The first Premier League match of 2019 gets underway at Goodison Park in the early kick-off while game week 21 marks the end of the festive fixture programme, and despite all the hype, it seems to have passed without major incident.
Sides have averaged less than three changes per game during this period and the number of soft-tissue injuries and muscular strains is way down on 2017/18. However, you still need your wits about you as there may yet be one final sting in the tail before we break for the FA Cup.
You know the drill. Follow the team throughout for all the latest news:
Everton – vs – Leicester City
The Toffees failed to follow-up their win at Burnley and Marco Silva will be looking for a better performance at lunchtime. Gylfi Sigurdsson was one of two changes at the Amex Stadium, but the Iceland international is expected to return to help energise the midfield. Idrissa Gueye is back after his recent groin injury which means Everton could boast a clean bill of health if Ademola Lookman (ankle) returns to the matchday squad.
Defenders Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan were ruled out through illness against Cardiff City and Claude Puel will be hoping that at least one can return, otherwise Caglar Soyuncu is likely to continue at centre-back. Hamza Choudhury was omitted from the matchday squad – GW20 - but the decision was purely tactical and given his form of late, the youngster should return to the XI.
Arsenal – vs – Fulham
Mesut Ozil provided the main talking point ahead of the trip to Anfield. The German play maker has had a stop/start season, and after his half-time withdrawal at Brighton, his omission set tongues wagging. However, