Chelsea will be getting a little twitchy after a muscle specialist confirmed Diego Costa could miss around a month; the Blues average 0.5 points less per game without their leading marksman and with Arsenal applying the pressure this season’s title run-in may still have something to offer.
Three defeats in six have all but ended City’s hopes of retaining their Premier League crown but the Citizens can use this weekends’ big Manchester derby at Old Trafford to help finish the season on a high. Pellegrini will take encouragement from recent form in this fixture – winning four in a row – to hopefully inspire his players to a famous and record breaking fifth win.
Liverpool seem to have fallen at the last with a place in top 4 looking out of reach following two straight defeats but the Magpies should help the Reds bounce back – 1994 was the last time Newcastle managed a win at Anfield taking just 3 points [3 draws] from the 19 games since.
The bottom of the Premier League seems to be where it’s at with 7 or possibly 8 teams still at risk of dropping down into the Championship although much depends on whether Leicester, Burnley or Queens Park Rangers can add consistency to some excellent one-off performances. Hull City and Aston Villa are hovering precariously close to the relegation zone but Steve Bruce will point towards their four home games despite fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Good luck and may the fantasy Gods fly by your side throughout GW32 ….
Swansea City – vs – Everton
Garry Monk has confirmed Kyle Naughton will miss the remainder of the season following a challenge by Hull City midfielder David Meyler last time out. Initial hospital scans revealed there was no fracture but subsequent tests highlighted ligament damage which will mean around two months on the sidelines – Angel Rangel is likely to deputise with Monk confirming neither Jazz Richards nor Dwight Tiendalli would be recalled from their respective loan deals. A win on Saturday would see Swansea achieve a record Premier League points total surpassing their previous best of  with six games still remaining. Jefferson Montero [hamstring] will face a late test while Leon Britton and Kyle Bartley are both fine. Jack Cork looks to have shaken off a minor thigh issue [dead leg] but Tom Carroll is still at least a month away. Wayne Routledge will go into Saturdays’ game relishing his new-found freedom as a front-line striker supporting Bafetimbi Gomis “I’m enjoying the new role. It gives you more freedom, which I enjoy.”
A freak training ground injury could mean Darron Gibson is out for the remaining fixtures although the Everton midfielder does NOT require surgery after an X-ray revealed the player had fractured his metatarsal “Hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later but I think it will be difficult for Darron to play again this season, but it is something we aren’t certain over." Lukaku should return to the match-day squad after training this week “he has been working well in the last two days, even though he hasn’t joined the group yet” although Martinez will be cautious with the Belgian striker. Aiden McGeady “is carrying a bit of pain in his back” and the winger will join Bryan Oviedo and Tony Hibbert on the sidelines.
Southampton – vs – Hull City
Ronald Koeman will be hoping his side can get back to winning ways as Southampton push for Europe "You have to be realistic. Our focus, at the moment, has to be on fifth, sixth and seventh." Steven Davis has recovered from a groin issue and after a disappointing result at Goodison last time out Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic will be pushing for a recall. James Ward-Prowse, Victor Wanyama and Elijero Elia are the players most at risk of dropping out. Florin Gardos will return to the squad but Filip Djuričić picked up an ankle injury and won’t be available. Fraser Forster was back at the training complex this week following successful knee surgery and Koeman will assess whether the Saints need to recruit a new goalkeeper during his absence.
Steve Bruce was unhappy with the sending off of David Meyler last weekend but the Hull midfielder begins a 3-game ban for his reckless tackle at Swansea – he must now decide if Mo Diame is fit enough to start following his return from a lengthy absence “it’s important to take it one step at a time and ease him back." Andrew Robertson comes back into contention along with Tom Huddlestone but a thigh injury will keep Curtis Davies on the sidelines. Gaston Ramirez is unavailable under the terms of his loan agreement meaning Hull will be forced into at least two changes. Bruce also hinted he may drop goalkeeper Allan McGregor after his recent errors with Steve Harper potentially coming in.
Sunderland – vs – Crystal Palace
Jack Rodwell has been passed fit and the Black Cats midfielder will provide Dick Advocaat with a like-for-like replacement with Sebastian Larsson suspended in what could be the only change from last weekends’ derby win over Newcastle. Ricky Alvarez will join Emanuele Giaccherini on the sidelines for the remainder of the season as he battles an ongoing knee injury "He’s very much injured, I’m not sure what’s going on, but it’s not positive. I don’t think we’ll see him again this season." Wes Brown [knee] is out.
