The first mid-season break in the Premier League leaves us with a protracted round of fixtures where only eight managers have spoken ahead of the FPL deadline. With the bulk of the matches due to take place next weekend, a lot of our decisions will be left to lady luck in the hope that those carrying niggles can recover while others remain fit and healthy.
We also see the return of European competition this month, and with Champions-elect Liverpool facing a tough trip to Madrid, Jurgen Klopp may look to utilise his squad. There is also a feeling that Pep’s priorities have shifted, and the City boss could protect some of his prized assets now that their chances of another title are all but gone.
Everton – vs – Crystal Palace
Jean-Philippe Gbamin has been under the knife again to remedy a niggling thigh problem, and Carlo Ancelotti expects the midfielder to return in around eight weeks. “The surgery went well, and now he's doing individual treatment. We have to go slowly but, of course, we hope to see him before the end of the season." Everton will play a friendly during the break as André Gomes steps up his recovery; the Portuguese playmaker could be available for the clash with Arsenal in GW27. With Fabian Delph suspended, Ancelotti will look to a pairing of Tom Davies, Morgan Schneiderlin or Gylfi Sigurdsson. "I can tell you two of them will play; the other will be on the bench."
Palace will be without defender Martin Kelly after he suffered a “slight calf strain” training after the loss to Sheffield United. “It’s not massive, but it’s enough to keep him out.” Otherwise, the Eagles have the same injuries as before – Mamadou Sakho and Jeffrey Schlupp are long term - Cenk Tosun has a hamstring issue although he is ineligible to face his parent club anyway.
Brighton and Hove Albion – vs – Watford
The players involved in last weekends’ fightback at West Ham came through the encounter unscathed, and Graham Potter reports that there are no new injury concerns. Solly March is ready to kick on after an injury-ravaged first half of the season. “I feel like I can start again and make an impact for the team. It is just about training hard. Obviously, when the opportunity comes like [Saturday], you have got to take it.” Shane Duffy is back in training following surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg, and Dan Burn could make a surprise return ahead of schedule after “making good progress.” New signing Alexis Mac Allister should be available after the winter break. José Izquierdo is the only player officially ruled out.
Nathaniel Chalobah was forced off with a back spasm last weekend, but there was no update from Nigel Pearson on Thursday. The same could also be said of Craig Dawson who was injured in training on the eve of the Everton match. Hopefully, no news is good news in this instance. Danny Welbeck made his long-awaited return, and the striker is keen to make up for lost time having spent the last three months recovering from hamstring surgery. Tom Cleverley is working normally and comes into contention, but a late decision will be made on Kiko Femenía and Ismailia Sarr. If they do miss out, then the pair will be back after the break. Daryl Janmaat will return to the training pitches from next week.
Sheffield United – vs – AFC Bournemouth
David McGoldrick is the only injury concern ahead of this weekend. The Irishman has been able to step up his recovery from a foot injury, but with several options to call upon, the Blades boss won’t be taking any risks. New signing Richairo Živković and Luke Freeman were singled out for “great performances” in training. “Everybody is fit and raring to go."
Josh King and Jack Stacey could return to the matchday squad, and a decision on their involvement will be made after the final session. Andrew Surman or Lewis Cook could return to the side as Jefferson Lerma serves a one-match ban following his dismissal for two bookable offences against Aston Villa. Arnaud Danjuma (foot) is still "some way" off a return, and David Brooks ran on grass for the first time on Thursday, but Howe insists that the Wales international still has a long way to go.
Manchester City – vs – West Ham United
Pep Guardiola said Aymeric Laporte was feeling "much, much, much better" after the Frenchman was omitted from the City squad at Tottenham. "Hopefully he can come back against West Ham. We have a long week to prepare for the game next Sunday, so we will see how he is." However, there was no update forthcoming on Friday, and his status remains unclear. Raheem Sterling (hamstring) is ruled out. “We will see if he can come back before Leicester or Real Madrid [in the Champions League],” while it is still too early for Leroy Sané. "When you have an injury for six months, you have to recover tempo, rhythm and be confident in your body and your knee. It’s not like an ankle or muscle injury. Surgery was perfect and he recovered incredibly well. He needs time." Benjamin Mendy and John Stones are both training.
"We've actually got a lot of players beginning to get closer to fitness,” David Moyes told reporters on Friday. Felipe Anderson has enjoyed a “couple of days training” while Andriy Yarmolenko is on the grass and focussing on a return. “Most of the players I'd say are just about ready. There are one or two niggles in there we're working on." Jack Wilshere is recovering from hernia surgery.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – vs – Leicester City
Nuno Espírito Santo calmed injury fears over Adama Traoré after the speedy winger was forced off at Old Trafford: "In the first half he was in a lot of pain on the shoulder, and he was able to continue. It was a kick from behind on the calf. Not long-term. He's ready to go." Ruben Vinagre is the only confirmed absentee at the time of writing.
