Injuries have once again dominated the headlines during the build-up to game week fourteen. Manchester United, Liverpool, City and Newcastle are all struggling with key players sidelined while Arsenal are never far from the media spotlight.
This weekend promises great things as Leicester look to cement their place at the top of the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri must pinch himself every morning but the Italian isn’t getting too caught up in the moment. "He's a joker. Thank you to Arsène but Arsène knows very well the truth." His response to Wengers’ comments that the Foxes are indeed title contenders.
Mourinho has promised “to play every match as if we are fighting for the title.” However, the reality, those aspirations are long gone although he plans to defy the odds for a top four finish.
Louis van Gaal is taking a lot of flak. United currently find themselves occupying second spot, but his particular brand of football isn’t winning him many fans although their concerns seem lost on the Dutchman. "If we weren't creating chances I'd be worried, but we are and we don't give too much away - normally our results are good."
And finally, Newcastle are heading back to basics following their shocking home performance against Leicester. Steve McClaren told a few home truths this week and training has been “feisty, competitive, intense and energetic.” Saturday will tell us just how much this current crop of are prepared for the fight.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Everton
No fresh injury concerns for Bournemouth. Marc Pugh hasn’t trained since picking up an Achilles injury at St Marys’ and Artur Boruc is currently hampered by a niggling groin problem. Lee Tomlin has a late fitness test and Tokelo Rantie will be checked after the South African missed the draw at The Liberty due to personal reasons. Despite losing a two goal lead against Swansea, the Cherries’ will take confidence from their improved performances of late "The last two games have been right up there as our best for a long, long time," claimed Eddie Howe. This coincides with the return of Junior Stanislas and Josh King who offer a more dynamic, cutting edge to the attack. Tommy Elphick has stepped up his rehab and could be back before the turn of the year.
"Baines is physically ready. It is just about getting his confidence back,” said Martinez. But in Brendon Galloway the Toffees have a teenager high on confidence and the 19-year-old should keep his place in the side. Everton will make a late decision on Baines but it’s been over 6-months since he was last involved competitively and a place on the bench beckons. Tom Cleverley and Mo Besic are back and both are pushing for places but “Pienaar, Oviedo and Hibbert have been training at a slower pace. They are recovering well [however] they are not ready for the weekend.” Phil Jagielka could be out until early 2016, otherwise Everton are faring pretty well - Tyias Browning has a chance having been sidelined with a knee problem.
Crystal Palace – vs – Newcastle United
Palace will be hoping to avoid successive home defeats, especially against the managers’ former employers. Bakary Sako will be out for "a few weeks" after pulling up with a hamstring problem against Sunderland but Wilfried Zaha – who was seen clutching his thigh during the dying moments of that game – looks to be fine. Dwight Gayle is "nearly fit" but will miss out, which means Connor Wickham will probably lead the attack again. Palace will manage the returning Marouane Chamakh carefully after six months out. Alan Pardew is expecting an open game against the Magpies having seen his side struggle to breakdown Sunderland. Scott Dann and Wayne Hennessey conspired to gift Jermain Defoe the winner on Monday, but it could be the goalkeeper who pays the price with both Julian Speroni and Alex McCarthy waiting in the wings.
Cheick Tiote [groin] will miss out having limped off against Leicester, but luckily, Jack Colback has been passed fit and the midfielder is in line for a quick return. Karl Darlow played for the under-21s on Monday, however, Rob Elliot has done more than enough to justify his place in the side. Massadio Haidara will undergo knee surgery in France next week and early reports suggest the defender will be sidelined for up-to four months. Steven Taylor’s timeline has slipped and the 29-year-old is not expected to return until 2016. Gabriel Obertan will spend the next 4/5 months recovering from hamstring surgery.
Manchester City – vs – Southampton
“Joe Hart is out with a muscle injury,” and the England goalkeeper will miss around 10-days although “it depends how he improves [over the next week].” Willy Caballero will fill his boots as veteran stopper Richard Wright takes his place amongst the subs. A recurrence of a knee ligament injury keeps Pablo Zabaleta out and Mangala will miss the next two games at least. Captain Vincent Kompany is struggling to overcome a persistent calf issue as an ever-growing injury list threatens to derail the City title charge. Coutinho and Firmino et al battered the home side in GW13 but Pellegrini will welcome David Silva and Wilfried Bony back into the City squad, as well as, Nicolas Otamendi who was rested against Liverpool due to jet lag. Samir Nasri has been ruled out for between 5-6 months having had hamstring surgery.
