Football News: Weekend Match Previews

 

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Saturday 11th March 2017

Bournemouth v West Ham United Premier League 3pm

Mings (out - knee injury, suspended)
Stanislas (doubt - groin strain)
Francis (late fitness test - hamstring injury)
Wilson (out - ACL knee injury)
Federici (out - cartilage knee injury)
Surman (out - suspended)

The Cherries broke a run of defeats, ensuring they did not reach five in a row with a very creditable 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last weekend. Despite that result, it has been eight games since Bournemouth last tasted victory, something they need to fix quickly to avoid being dragged deeper into the relegation battle. One thing that did show, contrary to the usual Bournemouth performances, is that the team have fighting spirit. Following Andrew Surman's sending off leaving them with ten men, they fought and scrapped hard to hold on for a draw and their first ever point at Old Trafford in Bournemouth's history. Following weeks of looking like a team resigned to the drop, with no battling qualities, just lots of pretty, but ineffective football, suddenly the Cherries look capable of scrapping their way to safety. They just need to show it with eleven men now!
Most important player: Steve Cook. With club captain Simon Francis likely to still be missing through injury, and back up Tyrone Mings banned for five matches, young and inexperienced centre half Baily Cargill will need Cook's experience alongside him. Eddie Howe will be looking to Cook to marshal the backline.

Reid (late fitness test - leg injury)
Fonte (late fitness test - knock)
Carroll (doubt - facial injury)
Ogbonna (out - knee surgery)
Sakho (out - back injury, hamstring strain)
Tore (out - knee injury)
Arbeloa (doubt - calf injury)
Henry (out - ACL cruciate ligament injury)

The Hammers have gone three games without a win and could do with a positive result here to get themselves back on track. The midtable battle is so tight this season that every result matters, if Slaven Bilic has any ambitions for a top half finish this season, then he needs a good result here against a struggling Bournemouth. With a reasonably favourable run-in, the Hammers every chance of a top half finish, even with the difficulties presented by the new stadium. With European football almost certainly out of reach, the club will need to finish as high as possible to maximise prize money.
Most important player: Manuel Lanzini. With the loss of Dmitri Payet in the January window, the main burden of creativity has fallen on the Argentinian's shoulders. He has shown the potential to be an exciting dribbler who gets into dangerous positions on the pitch, but he has to begin living up to the potential sooner rather than later.

Defining Battle: there is one battle that will define how this match takes shape more than any other. That is Andy Carroll's battle for fitness. If the big Geordie is out injured yet again, then it will mean a completely different game from the one that will take place if he is fit to play. Without him, the Hammers lack a physical cutting edge up top, which will be a relief to the Bournemouth defenders. With him, they have a battering ram who they can look to throw the ball into if they are struggling to create.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-2
Ed007 - 1-1

Everton v West Bromwich Albion Premier League 3pm

Calvert-Lewin (doubt - ankle injury)
Bolasie (out - ACL knee injury)
Besic (doubt - ACL knee injury)
Lennon (doubt - illness)

Everton's proud home record will be put to the test as the Toffees have suffered just one home defeat so far this season. With Man Utd in sight ahead of them, Everton have still got hopes of European qualification this season. First they need to put the Baggies to the sword and end any hopes they may have of catching up to Everton. Ronald Koeman will look for this to be the start of another long unbeaten run, like the nine match run they were on before the defeat at Spurs last weekend. With nothing left to focus on but the Premier League, Koeman has a good chance of pushing Man Utd all the way to the finish.
Most important player: Leighton Baines. The England left back is clearly a fading force now and nowhere near the level he was at a couple of years ago, but he still possesses the ability to whip in an excellent cross. However, his importance against the Baggies will be in defending, as they look to get crosses in from wide areas for Rondon to feed on. Baines will need to look to stop the supply.

Phillips (doubt - hamstring injury)

Like Everton, West Brom have been holding onto a solid midtable position for a large part of the season. Also like Everton, West Brom are much better at home than they are away, particularly when it comes to goalscoring. The Baggies have managed just 12 goals in 13 away games so far. Another similarity between the two is that both had an unbeaten run ended at the weekend, though West Brom's defeat to Crystal Palace was much more damaging. Tony Pulis will, I am sure, admit that he allowed his anger with his former club Palace to affect him in the build up and made a big mistake with his negative comments about their players. It is a mistake I am sure he will avoid making this weekend.
Most important player: Gareth McAuley. Not just does the veteran centre back lead the backline for West Brom, he is also the second highest scorer at the club. They really need him to add to his tally against the Toffees.

