It’s Week 36 in the Premier League and, with the season winding down, the focus is on the final relegation spot, the final Champions League spot, and, to a lesser extent, the Europa Cup spots. Sunderland, Hull City, Leicester City, Newcastle and Aston Villa are all still in serious danger of joining QPR and Burnley in the Championship next season and will be pushing every able body to the limit. Manchester United are fairly safe in fourth but could certainly use a win to hold off Liverpool for the final spot in Europe’s biggest competition next season. Finally, Spurs, Liverpool and Southampton are all in the mix for Europa Cup with Liverpool and Spurs the most likely to take those spots. For everyone else, there will be a mix of playing for pride, trying out some players at the fringes of the squad and hoping that there are no major injuries heading into the summer.
Everton – vs – Sunderland
No fresh injury concerns for Roberto Martinez who confirms Steven Pienaar won’t be risked for the visit of Sunderland – the midfielder is assessed daily - but the priority for Everton is to ensure the player is fit and ready for pre-season. Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibon “are working well” but neither are expected to return before the end of the season. Luke Garbutt is added to the squad following his recovery from tonsillitis.
John O’Shea will travel with the Black Cats to Goodison but a rib injury will keep the captain out of Saturdays’ fixture. Fellow former-Red Devil Wes Brown does come back into contention after recovering from a knee injury and could make an immediate return to partner either Sebastian Coates or Santiago Vergini in the heart of defence. Steven Fletcher [ankle] returns following a 2-game absence but Jack Rodwell looks set to miss out against his former employers because of a hamstring problem.
Aston Villa – vs – West Ham United
Barring any last minute problems Tim Sherwood should have the same squad at his disposal as in GW35 with Gabby Agbonlahor thrown into the mix following his return from a minor hamstring strain. Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker have been ruled meaning Jores Okore and Ron Vlaar are likely to continue at centre-half although the fit again Phillippe Senderos is pushing for a recall. Alan Hutton has another week of full training under his belt and maybe preferred to Leandro Bacuna at right-back. Christian Benteke has now scored 10 goals in his last eight Premier League appearances and the form of the big Belgian will be pivotal as Villa fight to secure their top-flight status.
West Ham have managed just three goals in their last seven Premier League outings but the Hammers were dominant against Burnley – particularly during the second half when the home side managed 22-shots after the break. However, West Ham have not taken their chances as Sam Allardyce struggles to cope without leading scorer Diafra Sakho and target man Andy Carroll. Nene looked lively during his 11-minute cameo while Morgan Amalfitano performed well enough to keep Matty Jarvis on the sidelines. James Tomkins, Guy Demel and Winston Reid are hoping to feature before the end of the campaign.
Hull City – vs – Burnley
David Meyler “got a nasty one,” confirmed Steve Bruce but the midfielder is expected to feature. “Knowing Dave, he’ll be fine. An eye injury won’t keep him out." However the anticipated return of Mo Diame this season will not materialise as the midfielder is scheduled for knee surgery next Tuesday. With Manchester United and Tottenham still to come Hull cannot afford to lose this one and the home side are prepared to risk Nikica Jelavic “We’re running out of games. He comes into your thoughts because he’s such a big player. If you need someone to score a goal, he’s capable." Jake Livermore picked up an ankle injury during the defeat to Arsenal and will be assessed in training on Friday. Hull have never won a Premier League game in the month of May [D3 L7] and Saturday would be the perfect time to change that statistic.
Sam Vokes is still “touch and go” as the striker continues to be hampered by a thigh muscle complaint otherwise the Clarets are expected to be unchanged after Michael Duff had his red card rescinded [against West Ham] from last weekend. Anything other than a win and Burnley drop down to the second tier of English football and with just 1-goal in their last nine Premier League matches Sean Dyche must adopt a more open and attacking brand of play to stand any chance of claiming 3-points. Danny Ings has not scored since early-February at Old Trafford and the striker needs just one more goal to break into double figures for the season.
Leicester City – vs – Southampton
David Nugent comes back into contention following a calf problem but the attacker won’t feature in the starting eleven as the Foxes aim to make it eighteen points from 7-games. Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa have shaken off their respective knocks and will feature as the Foxes look to continue their attempt to stay up. Andy King is the lone significant absence for the Foxes with a hamstring issue. He took an odd route to get there but Leonardo Ulloa is the sixth Leicester City player to score in double digits in a Premier League season joining a club that boasts Cottee, Heskey Claridge, Dickov and Ferdinand.
Morgan Schneiderlin has been ruled out for this week for sure and some reports have him as having been ruled out for the remainder of the season. With rumors continuing to swirl about a summer departure, it may well be that he has played his final match for the Saints. James Ward-Prowse will miss the visit to the King Power Stadium due to the suspension he picked up in the loss to Sunderland last weekend. Otherwise, Ronaldo Koeman will have the same squad as he did last weekend. That squad will not include Dusan Tadic, Jay Rodriguez or Emmanuel Mayuka, all of whom are out for the remainder of the season.
Newcastle United – vs – West Brom
Siem de Jong continues to struggle with injury in his first season Tyneside, after a brief run in the squad he has been ruled out again for Week 36 after undergoing a thigh scan. Mike Williamson and Daryl Janmaat will both miss out against West Brom due to the highly publicized and scrutinized suspensions they picked up against Leicester City last weekend. Balancing out the absences, Rolando Aarons, Papiss Cisse and Paul Dummett are all back to participation with the first team. Exactly what role each will play against the Baggies this weekend is unclear but John Carver is desperate enough for points that you wouldn’t rule anything out. Adam Armstrong [calf] will have a late test to determine his availability for the match.