Jay Rodriguez successfully underwent foot surgery to remedy a nerve problem this week and Ronald Koeman confirms the Saints striker will miss between 6-8 weeks. Graziano Pelle is out after picking up his fifth yellow of the season, so the fit-again Shane Long will play in a more advanced central role. A slight ankle injury restricted Sadio Mane to a place on the bench at home to Stoke but the winger is back up-to speed now. Cedric Soares and Maya Yoshida will compete for the right-back berth.
Sunderland – vs – Stoke City
Sam Allardyce confirmed that Jermain Defoe has "every chance" of playing on Saturday. His ankle injury is not as bad as originally feared and the striker is confident of facing Stoke. Fabio Borini could also be involved. The Black Cats will take confidence from Monday nights’ win at Selhurst Park but The Potters’ have only lost once on the road this season [vs Arsenal] and Mark Hughes’ men will provide a stern test. Billy Jones is the only Sunderland outfield player to have started every Premier League game but the right-back is suspended [five yellows] for this one – Tottenham loanee DeAndre Yedlin is lined up to replace him. Ola Toivonen, Adam Johnson and Duncan Watmore could warm the bench again.
"At the moment defensively we are very sound and that's giving us a platform to build on," said Mark Hughes during Thursdays’ press-conference. Stoke have back-to-back 1-nil wins and boast one of the divisions best defensive records. Jack Butland has been brilliant this term while Stoke are yet to concede since skipper Ryan Shawcross has returned to the side. Marc Muniesa is close but as the manager alluded to last weekend “some players will be disappointed,” and with lots of better placed options the Spaniard may not make the squad. Xherdan Shaqiri is available after he made way last weekend as a precaution [tight hamstring] but Phillip Wollscheid will have a late test. The defender didn’t train on Thursday due to soreness around his hip / pelvis – Geoff Cameron is on standby should the German miss out.
Aston Villa – vs – Watford
Jack Grealish has been told to train with the development side for the foreseeable future after Remi Garde lambasted the midfielder for partying just hours after the defeat to Everton. "It's not expected or professional. He won't be involved this weekend." Jores Okore has been passed fit but whether the Dane can oust Micah Richards or Ciaran Clark remains to be seen. The French coach hinted that Carlos Sanchez will return to the starting line-up having dropped to the bench [jet lag] at Goodison "He's a bit stronger and heavy-weighted compared to the others. When he came on [last weekend], he did great.” Gary Gardner lacks fitness after recovering from an ankle ligament injury and Tiago Ilori still isn’t 100 per cent following a groin problem. Gabby Agbonlahor [calf] will face a late fitness test, but only has an outside chance of making the game after limping off at White Hart Lane in game week eleven.
Sebastian Prodl could miss another three weeks due to the calf injury he picked up on international duty while teammate Valon Behrami is a doubt for the trip to Villa Park. The Swiss midfielder was ruled out of the home tie versus Man United having taken a knock to the knee in training during the build-up to that game. Miguel Britos and Craig Cathcart should continue at the heart of the defence. Joel Ekstrand is closing in on a return having stepped up his rehab "I'm very happy because I have a good feeling about him," said Flores. The 26-year-old is targeting game time in the New Year. Young goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin has dislocated his knee and may not feature again this season.
Leicester City – vs – Manchester United
Not many could’ve predicted at the start of the season that Saturdays’ game week fourteen meeting between the two sides would represent a top-of-the-table clash. However, the Foxes continue to impress and prove the doubters wrong. Leicester are much more than Jamie Vardy, but the record equalling marksman, along with teammate Riyad Mahrez, are huge factors in why his side currently find themselves sitting at the top of the pile. Vardy has overcome an Achilles problem and a broken wrist in recent times and the England international is now managing a hip injury, although his availability for this one has never been in question. The 28-year-old is aiming to become the first Premier League player to score in eleven consecutive games. Jeffrey Schlupp was benched at St James’ Park due to a minor problem but his replacement – Leonardo Ulloa – was excellent during the dismantling of Newcastle and Claudio Ranieri could stick with the same side.
United haven’t been playing very well but like the team of old they continue to grind out results and last weekends’ winner deep into injury time was testament to that. Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini returned for the midweek bore-draw against PSV in the Champions League but none had the desired effect. James Wilson was also part of the squad although the striker has now been shipped to Brighton on-loan. Ander Herrera and Phil Jones – hamstring and ankle respectively – have been ruled out and Jesse Lingard [hamstring] will face a late test. Juan Mata is expected to start at the King Power regardless having played just five minutes on Wednesday. Michael Carrick has failed to recover from an ankle ligament injury.
