The festive programme is in full flow and the games are coming thick and fast. We’re at the midway point of the season and this weekend throws up another intriguing set of fixtures.
Expect Messrs Klopp, Guardiola and Howe et al to keep fantasy managers on their toes with a raft of changes – from the unfathomable to the frustrating – and at the risk sounding like a broken record. Keep that bench deep.
Brighton and Hove Albion – vs – Everton
Chris Hughton confirms there are “no additional injury concerns” ahead of tomorrow’s game. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and goalkeeper Mat Ryan are on Asian Cup duty while José Izquierdo (knee) is ruled out. "I'll make the decision as to who replaces Maty this weekend," although David Button is favourite to take the No.1 jersey. Lewis Dunk returns after his ban.
Ademola Lookman (ankle) is training away from the main group and will not be considered for Saturday, but James McCarthy can be called upon if required having been sidelined since January. André Gomes is fit after shaking off a minor knock and Idrissa Gueye will be pushing for a start after overcoming a groin problem. Richarlison is likely to return at the expense Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Marco Silva may consider other changes as he looks to freshen his side.
Fulham – vs – Huddersfield Town
No new injury concerns for the Lilywhites. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is the only player ruled out through injury. "The rest are all available,” as Claudio Ranieri aims to secure three valuable points against their relegation rivals.
The Terriers had one more training session to go when David Wagner spoke on Friday…. “but we have no new injury concerns after the game at Old Trafford as I sit here now.” Aaron Mooy, Danny Williams, Tommy Smith and Abdelhamid Sabiri are all sidelined until late January (at the earliest) while Rajiv Van la Parra is on the verge of signing for Championship side Middlesbrough.
Leicester City – vs – Cardiff City
Nothing new to report from the Leicester City camp. Back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Manchester City have eased the pressure on Claude Puel and make the Foxes best of the rest at the midway point. They could be unchanged here, but the players will be checked for signs of fatigue given the proximity between matches.
Neil Warnock says Kenneth Zohore is "gutted" following his latest injury setback. "He’s done so well and worked so hard to get back the sharpness, and when he came on, I thought he looked sharp, and then he pulls a thigh muscle. It’s such a shame because he is such an explosive player." Neil Etheridge will not be going to the Asian Cup. "He wanted to stay and help us. He didn’t want to lose his place really. [Alex] Smithies is gutted! He bought him his ticket, I think, and [Brian] Murphy. We have three good keepers. We’re doing well in that department." Top scorer Callum Paterson (knee) faces a late fitness test.
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Serge Aurier (groin) is training normally, but after missing the last three weeks, he may have to settle for a place on the bench with Kieran Trippier primed for a recall despite the heroics of Kyle Walker-Peters. Dele Alli should be close after suffering a hamstring related injury at Goodison Park before Christmas. Erik Lamela is not 100 per cent which means a role from the bench is possible. Victor Wanyama (knee), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Eric Dier (appendicitis) and Jan Vertonghen (thigh) continue to receive treatment and will not be available until the new year.
Saturday comes too soon for Diogo Jota who is working his way back from a hamstring strain. The Portuguese forward has not travelled to London. “He's not an option," confirmed Nuno Espírito Santo. No other fitness worries – Leander Dendoncker has recovered from illness.
Watford – vs – Newcastle United
Will Hughes (hip) will come into Javi Gracia's thinking, but despite overcoming a foot injury, Adalberto Peñaranda "needs more time" to build fitness. Centre-back Christian Kabasele will miss the game against Newcastle following a heavy collision with the goal post on Boxing Day. He is "not training with the team" but the problem is not thought to be long-term. "After the game he didn't feel very well. He is feeling some pain, but he will be ready soon. I can't tell you when as he has some pain in the shoulder, arm and back.” With Sebastian Prodl (knee) also injured, Adrian Mariappa looks nailed-on to come in. Gracia could look to Ben Wilmot or Miguel Britos to provide cover from the bench.
Rafa Benitez confirms Jonjo Shelvey is available after recovering from a thigh strain. Ciaran Clark (ankle) and Karl Darlow (elbow) remain out while Ki Sung-Yeung has joined up with his international teammates ahead of the Asian Cup. Florian Lejeune is edging closer to a return to first-team action.
