There could still be a few twists and turns as the 2015/16 season enters the final stretch. With Leicester sitting five-points clear, the title is seemingly theirs to lose but the chasing pack won’t be giving up just yet. However, if the Foxes can secure three-points at home to an in-form Southampton side and Tottenham fall to beat a resurgent Liverpool at Anfield, then even Claudio Ranieri will have to admit that the race for the Premier League crown is all but over.
West Ham will be looking to make it four homes wins in a row for the first time in 14 years as they target a Champions League qualification spot. The Hammers are locked in a three way dogfight with City and United and could move into fourth place with their first league double over Palace since 1973.
Although mathematically possible, the chances of Villa beating the drop range from slim to none. An away defeat to Swansea last time out left Remi Garde’s men 12-points from safety with a massively inferior goal difference. The Frenchman and club have since parted company and with only seven games remaining Eric Black will take the reins as caretaker manager with the club seemingly preparing for life in the Championship.
Aston Villa – vs – Chelsea
Jack Grealish (ankle) and Adama Traore (fractured metatarsal) are back in full training but a decision on their involvement won’t be made until the last moment due to their lack of fitness. Gabby Agbonlahor has been ruled out of the clash with Chelsea. The Midlands team are investigating reports that the 29-year-old was caught smoking a shisha pipe while on holiday in Dubai. Micah Richards has been passed fit after missing the defeat to Swansea because of a slight groin strain.
Alexandre Pato could be handed his chance after improving his fitness levels. Guus Hiddink hinted that with nothing to play for it may be time to experiment in the remaining eight games. A hip injury keeps Eden Hazard on the sidelines. Diego Costa is training again but will sit this one out due to suspension – the striker has been given an additional one game ban after admitting an improper conduct charge and won’t be available until game week thirty-four. Oscar, Bertrand Traore and Willian will be assessed following their late return from international duty: "We'll see how fresh (they are) after a long journey." Radamel Falcao is pushing for his inclusion after recovering from a thigh injury. Kenedy has been passed fit after he was forced off at half-time against West Ham. The Brazilian is expected feature following an impressive opening 45 minutes.
West Ham United – vs – Crystal Palace
Slaven Bilic confirms “some of our players are not back from international duty” which could leave them a little short for the Palace game. Victor Moses and Enner Valencia are among those who need to be assessed. James Tomkins (calf) has re-joined the first team in training but James Collins (hamstring) and Sam Byram will miss out although the pair are progressing “really well.” Despite the disappointment of dropping points to a late Cesc Fabregas penalty at Stamford Bridge, West Ham maintain a very realistic chance of securing a Champions League qualification spot and will see a game against a struggling Eagles side as an ideal opportunity to apply pressure to City in fourth place.
Mile Jedinak and Yohan Cabaye are both carrying knocks: "We're not sure if they're both going to make it," said Alan Pardew during Thursdays’ pre-match briefing. Jedinak tweaked his hamstring playing for Australia while Cabaye was an unused substitute for France. Connor Wickham took part in some warm-up sessions this week but Saturday could come too soon: "We're hoping he gets some football this week." Meanwhile, James McArthur "is progressing" but is still some way off – the player is targeting a return in April. Emmanuel Adebayor "has a knock, so we're waiting on him" but the player did post an update via social media confirming his initial scans were clear. Marouane Chamakh (groin) is out.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Manchester City
Eddie Howe reveals Callum Wilson has returned to full training: "He is doing well," but won't be rushed back. Unbelievably, the 24-year-old is still the clubs’ leading Premier League goal scorer – five – and he may get a chance to add to that tally before the end of the campaign. Tyrone Mings “has had a slight setback" and his recovery is now likely to take around twelve months after having "some staples removed from his knee." That should mean a return in August or September. Harry Arter is struggling to shake off an Achilles issue which requires rest but Josh King should be close as his calf injury doesn’t appear to be too serious. No mention of Junior Stanislas after the club optimistically suggested he could return after the international break.
