While 15 Premier League fixtures in game week thirty-four will have some managers rubbing their hands with glee. Trying to negate your way around a minefield of selection dilemmas will leave others scratching their heads.
Louis van Gaal, Quique Flores, Alan Pardew and Roberto Martinez have all hinted at rotation ahead of next weekends’ FA Cup semi-final. The oldest association football competition in the world offers each side their only chance of silverware this season plus a route into Europe.
Everton have a number of uncertainties going into the game against Southampton and Martinez has already talked up opportunities for ‘fringe’ and ‘youth’ players. Resting the likes of Lukaku, Barkley and Lennon for one or both league games would come as no surprise. Van Gaal confirmed he would shuffle his pack due to the busy schedule: "Yes, yes, I think so. I have to. It’s also better for the players, I think, but we have to wait and see if I do that tomorrow or [against] Palace. Everton in the FA Cup is, of course, [a game where] we have to line up the strongest team."
Liverpool arrive at the Vitality on the back of one of their greatest nights’ in European football – emotionally and physically players will be drained following a pulsating 4-3 win over Dortmund and on Wednesday, they have a Merseyside derby to contend with! Klopp made seven changes for the visit of Stoke and that figure could easily be surpassed on Sunday.
A win for Norwich against fellow strugglers Sunderland in the early kick off will all but condemn the North East clubs – Newcastle being the other (if they fail to beat Swansea) – to Championship football next season. Tottenham can’t afford any slip-ups at the Britannia - the gap to leaders Leicester could be as much as ten points by kick off. The Foxes take on West Ham - who have faltered in recent weeks - knowing that two more wins might be enough to be crowned - Premier League champions.
Norwich City – vs –Sunderland
Alex Neil reveals: "Timm Klose has been wrapped up in cotton wool this week and hasn't done much, but we hope he can play tomorrow." The Swiss defender was stretchered off at Crystal Palace following an awkward fall and his availability hangs in the balance - Seb Bassong is ready to step in, if Klose fails a fitness test. Russell Martin and full-back Ivo Pinto will be hoping for a recall after they failed to make last weekends’ match day squad.
Sam Allardyce confirms he has a fully fit squad ahead of the trip to Carrow Road. Duncan Watmore re-joined the group in training this week, but while the forward won’t start against Norwich, he could “come off the subs bench." Big Sam has been trying a number of different sides / formations to keep his players guessing on who will be named in the starting XI.
Manchester United – vs – Aston Villa
Ander Herrera picked up a foot injury at West Ham and the Spanish midfielder is rated as a doubt for the visit of the leagues bottom side: ‘At this moment, I don't know, as the diagnosis is still yet to come,’ revealed Van Gaal during Friday’s pre-match briefing. Wayne Rooney ‘should’ get some minutes against Aston Villa but his involvement will depend ‘on the game’. Marcus Rashford will start and the Dutchman was full of praise for the young striker: ‘It is fantastic what Marcus has done so far’. Luke Shaw is still working with the physio but he is ‘doing great’ and Adnan Januzaj is ruled out, although the winger ‘is progressing’. Bastian Schweinsteiger is unlikely to play for United again this season, but the German could still feature at Euro 2016 in France. No Matteo Darmian in the midweek squad following his 20 minute horror show at White Hart Lane seven days ago.
Gabby Agbonlahor will not be involved this weekend after Eric Black confirmed the Villa forward has been put on a 'personal fitness programme' for the next two weeks. ‘In terms of fitness levels, he's not fit for the Premier League at this moment in time’ the manager added. Jack Grealish and Adama Traore have impressed and the pair are pushing for a start: ‘They have trained very, very well. I couldn't fault them.’ Five changes last time out with Micah Richards and Carlos Sanchez dropping out of the starting XI. Carles Gil was not included in the match day squad. Libor Kozak could make a surprise return following his recovery from a broken ankle and Alan Hutton is back from suspension.
