Football News: Premier League Match Previews Saturday 24th February 2018


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Premier League Match Previews Saturday 24th February 2018
Image from: dirtyorange.blogspot

Saturday 24th February 2018

Leicester City v Stoke City 12:30pm kick off

Okazaki (knee injury expected return 3rd March) doubt

Performances and results have slipped since the initial boost after Claude Puel's arrival. The Foxes have won just twice in the last 10 games and are on a run of 3 matches without a win. They are now sat in a fairly safe midtable position with little fear of relegation, but it feels like they are a team that should be doing more, that they are better than they are showing and should be pushing Arsenal. While the uncertainty surrounding Riyad Mahrez has certainly not been helpful to their cause, this feels like a deeper problem, with poor recruitment since their shock Premier League title hampering their chances of building on that win receding by the season.
Most important player: Harry Maguire. No wonder their defensive record is so weak with a player like him at the back, with his constant errors defensively and mindless blundering runs forward with the ball only to give it away and leave a gaping hole at the back. How on earth this guy is so highly rated I will never understand, he is a weak link to be targeted by opponents.

Crouch (ankle injury expected return 3rd March) doubt
Martins Indi (muscle injury) slight doubt
Ireland (calf strain expected return 12th March) out

The more things change the more they stay the same. That saying very much applies to Stoke City who have changed manager but the new man in charge, Paul Lambert, is still struggling with inconsistent performances as the Potters have slipped into the relegation zone. Worse for Lambert is that they show little sign of improving, with still everything resting on the man with the thunder thighs, Xherdan Shaqiri. As usual he shows flashes of ability mixed with long periods of ineptitude. Until they find more to threaten opponents with than just that one man, they will always be as inconsistent as he is.
Most important player: Jese. Someone else needs to step up and offer some creativity, why not the hugely talented but incredibly frustrating Jese?

Defining Battle: Jamie Vardy v that Stoke defence is going to be a tough one. Ryan Shawcross looks a shadow of his former self, he was never the quickest but now looks sluggish and Kurt Zouma has not lived up to his reputation yet, but at least offers some pace. Can the pair of them keep Vardy at bay?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-0
Ed003 - 1-1
Ed004 - 2-1
Ed007 - 2-1
Ed018 - 2-1
Ed025 - 3-0
Ed033 - 1-0

Bournemouth v Newcastle United 3pm kick off

Defoe (broken ankle) late fitness test
Mings (back injury) out

The Cherries were on a great run of form, pulled themselves out of the drop zone and into 9th, only to get smashed 4-1 by struggling Huddersfield Town. That summed up the problems Bournemouth have under Eddie Howe, not just their inconsistency, but their tendency to collapse defensively when a team gets at them. Though they are better at home this season, they still conceded far too many goals, 19 in 13 matches and allow themselves to be opened up at the back. They cannot always rely on possession of the ball and hard work to make up for a complete lack of defensive organisation and defensive knowhow.
Most important player: Junior Stanislas. At times he has looked like a quality attacker, but it is far too infrequent and, at 28, he really needs to show some consistency.

Clark (knee injury) slight doubt
Slimani (thigh strain) slight doubt
Gamez (ankle injury) out

Even with that shock 1-0 win over Manchester United last time out and their run of form of just one defeat in the last 6 matches, the Toon are still in serious relegation danger. With the battle being so tight at the bottom, there are very few teams outside of the top 6 who are truly safe just yet. Goals have been a problem for Newcastle, but now Islam Slimani should be fit to start, that might well be fixed and give them genuine hope of a good run to end the season. They look like a team all pulling together and going the right way, with the full backing of a very vocal group of fans, that could be enough to see them to safety.
Most important player: Jamaal Lascelles. The centre back has been playing like a captain. His leadership has been key to Newcastle's chances.

