Two massive local derbies grab the attention this weekend as North London whets the appetite in Saturdays’ early kick-off .… Most of the chatter – aside from Jacks’ shisha pipe – has been focussed on Alexis Sanchez who is struggling with a muscular problem. Wenger says NO while the player insists YES! Thanks for that …… ‘Magic 8 Ball’ time ….. However following last weekends’ impressive performance – Ozil, Walcott, and Cazorla et al – his involvement is a risk and the Chilean may be held back until Tuesday.
The days other derby will mark Steven Gerrard’s’ final appearance at Goodison and Liverpool supporters will be hoping for some Merseyside magic from their mercurial midfielder – a man definitely for the occasion ….. with 5 goals and 2 assists from his last six games versus Everton you wouldn’t bet against the MLS bound star to once again deliver the goods in what promises to be another cracking weekend of Premier league action …
Tottenham – vs – Arsenal
Tottenham take on Arsenal in Saturdays’ early North London derby kick-off and Mauricio Pochettino has the luxury of a fully fit squad. Nabil Bentaleb is back from AFCoN duty and has trained with the main group since Tuesday and reports suggest the player has looked excellent. Harry Kane will carry Spurs’ main goal threat; the young striker will be looking to build upon his impressive 20 goal haul already this season especially after a signing a new and improved 5.5 year contract at the club. Not a weekend for Tottenham defenders – the home side have only kept just one clean sheet in 32 appearances against the Gunners.
Danny Welbeck will be added to the Arsenal squad for this weekends' derby and while Wenger stated on Thursday that Alexis Sanchez was OUT the Gunners boss hinted that the Chilean may still have a chance "He feels he can defy the medical people because he is so keen to play. I don't know if he can. I will see today." Jack Wilshere will hopefully rejoin the main group in training next week while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain "is practising but not [fully] training." Serge Gnabry will play for the under-21s on Monday night at Newcastle and he could be joined by new signing Krystian Bielik who "is coming along very well." Gabriel Paulista is physically ready to play but “is not used to our back four and hasn't mastered the language yet" which should see the Brazilian defender take his seat amongst the substitutes.
Aston Villa – vs – Chelsea
Paul Lambert could welcome Ron Vlaar back into the Villa squad after a month out – the Dutch defender will be assessed in training today and “if he comes through [okay], he will be in the squad.” Jores Okore is likely to make way. Joe Cole [hamstring] also comes back into the reckoning but a place on the bench is realistic – Scott Sinclair will be pushing for a start following his January window move – Aston Villa haven’t scored since December and the on-loan winger could provide a much needed creative spark. Philippe Senderos [calf] and Libor Kozak [broken leg] are progressing.
Felipe Luis [calf] is the only expected injury absentee although Diego Costa is still suspended which means Cesc Fabregas, Willian and John Obi Mikel should all be available for the trip to Villa Park. Juan Cuadrado “will need time to settle,” but the Colombian could figure against Aston Villa on Saturday. Branislav Ivanovic has scored 4 goals in 5 league starts against the Villains’ and given the home side’s goal-scoring record - joint-fewest goals of any team after 23 matches of an English top-flight season – Chelsea defenders could be the order of the day.
Leicester City – vs – Crystal Palace
Riyad Mahrez has returned from the AFCoN and trained on Thursday and he “looks fine” but Nigel Pearson will make a decision on Friday. Mark Schwarzer was a surprise starter at Old Trafford last time out and Ben Hamer can count himself a little unfortunate to lose his place having kept 3 clean sheets during his 8 starts this campaign. Robert Huth won’t be available as he serves the final game of his two match ban. Matty James returns from suspension but Kasper Schmeichel [foot], Chris Wood [ankle] and Zoumana Bakayogo [knee] are all injured. Liam Moore [ankle] comes back into contention following a minor ankle problem.
Alan Pardew confirms non-league signing Keshi Anderson will travel with the Eagles squad to the King Power Stadium on Saturday – the youngster secured his move to Selhurst Park after scoring a six-minute hat-trick during a trial game against Palace. Marouane Chamakh [broken nose] has a chance although the striker may need to wear a mask but skipper Mile Jedinak will not face Leicester City this weekend following his recent return from the Asian Cup. Jerome Thomas is once again expected to miss out after picking up a problem during training and Shola Ameobi is lacking match-fitness as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury. Yannick Bolasie is still away with the DR Congo at the AFCoN.
