We’ve reached the winter doldrums and for the second straight season we have a settled champion. Fortunately the top 4 and relegation races should go the distance. Here’s Ben Dinnery’s Predicted Lineups as you drink your morning coffee.
West Bromwich Albion – vs – Arsenal
The Baggies (4-5-1)
Predicted XI: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Nyom, Evans; Livermore, Fletcher, McClean, Brunt, Chadli; Rondon.
• Since hitting the 40-point mark to secure their place in the PL next season, the Baggies have lost consecutive games. However, Tony Pulis insists he doesn’t want his side to drop off and suggests the absence of Phillips is partly to blame: “You need good balance to win games,” he said. “Without Matt in the team that’s what we’ve missed.”
• James Morrison is a major doubt: “He hurt his ankle this week so we aren’t sure if he will be available.” Claudio Yacob looks set to keep place after replacing the Scottish midfielder at Goodison Park as Pulis freshened his weary side.
• Jake Livermore will be involved for England during the break: “I hope he can push on now. He’s got all the tools to be a very good player. Jake’s call-up is good for everyone. The lad, his family, the players and the club.”
The Gunners (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Cech; Mustafi, Monreal, Koscielny, Bellerin; Xhaka, Coquelin; Iwobi, Sanchez, Ozil; Giroud.
• The availability of Kieran Gibbs is “uncertain” but Wenger is likely to name Monreal at left-back regardless.
• Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a fitness test after picking up a hamstring problem in the FA Cup, but Gareth Southgate has included the 23-year-old in the latest England squad suggesting the injury is not too serious. Theo Walcott, Luca Perez, Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez could come into the side which lost last time out in the Premier League.
• Mo Elneny [ankle], David Ospina [groin] and Danny Welbeck [illness] have returned to full training although a place on the bench is most likely for the trio. Wenger was coy on whether Alexis Sanchez will be in the starting line-up to face West Brom: “I haven’t picked the team yet but he has a chance yes.”
Crystal Palace – vs – Watford
The Eagles (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Hennessey; Tomkins, Sakho, Schlupp, Ward; Milivojevic, Cabaye; Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend; Benteke.
• Patrick van Aanholt is the only new injury from last time out and Sam Allardyce must decide on who will start at left-back. Jeffrey Schlupp looks to be favourite but Scott Dann and Damien Delaney are waiting patiently although it would mean a reshuffle.
• Three wins from five have been built on a solid defensive unit and the Eagles boss was full of praise for his new additions: “Luka [Milivojevic] as a sitting midfield player and Mama [Sakho] have given us more resilience. Those areas have been improved.”
• Allardyce is “disappointed” Andros Townsend was not picked for England: “I think he’s played the best he’s played since he’s been at Palace.”
The Hornets (3-4-2-1)
Predicted XI: Gomes; Prodl, Kaboul, Britos; Holebas, Janmaat, Behrami, Cleverley; Capoue, Niang; Deeney.
• Etienne Capoue faces a late test: “He has had a fever for two days and hasn’t been training so we will check tomorrow,” said Mazzarri. Isaac Success could come into the side.
• Daryl Janmaat [groin strain] is fit-again and the wing-back has a chance if Watford switch to three at the back.
• Nordin Amrabat will make the bench after missing the last two months due to an ankle ligament injury. “Only Christian Kabasele, Ben Watson, Roberto Pereyra and Mauro Zarate are not training so if nothing else happens, we should have the rest available.”
Everton – vs – Hull City
The Toffees (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Robles; Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman; Gueye, Schneiderlin; Davies, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.
• Leighton Baines was taken off as a precaution last week but Ronald Koeman confirms the full-back has trained.
• Phil Jagielka was handed his first Premier League start of the year last weekend, and following a clean sheet, the centre-back is expected to retain his place ahead of Funes Mori.
• No James McCarthy [hamstring] despite his call-up to the Republic of Ireland squad. Koeman is not overly concerned about Romelu Lukaku’s contract situation as he has two years to run: “No need to take him out of the team.”
The Tigers (4-5-1)
Predicted XI: Jakupovic; Maguire, Ranocchia, Robertson, Elabdellaoui; N’Diaye, Clucas, Huddlestone, Grosicki, Markovic; Hernandez.
• Brazilian Evandro [calf] is missing once again but after the 2-1 win over Swansea, Marco Silva won’t be too concerned.
• Last weekends’ goal scoring hero – Oumar Niasse – won’t feature against his parent club which is likely to mean Abel Hernandez starts with Mbokani still sidelined.
• Markus Henriksen comes into contention, however, after missing over two months he does lack match fitness. The Tigers could be unchanged for this one even though Curtis Davies will be in the match day squad.
Stoke City – vs – Chelsea
The Potters (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Grant; Pieters, Bardsley, Shawcross, Martins Indi; Allen, Cameron; Walters, Sobhi, Arnautovic; Crouch.
