After a small break in proceedings its full steam ahead as round 29 throws up some intriguing dilemmas with those involved in European action the most likely to cause a headache or two. Both Manchester City and Arsenal face insurmountable challenges on the face of it but will Messrs Pellegrini and Wenger believe their Champions League dreams are over for another season or will they decide to err on the side of caution this weekend and opt for a full blooded all-out attack to overturn deficits. Whatever the decision undoubtedly there will be a few surprises of that I can guarantee.
Everton will be buoyed by their come from victory over Kiev on Thursday but how much do the Toffees have left in their tank and can Roberto Martinez use the win to spur his side on through the remaining games to finish the season on a high. The Europa League has proved a welcome distraction from a poor campaign overall and one which most supporters will be keen to forget.
Liverpool will find it tough at Swansea but the Reds are unbeaten in 2015 – a run which has catapulted the team to the brink of a top 4 spot – however others will be keen to have a say during the run-in as Tottenham, Manchester United and Southampton can all still sneak in. For what it’s worth the three leading sides will remain as is – Mourinho will bounce back on Sunday and given the strength, quality and depth of City I wouldn’t expect too many slip-ups while Arsenal can cruise home if, IF they keep their players fit.
Crystal Palace – vs – Queens Park Rangers
Yaya Sanogo has recovered from a hamstring problem but Marouane Chamakh will not risked in Saturdays’ early kick-off. With Glenn Murray also available following his return from suspension Alan Pardew will need to make a decision as Dwight Gayle impressed at St Marys’ in GW28. Chung-Yong Lee, Fraizer Campbell and Jordon Mutch are still a few weeks away while skipper Mile Jedinak is two games into a 4 match-ban. Julian Speroni has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks but Pardew confirms the goalkeeper is still “untouchable” at this moment in time. The Eagles need to improve upon their indifferent home form – 3 wins from 13 – but the manager insists all of the pressure will be on the away side in a game they must win.
Performances have not been reflected in results and Chris Ramsey believes QPR are playing well enough to get themselves out of the relegation zone but the Hoops need a performance similar to that at the Stadium of Light to avoid the risk of being cut adrift. Rio Ferdinand is expected to drop out after his mistakes handed Tottenham victory in last weekends’ only game – Darnell Furlong will slot back into the side if he passes a late test. Adel Taarabt and Eduardo Vargas were also back in training this week but neither are expected to start. Sandro will continue in midfield having scored his first goal of the season against his former employers - Joey Barton [suspended] and Leroy Fer [knee] are sidelined – Richard Dunne is working hard to return before the end of the campaign.
Arsenal – vs – West Ham
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has a "classic" hamstring strain which will keep him out for between 3/4 weeks and his absence will open the door for the fit-again Aaron Ramsey or Theo Walcott who has been restricted to just two league starts since his return from injury. Jack Wilshere will not feature for England during the upcoming internationals as the games will "come too soon” so what started as a minor procedure with a return “in a few days” is likely to keep him out until April “it’s very difficult to say when Jack will be back, we have to respect his recovery." Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini will however be included in the squad that welcomes West Ham to the Emirates but Gabriel Paulista [hamstring] is out – he will return to training on Sunday while Mikel Arteta is back with the group and around three weeks away from being considered.
West Ham are facing huge problems both in defence and in attack for tomorrows’ trip and Sam Allardyce will need to consider a reshuffle. Carl Jenkinson is not available under the terms of his loan agreement which could earn Joey O’Brien a recall while the absence of Winston Reid [hamstring] will present James Collins with an opportunity in the heart of defence. James Tomkins suffered a dislocated shoulder in training on Thursday which means Cheikhou Kouyate may be required to drop back to cover. There are also concerns up front where a freak domestic accident has ruled Enner Valencia out – stepping on a broken tea cup left the striker with a deep laceration requiring stitches. The Ecuadorian joins Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole in the treatment room leaving Diafra Sakho and Nene as the only recognised forwards although Morgan Amalfitano could play in more advanced role if required. Alex Song remained at the clubs training ground this week to work on his own fitness following a minor knee injury - while the squad jetted off to Dubai - and after a few days of conditioning the midfielder is feeling the benefits. Carlton Cole has been fined $30k + by the FA after he admitted breaching rules relating to social media but he will not be banned – the forward is expected to be back in training on Monday along with Reid.
Leicester City – vs – Hull City
Nigel Pearson will not underestimate the importance of this weekends’ game against Hull City in a match “we need to win." Kasper Schmeichel is back in full training and could start for the first time since a metatarsal injury back in December while the Foxes have a relatively fit squad. Dean Hammond has only just returned following his ongoing calf problem so maybe a little short on fitness but Anthony Knockaert is definitely out after the player was allowed to return to France on compassionate grounds.