Everton – vs – Southampton
Two defeats in 16 away matches is satisfactory, but at home, Everton have suffered eight losses which “is nowhere near good enough and very difficult to explain." Aaron Lennon, Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines are all a "serious concern" for Roberto Martinez – the trio will be assessed in training on Friday and checked for a reaction on Saturday. Tom Cleverley has been ruled out of the game against Southampton while Romelu Lukaku is another doubt due to a slight groin issue: "He did not train (on Thursday), but we are hoping he can train today and we can assess him from there." James McCarthy is suspended which could see Mo Besic return to the side. "Three games in eight days could mean chances for younger players to impress." Steven Pienaar is fit and available but Leon Osman is struggling to shake off an unspecified injury which has kept him out of the last three. Everton will be without Phil Jagielka for at least one week due to a hamstring injury. The captain suffered a strain late on against Watford and will miss out. Jagielka is hoping to return in the FA Cup against Man United on April 23.
Charlie Austin has been ruled out of the trip to Goodison Park but the Southampton striker could return next weekend. Austin was an unused substitute against Newcastle after twisting his knee during the pre-match warm-up: "He is not available, may be one more week," said Ronald Koeman in his media briefing. However, the Saints will be able to call upon the services of Steven Davis who has recovered from the ankle injury he sustained a fortnight ago at the King Power. Shane Long is also OK after he was forced off due to dizziness following a clash with Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow. Florin Gardos is training with the first team but he is unlikely to feature having spent the entire campaign on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury.
Newcastle United – vs – Swansea City
A groin injury rules Daryl Janmaat out of Saturdays’ crucial home fixture with Swansea. The Magpies are also missing Fabricio Coloccini who suffered a setback in training this week: "We have to manage with the players we have," Benitez said. Paul Dummett is back amongst the ranks but Steven Taylor and Kevin Mbabu remain sidelined. Jamal Lascelles is expected to partner Chancel Mbemba while the returning Jack Colback could start at left-back with Vurnon Anita switching across onto the right.
No fresh injury concerns for Swansea who guaranteed their top flight status with a win over Chelsea. Man of the moment - Gylfi Sigurdsson – caused the damage in the 1-0 win with his 25th Premier League goal for the club. Leon Britton has been passed fit despite a recent back injury and painful foot condition - plantar fasciitis.
West Brom Albion – vs – Watford
James Morrison will miss the next three games which means he is likely to return in early May. Meanwhile, Spurs loanee Alex Pritchard has picked up a hip injury - everyone else though should be “OK”. Salomon Rondon has recovered from the minor back strain which forced him off at the Etihad. His availability leaves Tony Pulis with a decision to make after Craig Gardner – his replacement – performed so well. Callum McManaman will be hoping for some game time having been named in the match day squad last time out.
Quique Flores admits he will have to consider "very carefully" his team selection with two Premier League games and an FA Cup semi-final coming up: “I think it’s the first time during the season we have to think seriously in two matches – against West Brom and West Ham,” said Flores. “I don’t like to mix but in terms of choosing players we need to think about it.” The Hornets have made twelve changes in the last three games but the omission of Nathan Ake versus Everton provided the biggest surprise. The Spanish coach confirmed the Chelsea loanee was fit but he wasn’t selected – one to watch potentially as Watford maybe planning for next season with Ake set to return to his parent club. Etienne Capoue has been passed fit.
Chelsea – vs – Manchester City
Guus Hiddink confirms: "We've had a good week, I am happy that some injured players came in." John Terry is ruled out but is hoping to speed up his recovery from an Achilles injury by undergoing platelet rich plasma therapy. The club estimate the captain could be another 1-2 weeks. Gary Cahill (hip) and Nemanja Matic (contusion to the lower leg) have been passed fit. Eden Hazard has a chance following a return to training but Loic Remy remains on the sidelines. Diego Costa is back following suspension and Kenedy will be included in the squad despite carrying a minor niggle. Still no mention of Willian who reportedly picked up an injury playing for Brazil against Paraguay two weeks ago.
“Vincent Kompany is working but he’s not in the squad list," said Pellegrini. "I hope he will play on Tuesday.” An ongoing ankle problem rules David Silva out as the club carefully manage the player until the end of the season – no surgery required at this point. "Raheem Sterling has started working and hopefully he’ll be ready Tuesday, all the other players are fit.” Yaya Toure is "100 per cent. He is an important player and can make a difference starting or playing 30 minutes.” Sergio Aguero “had a kick in the leg but has worked with normality."
