With two days left to go in what has been a relatively quiet January transfer window, the EPL has scheduled a slate of mid-week fixtures for us to enjoy while we take in the last-minute trade news. Here’s what’s in store:
Swansea have lost only one of the seven games they’ve played under Carlos Carvalhal, taking seven points from their last four league matches. Although they still occupy the EPL’s basement, they pulled off a shock victory over Liverpool in their last league game to close within just three points of escape. The Portuguese gaffer will be looking to mastermind another upset today.
Arsenal have rebounded nicely after their nightmare loss to Bournemouth. They crushed Crystal Palace in their last league game and beat Chelsea last week in the Carabao Cup. Perhaps closing the book on the Alexis Sanchez transfer saga has settled the side (or perhaps Wenger found new ways to motivate them). Today we’re likely to get a glimpse at how the counterweight in the Sanchez trade will impact the team: Henrikh Mkhitaryan is expected to make his debut as a Gunner.
West Ham’s squad sheet has been decimated by injuries, with Pedro Obiang’s knee injury in the FA Cup match with Wigan adding him to a list that includes 10 first team players. Additionally, Arthur Masuaku is suspended (six weeks!) after spitting in the face of an opponent during that game, and Daifra Sakho has left for Ligue 1 side Rennes.
Crystal Palace also have a long list of injuries, with Yohan Cabaye the latest to be sidelined. But a win today could see Palace crack into the top half of the table. Let’s be honest: In October, would any of us have bet money that January would see the Eagles within one game of the top half? Not me, that’s for sure.
Huddersfield are winless in their last six league outings, and scoreless in three of their last four. They sit just 2 points clear of the drop and desperately need a result today.
Liverpool had an 18-game unbeaten streak snapped by a league defeat to table-bottom Swansea before crashing out of the FA Cup with a loss to 2nd-bottom West Brom. Will today make for a hat trick of upset losses? I think not.
Chelsea recovered from their Carabao Cup defeat against Arsenal by winning their FA Cup match versus Newcastle. Alvaro Morata has struggled for form and has been ruled out again this week with a back injury. That means Michy Batshuayi should be set to deputize again. With Chelsea needing to finish the season strong to fend off challengers for those precious Champions League spots, Morata had better return to form and fitness soon, as it is clear that the Blues are searching the transfer market for someone to compete with him.
Bournemouth followed up their triumphant victory over Arsenal with an FA Cup loss to Wigan and a draw with West Ham in the league. Although they sit in 12th, they are only three points above safety, so will want a win to stay ahead of the relegation scrum just below them. Three points will be a tall order this week at Stamford Bridge.
Absent for the last 11 months, what an incredible coincidence it is that Seamus Coleman will rejoin the squad just one game after Everton lost James McCarthy to the same horrific tib-fib fracture that Coleman has recovered from. Coleman was a key player for the Toffees prior to his injury, and they will be eager for him to get back to his best, as Everton haven’t won a match in any competition since before Christmas.
Thus far in 2018, Leicester are undefeated without conceding a single league goal. Everton need a result, and the home crowd will expect them to go for one. This will probably play right into Leicester’s hands, as the Foxes will be ready to catch an over-extended Everton on the counter. Jamie Vardy has scored three goals in his last three appearances against the Toffees and should be poised to prosper again this time, but Riyad Mahrez has reportedly handed in a transfer request and could therefore be left off the squad sheet.
Newcastle dangle just a single point above the drop zone and will need to go for a result at home this week.
Burnley are winless in their last seven league games, yet somehow they still remain firmly in the top ten. Like their opponents this week, they also desperately need points and will view the visit to the 15th-place Magpies as a prime opportunity to arrest their slide.
Southampton have won only one of their last twelve league games, but a win this week would leapfrog them over Brighton and out of the relegation zone. Perhaps their FA Cup victory over Watford this past weekend will provide the necessary momentum.
Brighton rest precariously in 16th place, just a point above 18th-place Southampton and three points above rock-bottom Swansea. They are winless in the league since before Christmas, but like Southampton, they posted a 1-0 win over the weekend to advance to the fifth round of the FA Cup.
City punched their ticket to the fifth round of the FA Cup, but the victory over Cardiff came at a cost: Leroy Sane failed to take the pitch for the second half after suffering an ankle injury from a high tackle by Cardiff defender Joe Bennett (who was later sent off for another bad tackle). Sane will be out for a number of weeks. But City are 16-2-0 at home this season, so will be heavily favored to dominate the 19th-place Baggies.
However, West Brom stunned Liverpool at Anfield in Saturday’s FA Cup match, so Pep Guardiola must be careful not to look beyond this match. After ‘Pool’s cup loss, Red Daniel Sturridge switched shirts to join the Baggies on loan for the remainder of the season. He should provide some much-needed horsepower to West Brom’s attack.
Paul Lambert added fuel to the new-coach-bounce theory by leading Stoke to a win in his first match in charge. He and the home fans will be dreaming of a follow-through against mid-table Watford, and a few Fantrax managers wouldn’t mind seeing bargain defender Moritz Bauer keep a clean sheet or add to the Potters’ attack.
Watford sit in 10th, but have lost 8 of their last 11 league games, and were dumped out of the FA Cup on Saturday by Southampton. There are so many teams separated by so few points that Javi Gracia will view his first EPL match in charge of the Hornets as a chance to gain a step on the teams around them. Look for the visitors to lure a desperate home team forward and then counter-attack to expose and punish defensive lapses. New-boy Gerard Deulofeu may make his Watford debut.
Two points behind 4th-place Liverpool, Tottenham chase Champions League qualification and will not want to drop points, especially at home. Manchester United are in-form, but Spurs have brought down big teams at Wembley before (Real Madrid, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund).
Alexis Sanchez will make his league United debut after his MOTM FA Cup performance against Yeovil Town. United must win to maintain any hope of catching City this year, so it will be interesting to see how Jose Mourinho approaches this away-game against strong competition: Will Jose restrain Sanchez and follow his own naturally conservative instincts, or will he set Sanchez free to follow the player’s naturally aggressive instincts?
So which match(es) will you be watching? Which players are on your watch list? Let us know in the comments, and add your barn-door musings too. Let’s chat...