Defining Battle: how well will the veteran McAuley and Jonny Evans be able to deal with the power and pace of Romelu Lukaku? For that matter, will Lukaku be up for it or will this be one of those days when he is not bothered enough to break sweat and the ball just bounces off him constantly? That is what will decide this game.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-2
Ed007 - 2-0

Hull City v Swansea City Premier League 3pm

Mbokani (out - hamstring injury)
Goebel (doubt - calf strain)
Dawson (doubt - calf strain)
Davies (doubt - hamstring injury)
Mason (doubt - fractured skull)
Henriksen (out - shoulder separation, illness)
Keane (out - ACL knee injury)
Odubajo (out - patella fracture)
Luer (doubt - knee injury)
Lenihan (doubt - knee surgery)

The initial improvements made after Marco Silva took over are now feeling like a distant memory as the Tigers have failed to win in the last three matches. With fellow strugglers Swansea the visitors, Silva could do with a return to the form they showed when he first took charge. Four points now separate Hull from Palace, who sit in 17th, so it is getting to the point where draws are no longer of any use. They need wins. Eleven games are left to save their Premier League status.
Most important player: Kamil Grosicki. The Polish winger has shown himself to be an exciting addition to the Prem so far, with his electric pace causing so many problems to the Leicester City rearguard in last weekend's match. They need him to produce quality delivery.

Naughton (out - hamstring injury)
Dyer (out - achilles injury)
Sung-Yeung (doubt - knee injury)
Montero (doubt - hamstring injury)

Swansea are very much an all or nothing team, with just three draws all season, it is almost always three points or nothing for the Swans. In the last six games, they have won four and lost two, as the recovery under Paul Clement continues apace. The South Wales outfit have dragged themselves up from the bottom of the table to 16th and have a five point cushion over the relegation zone. They can ill afford to allow Hull to beat them and drag them back into the battle at the bottom.
Most important player: Gylfi Sigurdsson. Without the Icelandic midfielder, Swans would probably be dead and buried by now. It is not just his eight goals that have been vital to Swansea, his ten assists are just as important.

Defining Battle: the main battle for me will be between the Swansea full backs and the Hull widemen. Swans are very reliant on the fullbacks for attacking width, but will they be able to forward with the pace that Hull have in wide areas up against them?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1
Ed007 - 1-1

Middlesbrough v Manchester City FA Cup 6th Round 12:15pm

Ayala (doubt - hamstring injury)
Friend (late fitness test - calf strain)
Chambers (doubt - foot injury)
Husband (doubt - shoulder injury)

Boro have to try and take their mind off their horrible league form and get their mind on this cup game against Man City. Having finally dropped into the relegation places last weekend, and showing no signs of having the ability to claw their way out, the players need a good performance to lift their flagging confidence. They also need the manager to release the shackles and allow them to play. They have yet to win a match other than in the FA Cup in 2017, and not one of those games were against Premier League opposition. At least they have the good point they earned away at Man City earlier in the season to give them hope of a home cup win.
Most important player: Aitor Karanka. I admit he is not actually a player, but he is the most important person. What kind of team will he send out there? Will it be a reserve team or will he send out the full first team? Will he allow them to attack Citeh or just the usual ten men behind the ball negative system that has been failing all season?

Kompany (doubt - muscle injury)
Jesus (out - metatarsal fracture)
Gundogan (out - ACL knee injury)

So far this season Citeh have floundered just when it matters, dropping out of the EFL Cup to Man Utd, failing to win in the league every time they get a chance to really put pressure on at the top, like midweek against Stoke, when they drew disappointingly. Now their season has pretty much come down to the Champions League and FA Cup, plus a battle for second in the Premier League. So this match is important to the Citizens. It is Pep Guardiola's main hope of a trophy this season.
Most important player: Claudio Bravo. He looks likely to play all the cup games now, with Willy Caballero first choice in the league, so he has a lot to prove. The veteran Chilean keeper needs to prove why it is that Pep spent so much to bring him to Manchester, or he knows a replacement will come in.

