A packed festive programme is upon us and the next week or so will no doubt throw up a dose of upsets and oddities. My advice, plan for the unexpected and make sure you have depth on your bench to cope with the inevitable rotation curveball coming your way.
Good luck everyone and have a very Merry Christmas!
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Brighton and Hove Albion
Erik Lamela (hamstring) has rejoined the group, but José Mourinho suggested that Boxing Day would come too soon for the Argentine who has missed the last two months. Tanguy Ndombele (groin) and Michel Vorm (calf) provided a timely boost by returning to the matchday squad last weekend. Ben Davies (ankle) won't be back until next year, while the Tottenham boss believes Hugo Lloris (elbow) will return in February. "[It] goes from the 1st to the 29th this year!" The club have appealed the red card issued to Heung-Min Son for kicking out at Antonio Rüdiger on Sunday. As it stands, the South Korean will serve a three-match ban, although it could be extended if the panel believes the appeal is frivolous.
No need to complicate matters on the south coast; only two players are missing for the Seagulls. "It’s still Solly [due back in early January], and Jose [Izquierdo] ruled out through injury. We have good numbers going into this period, and we need to use the squad in the best way we can," said Graham Potter ahead of the trip to London. “We've got two games in 48 hours, and we'll have to look at how we play against Tottenham. We've got a very hardworking group, and it's an opportunity for others to get some minutes."
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Arsenal
“I’m not expecting huge changes to the team,” revealed Eddie Howe when asked about his squad for Arsenal. “We’ll wait and see if there’s anyone missing, we had a couple of worries after the [Burnley] game, but I don’t want to reveal who they are.” While the Bournemouth boss wasn’t giving too much away, Ryan Fraser is believed to be one of those after taking a couple of heavy knocks. Simon Francis - stitches in a head wound - will be fine, but Diego Rico is suspended following his fifth caution of the season. "We have a lot of players that shouldn’t be too long, but they are not going to help us this side of Christmas or New Year. We'll wait and see." However, Howe did say that he “might get one back” with the two most likely candidates being Harry Wilson (dead leg), and Steve Cook, who is progressing following wrist surgery. Nathan Ake is a definite absentee. “With hamstring injuries, it’s difficult to predict when players will be back, and Nathan won’t be back for this game.” The defenders' initial timeline was around six weeks, meaning a return by mid-January.
Héctor Bellerín (hamstring) has returned to full training and could be included in the squad to face Bournemouth. Mikel Arteta will make a late call on Dani Ceballos (hamstring) and Rob Holding (knee). Sokratis returns after his ban, but Calum Chambers will miss this one due to suspension. Sead Kolasinac (ankle) has suffered ligament damage which will keep him out until the new year, and Kieran Tierney (dislocated shoulder) successfully underwent surgery last week and will now rehabilitate for around three months. Gabriel Martinelli (tight hamstring) is the only other concern following Mesut Ozil's recovery from a foot injury. Arteta revealed that the players are not going to be judged on the past, positive or negative, after Ozil was given a dressing down by Freddie Ljungberg for his reaction after being subbed versus Man City.
Aston Villa – vs – Norwich City
Boxing Day will prove to be too soon for Tyrone Mings, but Villa boss Dean Smith is hopeful that the defender can at least return to the training pitches giving him a chance for GW20. John McGinn (ankle fracture) is a "big loss", but his absence will provide others with an opportunity. "We’ve just got to let the fracture heal first and foremost. If I was going to guess, I’d say he was going to miss three months.” Keinan Davis is not 100 per cent, “but he should be soon" and Jed Steer (Achilles) remains out.
Teemu Pukki is managing a badly bruised toe, but other than that, the Canaries are a looking a lot healthier with only long-term casualties Ben Godfrey, Josip Drmic and Timm Klose expected to miss out. There had been no press conference at the time of writing, although there were no apparent issues from Saturdays’ loss at home to Wolves.
Chelsea – vs – Southampton
César Azpilicueta (hamstring) and Tammy Abraham (calf) were replaced on Sunday, although with no update from Frank Lampard after the win over Spurs, it is hoped that their withdrawal was fatigue-related, and the problem was nothing more sinister than cramp. The Blues will be forced into at least one change as Mateo Kovacic has accumulated five yellow cards, with Jorginho favourite to replace the Croatian.
Yan Valery (illness) is not expected to play again this year, but Kevin Danso stands a chance following a return to training. A decision on Moussa Djenepo (hamstring) will be made nearer to the game, although, after the result at Villa Park, Ralph Hasenhüttl does not need to take any unnecessary risks. Sofiane Boufal continues to have painkilling injections for his toe, and a place on the bench is the best he can wish for considering he hasn’t trained fully for several weeks.
Crystal Palace – vs – West Ham United
Roy Hodgson will welcome the return of Mamadou Sakho after three matches out. Scott Dann (calf) is the latest player to be added to the treatment room, and although there is no timeline on a possible return, it seems unlikely that he will be back over Christmas. Everyone else is medium-to-long term meaning Gary Cahill and Joel Ward (both knee), Andros Townsend (groin) and Jeffrey Schlupp (hip) won’t be considered until next year. Patrick Van Aanholt came through Saturdays’ game at St James’ Park unscathed after missing the previous two.
