Up until Thursday afternoon the three main talking points from this week included:
The January Transfer Window
Alan Pardew: ‘We're under no pressure, financially. Clubs will have to drive a real hard bargain to take one of our players. I don't think we'll be doing too much business, maybe a few on loan. Our key players won't be going anywhere.’
Claudio Ranieri: ‘I’ve spoken to Vardy and Mahrez - saying to them they are not for sale in January.’
Remi Garde: ‘The next four games will be crucial. Let's see what happens. I see players who are totally committed.’
Ronald Koeman; ‘I need to concentrate on Southampton, we need points, not questions about the manager or players."
Sam Allardyce: ‘Our job on Saturday is to try and continue that cloud Chelsea are under.’
However, come 2pm on Thursday that all changed as Chelsea announced the sacking departure of Jose Mourinho by mutual consent. Being relieved of his contractual obligations at the club sparked a flurry of well-wishers and echoed the surprise of the footballing world on the timing of his dismissal decision to leave.
Pochettino: "He is one of or the best manager in the world. I have big respect for him. It's a big loss for the Premier League."
Louis van Gaal: ‘It was a big surprise for me, something that I did not expect. He is a fantastic manager with a record that nobody has in this football world, but it is still possible. The main thing is, first, the results and secondly the chemistry between the players, the manager and his staff. I cannot say what was happening in Chelsea, but I was very surprised.’
Eddie Howe: ‘I was surprised and disappointed when I heard about Jose Mourinho. It's a sad occasion when anyone loses their job.’
Tony Pulis: ‘I was surprised and disappointed, he's one of the great managers.’
Slaven Bilic: ‘Mourinho going shows nobody is safe. You have to enjoy your job, do your best and work hard for the club you are in.’
Guus Hiddink is the manager tipped to take over the hot seat at The Bridge.
West Brom – vs – AFC Bournemouth
Tony Pulis remains 'hopeful' that Stephane Sessegnon can recover from a hamstring strain to take a place on the bench this weekend but Claudio Yacob will miss out again. The Baggies’ boss confirmed that the Argentine is still in his homeland following a family bereavement. West Brom could name an unchanged side which would see Craig Gardner start in midfield. Saido Berahino played (and scored) for the under-21s who won away at Swansea on Monday night. Ben Foster returned to training this week after more than 8-months on the sidelines (ruptured ACL).
Josh King is feeling 'fine' after limping off with a hamstring scare last weekend. The Cherries’ striker is expected to line-up on Saturday while Marc Pugh comes into contention after a week of training. 'He's a fit lad. If called upon, I have no doubt that he can put on a performance,' said assistant manager Jason Tindall. Christian Atsu has 'trained a couple of times' and is targeting a return in January and Lee Tomlin 'is still not 100 per cent.' The forward is 'being monitored day-by-day’ following his recent groin complaint. Barring injury Bournemouth should keep faith in the same line-up which has won back-to-back games against Manchester United and Chelsea.
Stoke City – vs – Crystal Palace
Phil Bardsley has a back issue and will face a late fitness test along with Stephen Ireland. Geoff Cameron fails to recover from a hamstring injury while Marc Muniesa is also absent due to a similar muscular problem. Peter Crouch is hoping to re-join the group on Monday but Xherdan Shaqiri will be involved after he was rested as a precaution at West Ham.
‘We are waiting on Mile Jedinak’ confirmed Alan Pardew after the Aussie captain rolled his ankle during the build up to last weekends’ game. Joe Ledley comes back into the squad following a slight thigh injury. No fresh injury concerns. Bakary Sako (hamstring) is taking longer than originally anticipated and will not make the game. Dwight Gayle suffered a setback which could keep the striker out until 2016 but Marouane Chamakh is approaching full fitness following his lengthy lay-off.