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Liverpool
Stanislas is poised for a return. The Cherries winger has missed the last six games because of a hamstring strain but Eddie Howe confirms: ‘Junior has been training well for a long period now. We’re hoping he will be close.’ Afobe looks set to miss out again with a similar problem: ‘He is taking his first steps and we’ll be looking to protect Benik for a little bit longer.’ A problematic Hernia will keep Adam Smith on the sidelines and Harry Arter met with a specialist this week. The club are waiting on his report to determine whether he will play again this season. Callum Wilson made a surprise return at Villa Park but “he will naturally be short of his best," said the Cherries boss. "I don't think we'll see the best of him until next season."
Expect changes to the side which produced another wonderfully entertaining evening in Europe on Thursday. Liverpool made seven changes for the win over Stoke City and with a Merseyside derby on Wednesday coming up expect more of the same. Emre Can is suspended but it now looks like the German midfielder could miss the remainder of the campaign after damaging ankle ligaments during the win over Dortmund. A scan will confirm the severity of the injury. Daniel Sturridge should return in attack while Kevin Stewart may get another opportunity to shine following his impressive display a week ago. Lucas Leiva is back in contention after recovering from a thigh strain. Jordan Henderson will struggle to play again this season after straining knee ligaments but Joe Allen has stepped in with two excellent performances.
Leicester City – vs – West Ham United
Claudio Ranieri confirms ‘everyone is okay’ and the Italian could name an unchanged side for the fifth consecutive Premier League game. Jeffrey Schlupp and Matty James are over their recent knee injuries but neither has been able to force their way back into the match day squad. Jamie Vardy was excellent at the Stadium of Light and the PFA Player of the Year nominee will be hoping to add to his 21 Premier League goals in 2015/16 to cap a memorable season. No fresh injury concerns.
Winston Reid should return to the match day squad after he was rested for the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Man United. The defender missed out due to muscular tightness. James Collins is over his recent hamstring problem and Sam Byram will come into contention having missed the last month due to injury. The absence of Diafra Sakho last weekend was shrouded in mystery. But speaking ahead of the cup replay at Old Trafford, Slaven Bilic confirmed: "The situation is very simple. He reported an injury after training on Friday." The striker will return in 7-10 days. Hat trick hero Andy Carroll will lead the Hammers attack.
Arsenal – vs – Crystal Palace
Arsène Wenger is expected to name the same squad as last weekend. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere came through another development game unscathed on Thursday and the pair will have one more outing for the U21s before they’ll be considered for the first team. A place on the bench against West Brom or Sunderland is realistic. Per Mertesacker could return to the side to help combat the aerial threat of Connor Wickham and / or Emmanuel Adebayor. No decision on who will play in goal though: ‘Petr Cech is our number one but David Ospina is a fantastic goalkeeper.’ Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could return within 7-14 days.
Dwight Gayle has been ruled out of the next two Premier League games after suffering a muscular problem against Everton. The striker is ‘a possibility for the FA Cup semi-final’ next weekend. Wilfried Zaha is carrying a slight knock and he will be assessed ahead of the game. Emmanuel Adebayor and Connor Wickham came through Wednesday night unscathed with the latter poised for his first start in more than six weeks. James McArthur has returned to full training and the midfielder is targeting the FA Cup semi-final on April 24.
Stoke City – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
Mark Hughes is sweating on the fitness of Marc Muniesa after the full-back picked up a knock. The Spanish defender was expected to replace the suspended Erik Pieters but his involvement hangs in the balance: "We have a concern about Marc Muniesa, who hasn't trained since Monday. He had a bang in training," Mark Hughes revealed. "He is the one worry for us at the moment. Given that Pieters is suspended, we are hoping Marc pulls through." However, there was better news regarding Marko Arnautovic who has trained: “He should be OK." Glenn Whelan hasn’t undertaken a full session with the group yet "but we hope that he will be fine too." Marc Wilson is training but needs a couple of weeks. Glen Johnson and Jon Walters "aren't quite ready" but Joselu is fine following a bout of illness. Hughes hints that Jakob Haugaard could retain his place in spite of his poor performance against Liverpool: “He has had a run in the side. For the most part I have been pleased. At the moment he needs experience."
Clinton N'Jie is closing in on a return to action. The forward has trained with the first team all week. Nabil Bentaleb is the only confirmed absentee. Harry Kane (dead leg) has been passed fit for the trip to Stoke. On choosing Vertonghen over Wimmer against Man United Pochettino said: "Kevin did very well but he is a young player trying to adapt to the Premier League. Vertonghen is one of the leaders of the team plus an international. The decision was easy for me."