Defining Battle: Bournemouth do tend to leave themselves open on the flanks, whether they play with a back 3 or back four. Newcastle have pace and ability to really get at that weakness, it is how well Bournemouth cope with that which will decide the match. If they go with a back four, they will need the fullbacks to not be as advanced as normal, if a back three, then they could find the centre backs being pulled out to deal with it leaving space centrally.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed003 - 1-2
Ed004 - 2-0
Ed007 - 0-1
Ed018 - 1-1
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 1-0

Brighton & Hove Albion v Swansea City 3pm kick off

Krul (neck injury) slight doubt
Skalak (ankle injury) out
Brown (ACL injury) out
Sidwell (back injury) out

Everytime Brighton seem set to fall into the drop zone they pull a result or two out of the bag and pull themselves back up the table. This season's relegation battle is the closest I can remember and the Seagulls, currently sitting in 14th, could jump up or slip down a number of places very easily on the back of this result. They have managed to stay unbeaten in their last 3, but their struggles to win away from home have put real pressure on them to get some more wins at the AMEX, where they look an entirely different prospect. The way Swansea are slowly climbing up the table, this match has become a must not lose or BHA face slipping below them. At this point in the season, they cannot afford to let any of their rivals in the battle against the drop gain momentum to move away from them.
Most important player: Glenn Murray. He does not have pace or great skill, but he is always a threat and scores goals, which is vital to a team at the bottom end of the league.

Mawson (knee injury) slight doubt
Fer (achilles injury) out
Bony (ACL injury) out
Rangel (groin injury expected return 31st March) out
Sanches (hamstring injury expected return 17th March) out
Britton (groin strain expected return 27th February) slight doubt

The revival under Carlos Carvalhal is bordering on the miraculous. The Swans have won three of their last four league matches and are unbeaten in five in the Premier League now. Safety, for so long looking a forlorn hope, is suddenly within their grasp, as they have pulled themselves out of the bottom three and into 16th. Right now the question looks to be - how far up the table can they get? However, they are still not out of danger and need to maintain momentum and avoid complacency.
Most important player: Sam Clucas. The change in style under Carvalhal has really suited Clucas and the Portugese manager is getting the most out of him.

Defining Battle: dealing with the Ayews will be the key to beating Swansea for Brighton. Jordan has been in excellent form as a hold up man up front, making the return of Wilfried Bony redundant even before his injury. Now his brother is back to join up with him, it could be a partnership to be feared and it is up to Brighton to deal with it.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed003 - 2-1
Ed004 - 2-1
Ed007 - 2-1
Ed018 - 2-2
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 1-0

Burnley v Southampton 3pm kick off

Arfield (calf strain) late fitness test
Bardsley (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Tarkowski (groin strain) late fitness test
Defour (knee injury) out
Marney (MCL injury) late fitness test
Walters (knee injury expected return 3rd March) out
Wood (MCL injury) late fitness test
Brady (knee injury) out
Heaton (dislocated shoulder expected return 3rd March) doubt

Despite a run of ten games without a win Burnley are still sat in 7th place and are almost entirely safe from relegation. It is testament to how well they started the season before their small squad was decimated by a succession of injuries. With a number of players now returning to fitness, Claret's boss Sean Dyche will be hopeful of a return to something like the form of the early part of the season.
Most important player: Jack Cork. His presence in midfield has been a big part of this season's success. He adds consistency of performance as well as ability and workrate.

Boufal (knock) slight doubt
Yoshida (knee injury expected return 31st March) out
Davis (knock expected return 3rd March) doubt
Long (hamstring injury expected return 3rd March) doubt
Austin (hamstring injury expected return 31st March) out

Saints have slipped into the relegation zone and their performances have been as poor as their results. It seems that the fans are more worried about how little has been created than the actual results, rightly so as their performances suggest they deserve to be there, rather than it being a blip to be struggling. They have just one win in their last fourteen Premier League matches and there are few, if any, of those games that left you feeling they were unlucky not to get the win. They will be looking to the break they have just had from Prem games to have revitalised the players to give them any chance. However they did have the look of a team that simply does not have the ability to save themselves last time out against Liverpool, nor the heart to fight for it as they simply gave up the game at half time.
Most important player: Guido Carrillo. If he actually gets any service, he needs to be clinical to give Saints any hopes of avoiding the drop.