Manchester City – vs – Hull City
Manchester City haven’t gone four Premier League games without a win since 2009 and the Citizens have a good record against the Tigers [5W 1L 2D] and will see this as a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Chelsea. While the world waits for Sergio Aguero to kick back into gear Edin Dzeko could be worth some consideration having scored 3 in 2 against Hull. City will be at full strength "We have no injuries, we have a full squad for tomorrow. Mangala & Nasri are fine & will be in the squad" confirmed Pellegrini – just what Steve Bruce wanted to hear. Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony are currently away representing the Ivory Coast at the AFCoN.
Hull have never won in the league at Manchester City and must improve upon their recent form [1W D4 L6] if Steve Bruce hopes to take anything away from the Etihad. New signing Dame N’Doye is in Paris awaiting a work permit plus clearance from the Russian FA and is expected to miss out while striker Jelavic will be checked “There’s a doubt about Nikica with his knee. He’s still feeling the effects of the operation he had on it and so we’ll have to see how he is.” However there was better news regarding Mo Diame who is targeting his comeback against QPR later this month - the midfielder is back on the training pitch. James Chester, Robert Snodgrass and Liam Rosenior are all long-term absentees.
Queens Park Rangers – vs – Southampton
With Harry Redknapp leaving Loftus Road this week interim manager Chris Ramsey confirms "Most of the players are fit. Almost everyone will be available. All I am interested in is getting three points tomorrow. Whoever is fit and available, will be in contention." Sandro should be included in the squad following more than two months out while Adel Taarabt and Arman Traore will be assessed on Friday. Prior to the defeat against Manchester United the home side were 7 unbeaten and the Hoops need to try and replicate that run if they hope to remain in the Premier League with such a poor away record.
Ronald Koeman confirms midfield duo Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin should be back for Saturdays' game but Toby Alderweireld [hamstring] needs another week. Striker Sam Gallagher [knee] returned for the under-21s midweek but after a seven-month lay-off GW24 will come too soon. The Saints are hopeful that Jay Rodriguez can play a part this season, but Koeman is happy to wait "He is a very good player, we don't put pressure on him. He has to be fully fit.” New addition Filip Djuričić will not be available as he is awaiting for his work permit. Ryan Bertrand starts his suspension and Shane Long [ribs] is around 3/4 weeks away.
Swansea City – vs – Sunderland
Garry Monk faces a welcome selection headache in the centre of midfield on Saturday with Ki Sung-Yueng, Leon Britton and Jack Cork all in contention for the clash with Sunderland. Jefferson Montero also trained on Thursday but the Ecuador international is unlikely to be fit enough to start after hamstring trouble. Marvin Emnes [hamstring] joins Wayne Routledge [calf] on the sidelines but Modou Barrow did not suffer any serious knee damage following a reckless Ryan Bertrand challenge last weekend which resulted in the Saints full-back being sent-off. Gylfi Sigurdsson is suspended but Kyle Bartley has completed his ban.
Gus Poyet will factor Tuesdays’ game against Queens Park Rangers when considering the availability of his squad ahead of the trip to the Liberty Stadium “We need to be very careful for Saturday. When you have players who have a chance to get injured, you cannot risk them all. You need to make sure you keep someone safe for [GW25].” Lee Cattermole [knee] and Connor Wickham [calf] have been ruled out but Adam Johnson, Will Buckley, Billy Jones, Jack Rodwell and Emanuele Giaccherini will all be checked however Seb Larsson should return to the squad after he was rested midweek.
Everton – vs – Liverpool
Roberto Martinez confirmed James McCarthy did not suffer a setback [following his hospital visit this week] and the midfielder will be included in Saturdays’ Merseyside derby squad “I expect him to be fully fit for the season." Goalkeeper Tim Howard has returned to training but “we'll probably give him another week to make sure we don't take risks" but deadline day signing Aaron Lennon "will be in [the] squad, he will have a massive role to play in the remainder of the season." Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar haven't joined the group yet but the pair are close - Christian Atsu is still on AFCoN duty.
