Football News: Premier League Match Preview Saturday 31st March 2018

 

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Premier League Match Preview Saturday 31st March 2018
Image from: sceneenough.com

Saturday 31st March 2018



Crystal Palace v Liverpool 12:30pm kick off


Wickham (groin strain) out
Tomkins (knock) late fitness test
Schlupp (ankle injury) major doubt
Zaha (knee injury) late fitness test
Sorloth (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Ward (muscle injury) doubt
Speroni (knee injury expected return 7th April) out
Sako (broken ankle expected return 18th April) out
Dann (ACL injury) out
Puncheon (PCL tear) out

Palace broke their run of 7 games without a win last time out by beating fellow struggles Huddersfield Town. That one win put them 2 points clear of the drop zone but still leaves them in danger of relegation. With a run of very winnable games to follow this one, Roy Hodgson will fancy his chances of surviving, especially as he has a good record against Liverpool and there is a very good chance of Wilfried Zaha being fit.
Most important player: Wilfried Zaha. Is there a team that is more of a one-man team than Palace? With Zaha they are a midtable team, without him they are a relegation team.


Robertson (dead leg) slight doubt
Gomez (ankle injury) major doubt
Can (back injury) slight doubt
Lovren (ankle injury) slight doubt
Clyne (muscle injury) doubt

The Reds bounced back quickly from their defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Man Utd by thrashing a lacklustre Watford 5-0. However this has been the Achilles heel for Liverpool in recent years, getting a good win then facing a lower half team and failing to get a result. Worse for Liverpool is the time of day, as they have a poor record in lunchtime kick offs. With just one league game left this season which is not a lunchtime kick off, now would be a very good time for Jurgen Klopp to sort out those early kick off problems.
Most important player: Sadio Mane. Despite not scoring in the win over Watford, Mane was excellent and created space for his strike partners to exploit.


Defining Battle: Zaha v Salah? No, not really, as Liverpool can count on Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane as well, if Palace do manage to stop the Egyptian star. Which is the key to this match, can the Londoners clamp down the space in the defensive areas and still get forward to put Liverpool under pressure? As Man Utd have shown, a packed defence, if well-organised, can stimmy the forward trio of Liverpool and one thing Hodgson is good at is organising a defence.


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



Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City 3pm kick off


Bong (thigh injury) doubt
Stephens (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Skalak (ankle injury) out
Brown (ACL injury) out
Sidwell (back injury) out
Knockaert (suspended) out

A good run of results has put the Seagulls in an position of almost certain safety, though they do need to achieve it soon as their final few games are not going to be easy. Form wise they are in good form, winning 3 of their last 6 but they did lose last time out against Everton. One thing is for sure, no matter what happens between now and the end of the season, Chris Hughton has improved his reputation this season by creating a competitive Premier League team this season.
Most important player: Ezequiel Schelotto. The right back has become a key member of the team with his swashbuckling charges down the right flank.


Iheanacho (fractured hand) late fitness test
James (Achilles injury) out
Amartey (hamstring injury expected return 7th April) out

The last time they played a league game, the 10th March, they demolished West Brom to end a poor run, since then they suffered what could be a demoralising FA Cup defeat to Chelsea after extra time. Claude Puel will be hoping the international break has given his charges time to get over the disappointment and lift themselves for a final push. They have a run of very winnable games and are not entirely out of the running for 6th place, especially as their only, on paper, really difficult game in the run-in is against Arsenal.
Most important player: Mark Albrighton. His workrate is vital to the Foxes play. Not only does he get forward to support attacks but he gets back to cover for the inexperienced and error-prone Chilwell.


Defining Battle: at home Brighton are a strong side, they look to play a more attacking style than they do on the road. That will suit Leicester, who like teams to come onto them so that they can use their fast breaks with the pace up top to hurt the opposition. The Seagulls will need to maintain an organised and disciplined backline, to deal with early balls in to Vardy.


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



Manchester United v Swansea City 3pm kick off


Romero (knee injury) slight doubt
Young (knee injury) slight doubt
McTominay (ankle injury) slight doubt
Herrara (hamstring injury) doubt
Jones (hamstring injury) out
Blind (ankle injury) out

Man Utd are starting to look more and more like a Jose Mourinho team, not the best to watch but continue to pick up the results anyway, some flashes of decent play, but usually by a touch of power and pace smashing a gap in the opposition's defence, rather than flair or skill. This season it has left the Red Devils floundering in the wake of the other Manchester side, a little bit, but at least they are there in second, which is a big step forward. If it was anyone else, you would expect it to get even better next season, but Mourinho teams never seem to maintain their form in his third season, so it will be interesting to see if things are different this time around.
Most important player: Ashley Young. His play can often restrict what attacking output United have, when they will need to be all about attacking against a much weaker Swansea side, at home.