Manuel Pellegrini won’t have any reservations about handing Roberto a recall if David Martin and Lukasz Fabianski fail to recover. “We will see in the next couple of days who will be playing at Crystal Palace." Both goalkeepers are recovering from thigh injuries, and finally, after three months out, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Fabianski. "He is looking well. He is working every day a little bit harder. If he is not ready for the 26th, then maybe the 28th or the 1st." Manuel Lanzini has worked without any problems for around ten days and should be included in the matchday squad, while Anderson, who was struck down by a bug in week seventeen has worked an entire week without problems. Jack Wilshere continues to be hampered by a groin issue, and Winston Reid is mixing his recovery from long-term injury by working one day and resting the other.
Everton – vs – Burnley
There was nothing in terms of a team news update from Carlo Ancelotti in his first pre-match press briefing on Monday. However, following the 0-0 draw with Arsenal, interim manager Duncan Ferguson did say that he would be "amazed" if Alex Iwobi (hamstring) wasn't out for two/three weeks. Morgan Schneiderlin (calf) should be close, but GW20 is probably more realistic while Theo Walcott isn't due back for another 7-10 days. Jean-Philippe Gbamin and André Gomes remain out long-term.
Sean Dyche confirms Johann Berg Gudmundsson will come into his thinking for Boxing Day after the winger completed 90 minutes for the U23s last weekend. "I’m fit now, and I feel good, so it felt great to get that done today and to be back out there," the winger said on Saturday. Jeff Hendrick is suspended, and Aaron Lennon missed Mondays' session due to illness although he could still make the squad. Ben Gibson (groin) may not be available.
Sheffield United – vs – Watford
Chris Wilder confirms the Blades have "no fresh injury concerns" following a win on the south coast. "We’re really healthy. Players have come through a tough afternoon against Brighton.” John Fleck returns after his one-game suspension, and back-up goalkeeper Simon Moore (groin) faces a late test after aggravating an adductor problem in training.
The Hornets will be buzzing following their first win of 2019/20, and despite the quick turnaround, Nigel Pearson is unlikely to make wholesale changes. However, Abdoulaye Doucouré must sit this one out after picking up his fifth caution of the campaign against Manchester United. Only José Holebas (ankle) of those currently sidelined is not out long-term, but the new Watford head coach is yet to give a timeframe. Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Sebastien Prodl and Daryl Janmaat will not be back until next year.
Manchester United – vs – Newcastle United
The return of Paul Pogba was the only positive to take from the disappointing loss at Vicarage Road on Sunday, and even though the Frenchman has missed close to three months, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be tempted to throw him straight back in. United did not deserve to take anything from the game, but Watford were helped by Jesse Lingard who squandered a guilt-edged opportunity, and David De Gea who gifted Ismaïla Sarr the opening goal. Only Eric Bailly, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcos Rojo remain in the treatment room, and the trio aren’t far away from a return to play.
Paul Dummett is a significant doubt for the game at Old Trafford. "It is still a bit sore, so we’ll see how he is in the next 48 hours. For him to come off with a sore groin tells its own story." But the bad news is tempered somewhat by the potential return of Jetro Willems who was due to train [on Monday] having recovered from a “whack” to the knee. Allan Saint-Maximin (hamstring) is expected to be another four weeks. Jamaal Lascelles (tibia) and Matt Ritchie (ankle) should return in early January (10-14 days) while Ki Sung-Yeung has been struggling due to illness. Ciaran Clark (calf) won't be too far away either, possibly a week or so.
Leicester City – vs – Liverpool
Harvey Barnes could recover from the ankle injury he sustained following a challenge by Ederson which forced him off on Saturday. "He has been getting treatment over the last couple of days,” Brendan Rodgers said on Monday. “Hopefully, he’ll be back in training tomorrow. It’s not as bad as first thought." Matty James is training with the squad, but he is still some way off a return as he builds fitness.
The Club World Cup Champions roll back into town, and the Foxes will be hoping that the recent fixtures and travel are beginning to catch up with the current league leaders. Jurgen Klopp has tried to manage his players – five changes in the Merseyside derby followed by seven against Bournemouth - but there will be an element of fatigue creeping in after their exertions in the Middle East. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set for a lengthy spell out after damaging ankle ligaments in Saturdays’ final; he left the stadium on crutches. Joel Matip and Fabinho are expected to miss the festive programme while the availability of Dejan Lovren remains unclear at this moment.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – vs – Manchester City
No fresh injury worries for Wolves who won’t face City until Friday night, but they then have less than 48 hours to prepare for the clash at Anfield. Willy Boly (fractured fibula) and Morgan Gibbs-White (back) remain sidelined. Adama Traoré is "improving" day-by-day; the winger is managing some slight shoulder discomfort following a dislocation versus Tottenham in GW18.
Kevin De Bruyne was not injured during the win over Leicester City. There were concerns when the Belgium international fell to the floor after a lung-bursting run late on – signalling to the bench – but Pep confirmed. "He is okay," after it was revealed that he was suffering from cramp. David Silva "is better" but is not yet working with the team, and Sergio Agüero is much improved but not ready for 90 minutes. John Stones won't be considered at the moment. There was no update on Ilkay Gundogan who appeared to limp off on Saturday... Either it was an oversight from Guardiola, or we shall assume his withdrawal was more of a precautionary measure and the midfielder will be okay for Friday.