What a beast of a week as the African Cup of Nations and Asian Cup international tournaments wreak havoc on player availability - make sure you check-out all the latest headlines from the experts at Rotoworld or follow via Twitter @Rotoworld_PL for the news as it happens. Game week 21 provides a host of key match-ups [a reversal of those from early December] and this set of fixtures marks the return of the diminutive Sergio Aguero – ironically against Everton – the team against which the striker damaged his medial knee ligaments. Can Newcastle complete the double over Chelsea after they were able to inflict their first defeat of the campaign back in GW15 or will it be a case of damage limitation for John Carver? Manchester United celebrate joyously as their treatment room is emptied and Alan Pardew / Tony Pulis take charge of their respective sides for the first time in the Premier League ……
Sunderland – vs – Liverpool
Patrick van Aanholt came through the Leeds United game unscathed last weekend in the FA Cup and the full-back will be available for the Liverpool match but Anthony Reveillere [calf] and Lee Cattermole [groin] are both rated as “touch-and-go.” Liam Bridcutt could deputise in midfield. Gus Poyet also revealed that Jack Rodwell [hamstring] will miss out but the former City player should return to training on Monday – the Black Cats boss will assess a few players ahead of the game as “there are a couple with illness and a couple with knocks.” Vito Mannone and Ricardo Alvarez will be available for selection but Sebastien Coates is OUT under the terms of his loan agreement.
Joe Allen will miss the trip to the Stadium of Light, the midfielder only "returned to light training" this week as he continues his recovery from a knee injury. Dejan Lovren is expected to be back in the Liverpool squad after missing out at Wimbledon, the defender is over his recent groin injury but Kolo Toure is away on international duty. Glen Johnson [groin], Jon Flanagan [knee] and Brad Jones [thigh] remain sidelined. Daniel Sturridge returned from the USA on Friday and Brendan Rodgers is hopeful the England striker can play again in January.
Burnley – vs – Queens Park Rangers
Michael Duff [calf] is unlikely to face QPR despite a return to training this week, the central defender is lacking fitness after “a number of weeks out” but teammate Jason Shackell “has got a good chance, he is the closest" confirms Sean Dyche. Matt Taylor is also nearing a return following his Achilles operation and Stephen Ward is going well after fracturing his ankle in December - David Jones has recovered from illness and was training again on Thursday after having three days off. Doctors have confirmed Kevin Long - anterior cruciate ligament surgery - has been a success with the Clarets player set to miss around nine months.
Harry Redknapp has one or two knocks which “we'll have a look at,” but none are thought to be serious. Suk-Young Yun [ankle] is expected to miss out again along with Sandro who “will hopefully be back for the Stoke game after the short break at the end of the month." Mauro Zarate comes into the squad after signing from West Ham “he's a player with bags of ability & hopefully he can come in and do well for us."
Chelsea – vs – Newcastle United
No fresh injury concerns for Chelsea who will have goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois available after he was rested for the FA Cup because of a minor finger injury. Ramires is finally ready to make a major impact after recovering from a thigh problem "I am pleased he's is back. He needs to play without pain, which he did for the first time for a long, long time against Watford.” Steve Holland replaced Mourinho for Fridays’ press-conference following his FA charge and his assistant revealed “There’s been a really good focus this week, it’s a big advantage to have a clear week to work with a group of 20 players. It’s a game we’re very much ready for. Our tactical preparation is the best it has been for months. We’re in good shape.”