Defining Battle: how much space will the City attackers be able to find against Boro, who usually play a very deep line and a packed defence? They will need to use clever movement and hard work to drag the Boro backline out and create space behind them. If they can't notch the goals, we know the City defence is always vulnerable to a break.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 0-2
Ed007 - 1-3

Arsenal v Lincoln City FA Cup 6th Round 5:30pm

Welbeck (doubt - illness)
Iwobi (doubt - illness)
Ozil (doubt - illness)
Elneny (out - ankle injury)
Cazorla (out - plantaris injury)
Sanogo (doubt - calf injury)
Debuchy (doubt - hamstring strain)

With the Champions League and League Cup over for another season, the Premier League title out of reach after three defeats in the last four matches and discipline breaking down on the training pitch, the FA Cup is about all the Gooners have to look forward to this season. They certainly could not have hoped for easier draws than they have been given in the last two rounds. How will the players react to yet another crushing defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich? More importantly, can Arsene Wenger enforce discipline or has all respect for him gone within the club? Certainly it is worrying that club traditions, such as all players wearing matching sleeve lengths has gone by the wayside recently. While little things like that may seem unimportant, they are a part of the fabric of the club and give it a part of its identity. It is something that fans can be proud of, in a small way, something the players can respect, so why let it go? For me it is a sign that discipline is breaking down within the club.
Most important player: Alexis Sanchez. Whether he plays, sits on the bench or is left out altogether, right now all eyes are on Sanchez, after the Chile winger fell out with Wenger. After carrying Arsenal to second place last season, there has been a major breakdown in his relationship with his team mates, probably due to the back pain he is suffering by carrying them while doing all the work on the pitch, while they stroll about.

This has been a season to remember for the Red Imps, with a return to the Football League looking on the cards as they lead the National League by six points currently. Added to that is their incredible run to the FA Cup 6th round, beating two Championship sides and a Premier League team, in Ipswich Town, Brighton and Hove Albion and Burnley, along the way. All of it done without selling their soul to a betting company, and without exploiting one of the clubs longest serving employees, leading to him having to leave the club under a cloud. Lincoln have done it the right way, by winning football matches and concentrating on that. Now they have their reward with a big money tie with Arsenal. Can they create just one more shock with Arsenal in turmoil?
Most important player: Matt Rhead. Rhead may look more like a pub rugby player than a footballer, but the big lad offers a focal point to the side when he plays. More importantly, he is a major physical presence against a team which struggles to compete physically. They need him to knock the Gunners out of their stride if they are to have any chance of competing.

Defining Battle: the battle will be whether Lincoln can drag Arsenal into a physical scrap or not. If Arsenal can play their football, they will win easily, even in turmoil like they are, but Lincoln have a chance if they can turn the contest into a bruising, physical battle. They need to get in the faces of the Arsenal players and allow them no time and space. If they can get close and keep going throughout the first half, Arsenal could lose discipline and fall apart, like they have done so many times in recent years under Wenger. Fitness will be a major problem for the Imps though.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 4-0
Ed007 - 2-0

Sunday 12th March 2017

Liverpool v Burnley Premier League 4pm

Firmino (late fitness test - knock)
Sturridge (doubt - hip injury)
Henderson (doubt - bruised foot)
Ejaria (doubt - ankle injury)
Grujic (doubt - hamstring injury)
Ings (out - ACL knee injury)

As has been well documented this season, Liverpool struggle badly against the 'weaker' teams in the Premier League, despite their excellent record against the other top six teams in the Prem. Recent weeks have been difficult for Jurgen Klopp, with some poor results against Sunderland, Swansea City, Hull City and Leicester City highlighting their poor form against the bottom half sides. With Burnley being hopeless on the road so far this season, and revenge for a 2-0 defeat earlier in the season at Burnley to spur the players on, there will never be a better time for Liverpool to improve their record against teams from the bottom half of the table.
Most important player: Philippe Coutinho. There were encouraging signs of the little Brazilian returning to his magical best in the win over Arsenal last weekend. They will need his quality to unlock the Clarets defence.

