious but Andros Townsend (hamstring), Younes Kaboul (thigh) and Jan Vertonghen (ankle) are out, while Paulinho is suspended and Harry Kane has a back complaint.

Striker Victor Anichebe is West Brom's only injury doubt. The forward is struggling with a groin problem. Goalkeeper Ben Foster returned from a foot injury in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Hull and reported no ill effects.

Last season: West Brom 0 Spurs 1, Spurs 1 West Brom 1

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Jermain Defoe & Roberto Soldado (Spurs) 9; Saido Berahino (West Brom) 6

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

Verdict: Tottenham 3 West Brom 1

15:00 West Ham (17) v Arsenal (2) ~ BTSports 1

Arsenal are currently squeezed in just behind Liverpool on goal difference, a point better off than Man City, and can reassert their title credentials by beating West Ham. Arsene Wenger felt the Gunners deserved more than a 0-0 draw against Chelsea on Monday, a result which left his side without a victory in three games, and West Ham will hope they can be similarly frustrating.

Sam Allardyce's men are just a point clear of the relegation zone after a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United extended their winless run to four matches.

West Ham's Kevin Nolan returns from suspension while manager Sam Allardyce will continue to select defender James Tomkins despite his arrest on Sunday. There is still no timescale on Andy Carroll's return from long-term foot trouble and Ricardo Vaz Te and Winston Reid are still several weeks from fitness. Spanish goalkeeper Adrian could keep Jussi Jaaskelainen on the bench once again.

Arsenal will be without midfielder Jack Wilshere as he completes a two-match suspension. Centre-half Laurent Koscielny could return after sitting out the game against Chelsea with a cut on his knee but forward Yaya Sanogo (back) and midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee) remain sidelined.

Last season: Arsenal 5 West Ham 1, West Ham 1 Arsenal 3

Last five league matches: West Ham W L L D L; Arsenal W W D L D

Top scorers (all competitions): Ravel Morrison (West Ham) 5; Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) 13

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Verdict: West Ham 1 Arsenal 2

17:30 Manchester City (3) v Liverpool (1) ~ BTSports 1

Boxing Day's heavyweight showdown pits together a couple of teams in scintillating form as Manchester City host Liverpool. Manuel Pellegrini's men have ruthlessly swept aside all their previous opponents at the Etihad Stadium and scored 35 goals in eight home games, including six against Spurs and Arsenal, but there were signs of defensive frailty in a 4-2 success at Fulham.

Liverpool will be relishing the challenge and, in Luis Suarez, they have one of the most potent attacking weapons in world football at the current time. The Uruguayan was once again the inspiration behind Saturday's 3-1 victory at Cardiff as he took his goal tally for December to ten and extended the Reds' winning run to four games.

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is to retain his place after making a first Premier League start in almost two months at Fulham. Gael Clichy could continue on his 'wrong' flank at right-back due to injuries for Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards (both hamstring). Top scorer Sergio Aguero and defender Matija Nastasic (both calf) are out and Stevan Jovetic is a doubt due to illness.

Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan picked up a slight hamstring problem in Saturday's victory over Cardiff and could be a doubt. Captain Steven Gerrard is progressing well from a similar problem but manager Brendan Rodgers is looking at bringing in reserves and youth team players to bolster a squad which has only 17 fit players. Striker Daniel Sturridge (ankle) and left-back Jose Enrique (knee) are sidelined until the new year.

Last season: Man City 2 Liverpool 2, Liverpool 2 Man City 2

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

Top scorers (all competitions): Sergio Aguero (Man City) 19; Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 19

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

Verdict: Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1

Source Sky/ Sporting Life
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