Newcastle have no fewer than 17 players at risk of missing out this weekend although the early team news does suggest temporary manager John Carver can breathe a sigh a of relief – for the moment at least. Tim Krul played 45 minutes of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Celtic on Thursday coming through unscathed. "My ankle is feeling really good. It's strong and I'm not feeling any problem at all," which means Jak Alnwick first team nightmare will come to an end – Rob Elliot is also expected to return for game week 22. Fabricio Coloccini, Moussa Sissoko, Jack Colback and Daryl Janmaat will be available for the trip to Stamford Bridge as well "providing they come through this latest session with no problems," but Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse are on African Cup of Nations duty while Steven Taylor [ruptured Achilles] has been ruled out for the season. Mehdi Abeid will not feature for Algeria as he continues his recovery from a broken toe but Siem de Jong, Ryan Taylor and Gabriel Obertan were all spotted training with the main group this week – Rolando Aarons and Curtis Good remain sidelined. Ayoze Perez looks set to start having been rested for the FA Cup tie at Leicester City.
Everton – vs – Manchester City
Problems for Everton as the Toffees look to arrest a four game losing streak – Roberto Martinez will however welcome Antolin Alcaraz [suspension] and Leighton Baines [knock] back into the squad although "Sylvan Distin is going to be out. He hasn't got a bad injury, so I don't think he’ll be too long.” Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, Tony Hibbert & Gibson "are progressing well" while Martinez needs to “make sure James is fully recovered and then he can enjoy his football once again. We think we've got to the bottom of his injury and this can help the rest of his career." A calf strain rules Tim Howard out while Christian Atsu is on African Cup of Nations duty.
The big news for City supporters is that Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko will be in the squad to face Everton after the pair returned to full training on Thursday. Vincent Kompany has also recovered from a recent calf strain which means either Mangala or Demichelis will need to make way [probably the latter]. Yaya Toure is on African Cup of Nations duty and Matija Nastasic is linked with a move away from the Etihad.
Leicester City – vs – Aston Villa
Nigel Pearson confirms Esteban Cambiasso will miss out after picking up a thigh injury during last weekend’s win over Newcastle but Danny Drinkwater and Andy King “have a chance,” the pair will hopefully train on Friday. Dean Hammond should be okay after recovering from a calf problem but a knee injury means Jeff Schlupp wasn’t unable to join his Ghanaian teammates at the AFCoN although Riyad Mahrez will be representing Algeria. Mark Schwarzer has been added to the Foxes squad amid fears Kasper Schmeichel [broken metatarsal] may be ruled out for longer than expected.
A mixed update from Villa Park as Paul Lambert confirms the extent of Ron Vlaar’s knee injury "It’s just a little meniscus thing and it looks like he will be out for between 4/6 weeks. Hopefully it’s not too bad. It’s certainly not as bad as it could have been,” although generally the news is good. Nathan Baker trained [on Thursday] and Kieran Richardson will hopefully train [on Friday] "those two are coming back," while Gabby Agbonlahor [hamstring] is also expected to return. Philippe Senderos will meet with a specialist within the next 10-14 days and Libor Kozak is closing in on a return – the pair are targeting games in February. Chris Herd is on Asian Cup duty with Australia.
Swansea City – vs – West Ham United
This weekend is still too soon for Jefferson Montero [hamstring] while Jonjo Shelvey won’t be back from suspension until February. Garry Monk confirms new signings Nelson Oliveira and Matt Grimes are both available to face West Ham "They are just getting up to speed with how we work but they have both settled in well. For Nelson it is a new culture and a different way of playing and a higher intensity, but he's worked very hard. Matty has great potential and it’s my job to use him at the right times."
Opponents West Ham have “a fully fit squad to choose from apart from Diafra with his injury and Cheikhou who's away with Senegal." The clubs leading scorer “got injured against West Brom” and is “probably going to miss the Africa Cup of Nations.” Alex Song retired from international football this week “to concentrate on his club football” but fatigue, jet-lag and illness may mean a place on the bench. Andy Carroll will return after “kicking the ground in training” on Monday – his cut finger [while making lunch on Thursday] is NOT thought to be life-threatening!