Liverpool – vs – Arsenal
James Milner (hamstring) is ruled out of tomorrow’s game but Jurgen Klopp is hopeful of a comeback versus Manchester City (GW21). “He had, yes, a little bit with the muscle. He will not be available, that’s not possible, but hopefully the game after that he will be available again.” Moreno (back) will “probably” be in contention after training pain-free on Thursday. Dominic Solanke has a muscle problem and Joel Matip is progressing but is still a while away. Joe Gomez should return next month. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made excellent strides recently and is way ahead of schedule. "If he makes further steps like he did in the last few weeks then he can play Premier League football this season.”
Unai Emery hinted that he could make changes at Anfield. “We are playing a lot of matches in [the space of] a few days, and we need each day to test how the players are.” Shkodran Mustafi is close to re-joining the group and Nacho Monreal will have a late fitness test. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been ruled out for around six weeks after tests revealed a metatarsal fracture. Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin) has returned to training but Rob Holding (ACL) and Danny Welbeck (ankle) will play no further part this season.
Crystal Palace – vs – Chelsea
No new injuries for Palace who made one change on Boxing Day following a 3-2 win at Manchester City. Christian Benteke is progressing following a setback in his recovery from knee surgery. The striker is likely to return after the FA Cup third-round tie against Grimsby Town. "He's the only one still unavailable, the rest [Wayne Hennessey and Martin Kelly] have recovered."
A hamstring injury is expected to keep Pedro out for around 10 days. Callum Hudson-Odoi suffered a similar problem at Vicarage Road – only not as serious - and he may miss out on Sunday as well. Maurizio Sarri suggested that Eden Hazard could continue playing as a false 9 despite the availability of Álvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud. The Chelsea boss is happy with his performances and feels Chelsea are a more solid defensive unit playing in this system. No word on Andreas Christensen (hamstring) who should be close to a return.
Burnley – vs – West Ham United
Steven Defour (knee) and Robbie Brady are major doubts for the visit of West Ham on Sunday. Johann Berg Gudmundsson is in line for a start. The winger had no reaction to his recent hamstring injury after coming on as a substitute against Everton. Aaron Lennon and Stephen Ward remain sidelined.
West Ham hope Pablo Zabaleta can recover from illness in time for the trip to Turf Moor. The injury-hit Hammers had ten players sidelined at Southampton on Thursday, but Manuel Pellegrini could have Javier Hernández and Marko Arnautovic back to face the Clarets. A decision on their involvement is likely to be made after the final session on Saturday. Fabián Balbuena (knee) is expected to miss out although his injury is not as bad as first thought.
Southampton – vs – Manchester City
Michael Obafemi is ruled out after picking up an injury in training. Mario Lemina is not 100 per cent due to an ongoing abdominal issue which could see the returning Pierre-Emile Højbjerg back in the starting XI. The players were still being assessed at the time of Friday’s press conference but there were no obvious injury concerns from the disappointing loss to West Ham. “It's a possibility to rotate, and bring in a few more younger players, so I'll have a look at that,” revealed Ralph Hasenhüttl.
Guardiola is expected to make changes following back-to-back losses in the league. David Silva is primed to start after his cameo at Leicester while Pep could turn to Riyad Mahrez who hasn’t made the XI since Everton (GW17). The Citizens are missing the steel of Fernandinho in midfield and a return does not appear to be imminent. "We have to try to find the solutions. Fernandinho is not able to play, he is injured, we have to overcome it." No word on Gabriel Jesus who missed out at the King Power with a ‘knock’. Fabian Delph begins a three-match ban, and with Benjamin Mendy injured, City have a problem at left-back. Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte and Danilo are all options for Guardiola.
Manchester United – vs – AFC Bournemouth
Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial will all be assessed ahead of Sundays game. The trio completed a light session on Thursday before re-joining the group 24 hours later. Chris Smalling (foot) has been ruled out until January - potential return to play in GW22 – but Marcos Rojo and Scott McTominay should be back in contention soon.
Eddie Howe admits the loss of club-captain Simon Francis to a serious knee injury is a “huge blow” after the defender was ruled out for between 6-9 months. “He's been our leader on the pitch, role model, he'll be a big miss for the dressing room. A great professional." Adam Smith, Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook (all knee) remain absentees for the Cherries trip to Old Trafford. No other injury concerns mentioned by Howe.