• It seems like an age since Stoke went to the Etihad and left with an unexpected 0-0 draw. The Potters made a host of changes on the night which leaves Mark Hughes with a selection headache.
• I’d expect Stoke to revert to a more familiar looking 4-2-3-1 with Marko Arnautovic back after recovering from illness. Even though Xherdan Shaqiri is available, a place on the bench beckons having missed the best part of two months.
• Phil Bardsley will continue at right-back with Glen Johnson sidelined due to a shoulder complaint. My one dilemma – Peter Crouch or Saido Berahino to lead the line. Tough call.
The Blues (3-4-3)
Predicted XI: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz; Fabregas, Moses, Kante, Alonso; Costa, Hazard, Pedro.
• Conte confirms Victor Moses [calf] trained well on Friday: “I think he’s available” but the Blues boss needs to check a couple of doubts before deciding on the team to face Stoke.
• Eden Hazard could be one of those after the Belgium star was on the receiving end of some United roughhouse tactics.
• Cesc Fabregas and Pedro dropped out of the FA Cup side for Nemanja Matic and Willian respectively, but I’m expecting both to make to the starting XI.
Sunderland – vs – Burnley
The Black Cats (3-5-1-1)
Predicted XI: Mannone; Kone, O’Shea, Denayer; Oviedo, Ndong, Gibson, Larsson, Jones; Borini; Defoe.
• Sunderland can’t afford any slip-ups against the league’s worst travellers, anything less than three-points, will potentially end their hopes of staying up.
• David Moyes was hoping to use the break to get one/two players back, but the Black Cats boss admitted the news is not good. Jan Kirchhoff will miss at least six weeks after he suffered a recurrence of his recent knee injury. Hopefully, Darron Gibson can recover in time otherwise the Sunderland may look to Jack Rodwell.
• Anichebe is working with a specialist in America and he should be back shortly. Steven Pienaar [calf] faces a late fitness test and Jason Denayer returns to the squad after missing the match against City [his parent club].
The Clarets (4-4-2)
Predicted XI: Heaton; Ward, Lowton, Mee, Keane; Barton, Brady, Hendrick, Boyd; Barnes, Gray.
• Sean Dyche will make a late decision on Steven Defour [hamstring]. The midfielder is rated as ‘touch and go’ due to concerns over his fitness.
• Johann Gudmundsson met with a knee specialist this week as his recovery from a medial ligament strain is taking a lot longer than originally hoped.
• Burnley gave a good account of themselves last weekend and were unlucky to leave Anfield with nothing. A first away win of the season still eludes them, but having already played at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup, they will fancy their chances of taking all three-points.
• Michael Keane and Tom Heaton will be brimming with confident after the pair were named in the latest England squad.
West Ham United – vs – Leicester City
The Hammers (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Randolph; Fonte, Reid, Byram, Cresswell; Obiang, Kouyate; Feghouli, Antonio, Lanzini; Carroll.
• Slaven Bilic was not happy with the performance at the Vitality and will be looking for his side to bounce back. Mark Noble is out which could see Kouyate return to the midfield with Sam Byram dropping into the back four.
• Although Antonio suffered a painful looking shoulder injury at Bournemouth, the England international will be okay, similarly, Robert Snodgrass who suffered an ankle sprain on the south coast. However, that combined with his knee injury from Chelsea may be enough to ensure he starts on the bench for the second consecutive game.
The Foxes (4-4-2)
Predicted XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Albrighton, Ndidi, Drinkwater, Mahrez; Okazaki, Vardy.
• This management lark is easy – just ask Craig Shakespeare who has managed three wins from his first three games. The Foxes have been unchanged since he took over and I don’t see much happening here with no fresh injury concerns.
• Danny Drinkwater won’t be joining up with the England squad due to a persistent groin issue. It won’t keep him out this weekend but it needs to be managed between games.
• Nampalys Mendy [knee] is rated as ’50-50′ in terms of availability: “We’ll assess him again tomorrow and make a decision after that.” Molla Wague has been ruled out for the season after dislocating his shoulder in the FA Cup.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Swansea City
The Cherries (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Boruc; Francis, Daniels, Adam Smith, Cook; Arter, Gosling; Fraser, Pugh, King; Afobe.
• Bournemouth followed up the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford with their first win of 2017 to halt the slide and Saturday presents another big game against a side scrapping to stay in the Premier League.
• Eddie Howe will make late checks on the fitness of Harry Arter and Junior Stanislas. Arter suffered a slight calf injury [GW28], but could be replaced by the returning Andrew Surman if he misses out, while Stanislas is making progress after a groin problem.
• With no other concerns, Bournemouth aren’t likely to tinker too much which probably means Jack Wilshere will remain on the bench. Howe singled out Afobe for praise following his contribution last week “he played a key role in being forceful in the final third” while Josh King deservedly took all the plaudits for his first Premier League hat-trick.
The Swans (4-3-3)
Predicted XI: Fabianski; Naughton, Kingsley, Fernandez, Mawson; Fer, Carroll, Cork; Narsingh, Sigurdsson, Llorente.