The health of Tony Pulis’ side is less clear, he indicated in his press conference that the side faces “half knocks and bruises” and that he “won’t be able to pick the team until tomorrow”. The only player who seems seriously at risk outside of long-term absentee Ben Foster is James Morrison who faces a late fitness test. Otherwise, expect Pulis to have his preferred options available.
Stoke City – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
Jack Butland will again deputize for Asmir Begovic after the Stoke City number one underwent a minor procedure. Marc Muniesa came through a U21 match this week unscathed and should be getting close to being sharp enough to participate with the first team if Mark Hughes so chooses. Muniesa might be Hughes’ choice to deputize for Marc Wilson with the defender out this week after being sent off at the Liberty Stadium last weekend.
Moussa Dembele [thigh] and Andros Townsend [foot] are both back in contention for the trip to the Britannia in Week 36. With little of substance left to play for it will be interesting to see who Mauricio Pochettino chooses to start. Outside of a few obvious choices – Lloris, Eriksen and Kane – fantasy managers should beware that the manager is probably starting to hold auditions for next season more so than maximizing his chances to win in the short term.
Crystal Palace – vs – Manchester United
Alan Pardew is looking at approximately the same squad that he was looking at last weekend as Crystal Palace have slumped badly after achieving safety for another season. Marouane Chamakh and Frazier Campbell are both available for the first time since February as they return from hamstring injuries. It is unlikely that either will start but one or both may play a role off the bench as Palace look to rebound against struggling Manchester United.
Michael Carrick has been ruled out for the balance of the season meaning United will continue to struggle at the base of their midfield. Carrick’s presence has coincided with United playing very well and his absences have coincided with some pretty ugly play from the Red Devils. Regardless of the outcome, look for United to struggle for attacking fluidity at Selhurst Park. To make matters worse, Louis Van Gaal has indicated that a virus has been sweeping the club, there aren’t likely to be any virus-related absences but one or more players might be at less than full strength. On the plus side, Van Gaal will have Luke Shaw, James Wilson and Jonny Evans available again. Evans is reportedly short on match fitness and Shaw’s status is seemingly always in question regardless of his health. It is possible that none of the three provide anything more than depth from the bench. Phil Jones has stepped up his recovery with reserve match action during the week but he, like Evans, seems unlikely to return to the starting line-up quite yet.
Manchester City – vs – Queens Park Rangers
It’s a big weekend for returnees at the Etihad with Vincent Kompany, Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure, and even Stevan Jovetic back in contention after varying amounts of time on the sidelines. Samir Nasri is the only confirmed absentee with a groin strain but it is possible that Manuel Pellegrini will hold off on bringing all three of his returning starters back into the line-up for fear that it would be too many players lacking a little sharpness all at once. Jovetic has rarely started when healthy so he will almost surely take a spot on the bench.
QPR are still holding on to the faintest of hopes that they won’t be relegated but with a trip to the Etihad on the agenda this week things have been made even more complicated by potential absences of Steven Caulker [broken hand], Clint Hill [hamstring], Bobby Zamora [hip], and Mauricio Isla [knee]. Nedum Onuoha will miss out due to suspension. Leroy Fer is likely to be pushed back into the mix in an attempt to stave off relegation but he isn’t fully healthy. Not a good situation for the Loftus Road bunch.
Chelsea – vs – Liverpool
Jose Mourinho has indicated that 90 points is a goal of his now that the title has been secured. He will have to do so without Oscar who picked up an injury in training and will be ruled out not only for the balance of the season but for the Copa America over the summer. Diego Costa is the only other Blues player in question with the player pushing to play but the manager looking to be conservative with a player who was in and out of the line-up all season with persistent injuries. Costa hasn’t been ruled out for certain for this weekend but it certainly appears likely that Mourinho will hold him back for the balance of the season with nothing other than the artificial 90 point goal to play for.
Daniel Sturridge has undergone hip surgery in New York and his season is over. Sturridge may not be ready for the start of next season as he recovers from the operation. An October return to the starting line-up has been suggested by Brendan Rodgers. Mario Balotelli has returned to training and could feature in Sturridge’s absence. Mamadou Sakho will miss out again with a hamstring injury but Lucas Leiva could be in contention to start against the Blues as he continues his return to full fitness.
Arsenal – vs – Swansea City
Arsenal will again be without Danny Welbeck who has an inflamed knee that has lingered, Mathieu Debuchy will also miss out on the visit of the Swans with a hamstring injury. Arsene Wenger has indicated that Welbeck should feature again before the season is out but it won’t be in Week 36. Jack Wilshere has been called “sharp again” by his manager who hopes that Wilshere can sustain a run of a year or two of good health that will allow him to play regularly and progress. That progression may start against the Swans as Aaron Ramsey has been ruled as a 50/50 proposition after taking a big kick against Hull City. Ramsey could certainly play if necessary as he is only experiencing swelling but with players in reserve it is certainly possible that Wilshere starts with Ramsey on the bench as a precaution.
One in and one potentially out for Swansea as Bafetimbi Gomis has returned to training while Nelson Oliveira will be assessed after an ankle injury he picked up during the Swans’ win over Stoke City on Saturday. Gomis may or may not be ready to start but he will certainly be available from the bench at the least for Garry Monk’s side that is struggling with absences in the attack as well as the fact that they never really replaced Wilfried Bony after his January sale to Manchester City.