Fear not, there will be another Late Fitness Test preview ahead of game week nineteen and the Boxing Day fixtures, so I shall keep my well-wishes until then.
Remember to keep checking throughout the build-up to this weekends’ games and throughout the festive period.
Everton – vs – Arsenal
Duncan Ferguson is “hopeful” that a few players could be added to the squad for the early kick-off following a return to light training. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Djibril SidIbe (both illness) are among those pushing to come back, while Fabian Delph (hamstring) was on the cusp of the Carabao Cup squad midweek which indicates he is very close. Theo Walcott and Morgan Schneiderlin face a race against time to play again this year, and although there has been no official update on Lucas Digne, the full-back is thought to be in a similar position. André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin remain out long-term.
Héctor Bellerín (hamstring) and Mesut Ozil (foot) will be assessed ahead of the game at Everton. The club also confirms Rob Holding (knee) could travel to Goodison Park after missing the last month. Dani Ceballos (hamstring) is targeting a return on Boxing Day, but Sead Kolasinac (ankle) suffered ligament damage last weekend which will keep him out until the new year. Kieran Tierney (dislocated shoulder) successfully underwent surgery this week and will now rehabilitate for around three months; the left-back is aiming to return to full training by March. Granit Xhaka is available for selection after the concussion he sustained at West Ham.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Burnley
Joshua King suffered an ankle sprain at Stamford Bridge and hasn't trained all week; Eddie Howe will “see how he is” closer to kick-off. Andrew Surman is also struggling due to a calf complaint and faces a test. “We’ll make some very late calls on them." Callum Wilson is improving, although Saturday will come too soon, and Junior Stanislas, who returned to the matchday squad at Chelsea, is expected to miss out due to personal reasons. Lloyd Kelly (thigh) has suffered a "slight" setback, and there's no immediate return for him; Arnaut Danjuma looks to be out long-term after tests revealed a stress fracture in his foot. Harry Wilson (thigh) has returned to Melwood (Liverpool) for further tests after suffering a dead leg which kept him out of week 17. Nathan Ake, Adam Smith, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels are all out until next year.
Sean Dyche confirms Johann Berg Gudmundsson is "doing well" in his recovery from a long-term hamstring injury. The winger completed 60 minutes in a training ground friendly on Tuesday, and he is expected to feature for the development side this weekend. "Fortunately, we’ve got an Under-23 game on Saturday. He’ll get more minutes in that, and hopefully 90 if that goes well." Chris Wood picked up a knock on his Achilles, and Dyche will see how the striker is closer to kick-off. Ashley Westwood (tight groin) faces a late fitness test, but Charlie Taylor and Kevin Long have trained all week and should come into the reckoning. Ben Gibson, who pulled up during the warm-up (vs Newcastle) has a "niggly groin" and is rated as a major doubt.
Aston Villa – vs – Southampton
Dean Smith is not expecting to have any fresh injury concerns for the visit of Southampton on Saturday. Tyrone Mings (hamstring) is running pain-free at 50 per cent, and if he keeps on progressing, then the centre-back could return over Christmas. Jed Steer (Achilles) has just had his protective boot/cast removed, and the back-up goalkeeper can move onto the next phase of his recovery. Keinan Davis (hamstring) is not ready yet, but he won’t be too far away after stepping up his rehab – the forward has been sidelined since October.
Sofiane Boufal continues to manage an ongoing toe problem, but Ralph Hasenhüttl confirms he "might" be in the travelling squad. "He has some issues with his movements without injections [and he] is not able to train with us. But it's getting better and better." Moussa Djenepo has been ruled out due to problems with his hamstring. “He could not train. Maybe next week he starts again, but we don't take the risk. It's important he gets 100 per cent." Kevin Danso had two days out with a fever but should be okay. However, Yan Valery will miss the remainder of 2019. "I said it last week that he will not play again this year. Maybe next year he is coming back."
Brighton and Hove Albion – vs – Sheffield United
Graham Potter reveals Aaron Connolly "should" be ready for the weekend. The Irishman has trained following his recovery from a dead leg. "We have no other problems from Monday [at Selhurst Park], and of course, Dale Stephens is back [from suspension] too." Only Solly March and José Izquierdo are ruled out with the pair due back in early 2020.
Chris Wilder says the Blades are in "fantastic shape" ahead of the trip to Brighton. "We make it competitive in training from Monday to Friday. It’s brilliant when they all come through unscathed." Following the return of Callum Robinson, who has recovered from the illness which kept him out of week seventeen, the United treatment room is now empty although John Fleck misses out due to suspension.