West Brom – vs – Hull City
New Baggies boss Tony Pulis confirms "all the players are fit and raring to go" meaning Craig Gardner is available after a calf problem but Jonas Olsson is not ready following Achilles surgery. Saido Berahino will hoping his four goal haul in the FA Cup will kick start his Premier League campaign again while Victor Anichebe seems to be over his recent groin issues. Jason Davidson and Youssouf Mulumbu are currently on international duty in the Asian Cup and African Cup of Nations respectively.
James Chester has recovered from a minor knee injury and will be included in Saturdays' squad along with Michael Dawson but “it might be a little bit early for him [to start] considering it was a hamstring injury.” Aluko is a major doubt “he’s done his calf and I can’t see him being involved on Saturday” and the rest of the “squad should be pretty much the same [as the FA Cup].” Concerns that Mo Diame could be out for the season while Liam Rosenior, Andrew Robertson and Gaston Ramirez were all admitted to the treatment room following the win over Everton on New Years’ Day. Nikica Jelavic is back after illness.
Crystal Palace – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
Alan Pardew has lost Mile Jedinak and Yannick Bolasie – Asian Cup & AFCoN duty - for his first Premier League game in charge “which is a blow” but “we've come up with a game plan without them.” However there was better news regarding Marouane Chamakh and James McArthur who will be added to the Eagles’ squad - "one or two" will be checked ahead of the Tottenham game but generally the squad is "good to go." Pardew confirms “we had an incident this week with Jason Puncheon. His behaviour was inappropriate and I've told him that” but the player is available for selection.
Mauricio Pochettino has reported Erik Lamela [calf] and Ryan Mason [hamstring] "have no chance for Palace, maybe next week, they are both unavailable" while midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is absent as “he's on African Cup of Nations duty with Algeria.”
Arsenal – vs – Stoke City
Wenger confirms "Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini are back in training" and come into contention but Danny Welbeck is not available as "it’s too soon." Olivier Giroud has completed his three game suspension while the Gunners' boss will decide whether Ozil will start against Stoke or if Szczesny will play in goal "I haven't selected the first eleven." Yaya Sanogo "will go out on loan” with a Premier League club preferred – Hull City and Crystal Palace are said to be keen. Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby are both long-term – Mikel Arteta is close while Oxlade-Chamberlain has recovered from a knock to the knee.
New signing Philipp Wollscheid could make his Premier League debut in Sundays’ encounter against Arsenal, the German international only arrived on Wednesday but Hughes will have no qualms about including the 25 year-old. Marc Muniesa is a slight doubt after missing “training for the majority of the week” but “his groin [problem] appears to have settled down” and he was able to join the group on Friday. Bojan [hamstring] will be assessed “he's missed matches and a chunk of training recently so we will have to be mindful of that" while Mame Biram Diouf is at the African Cup of Nations with Senegal. Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters are both expected to return to the eleven while Steve Sidwell and Stephen Ireland "came back into the equation against Wrexham which was pleasing," although the latter has been struggling with illness. Victor Moses is also back in the squad and "he has looked really sharp in training" but “It’s important not to put him at risk though, so will have a good look at him over the next 24 hours or so before we make a decision.”
Manchester United – vs – Southampton
Louis van Gaal states Luke Shaw is available to face Southampton but Rafael may not be risked after successfully undergoing surgery on his fractured cheekbone. Daley Blind has trained and “Marcos Rojo will do so tomorrow [on Saturday], Ashley Young is the only injured player,” within the United squad. Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia are available but like Rojo and Blind the players are a various stages in terms of fitness and for the majority a place on the bench is realistic.
Ronald Koeman gave his players three days off this week and come into this match fully refreshed after looking rather lethargic against Ipswich Town. New signing Elijero Elia “will be part of the squad for this Sunday. The question is whether he's in shape to start the game.” Saido Mane could still feature in the AFCoN “He's working here to become fit to play and will go next week for a test with the Senegalese medical team." England full-back Nathaniel Clyne has trained and "he's ready to play, but the player needs to be comfortable," Jack Cork is also back following his recent ankle injury.