Fer (Achilles injury) out
Bony (ACL injury) out
Rangel (groin injury expected return 14th April) out
Sanches (hamstring injury expected return 14th April) doubt
J Ayew (suspended) out

Since the arrival of Carlos Carvalhal, Swansea have been revitalised and begun to climb all the way from the bottom of the table to 14th place. A large part of that was built around Jordan Ayew, which makes his absence a big loss for the Swans.
Most important player: Alfie Mawson. With an England World Cup place to aim for, the defender will need to play at his best.


Defining Battle: this looks like the classic attack and defence match, as the Swans are unlikely to offer much other than a tight defence and hope to hold on for dear life. United will need to move the ball quickly and look to get it to Lukaku early before the defence can get set.


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



Newcastle United v Huddersfield Town 3pm kick off


Ritchie (groin injury) slight doubt
Darlow (shoulder injury) major doubt
Elliot (back injury expected return 7th April) major doubt
Gamez (ankle injury expected return 15th April) out

Safety is almost within touching distance for the Toon, the arrival of Islam Slimani during the transfer window, despite the striker having yet to play for Newcastle, has boosted their attack, as the other forwards step their game up to hold onto a place in the team. What more can they do with Slimani up front?
Most important player: Jonjo Shelvey. He is the creative heartbeat of the team, but there is always the fear he will lose his head and flip out.


Mooy (knock) slight doubt
Billing (back injury) slight doubt
Williams (broken ankle) out
Kongolo (hip injury) slight doubt
Hefele (Achilles injury expected return 21st April) out
Scannell (shoulder injury) slight doubt
Stankovic (ACL injury) doubt

The Terriers are an odd team, they are dire and look like a team certain to be relegated for weeks on end, with little fight or desire, then, out of nowhere, they pull a performance and result out of the bag. They are hanging on to a place in the Premier League by their fingernails, with the toughest run in, on paper, of the teams in the league.
Most important player: Aaron Mooy. The Aussie has been struggling recently for form and has begun to look like the Prem might be a step too far for him.


Defining Battle: both teams are heavily reliant on a bald central midfielder to control the play for them. Which one will come out on top? That will decide the game.


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



Watford v Bournemouth 3pm kick off


Deulofeu (fractured foot) out
Kabasele (hamstring injury expected return 14th April) out
Cleverley (hamstring injury) out
Kaboul (fractured metatarsal) out
Chalobah (knee injury) out
Hoban (ACL injury) out

The Hornets are an incredibly inconsistent team with a weak mentality, which often sees them fold and their heads drop when they go behind. Give them a lead to hold onto and they are a totally different proposition. They certainly have plenty of ability in their squad, but that lack of heart and desire to fight when behind is a real problem.
Most important player: Etienne Capoue. The defence needs some protection from midfield as it is the weak link of the side.


Mousset (illness) late fitness test
S Francis (hamstring injury) slight doubt
A Smith (MCL injury expected return 18th April) out
Begovic (knee injury) slight doubt
Arter (calf strain) doubt
Mings (back injury) out
King (personal reasons) doubt

Eddie Howe's team are very hit and miss, mainly due to his inability to organise the team defensively, added to his ability to get them playing good football going forward. It leaves the team vulnerable against the better sides. In fact vulnerable in general.
Most important player: Lewis Cook. How will he respond to his England cap in the friendlies? Will it inspire him to perform better with the World Cup in his sights or to relax and think he has made it?


Defining Battle: two teams who have good quality attacking play but weak defences going at each other would usually be suggestive of a high scoring end to end game. Watford have brought in a new manager who is very defensive minded to fix their issues, they hope, but will the Cherries be able to take advantage as his team struggle to adapt? They have the pace to exploit gaps in the wide areas and Watford do tend to struggle badly to cope with pace out wide and allow their centre backs to be dragged out to cover far too easily with no one dropping in from midfield to cover.


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



West Bromwich Albion v Burnley 3pm kick off


Barry (knee injury) slight doubt
Sturridge (hamstring injury expected return 7th April) major doubt
Chadli (thigh strain) doubt
Morrison (Achilles injury expected return 15th April) out

The Baggies have now lost seven Prem games in a row and there is little in the way of hope that can be given them. Their manager has never shown any previous ability to do better, they have very few players that have the quality to go and win games and they are 10 points off safety. Added to that, the club has admitted that finances are stretched to the limit, so they will need to reduce the wage bill. This is all pointing to a club on a major slide, one that is going to require a lot of good management to arrest before they drop down more than just one division.
Most important player: Kieran Gibbs. They have little in the way of pace, particularly on the left, other than from Gibbs.