Heaton (doubt - illness)
Barton (doubt - tight hamstring)
Gudmundsson (doubt - MCL knee ligament injury)
Defour (doubt - hamstring injury)
Marney (out - ACL knee injury)
Long (doubt - knee surgery)

With Burnley yet to win away from home, this game at Anfield would normally be one to fear for the Clarets and their fans. Knowing Liverpool struggle badly against lower half teams and that they already beat them 2-0 at home, Sean Dyche's men will probably not get a better chance to break their away duck. At least not until next weekend when they go to the Stadium of Light to play Sunderland.
Most important player: Robbie Brady. With Liverpool vulnerable to set pieces, the Irishman's delivery will be key to Burnley's chances of a good result.

Defining Battle: will be between Liverpool's defence and Burnley's front two. Can Burnley get the ball to them enough to cause problems? If they can, their pace and workrate is difficult for anyone to handle, let alone a defence playing such a highline as the Liverpool one does.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-2
Ed007 - 1-1

Tottenham Hotspur v Millwall FA Cup 6th Round 2pm

Rose (doubt - MCL knee ligament injury)
Lamela (doubt - hip injury)

Time for Spurs to put aside their pursuit of Chelsea in the league and to face a fourth lower league club in the FA Cup. When I was growing up, Spurs were known as a cup team, that always brought out their best for the FA Cup. In recent years that reputation has faded, as they developed consistency in the Premier League. They have an excellent chance to return to success in the cup, with a, so far at least, favourable draw to see them into the 6th round.
Most important player: Harry Kane. Even if Kane is left on the bench for this game, if Mauricio Pochettino decides to play a weakened team, then having Kane on the bench is scary for opponents. The fears of being a one season wonder are a long way behind Kane now.

Having already knocked out three Premier League clubs and in excellent form in the league, Neil Harris's charges will enter this match in high spirits, with genuine belief they can cause an upset. However, Spurs are a totally different prospect from Bournemouth, Watford and Leicester City and their away form is not the best. Still, in a one off knockout match like this, there is always a chance.
Most important player: Lee Gregory. Millwall's top scorer will be unlikely to get many chances, so he will need to make the most of any half-chances that do come his way.

Defining Battle: the wing backs are essential to the way Spurs play, so it is up to the Millwall widemen to force them back. Pegging the wingbacks in the defensive area of the pitch will give Millwall its best hope of getting a result.

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 1-1 (1-2 AET)
Ed007 - 3-1

Monday 13th March 2017

Chelsea v Manchester United FA Cup 6th Round 7:45pm

Being ten points clear at the top of the league means that Chelsea can focus their full attention on this game and put out their strongest side without worrying about injuries. Having beaten Man Utd already this season at Stamford Bridge 4-0, there will be a lot of expectation around the club heading into this match. So far Antonio Conte has managed to exceed all expectations during his first season in charge, this is a free hit for him. Win or lose he has worked wonders this season, so there is no pressure, despite the game being at home.
Most important player: N'Golo Kante. Certain to win player of the season, if there is any justice, as his brilliance from last season has been maintained, even in a team that has more possession of the ball.

Schweinsteiger (doubt - muscular injury)
Wilson (out - ACL knee injury)
Williams (doubt - knee injury)
Pereira (out - ACL knee injury)
Ibrahimovic (out - suspended)

Of all the games played this season, Jose Mourinho will most want to win the two remaining against his former club Chelsea. Not just to prove a point following his sacking, but also because of the 4-0 defeat the Red Devils suffered at the hands of Chelsea early on in the season. Having already lifted the Community Shield and EFL Cup this season, Jose would love to complete the domestic cup treble with the FA Cup. Unlike Chelsea, United have an important game to worry about in midweek, with the second leg of their Europa League Last 16 match finely poised at 1-1 ahead of their home leg, to be played on Thursday.
Most important player: Anthony Martial. With no Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to his 3 match suspension for elbowing Bournemouth's Tyrone Mings, it is time for Martial to step up and deliver on some of the promise he showed last season.

Defining Battle: not sure about defining, but certainly the most entertaining battle will be on the sidelines, just as it was the last time the pair played. Conte v Mourinho is pure drama. Will Jose be complaining about Conte again or will it be Conte's turn to complain about Jose rubbing his nose in the victory?

Editors' Predictions:
Ed002 - 2-1
Ed007 - 1-2

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