Mo Diame and Liam Rosenior are both confident of facing Chelsea in GW30 but Saturday will come too soon for the pair - they will train with the squad next week. James Chester is also hoping to get the green light to resume activity following his should dislocation but the defender may have to wait until after the international break. No fresh injury concerns for the Tigers’ who will hit the 30 point mark with a win – Dame N’Doye has 3 goals from 3 starts and his partnership with Nikica Jelavic will be key to the clubs survival this season.
Sunderland – vs – Aston Villa
Gus Poyet will have the same squad as last week with the exception of Lee Cattermole who begins a two game ban – his place in the eleven could go to Ricky Alvarez. Patrick van Aanholt will be pushing for a recall with Wes Brown or Santiago Vergini the players likely to make way while a change of formation maybe required following a number of lacklustre performances. Connor Wickham could return to the left-hand side in a 4-5-1 with Danny Graham dropping out and Billy Jones is expected to be back in the match-day squad following his surprise omission against Hull City.
Villa are missing a number of players this weekend but Christian Benteke [hip] will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness ahead of the trip to the Stadium of Light and the early signs are good - Ron Vlaar [calf] could miss out 50-50. Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho are also rated as doubtful so Matthew Lowton will continue to deputise. Jack Grealish and Alan Hutton compound matters through suspension leaving Tim Sherwood with a threadbare squad although Villa arrive full of confidence on the back of two straight wins over rivals West Brom. Libor Kozak is back in full training and the striker is targeting a return to action this season but Philippe Senderos has suffered a setback which could effectively end his.
West Brom – vs – Stoke City
Callum McManaman will miss up to three weeks after aggravating a foot injury during last Saturdays' FA Cup loss to Aston Villa and Victor Anichebe remains a doubt as he continues to battle an ongoing groin issue. Chris Brunt has requested a personal hearing after being charged by the FA for using foul and abusive language towards a match official which means the Baggies midfielder can be considered for the visit of Stoke. Pulis has concerns over “three or four, we’ll have to wait. Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye are still struggling.” Darren Fletcher is expected to return to the starting line-up [cup-tied versus Aston Villa] with Claudio Yacob dropping out through suspension.
A confident Mark Hughes arrives at the KC Stadium knowing that only two Premier League sides have a better points return in 2015 “so we are in a very good frame of mind.” The Potters are now up to 8th in the table and aiming to close the gap on Southampton who have a tricky game at Stamford Bridge. Ryan Shawcross “has trained for the most part” with no affects and “he is in my thoughts” but Philipp Wollscheid [groin] remains a doubt and will face a late test. His absence could see Geoff Cameron partner Marc Wilson in the heart of defence with Marc Muniesa still sidelined because of a hamstring tear but Stoke “want to get back to business [after the break]. They are refreshed.” Stephen Ireland [calf] is likely to be at least another 10 days while Bojan has stepped up his rehab and is targeting a return to light training in May.
Burnley – vs – Manchester City
Matthew Taylor returned for the development side this week playing 45 and 70 minutes respectively across four days but the midfielder is not ready for a return to the Premier after missing the last six months. Sean Dyche has no fresh injury concerns - Kevin Long and Dean Marney [both long-term]. The Clarets added to the squad on Wednesday - Norwegian midfielder Fredrik Ulvestad on a three year deal – but early indications suggest he may not be utilised just yet "If he's needed this season and we think he's ready, then we'll use him."
City arrive without any injury problems but Manuel Pellegrini may consider his options ahead of a midweek trip to the Camp Nou. Full-back rotation has been a particular favourite this term so Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy could be involved with Kolarov and Bacary Sagna at risk. Samir Nasri will be hoping for a recall and with Stevan Jovetic seemingly out of the equation it looks to be a straight decision between Edin Dzeko and Wilfried Bony who will partner Sergio Aguero. Vincent Kompany missed the win over Leicester – reportedly related to a dressing room bust-up with Fernandinho – so it will be interesting to see if the Belgium skipper returns to the eleven.
Chelsea – vs – Southampton
Jose Mourinho will be looking for a reaction from his players following Wednesday nights’ disappointing UEFA Champions League exit to PSG and the Chelsea boss has a number of potential rotation options should the Special One consider freshening his side. Kurt Zouma has seen his stock rise gradually in recent months and the Frenchman could be preferred to Gary Cahill. Oscar disappointed again and his place should go to Willian while Juan Cuadrado is itching to prove his worth – the form of Cesc Fabregas has also dipped and historically the Spaniard struggles during the latter part of the season. Only John Obi Mikel [knee] is out despite Nemanja Matic limping off midweek with a minor ankle injury.