Jordon Mutch and Fraizer Campbell are making good progress but the Sunderland game will come too soon for the pair, however they should be available for GW33. A "hip strain" threatens to sideline Joe Ledley "he'll be monitored" but Alan Pardew will “give him every opportunity” after his exceptional performances of late. Mile Jedinak returns from suspension but the captain is not guaranteed a start following Palace’s win over champions Manchester City on Monday. Chung-Yong Lee is out for a little while longer with Jerome Thomas [ankle] and Marouane Chamakh [hamstring] not expected to recover.
Tottenham – vs – Aston Villa
A knee tendon injury which required stitches has not fully healed meaning Michel Vorm will continue to deputise for teammate Hugo Lloris – the French goalkeeper could be back next weekend. Kyle Walker will also miss out after picking up a foot injury at Burnley; the full-back is still wearing a protective boot and swelling is delaying further tests. Vlad Chiriches is likely to retain his place but DeAndre Yedlin is an option although the January signing is yet to feature for the first team. Jan Vertonghen [illness] remains a doubt with Ben Davies or Younes Kaboul available if required. Harry Kane has scored 6 goals in his last 4 appearances at White Hart Lane.
Tim Sherwood could welcome Philippe Senderos and Aly Cissokho back into the Villa squad but defensive problems are beginning to ease and Villa don’t need to rush the pair back. Ron Vlaar and Kieran Richardson were both involved against QPR with Nathan Baker and Jores Okore occupying a place on the bench – Matthew Lowton will challenge Leandro Bacuna for the full-back role with an ankle injury ruling Alan Hutton out. Scott Sinclair and Ashley Westwood won’t be fit enough for the trip to London and despite a return for the under-21s on Wednesday Libor Kozak is still a long way from playing for the first team. Carles Gil will be assessed after the midfielder suffered a dead leg midweek.
West Brom – vs – Leicester City
Callum McManaman will not recover in time from a foot injury for the visit of Leicester but Tony Pulis will welcome Craig Dawson back from suspension with Chris Baird the man likely to make way at right back - Claudio Yacob will be pushing for a recall having watched the QPR defeat from the bench. West Brom are looking to avoid a third straight defeat and the Baggies’ can take confidence from having a decent record against their visitors winning the last four encounters. Youssouf Mulumbu begins a 3-game ban.
Nigel Pearson may look to tinker with his formation again as Matthew Upson returns from an Achilles injury – the Foxes could revert to a back five with the ex-Hammer partnering Robert Huth and Wes Morgan in the centre of defence. Dean Hammond has resumed full training after overcoming his ongoing calf problem but with competition for places the bench would be an achievement having missed the last two months. Liam Moore and Anthony Knockaert are available for selection after Pearson chose to involve both players in the under-21s last Saturday. Esteban Cambiasso has scored four goals from just five shots on target in the top-flight this term.
West Ham – vs – Stoke City
Enner Valencia [toe laceration] will be added to the West Ham squad after a month out “he gives us other options to play different systems, to have selection choices up front is important for any team" revealed Sam Allardyce - the Ecuadorian is expected to partner Diafra Sakho with Kevin Nolan being sacrificed.
Stoke have a few minor issues / niggles to contend with which need checked although none are serious. Marc Wilson should be okay after the defender cracked a bone in his hand last Saturday while Jon Walters is managing a knee issue. Peter Odemwingie stepped up his recovery from an ACL rupture and “played a little bit of football, hopefully we can introduce him back into the senior squad soon." Victor Moses will return to the squad for the first time in a month and Charlie Adam is hoping his wonder strike at Stamford Bridge is enough to earn him a place in the eleven.
Burnley – vs – Arsenal
Other than long-term absentees [Kevin Long & Dean Marney] Burnley are pretty much at full strength barring any last minute issues. Sean Dyche will have to decide if Michael Kightly will return which would push Ashley Barnes into a more central supporting role with Sam Vokes dropping to the bench. Burnley average less than a goal per game this season and the Clarets need to find their shooting boots if they hold any hope of taking points off a rampant Arsenal side. Ross Wallace, Matty Taylor and Steven Reid could return to add some much-needed experience to the bench.