Brendan Rodgers is hoping to have Wilfried Ndidi back after the break following his late withdrawal from last weekends’ game versus Chelsea. “I’ve known Wilf long enough,” the Leicester boss said when asked about his omission. “He’s a real warrior and a tough player, so to see him in the pain when he walked, it just made no sense to risk him. We took it out of his hands, he's got a period of rest now, which will help.” Wes Morgan (illness) will be available, but centre-back Ryan Bennett is ineligible under the terms of his loan deal.
Southampton – vs – Burnley
There were worrying scenes midweek when James Ward-Prowse accidentally collided with Ryan Sessegnon; the result of which left the Saints midfielder with a deep laceration down to the bone. Fortunately, there is no structural damage. “It’s only a cut on the knee,” and if the wound is not infected, then he could recover in time. Stuart Armstrong returned to the matchday squad ahead of schedule, and the Scotland international will use the break to build fitness following a hamstring injury. Yan Valery is training with the group, and Kyle Walker-Peters is well-placed to come into the side having recently arrived on loan from Tottenham.
Sean Dyche could have a full complement of players by the time game week 26 rolls around. Johann Berg Gudmundsson (hamstring) is very close, and Ashley Barnes (hernia) is progressing well from surgery. There are no other known concerns ahead of the FPL deadline.
Norwich City – vs – Liverpool
Ben Godfrey is in contention after completing his ban, and Daniel Farke may be tempted to hand the defender an instant recall with Grant Hanley the player most likely to make way. Timm Klose (knee) is in a race against time to play again this season; otherwise, the treatment room is empty, which is in stark contrast to how the Canaries campaign began.
Sadio Mané and James Milner stayed at Melwood during the mid-season break to work on their recoveries, and all being well, the pair should be in contention at Carrow Road along with teammate Xherdan Shaqiri. The Reds’ Champions League campaign gets back underway three days later, and Jurgen Klopp may cut his cloth accordingly with the league title all but secured.
Aston Villa – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
Dean Smith confirmed that Ezri Konsa picked up a muscle injury which forced him off at half-time last weekend, but the break arrives at a good time and the defender has every chance of recovering. Bjorn Engels is poised for a recall if he fails to make it. Danny Drinkwater missed the defeat to Bournemouth due to a calf injury, although the decision was precautionary, and he should be available. Keinan Davis (hamstring) is set for another spell out after suffering a setback with the under-23s; the Villa forward had just returned after almost three months and has managed only 32 minutes of first-team football this year.
Giovani Lo Celso missed out with a minor thigh issue on Wednesday and should be okay, but the severity of Erik Lamela’s groin problem is yet to be determined. Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli passed late fitness tests to face Southampton, so the mid-season break comes at a good time with players being afforded a much-needed rest. Ben Davies is nearing a return: "He has been training with us since [Monday]," revealed José Mourinho. "After tomorrow the boys will have some time off, but not him. When we return for Villa, he will be training fully for the week." Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko remain out until April in the first instance.
Arsenal – vs – Newcastle United
Cedric Soares and Bukayo Saka (both knee) should be close for the visit of Newcastle while Sead Kolasinac (thigh) and Reiss Nelson (hamstring) are also targeting a comeback in week 26. Long-termers - Kieran Tierney (shoulder) – is due back in March - and Calum Chambers (ACL knee) – has been ruled out until 2020/21.
Newcastle progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup on Tuesday with a hard-fought win at League One side Oxford United, but the victory did come at a cost. "Joelinton got a whack to his ribs. He’s sore in there. Let’s hope there’s no fracture or break." Fortunately, it looks like Miguel Almirón will be OK. "I think he’s just sore and stiff and tired,” said Steve Bruce. The Tynesiders extensive injury problems should ease in GW26 with Andy Carroll, Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto all due to return. Jonjo Shelvey, Emil Krafth and Javier Manquillo will be a little longer.
Chelsea – vs – Manchester United
There is still no timeline for Christian Pulisic after the US international suffered a setback on the training pitches. "We tried to get him out there last week, step it up a little bit, but we had to pull out of that," Frank Lampard mused. "The break [comes] at a good time; it buys us a couple of weeks.” Ruben Loftus-Cheek moved a step closer to first-team football after playing 60 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Cobham on Tuesday; it was the midfielders first game since rupturing his Achilles almost nine months ago. Willy Caballero became the oldest player to appear in the Premier League so far this season when Lampard decided to drop Kepa following a string of poor performances, and the Blues boss will have another big call to make against rivals United. “You make decisions every week and every day in this job. No decision is easy,” he said.
Scott McTominay says he is "feeling good" as he targets a return before the end of February. "Obviously the gym work is tough, the running outside is tough. You just have to do your best and obviously, make sure your injury is right. Hopefully, I will be back as soon as I possibly can.” McTominay and Paul Pogba (ankle) will remain at the AON Training Complex to recover while the rest of the squad flies off to a warm-weather training camp in Marbella. Nemanja Matic is in contention after a one-match ban, and Axel Tuanzebe is expected to be available although Solskjaer has lots of options to consider in the backline.