Newcastle United – vs – Crystal Palace
Speaking during Fridays’ press conference, Steve Bruce told reporters that Miguel Almirón and Jonjo Shelvey "have a chance" for Saturday. "They trained yesterday. We haven’t seen them yet today, but they seemed OK." However, the Magpies could still be missing up to six players with the game coming too soon for Allan Saint-Maximin, Ki Sung-Yeung, Karl Darlow and Ciaran Clark. "Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles aren’t there either. So, we’ve still got a few missing, but at least we’ve got a couple back.”
The return of Patrick Van Aanholt will provide a major boost if he can be cleared for the game at St James’ Park. “He has started training with us again, so that’s very positive. We will see if he can play tomorrow.” But as one door opens, another slams in your face, and Roy Hodgson, who recently admitted this current injury crisis was the worst of his Palace career, has been left sweating on the fitness of Scott Dann after he suffered a setback in training on Friday morning. "It might just be a little scare that you sometimes get in training sessions. Otherwise, our injury list is as it were." Gary Cahill, Andros Townsend and Joel Ward are out long-term while Mamadou Sakho serves the final game of his ban. Jairo Riedewald is struggling to overcome the hip problem which forced him off at half-time on Monday evening (vs Brighton).
Norwich City – vs – Wolverhampton Wanderers
The news that Teemu Pukki had been cleared for Saturday was overshadowed by a setback for Ben Godfrey who may not play again until February. The defender suffered a knee injury at Leicester, and despite playing the full 90 minutes, post-match tests revealed a ligament (LCL) tear. Grant Hanley is an option, although the game does come a little sooner than hoped as he has only been training for ten days following groin surgery. Alex Tettey and Ibrahim Amadou are also able to deputise should Daniel Farke decide to drop either into the back four. As for Pukki, the Fin did not fracture his toe as initially thought – an x-ray confirmed substantial bruising meaning the in-form striker will be available to face Wolves. Josip Drmic could return in the new year, but Timm Klose is a doubt for the remainder of the season.
Nuno Espírito Santo reveals, that other than Willy Boly and Morgan Gibbs-White, "everyone is fit" for the trip to Carrow Road. Adama Traoré suffered a shoulder injury last weekend – a dislocation – but fortunately, the on-field medic was “able to put it [right] again”, and the speedster is okay to play.
Manchester City – vs – Leicester City
Sergio Agüero and John Stones have trained ahead of the game. "They have [had] two sessions,” Pep said during Fridays’ media briefing. However, David Silva has not recovered as thought, and the Spanish playmaker will miss out again. Leroy Sané and Aymeric Laporte are targeting a return in January/February.
Apart from absentee Matty James (Achilles) who remains sidelined with no definitive return date, the Foxes have no other injury concerns. "He’s in training with the squad every day, so he’s making excellent progress. He’s not quite at the stage yet where we can think about games." Leicester made three changes for the Carabao Cup at Goodison Park on Wednesday, but expect a more familiar-looking line-up from Brendan Rodgers at The Etihad.
Watford – vs – Manchester United
Nigel Pearson should be able to call upon the services of Adam Masina and Roberto Pereyra who have trained this week after missing the defeat at Anfield. However, José Holebas (ankle) won't be available, as well as those sidelined long-term (Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Sebastian Prödl and Daryl Janmaat). “There’s no real change on that front, although they are progressing.”
United should have a similar squad to recent weeks with none of those currently sidelined due to return. Diogo Dalot will build fitness with the development side on Friday night, and while Paul Pogba is training again following illness, he still needs to improve his conditioning. “We'll see how long it takes for him to feel ready to be part of a game.”
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Chelsea
Tanguy Ndombele (groin) and Michel Vorm (calf) could return to the matchday squad on Sunday after rejoining the group in training, but José Mourinho might still be without a further three players for the London derby. Ben Davies (ankle) is a definite absentee as he continues his recovery from ligament damage in Qatar; the left-back is not due back for another two months. Erik Lamela (hamstring) appears to be no closer to a return despite the club announcing in November that he was in the final phase of his conditioning, and captain Hugo Lloris (elbow) is targeting his comeback before the end of January.
Frank Lampard reports that Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Achilles) is making "good progress", but the midfielder is not close to being available for selection. "All the other players are fit for Sunday," which includes Fikayo Tomori (hip), who should be back in contention to start, and Olivier Giroud (ankle), who could return to the bench.