Everton – vs – Leicester City
‘James McCarthy has started running,’ revealed Roberto Martinez and the midfielder ‘is not far away.’ However, a place on the bench is likely after missing the last three games. John Stones has ‘been able to do his normal work’ following a minor (ankle) sprain during last weekends’ warm up at Carrow Road. ‘There's been no reaction, he's in perfect condition.’ Phil Jagielka ‘is progressing well’ and the Toffees defender has a chance to be back before the end of the year." Steven Pienaar is working for the group. ‘He looks sharp, now he needs to pick up the tempo.’ Knee surgery will keep Tyias Browning out for the remainder of the season.
Claudio Ranieri estimates that Jeffrey Schlupp (hamstring) will miss between four and six weeks although the prognosis for Danny Drinkwater is a lot better. The Foxes’ midfielder was forced off against Chelsea with ‘a little (hamstring) problem’ but should be OK for the Liverpool game on Boxing Day. Yohan Benalouane or Marcil Wasilewski will cover for the suspended Robert Huth. ‘Both are in good condition, both train (it will be a difficult decision).’ Andy King is favourite to take the midfield spot, although Gokhan Inler is also under consideration. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were at it again last time out. The pair top the Premier League goals and assists chart with (18) and (17) respectively for 2015/16. Impressive.
Manchester United – vs – Norwich City
Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera have trained ahead of Saturdays' game and the trio will come back into contention. Ashley Young is progressing 'we will have to wait and see' but Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard (both hamstring) will miss out. Phil Jones and Morgan Schneiderlin have another solid week under their belts and the pair will push for a start having made the match day squad at Bournemouth. Paddy McNair (cramp) has been passed fit.
Andre Wisdom won’t recover from the muscular problem which he picked up seven days ago so Alex Neil may be tempted to name the same side which impressed during the second forty-five against Everton. That would see Ryan Bennett back in the starting line up having dropped to the bench. Matt Jarvis is not available but could feature over Christmas and John Ruddy 'is under an internal club investigation' for an unspecified disciplinary matter. 'There is no time frame. He hasn't been found guilty so he is available’ for the trip to Old Trafford.
Chelsea – vs – Sunderland
No manager means no press conference so we’ll need to fill in the blanks ourselves this week. A scan revealed the injury suffered by Eden Hazard on Monday night was not serious and the Belgium international has a chance of facing Sunderland. Hazard fell awkwardly to the turf - banging his hip – after an innocuous coming together with Jamie Vardy. Radamel Falcao is close and could be back in the squad.
Sebastian Coates is expected to miss out due to illness. The defender has a stomach bug but a decision won’t be made until the last moment. His absence will earn Younes Kaboul an instant recall having missed the home defeat to Watford. Seb Larsson (knee) and Lee Cattermole (back) are both still injured but 'everybody else is OK’ said Sam Allardyce. No time line on either player although the skipper is likely to return sooner rather than later. Jermain Defoe should be handed a start at Stamford Bridge after he was restricted to a place on the bench following a recent hamstring complaint.
Southampton – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
Graziano Pelle should be fine for the visit of Tottenham. The striker had a pain-killing injection on Monday to help remedy a niggling knee problem and he could displace Shane Long from the starting eleven. However, Maarten Stekelenburg will definitely miss out as he struggles to overcome a training ground toe injury. Ronald Koeman has already confirmed that Paulo Gazzaniga will continue to deputise in goal.
A knee ligament injury will keep Clinton N'Jie on the sidelines although the forward is still being assessed. 'Maybe we will be without him for a while,' said Pochettino. Ryan Mason (ankle) won’t recover in time but Mousa Dembele (foot) is 'close' and will be assessed on Frida, although the Spurs midfielder has trained this week. Nacer Chadli and Nabil Bentaleb are close to full fitness having been introduced from the bench in the two previous games.
Newcastle United – vs – Aston Villa
Cheick Tiote returns to the Newcastle squad but no-one else. Rolando Aarons is taking longer than expected while Mike Williamson and Jamal Lascelles (both hamstring) remain on the sidelines. Rob Elliot continues to impress despite an ongoing thigh issue – the Republic of Ireland international could be a surprise starter at the European Championships if he can maintain this level of performance. Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic impressed with goals from the bench at White Hart Lane to stake their claim for a place in the starting eleven.