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Chelsea
Spurs look to have come through a tricky encounter with Qarabag on Thursday [Europa League] relatively unscathed but Pochettino did name a strong side for the trip to Azerbaijan. Surprisingly Harry Kane played 90-minutes, despite talk that the striker would be rested. However, it was his goal [nine in eight games] which was enough to take all three points. Mousa Dembele, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose did not travel but will be added to the squad on Sunday. Nabil Bentaleb, Nacer Chadli and Alex Pritchard were all absent because of ankle injuries and could miss out again. A groin issue threatens the involvement of Erik Lamela although the Argentine will be given every chance. Suspension rules Dele Alli out and Ryan Mason could benefit as Tottenham look to maintain their twelve game unbeaten run in the league.
John Terry has “little hope,” of making Sundays’ game. The skipper failed to train on Friday after rolling his ankle midweek against Maccabi. Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma will be paired in the heart of defence. Ramires "is in the same situation,” as Terry. A problematic pitch in Tel Aviv was to blame for a muscular injury “let's wait and see," said Mourinho. Thibaut Courtois is progressing well and hopefully the goalkeeper will be back within the first 15-days of December. Radamel Falcao is still not ready and Loic Remy has recovered following a heavy collision with the Maccabi goalkeeper.
West Ham United – vs – West Brom Albion
Pedro Obiang is back in training and "looks good." The Spanish midfielder is in contention to replace the suspended Mark Noble along with Alex Song made his first competitive appearance against Spurs in a ten minute cameo last weekend. A knee injury keeps Darren Randolph sidelined. Reece Oxford had a nasty fall during a development game on Monday, but the youngster should train ahead of Sundays’ match. Victor Moses continues to struggle in terms of fitness. Only three of the wingers’ 8-starts have lasted more than 63-minutes and the Chelsea loanee has suffered a dip in form. Doneil Henry has joined Blackburn Rovers on-loan until January.
"We have picked up a few injuries following the Arsenal game. Hopefully those players will be fine for West Ham," confirmed Tony Pulis. James Morrison [ankle] is one of those while Rondon will also be assessed. Suspension rules Chris Brunt out but Gareth McAuley returns following his sending off at Old Trafford. The Irishman could start leaving Jonas Olsson and James Chester to battle it out for a place at left-back.
Norwich City – vs – Arsenal
A thigh injury will keep Alex Tettey out for the second successive game but Russell Martin is available having missed the defeat at Stamford Bridge due to personal reasons. Nathan Redmond returned to Canaries’ ranks at the expense of Wes Hoolahan last weekend while Mbokani was preferred to Cameron Jerome. Kyle Lafferty has been passed fit after he was taken off as a precaution midweek [groin] but Matt Jarvis isn’t ready just yet. Just one win in eight has seen Norwich drop to sixteenth but Alex Neil would happily take a point right now.
"Everyone who played on Tuesday is available," revealed Arsene Wenger while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain "could” make the squad. The manager alluded to a hamstring problem for Alexis Sanchez but I’m told his discomfort is minor and he has trained as normal. Similarly, with Joel Campbell. Theo Walcott is maybe 7-14 days away. The 26-year-old has another "few steps" to go through before he is ready. Mikel Arteta is out for a few weeks, and more importantly, Francis Coquelin won’t feature again until 2016 because of a knee ligament strain. Olivier Giroud [ankle] was a precautionary withdrawal against Dinamo Zagreb, likewise, Hector Bellerin who has just recovered from a minor groin issue. Wenger is taking no risks with important games and a busy fixture period coming up. Tuesday marked the return of Aaron Ramsey who played for the first time in over a month.
Liverpool – vs – Swansea City
Daniel Sturridge missed Thursday nights’ Europa League tie against Bordeaux after the striker was sent for a scan having complained of discomfort in his foot. However, Jürgen Klopp confirmed. "The injury is not that serious. It's completely normal after a long injury. You have to learn what is serious pain and what is only pain." His involvement on Sunday remains uncertain. Jordan Henderson and Jordan Rossiter trained on Friday but it’s hard to see either making the game given the amount of time they’ve missed recently. Phillippe Coutinho is another who will face a late test after he was taken off at The Etihad because of muscular tightness. The German coach is unsure whether Christian Benteke can play twice in three days and Mamadou Sakho is ahead of schedule "I think it will be between 4-6 weeks." Lucas Leiva is suspended and Klopp has hinted that Joe Allen is in line to start. “We took him off after 60 minutes with Sunday in mind.”
No old boys’ reunion for Jonjo Shelvey who picked up his fifth yellow of the season against AFC Bournemouth. That will be a blow for Swansea who have struggled after a decent start to their campaign. There were four changes last time out as Garry Monk shook things up - a move which looked to have back fired early on – but the home side fought back for a share of the spoils. Sigurdsson, Gomis and Montero were three of those who made way and it remains to be seen whether the manager will keep faith in their replacements – Routledge, Eder and Britton.