Ronald Koeman confirms Southampton have no fresh injury concerns - Jay Rodriguez [ACL] and Emmanuel Mayuka [groin surgery] are the only expected absentees and the pair are unlikely to return this season. Toby Alderweireld will be pushing for a recall following his recovery from a hamstring strain with Maya Yoshida the obvious drop-out …. And how long can Graziano Pelle retain his place following 11 league games without a goal? Shane Long is fully fit after broken ribs while Dusan Tadic and Elijero Elia are both capable of playing in advanced roles.
Everton – vs – Newcastle United
The Toffees came through Thursday nights’ Europa tie with Dynamo Kiev relatively unscathed where Romelu Lukaku was the outstanding performer – the big Belgium enjoys facing the Magpies with 4 goals from 5 and will offer Everton’s biggest threat. John Stones trained on Friday and should be available but the fitness of Leighton Baines remains a doubt [late test] – Bryan Oviedo, Steven Pienaar and Aidan McGeady are all ruled out. Gareth Barry begins a two-game ban. Darron Gibson and Muhamed Besic were unused substitutes during the [2-1] win and both should see minutes against Newcastle.
An ongoing knee complaint will keep Massadio Haidara on the sidelines – the defender had an injection but the injury has not settled down meaning Ryan Taylor will retain his place at left-back. However there was better news regarding Remy Cabella who returns after missing the two previous matches while back-up goalkeeper Rob Elliot is over his thigh strain. Jack Colback is available and will come straight back into the side with Gabriel Obertan and Sammy Ameobi at risk. John Carver confirms the squad is “raring to go." Ayoze Perez could start in place of the injured / suspended Papiss Cisse but I suspect Carver may change to a 4-5-1 having seen his midfield bolstered which means the decision will be between him and Emmanuel Riviere.
Manchester United – vs – Tottenham
Marcos Rojo has emerged as an injury doubt for Sunday after picking up a problem against Arsenal but Ashley Young has been declared fit. Robin van Persie is the only definite absentee through injury but Jonny Evans and Angel di Maria are suspended for the game. Phil Jones offers a like for like if Rojo does miss out or alternatively he could be swopped for Chris Smalling – Michael Carrick or Adnan Januzaj offer Louis van Gaal options but the Dutchman may fancy a reshuffle. Rafael is available and a return for him would see Antonio Valencia move forward to fill the void left by AdM. Radamel Falcao played 70+ minutes for the development side midweek as he looks to retain his sharpness but the general consensus believes the Colombian will not remain past his current loan agreement. The form of Wayne Rooney up front makes his place a certainty with Marouane Fellaini and James Wilson more than capable of playing a supporting role.
Pochettino has confirmed there are no injury concerns heading into Sundays' match at Manchester United “All players are fit, it’s difficult to select the squad but this is my job.” The manager considers Danny Rose to be the best full-back in the country currently which suggests at least one change having rested defender at Loftus Road – Ben Davies will revert back to his more familiar place on the bench. Harry Kane is full of confidence after winning the February Player of the Month award and Pochettino denies Emmanuel Adebayor has been forced to train with the development squad.
Swansea City – vs – Liverpool
Garry Monk confirms Bafetimbi Gomis is "fit raring to go" following his vasovagal episode [fainting] at White Hart Lane – the French striker underwent a battery of tests but the condition can only be managed and not addressed. His return to the side means Kyle Bartley [knee] is the only absentee and the Swans could remain unchanged as they look to build upon their best season [to date] in the Premier. The fixture will have plenty of familiar faces in both camps as Brendan Rodgers plus members of his backroom staff return to the Liberty along with Joe Allen while Jonjo Shelvey could figure for the Swans against his former club.
Liverpool have been handed a triple injury boost ahead of Monday Night Football as Joe Allen [hip], Steven Gerrard [hamstring] and Martin Skrtel [neck] are all expected to return for the clash in South Wales. Allen was a late withdrawal last weekend following a training ground injury but the player himself is confident of facing his former employers while Gerrard confirmed during Thursdays’ All Star Charity match press-conference that he is available having spent more than a month out. Martin Skrtel was also given the all-clear after an awkward landing during the opening moments of the FA Cup which left the defender slightly concussed. Mamadou Sakho played 45 minutes for the under-21 side on Monday while Jose Enrique and Lucas Leiva are stepping up their rehabilitation from respective knee and groin injuries.