Kevin de Bruyne and Samir Nasri has been passed fit but neither is likely to start having been sidelined for months. However, a place in the match day squad could be just the boost City need. Fabian Delph is close but won’t be risked in this one. The former Villa midfielder will be assessed ahead of the UCL tie against Paris Saint-Germain along with Yaya Toure (heel) and Joe Hart (calf) although game week thirty-two is more realistic. Vincent Kompany is definitely out along with Raheem Sterling – Pellegrini suggests the latter will be another 4-5 weeks.
Norwich City – vs – Newcastle United
A niggling hamstring problem stopped Steven Naismith from joining his international teammates during the break. However, his absence was more of a precaution and the Scottish forward will be included in Saturdays’ squad. Ryan Bennett is also available but Alex Neil may stick with the same starting XI which won at the Hawthorns last time out. Robbie Brady – in the wars of late – has recovered from a shoulder problem and Nathan Redmond will face a late test after further tests revealed his ankle ligament injury is not as serious as first thought. Alex Tettey is out for the season.
Karl Darlow is poised to make only his second Premier League of the season after a scan confirmed Rob Elliot will miss at least six months because of a ruptured – ACL – anterior cruciate ligament. Freddie Woodman will provide the back up. Jack Colback begins his two-game ban which leaves United short of a left-back. With Kevin Mbabu and Paul Dummett still sidelined and Massadio Haidara suffering a setback, Rafa Benitez has no option but to play someone out of position - leading candidates are Vurnon Anita and Moussa Sissoko. Captain Fabricio Coloccini will miss out again but Cheick Tiote has been added to the squad - Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux are also back in full training. Aleksandar Mitrovic played for Serbia this week after he was knocked unconscious during the Tyne-Wear derby. Daryl Janmaat is another who will travel to Carrow Road after overcoming a knee injury.
Stoke City – vs – Swansea City
Stoke have been rocked by the news that Jon Walters could miss up-to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery to remedy a cartilage problem. Geoff Cameron will face a late fitness test after he picked up a knock playing for the US national team with Glenn Whelan in a similar predicament. The Irishman completed 90 minutes for the Republic on Tuesday but "isn't fully up to speed." Mame Diouf will be assessed after he "arrived back late" from international duty - Xherdan Shaqiri is likely to miss out as well. Erik Pieters has been passed fit but Glen Johnson is still recovering from a knee ligament injury - Marc Muniesa and Phil Bardsley remain on standby. Hughes was giving nothing away regarding his choice of goalkeeper following the loss of Jack Butland (fractured ankle) for three months. Veteran stopper Shay Given (knee) has recently returned after almost 6-months out while 23-year-old Dane – Jakob Haugaard - could make his Premier League debut. Ryan Shawcross continues his work with the physios to address an ongoing back issue.
An ankle injury rules Andre Ayew out of his third successive game but he should be back against Chelsea next weekend. Leon Britton is managing a painful foot condition - plantar fasciitis – and although he is available his game time could be limited. Francesco Guidolin hints at a slight change of formation – a move away from the midfield diamond – which could help to accommodate the likes of Jefferson Montero and / or Modou Barrow but the manager insists the pair need to improve defensively.
Arsenal – vs – Watford
Petr Cech (calf) trained with the first team on Friday but Arsene Wenger has not decided if the goalkeeper will be in the squad to face Watford. David Ospina returned from international duty unscathed and could retain his place. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere are in full training but neither will be risked just yet. The pair could play for the development side over the coming weeks. Santi Cazorla will be up-to a month as he struggles to overcome an Achilles tendinitis problem while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be another 3-4 weeks. Saturday will come too soon for Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini but both have a chance of returning in game week thirty-three.
Sebastian Prodl and Valon Behrami are both suffering from illness and the pair face a late fitness test. Quique Flores will assess his late international returners over the next 24 hours “to find out their condition” before making a decision on his match day squad. Joel Ekstrand (knee and hamstring) has trained with the first team this week but Tommie Hoban (groin surgery) remains out.