Gudmundsson (knock) slight doubt
Heaton (fitness) late fitness test
Defour (knee injury) out
Walters (knee injury) out
Brady (knee injury) out

Finally back to winning ways, the Clarets are left 5 points behind Arsenal but a good run could put them into contention for that 6th spot the Gunner currently occupy. What they will want to avoid is losing form once more and slipping down the table, giving up the 7th place they have worked so hard to get. Sean Dyche has worked a minor miracle so far this season, he will be sure to keep his players focused on keeping results up in the final few weeks.
Most important player: Jack Cork. He has been excellent for Burnley all season, the lynchpin of the side.


Defining Battle: The pressure is pretty much off both teams, Burnley are safe in the Prem and West Brom are almost certainly relegated. Have West Brom got any answer to the awkward physical presence Burnley possess up front? Barnes, Vokes and Wood are all capable of giving defenders a torrid time and creating openings for others, as much as themselves. Keep them out and there is not a big goal threat in the rest of the team.


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



West Ham United v Southampton 3pm kick off


Kouyate (illness) doubt
Lanzini (knee injury) late fitness test
Collins (hamstring injury) late fitness test
Reid (MCL injury) out
Byram (ankle injury) out
Obiang (MCL injury expected return 2nd July) out
Carroll (fractured foot expected return 21st April) out

It has all gone wrong for David Moyes at West Ham, after a good start. Not just have performances dropped, results are terrible and the fans are at war with the board of the club. Added to Moyes' attitude, which is that of a beaten man, it is little surprise the Hammers have lost 4 of the last 5, including the last 3 in a row. Just two points separate them from Saints who are in the relegation places. This is what you call a 'must not lose' game. Defeat would turn survival into an uphill slog through thick mud, if they do get beaten by Soton.
Most important player: Angelo Ogbonna. They need a strong defensive performance from the centre back to make sure that one goal the other end is enough.


Bertrand (back injury) doubt
Davis (hamstring injury) doubt
Austin (hamstring injury) late fitness test

Mark Hughes has a difficult task on his hands coming in so late, but at least he can rest easy in the knowledge that no one will blame him if Saints go down, as he was brought in so late in the day. The only hope rests in him having an immediate impact in the league. The team were struggling to create chances, often looking like they were unsure what Pellegrino wanted them to do. Now they have a chance to show that there was more in the tank and that the problem was the manager hindering them.
Most important player: Sofiane Boufal. The ability Boufal possesses is immense, but he was rarely able to show it in the past. Hughes needs to get the most from him if Southampton are to start next season in the Prem.


Defining Battle: dealing with Arnautovic is the issue. Saints have to find a way to stop the Austrian, which is not an easy proposition. He is big, strong and fast, as well as having excellent technique. However he can get frustrated and his workrate dips when he does, so Southampton have to ensure the service to him is poor and he gets frustrated by it.


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



Everton v Manchester City 5:30pm kick off


Holgate (ankle injury) out
Gueye (hamstring injury) late fitness test)
Sigurdsson (knee injury expected return 5th May) out
Mangala (knee injury) out
McCarthy (broken leg) out
Stekelenburg (groin injury) out
Davies (head injury) slight doubt
Williams (suspended) out

With a couple of wins on the bounce and the knowledge that the Toffees came very close to beating City at City, will Sam Allardyce be brave and take the game to Man City? Everton already have the magical 40 points, so they do not need to fear relegation. This is a chance for Allardyce to show he is the man to take Everton forward, that he was just being cautious in order to get clear of relegation. Has he got that ambition in him? That need to prove himself the future manager of the Toffees, or was this just a nice short term job for him before he heads back off to put his feet up until next season's strugglers are looking for a rescue act?
Most important player: Theo Walcott. His pace could be vital against Man City's backline.


Stones (concussion expected return 4th April) out
Aguero (knee injury) late fitness test
Delph (muscle injury) slight doubt
Mendy (ACL injury expected return 7th April) out

All City need to do now is keep ticking over in the Premier League and keep themselves fit and firing for the Champions League, as they are so far ahead in the Prem the season is over. It is only a matter of time before they claim the trophy.
Most important player: Leroy Sane. Sometimes the German winger is devastating.


Defining Battle: there seem to be two schools of thought when facing Man City, sit back and hold on for dear life and hope to get something out of the game or go at them and take the game to them. Most teams have sat back and eventually City break them down and win. A few times now in the cup against lower division opposition and against Liverpool in the league they have struggled badly against teams attacking them. They are vulnerable defensively and can be got at, Fernandinho does not do well when put under pressure on the ball. However this is Sam Allardyce, so it will no doubt be a ten men behind the ball and hang on for dear life game....


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



Editor's Predictions Table
1. Ed002 - 198 points
2. Ed025 - 193 points
3. Ed033 - 192 points
4. Ed007 - 191 points
5. Ed004 - 184 points
6. Ed018 - 182 points
7. Ed003 - 179 points


*1 point is awarded for the correct result, 3 points for the correct score.
**updated 30th March 2018 (not including results for that day)

Written by Tris Burke



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