Following the international break, four EPL teams in Champions League, and two each in Carabao Cup and Europa League already began the brutal festive fixture period in Week 13. For the remaining dozen sides, Friday signals an early start to Week 14, which kicks off the crazy crunch. Pause, take a breath, and take in the latest news and rumors, naturally subject to further review ahead of the FRIDAY deadline.
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Neil Warnock praised the Bluebirds’ defensive performances of late, and while he mentioned Danny Ward’s return to fitness following injury, the skipper seems settled on having Callum Paterson as his one-man strike force up front. Rumblings surround a possible reinstatement of attacking midfielder Josh Murphy to the XI, with Joe Ralls or Harry Arter perhaps making way. Jazz Richards is available for selection, but may have to settle for a spot on the bench. The medical staff is taking a more cautious approach with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, keeping him on the shelf despite good reports in training.
Defender Jonny remains out with injury for the visitors, so Ruben Vinagre should continue to deputize. Nuno Espirito Santo is keeping things close to the vest, but after the team’s recent limp run of form, the manager will be tempted to insert Diogo Jota back in the XI, which would likely relegate Ivan Cavaleiro back to a super sub role.
Other than chatter regarding Max Meyer’s difficulty in the No. 10 role, there has been no news yet from Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace, so stay tuned... or just go ahead and pretty much expect the same line-up as last week.
For the traveling Clarets, Sean Dyche announced that James Tarkowski has recovered from injury, so the skipper is expected to select him at the expense of Kevin Long. Following illness, Johann Berg Gudmundsson should also return to the XI, with Robbie Brady likely to return to the bench.
David Wagner’s presser revealed that defender Chris Lowe is out with injury, while defender Terence Kongolo and forward Laurent Depoitre are doubtful. In better news, defender “Zanka” Jorgensen is available following suspension and is expected to be back in the XI.
The visitors have no concerns aside from the suspended Dale Stephens and injured Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Pascal Gross would love to get a second straight start, but Chris Hughton may entertain the alternative of Solly March.
In Leicester’s Tuesday Carabao Cup win over Southampton, Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho, Demarai Gray and Wilfred Ndidi were among the starters, while Marc Albrighton, Nampalys Mendy and Shinji Okazaki featured from the bench. There was concern that Vardy would not be able to start twice in a row following injury recovery, but Claude Puel put those doubts to bed, citing the four-day rest between games. Otherwise, defender Harry Maguire will continue to miss out with injury, and Rachid Ghezzal and Vicente Iborra seem set to face game-time fitness tests. James Maddison served his suspension by missing the Cup tie, so he is again eligible.
Watford’s Jose Holebas is available following injury, and more likely than not will recover his spot in defense from Adam Masina. Meanwhile, Javi Gracia sounds more cautious with Daryl Janmaat and Tom Cleverly, and they will probably be eased into action from the bench.
With Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva all out injured, Pep Guardiola turned to David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Sergio Aguero in attack for Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Lyon in Champions League, while Oleksandr Zinchenko started at wing back instead of Fabian Delph. Now Delph will be expected to start for the second straight EPL game, again filling in for Benjamin Mendy who remains out with long-term injury. Aguero is likely to lead the line at home as usual, though Jesus could possibly pair with him if he passes fit and Guardiola chooses to rest Sterling. While KDB remains out, Bernardo Silva and Gundogan are hopeful to be available, which would give Pep the option to rest one or two among Mahrez, Sane and/or David Silva.
Defensive midfielder Jefferson Lerma is out due to a one-game suspension, and Adam Smith continues to miss out with long-term injury, but otherwise Eddie Howe has a full squad to choose from. Lewis Cook is the most likely player to come in for Lerma, as Howe would seem unlikely to opt for a more offensive-minded direction such as Junior Stanislas against the explosive Citizens at the Etihad.
Central defender Jamaal Lascelles is available for the weekend, but it is unknown whether he will be pressed straight into action or left on the bench so the Federico Fernandez/Fabian Schar partnership can continue. On the offensive end, Jonjo Shelvey and Yoshinoro Muti have also returned to training following injury; of the two, Shelvey would seem more likely to crack the XI, with Ki Sung-Yeung’s spot at risk. Amazingly, the Magpies have won three straight games and are unbeaten in four, so Rafa Benitez may be reluctant to change what’s been working.
Not much has been good for the Hammers, so Manuel Pellegrini may be tempted to tinker. Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell offer intriguing options if changes are in order, while Robert Snodgrass returns following suspension. Jack Wilshere has recovered from injury, but seems unlikely to start straightaway.
In the Saints’ Tuesday Carabao Cup loss to Leicester, Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong started, while Manolo Gabbiadini featured from the bench and Charlie Austin was rested entirely. Danny Ings will miss out again through injury, while fellow forward Shane Long is doubtful. Wing-back Ryan Bertrand faces the dreaded game time decision, with Yan Valery available to step in.
Manchester United won 1-0 over Young Boys in Tuesday’s Champions League tilt, with Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba serving as the three big-name substitute entries who would love to make the XI this weekend. It would certainly be no surprise to see Pogba displace Fred, while the heroics of Marouane Fellaini may see him keep his spot in attack. With Victor Lindelof out injured and Eric Bailly in Jose Mourinho’s dog house, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones partnered in central defense, flanked by Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw. That quartet is likely to continue, though Ashley Young presents an alternative at wing-back.
Olivier Giroud, Pedro, Ross Barkley, and Gary Cahill were among the starters in Chelsea’s Thursday Europa League home win over PAOK Salonika, making it likely that Alvaro Morata, Willian, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz will keep their spots in the XI welcome Fulham. Eden Hazard was injured late last weekend but is expected to be fine to start.
After Claudio Ranieri emerged victorious in his first game in charge of the Cottagers, it would be a surprise to see any changes. Of course, this game is “away” (about one kilometer less west in London) at Stamford Bridge rather than home against Southampton, so a more defensive-minded shape could emerge.
The Gunners were able to win 3-0 at Vorskla in Europa League on Thursday while resting their usual starters, so Unai Emery will be expected to keep a very similar team to the one that beat Bournemouth last weekend. Alexandre Lacazette, who missed that game through injury, has recovered and passed fit for selection.
Tottenham bested Inter Milan 1-0 on Wednesday with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, and Lucas Moura starting as the offensive quartet, while Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min got a fair share of rest, entering as impact subs. Jan Vertonghen returned from injury, displacing Juan Foyth, while Serge Aurier filled in for injured Kieran Trippier. In defensive midfield, Harry Winks started while Eric Dier made a substitute appearance after recovering from injury. Trippier hopes to pass fit and replace Serge Aurier in the XI at the Emirates.
Liverpool lost 2-1 Wednesday in Champions League at Paris Saint-Germain despite a very strong XI from Jurgen Klopp. Daniel Sturridge, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Naby Keita were the three who entered as subs; of those, Keita and/or Shaqiri will be the most likely to crack the XI, with the former displacing Jordan Henderson who will miss out via suspension, while the latter could come in for James Milner if Klopp decides to rest the wiley veteran. Wing back Trent Alexander-Arnold was given a breather and should push Joe Gomez back to the bench.
Things seem to be settling nicely for Marco Silva at Everton, as injuries have for the most part abated and left a nearly full squad available. With the Toffees in good form, changes will not be expected, although you never know given that it’s a Merseyside derby at Anfield.
What last-minute (Friday!) line-up decisions are you pondering? Along with your thoughts and questions, please be sure to share any late-breaking news in the comments!