Sunderland – vs – West Brom Albion
The Black Cats have sacked Emmanuel Eboue after FIFA announced that the former Arsenal player would be banned for a year for failing to pay his former agent. Sunderland maintain that they were never made aware of the situation and the player has two weeks to appeal although Sam Allardyce did not rule out a return if the debt is settled. Duncan Watmore is the only definite absentee but the forward is making good progress and a return before the end of the season is possible. Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri are back after missing out for their respective countries last week while Younes Kaboul “should be OK.” John O’Shea is on standby just in case. Billy Jones is a slight doubt.
Callum McManaman played 45 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly this week and the Baggies winger is hoping to force his way into the squad. However, that seems unlikely with Tony Pulis stating he would need at least two more weeks to regain his sharpness. James Morrison will train from next week which just leaves Chris Brunt as the only long-term absentee. Salomon Rondon gave the Baggies boss an unexpected boost after he returned early from international duty - the striker was booked against Peru and missed the defeat to Chile through suspension. Stephane Sessegnon will face a late test.
Liverpool – vs – Tottenham
Divock Origi has been passed fit despite leaving the Belgium camp last week due to a thigh injury. However, international team mate Christian Benteke has “no chance” of recovering from a knee injury. Roberto Firmino will be given every chance with Klopp expected to make a late decision: “We’ll see how he feels (on Saturday). It will be close.” Alberto Moreno is back in full training and Vice-captain James Milner is available after completing his one match ban. Saturday will come too soon for Lucas Leiva.
Erik Lamela picked up a muscular problem in Argentina and the attacking midfielder remains a doubt for the trip to Anfield. Heung-Min Son could come in to fill the void. Better news regarding Toby Alderweireld who missed the trip to Portugal due to a stomach bug. The Belgium defender has trained for the last three days without any problems. Jan Vertonghen won't be ready but he is “very, very close.” A return next weekend is a possibility but Tottenham will have to wait a little longer for Clinton N'Jie who needs more time.
Leicester City – vs – Southampton
Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater will be full of confidence following their impressive displays for England this week. Vardy is a shoo-in for the European Championships while Drinkwater done his chances no harm with an assured performance against the Netherlands. Andy King will return to the Foxes squad as Claudio Ranieri confirms everyone is fit and available although a little tired - Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez and Wes Morgan are among those who’ve made long journeys during the break. Kasper Schmeichel has trained normally following an injury scare with Denmark last weekend.
Ronald Koeman confirmed all but one of his 25-man squad trained on Friday. Shane Long picked up a patellar tendon injury playing for Ireland and the forward is the only doubt. Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin have recovered from injury and the Dutchman must make a decision on whether to include the pair based on their fitness. Rodriguez grabbed a hat-trick for the Under-21s against Liverpool two weeks ago and the striker - who is returning after foot surgery - is keen to make up for lost time. Ryan Bertrand is also available having returned from England duty without kicking a ball due to a minor muscular problem.
Manchester United – vs – Everton
Wayne Rooney is hoping to return to full training within 7-10 days meaning there will be no old boys’ reunion this weekend. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is available after appearing for England Under-19s while Daley Blind played 90 minutes for the Netherlands to allay fears that he was struggling with a hamstring problem. The fitness of Ander Herrera and Ashley Young is improving but the pair are expected to miss out. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been ruled for the remainder of the season after suffering a partial tear of his medial knee ligament. Luke Shaw will train outside with the physios next week but Van Gaal admits he is unlikely to play again in 2015/16. Will Keane begins his rehab following groin surgery in USA.
Joel Robles is expected to continue in goal following the announcement that Tim Howard will join the Colorado Rapids. However, Martinez may look to change things following a lacklustre performance at home to Arsenal. John Stones has recovered from the knock he picked up playing for England on Tuesday - the defender was caught on the knee as he over-stretchered but has responded well to treatment. Bryan Oviedo will be added to the squad after missing the last two games, a chest infection hospitalised the Costa Rican but Roberto Martinez has confirmed the defender is back in contention. Kevin Mirallas is available after his suspension but Gareth Barry will remain on the sidelines following his sending-off in the FA Cup. Everyone else is fully fit.