Defining Battle: Neither side offer much creation, they are both struggling to create chances, it is almost certainly going to come down to a midfield scrap to gain control of the ball. On paper Southampton have the better midfield to do so, but they have not been able to show their ability so far this season. All in all, it will probably come down to Southampton getting setpieces in the final third, as James Ward-Prowse has the ability to deliver good quality into the box.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed003 - 0-2
Ed004 - 1-1
Ed007 - 1-1
Ed018 - 1-0
Ed025 - 1-0
Ed033 - 2-0

Liverpool v West Ham United 3pm kick off

Clyne (back injury expected return 10th March) out

The fight at the top has closed up, at least for 2nd down to 6th anyway, with a real battle for the European places developing. Liverpool have got themselves into 3rd at the moment, but their form has seen them close in on Man Utd above them and given them genuine hope of taking second by the end of the season. Nothing is simple with the Reds though and they often find ways to throw it away just when they get it all in their own hands. It is in particular games like this one that they often struggle in recent years. Is this year different? It certainly can be, if they can keep up their home form which sees them unbeaten and have only conceded 9 goals in 13 matches at Anfield.
Most important player: Sadio Mane. Has the chance to build on his midweek hat-trick with a chance to get at a struggling defence.

Reid (throat infection) slight doubt
Obiang (MCL injury expected return 2nd July) out
Lanzini (hamstring injury) slight doubt
Carroll (ankle injury expected return 21st April) out
Fernandes (ankle injury) out
Masuaka (suspended) out

The Hammers have struggled away from the London Stadium this season, with just two away wins all season and seven losses, it has been a real Achilles heel for them. Defensively in particular, though David Moyes has tightened them up at the back a lot after taking over from Slaven Bilic. They will also be buouyed by the return of almost all their defensive injuries to fitness. Is it enough to deal with the Liverpool attack at Anfield?
Most important player: Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian has become the key player for West Ham in a striker's role. There have never been any doubts about his ability but his attitude had always left a lot to be desired, but now he is working hard for the cause as well.

Defining Battle: Arnautovic will provide a real test for the new look Liverpool defence, with his strength, ability and pace, but for me the real key is the space left behind Robertson when he charges forward from left back. Will the Liverpool midfield be alert enough to fill in the gaps quickly, if the Hammers can get enough of the ball to threaten to get in there? They can be a bit slow to spot the danger, with no midfielder having the genuine defensive mindset to anticipate the threat.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 4-3
Ed003 - 3-1
Ed004 - 3-0
Ed007 - 3-1
Ed018 - 3-0
Ed025 - 3-1
Ed033 - 2-0

West Bromwich Albion v Huddersfield Town 3pm kick off

Gibbs (illness) slight doubt
Sturridge (hamstring injury expected return 3rd March) out
Robson-Kanu (hamstring injury) slight doubt
Livermore (hamstring injury) slight doubt
Chadli (thigh strain expected return 31st March) out
Morrison (achilles injury expected return 10th March) out

The only way to describe them this season is sinking without trace. They were abysmal under Tony Pulis and have got worse under Alan Pardew as they slid down the table to prop up the rest with a 5 point gap to 19th place. How the fans must long for the days when they reached 40 points then went off to the beach for the rest of the season. This time round the players never bothered leaving the beach at all! Three defeats in a row has seen them drop into real difficulty, with a chance they will be out of contention of surviving before the end of March if it carries on. They really do not look to have anything to offer to earn their place in the Prem for next season, with most of their hopes pinned on the increasingly fragile and injury prone on-loan striker Daniel Sturridge.
Most important player: Jose Salomon Rondon. They need goals desperately and he is their main striker.