Arsenal will hand Wojciech Szczesny [ribs] and Laurent Koscielny [hip / groin] late fitness tests although both are well placed to return to the side - Matt Macey is on standby to step up from the development squad if required while Gabriel would get the nod if Wenger decides not to risk the French defender. Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Mathieu Debuchy and Jack Wilshere are all “medically fit” although the quartet do lack some competitive edge with a place on the bench likely for one or possibly two. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain [groin inflammation] will be at least two more weeks after a setback in his recovery but Aaron Ramsey [ankle] has been passed fit. Player of the month for March Olivier Giroud is a player in red hot form – 10 goals from 10 games [all competitions] – and a win at Turf Moor would see Arsenal become the first side this season to win eight consecutive Premier League games.
Queens Park Rangers – vs – Chelsea
Injuries are beginning to mount at Rangers and Chris Ramsey will run checks on a number of players ahead of Sundays’ derby against Chelsea at Loftus Road. Suk-Young Yun missed the midweek trip to Villa Park after suffering from mild concussion following a clash of heads while full-back Darnell Furlong [calf] hasn’t featured in over a month. Clint Hill could continue after scoring his first ever Premier League goal on Tuesday but Richard Dunne is an option having played for the under-21s on Wednesday; however after more than two months out the Irish defender may not be ready. A foot problem has ruled Michael Doughty out with Rio Ferdinand also sidelined through injury. Adel Taarabt is unlikely to feature but the attacking midfielder will return to training on Friday – a knee ligament injury has ended Eduardo Vargas’ campaign.
Diego Costa is the only injury absentee for Chelsea with the Spanish international expected to be miss around a month – Mourinho anticipates he "will be back in time to play four matches this season." Loic Remy and Didier Drogba will share goal scoring responsibilities for the next 3/4 weeks. John Obi Mikel has fully recovered from knee surgery and Cesc Fabregas will wear a protective face mask after travelling to Italy this week for an operation on his broken nose. Fabregas and Nemanja Matic will feature despite the pair being one booking away from a 2-match ban.
Manchester United – vs – Manchester City
Robin van Persie joined the main group on Wednesday but Louis van Gaal confirmed the Dutch striker would not be ready for the derby having missed two months because of an ankle ligament injury “We have a process. The process has to give me signals he is ready.” The United boss will also make a late decision on Chris Smalling [illness] with Luke Shaw lacking fitness following his recent hamstring issues. Manchester United could remain unchanged after three consecutive wins.
A twisted knee / ankle will keep Wilfried Bony sidelined and with attacking teammate Stevan Jovetic [ankle] also struggling Pellegrini has limited options up front. The Chilean may decide to revert back to his preferred 4-5-1 allowing Aguero to spearhead the attack but the diminutive striker has failed to register a goal in his last 6 competitive games spanning 553 minutes. Otherwise City will persist with Edin Dzeko and hope the Bosnian can add to his 4 career goals already at Old Trafford. Vincent Kompany will be assessed on Saturday after suffering from a tight hamstring at Selhurst Park “if he can’t play, we have a squad" confirmed Pellegrini. Eliaquim Mangala will be readied to come in.
Liverpool – vs – Newcastle United
Mamadou Sakho will miss a minimum of two weeks after suffering a hamstring strain at Blackburn on Wednesday night but Emre Can is available should Rodgers’ opt for a 3-4-3 formation with Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure making up the trio; although Glen Johnson was singled out for praise following the FA Cup replay win. Daniel Sturridge complained of "muscle tightness" at Ewood Park but the striker should be fine while Mario Balotelli is expected to recover from illness. Adam Lallana will benefit from the additional days rest / recovery while Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel serve the final game of their 3-match ban.
Following five straight derby losses and four consecutive Premier League defeats the pressure is beginning to mount on John Carver and unrest amongst the Geordie faithful is becoming more evident. Rolando Aarons and Siem de Jong returned to full training on Wednesday but neither will be considered leaving Newcastle with the same squad as last weekend providing Daryl Janmaat can overcome a minor calf issue. If he doesn’t then United do have problems with Fabricio Coloccini suspended plus Steven Taylor and Paul Dummett injured – under 21 defender Lubomir Satka is next in line but he lacks experience with only one substitute appearance for the first team.