Brendan Rodgers will make a late decision on whether Sturridge is ready to start against Everton "Daniel is coming along very well. It's not that he won't start, we need to analyse that over the next couple of days. We shall see." A minor thigh injury kept Lucas Leiva out of Wednesdays' FA Cup tie at Bolton but the midfielder is expected to be passed fit for Saturday - Liverpool will also check on the condition of Lazar Markovic after he sustained a back injury midweek – Adam Lallana is in a similar position. Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli are carrying minor knocks but should be okay and expect a big performance from Steven Gerrard in what is effectively his last Merseyside derby "It's the fixture that I look for at the beginning of the season. I love playing against Everton."
Burnley – vs – West Brom
Sean Dyche made it nine Premier League games unchanged at the Stadium of Light last weekend and despite a disappointing result the Clarets could once again remain. Michael Duff has been waiting patiently in the wings and is an option in the heart of defence while Sam Vokes will be keen to make his first start since recovering from an ACL rupture. Matty Taylor [Achilles] is very close but is lacking match-fitness and Stephen Ward [ankle] is progressing well but GW24 is probably just too soon.
Tony Pulis will assess the fitness of James Morrison who is battling an ongoing tendinitis [knee] issue while his absence could afford new signing Darren Fletcher an opportunity to make his debut at Turf Moor. Boaz Myhill should be back on the bench after stitches in his finger and Jonas Olsson is close to a return following an Achilles Op – the defender has been with the group for over a week now. Sunday might be too early for Jason Davidson [Asian Cup] while Youssouf Mulumbu is still with the DR Congo but regardless the midfielder is struggling with a hamstring problem. A decision will be made regarding Saido Berahino who gave an unauthorised interview where the young striker expressed his interest in leaving at the end of the season for a top four club - Pulis confirmed "[Berahino] has been in the naughty chair” all week!
Newcastle United – vs – Stoke City
Paul Dummett has recovered from a hamstring problem but John Carver is likely to stick with the same eleven which left the KC Stadium with all three points last weekend. Rolando Aarons “is not back in full training” and Siem de Jong is still a little short on match fitness – both are targeting a return in GW26 against Manchester City. Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez are also close but Sunday could come too soon for the pair – Cheick Tiote [AFCoN] is out and Jak Alnwick will provide back-up while Rob Elliot recovers from a thigh strain.
Captain Ryan Shawcross is set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering a back spasm during last weekends’ win over QPR and the central defender could be missing “for a couple of weeks,” while Mark Hughes confirmed the deal taking Robert Huth to Leicester on-loan was agreed on Friday [prior to the injury]. The only other concern ahead of the trip to St James’ Park is hat-trick hero Jon Walters who "hasn’t trained since the game because of a little [knee] problem, we are hopeful of having him available to us." Sunday is likely to come too early for Erik Pieters but the Dutch full-back is expected to be back in action sooner rather than later. Peter Odemwingie and Bojan Krkic [both ACL] have been ruled out for the season.
West Ham United – vs – Manchester United
Defensive concerns for Sam Allardyce with James Collins, Winston Reid, Guy Demel and James Tomkins all struggling “We're not sure how many of those will make it for Sunday. With such a big week coming, three games [over the next seven days], there'll be very few risks taken, unless they're 100% fit. If we play them it may exacerbate the injuries so we will go to battle with what we've got." However Carl Jenkinson and Cheikhou Kouyate are expected to return. The only other major concern for West Ham is Andy Carroll [ankle] but Diafra Sakho is in line for a recall after his missed the defeat at Anfield last weekend because of an ongoing disciplinary issue with the Senegalese Football Federation - the striker is now clear to play.
Ashley Young and Jonny Evans were back for Tuesdays’ FA Cup win over Cambridge leaving only Michael Carrick on the treatment table after Louis van Gaal confirmed the midfielder “ruptured his [calf] muscle” in training last week - an injury which is expected to keep him out for a minimum of four weeks. Wayne Rooney looks a shoo-in for a goal given West Ham’s defensive problems; the England captain has nabbed 10 goals in 9 games against the Hammers while his striker partner Robin van Persie – 6 goals in 5 games - is also worth some serious consideration.