Hefele (illness) slight doubt
Scannell (shoulder injury expected return 31st March) out
Mooy (knee injury expected return 3rd March) major doubt
Lowe (hamstring injury) slight doubt
Kachunga (MCL injury expected return 10th March) out
Stankovic (ACL injury expected return 10th March) out

Just when Huddersfield look dead and buried as they slumped into the drop zone, they suddenly pull a rabbit out of the hat and thrash in-form Bournemouth after 5 defeats on the bounce. They have to maintain that kind of performance level if they are to rescue themselves from the position they got themselves into. Because that is what has happened. They gave themselves a great platform to survive then stopped playing at their top level. They can no longer afford to be half-paced, to sit off teams and let them play, they have to be in their faces giving them no time, as they did so well in the Championship last season.
Most important player: Rajiv van la Parra. The Dutch winger flatters to deceive far too often, great skill and pace but is not decisive or incisive enough. It is time he really picked up his performances and proved himself at this level.

Defining Battle: is the press back for the Terriers? If so then they will have every chance of winning this, though WBA will look to break the press through long balls, as is their wont. Rondon is an effective target man and will chase lost causes which could be the difference between a defeat and getting a result for West Brom. The Baggies have little in the way of quality delivery, so it will come down to hard graft and hopeful balls over the top. Have Huddersfield got the ability to deal with that?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-2
Ed003 - 2-1
Ed004 - 1-1
Ed007 - 1-2
Ed018 - 0-1
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 1-1

Watford v Everton 5:30pm kick off

Sinclair (muscle injury) out
Kabasele (hamstring injury) doubt
Cleverley (hamstring injury) out
Wague (hamstring injury) out
Gomes (back spasm) doubt
Femenia (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Hughes (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Britos (bruised foot) late fitness test
Kaboul (fractured metatarsal) out
Chalobah (knee injury) out
Cathcart (knee injury expected return 3rd March) out
Hoban (ACL injury) out

Watford have had an up and down season, though it does seem to have gradually become more down than up as they have gradually, very slowly dropped down the table and now sit in the bottom half. Just. They are in genuine danger of the drop, with just 2 wins in their last 14 matches in the league, losing 9 of those games. That is relegation form. They are beginning to look reliant on those below them failing to pick up enough points, rather than looking like a team that will just go out and get them. Their defensive organisation at least should improve from the shambolic state it was in under Marco Silva, as the new manager Javi Gracia is very much about defensive solidity.
Most important player: Troy Deeney. They really need a captain's performance from him.

Mangala (knee injury) out
Gueye (knock) slight doubt
Coleman (thigh strain expected return 3rd March) major doubt
Funes Mori (fitness expected return 3rd March) doubt
Jagielka (knock) late fitness test
McCarthy (broken leg) out
Baines (calf strain) late fitness test
Stekelenburg (groin injury expected return 10th March) out

The Toffees have got themselves going in the right direction again with two wins in their last three matches and are beginning to settle themselves into the top half of the Prem with their eyes looking up once again. Their away form has been dreadful this season, with just one win away from home and only 9 goals scored, but this game often has the feel of a home one for Everton. The game has been played in a great spirit since the two met in the 1984 Cup final and the shared choice of the 'Theme From Z Cars' that both teams run out to does make it feel more homely for the blue half of Merseyside.
Most important player: Wayne Rooney. This is a game for leaders to pull their team along.

Defining Battle: with the Hornets using a back three under Gracia so far, the way they deal with Everton's attackers will make the difference. Do they keep all three back to look after the lone striker allowing Everton's wide players to run at them? When a player has the pace of Walcott, the last thing you want is him running at you as a mistimed tackle is an almost certain booking. If they push up onto Walcott, they will then leave space for runners from deep breaking in behind, if Allardyce goes with the system that beat Palace last time they played.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 0-3
Ed003 - 1-2
Ed004 - 1-0
Ed007 - 1-2
Ed018 - 2-2
Ed025 - 2-1
Ed033 - 0-1

Editor's Predictions Table
1. Ed002 - 174 points
2. Ed025 - 173 points
3. Ed018 - 168 points
4. Ed033 - 163 points
5. Ed007 - 161 points
6. Ed004 - 158 points
7. Ed003 - 153 points

*1 point is awarded for the correct result, 3 points for the correct score.
**updated 23rd February 2018 (not including results for that day)

Written by Tris Burke

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