• Stephen Kingsley will start at left-back after Martin Olsson failed to recover from an ankle injury while on the opposite flank Kyle Naughton returns in place of Angel Rangel whose season is over.
• Fernando Llorente [dead leg] is passed fit. Jefferson Montero hopes to boost Swansea’s attacking options following his return for the Under-23s on Monday night. The Ecuadorian winger has been out since late December. Ki Sung-Yeung is also available.
• Luciano Narsingh and Jordan Ayew are waiting patiently in the wings if Paul Clement decides to drop Wayne Routledge.
Middlesbrough – vs – Manchester United
The Boro (4-3-3)
Predicted XI: Valdes; Fabio, Gibson, Espinosa, Barragan; Clayton, De Roon, Forshaw; Ramirez, Negredo, Downing.
• A new manager with new ideas tasked with keeping Boro in the top flight.
• Defensively, Steve Agnew has a few concerns. George Friend [calf] and Daniel Ayala [hamstring] will “probably” miss out with Calum Chambers expected to be sidelined until April due to a stress fracture of the foot. Fortunately, Bernardo Espinosa [ankle] did train on Friday morning.
• Those players who are available “have trained well and we look forward to the weekend.” Rudy Gestede impressed for half-an-hour in the FA Cup before a hamstring problem forced him off – Alvaro Negredo is poised for a return if he misses out.
The Red Devils (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: De Gea; Valencia, Rojo, Bailly, Smalling; Fellaini, Carrick; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Lingard; Rashford.
• A heavy fixture schedule is beginning to take its toll according to Jose Mourinho who will be without Paul Pogba because of a hamstring strain: “We will probably lose the game on Sunday. Fatigue has a price,” he said after edging past Rostov in the Europa League on Thursday night.
• Daley Blind faces a late test after taking a whack to the head but Gareth Southgate said Wayne Rooney [knee] “could” be fit.
• Marcus Rashford should be tasked with leading the United attack with Zlatan Ibrahimović suspended. Marouane Fellaini is a replacement for Ander Herrera who is also serving a domestic ban.
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Southampton
Predicted XI: Lloris; Alderweireld, Dier, Vertonghen; Dembele, Wanyama, Walker, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Son.
• Spurs will be hoping Kyle Walker can recover from a [minor] ankle injury otherwise Kieran Trippier will come in on the right. Ben Davies continues to deputise for Danny Rose.
• Victor Wanyama [neck] is a slight concern but the returning Mousa Dembele is available. Harry Winks impressed in the 6-0 win over Millwall and the 21-year-old is worth some serious consideration.
• Heung-Min Son and Vincent Janssen will be looking to prove their worth with Harry Kane rule out for up-to six weeks. On the back of his hat-trick in the Cup, then the former must surely get the nod at White Hart Lane.
The Saints (4-2-3-1)
Predicted XI: Forster; Bertrand, Yoshida, Stephens, Soares; Romeu, Davis; Ward-Prowse, Redmond; Tadic; Gabbiadini.
• No fresh injury concerns so expect a similar set-up to the side which took all three-points from Vicarage Road two weeks ago.
• Martin Caceres is pressuring Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens for a start following his two appearances for the development side.
• In-form striker Manolo Gabbiadini has scored in each of his four appearances since arriving from Napoli and is becoming hard to ignore across all formats.
Manchester City – vs – Liverpool
The Citizens (4-5-1)
Predicted XI: Caballero; Sagna, Kolarov, Otamendi, Stones; Silva, De Bruyne, Toure, Sterling, Sane; Aguero.
• City will be looking to bounce back after their disappointing UCL exit in Monaco on Wednesday.
• Domestically, Pep’s men have been performing well of late, and I expect a strong line-up against Liverpool who just one point behind them in fourth place.
• Guardiola remains cautious over Vincent Kompany: “I left him out [against Monaco] because he’s been injured for a while and it would be a risk to put him in if he might get injured again. That’s why I would like a little bit more time with him to be sure… But we’re so happy with his progress.”
The Reds (4-3-3)
Predicted XI: Mignolet; Milner, Clyne, Matip, Lovren; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Firmino, Coutinho, Mane.
• Jürgen Klopp will make a late call on a few players. Divock Origi [illness] missed training on Thursday while Firmino is hoping to take part in a full session on either Friday or Saturday. The two are likely to battle it out for a place in the front three.
• Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge have “no chance” for Sunday but the former is said to be targeting a return in the Merseyside derby [GW30]. Emre Can is now injury-free and Liverpool are reaping the rewards – or is it because the German is currently negotiating a new contract?
• Dejan Lovren played for the Under-23s on Monday evening and Klopp must decide whether to keep Ragnar Klavan or pair the Croatian with Joel Matip.
• Philippe Coutinho has been poor since his return from injury but the Brazilian is showing signs of improvement: “In training he has been perfect and looks confident.”