Richards is expected to miss out again, although the Villa captain should be back over Christmas. ‘Micah is still struggling with his knee. We will see at the end of the week,’ said Remi Garde. The Frenchman kept faith in the same side which drew at St Marys’ in GW15 but against Arsenal, Villa were easily swept aside and their task of beating the drop is beginning to look insurmountable. With those around them gaining momentum Villa are already six points adrift, and need to take at least a point from St James’ Park. Ciaran Clark is pushing for his inclusion but must try and oust Joleon Lescott or the fit-again Jores Okore. Charles N’Zogbia hasn’t impressed ‘and could do more’ and Adama Traore needs to stop playing as an individual. ‘You cannot have a player except for maybe Messi who can walk on the pitch and only play when his team has the ball.’
Watford – vs – Liverpool
Quique Flores is confident that Valon Behrami and Sebastian Prödl will be fit for Sunday. "We have two days before the match. We have to check them but they should be OK.” The only players certain to miss the game are long-term absentees Rene Gilmartin and Joel Ekstrand (both knee) plus defender Tommie Hoban (groin). With 4-wins from a possible six only Leicester have a better recent record and much like their counterparts’ success has been built upon a flourishing forward partnership. Odion Ighalo took his tally to 10-goals at the Stadium of Light last weekend while Troy Deeney has directly contributed to nine Premier League goals in 2015/16.
Dejan Lovren is ruled out after Craig Gardner left the defender requiring stitches in a lacerated knee, however, Klopp confirms he could return on Boxing Day. Mamadou Sakho is in line for an instant recall having re-joined the group in training but if the Frenchman is deemed not ready then defensive responsibilities will be passed onto Kolo Toure. James Milner (calf) will not feature although it’s not certain how long he will miss. The summer acquisition from City is still being assessed. Daniel Sturridge may miss the Festive period as the striker is yet to train fully. Jon Flanagan is targeting a return in early 2016 and Jordan Rossiter is out due to a muscular tear.
Swansea City – vs – West Ham United
Caretaker boss Alan Curtis confirms Eder (ankle) and Franck Tabanou (thigh) will be out for 'a couple more weeks.’ Jonjo Shelvey is expected to recover from the minor calf strain which has kept him out of the last 2-games. Swansea will be looking for a performance similar to the one at The Etihad when they were unlucky to lose out at the death. No win since August. Swansea are desperate for points and sit outside the bottom three on goal difference.
Manuel Lanzini and Dimtri Payet ‘are doing really well,' says Slaven Bilic. Lanzini will have a scan on Monday but should be ready for the Villa game while Payet has started 'active rehab.' The club 'hope' the playmaker can return to full training within the next few weeks. Victor Moses and Winston Reid 'are both on track' to recover within their original 4-6 week timeline. Andy Carroll is nursing a minor groin issue which will keep him out of the match. ‘We have the choice of Valencia or Jelavic up front. They are quality players. Maybe the two of them will play together.’ Enner Valencia continues to step up his fitness following a return against Stoke.
Arsenal – vs – Manchester City
“There are one or two possible comebacks," said Wenger during Thursdays’ press conference. Alexis Sanchez "is running" but he hasn't taken part in a full session; the Chilean only has a "very slight chance" of making the game but the extra day(s) recovery will help. “It's too early to be certain.” Likewise, for Mikel Arteta who could make the squad otherwise it will be the same group which faced Aston Villa. Aaron Ramsey looks to have hit the ground running since coming back from injury and Olivier Giroud has rediscovered his goal scoring touch now that Theo Walcott is available again. Jack Wilshere (Early-January), Tomas Rosicky (Late-January) and Danny Welbeck (February) won’t feature until 2016.
Sergio Aguero has been ‘working with the squad normally' since Wednesday. 'We'll assess him to see if he's 100 per cent fit to start on Monday but I think he'll be in the squad list,’ mused Pellegrini. Vincent Kompany, Fernando, Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri are all out. ‘Vincent is improving. I hope next week he'll start working with the squad normally. Same with Zabaleta.’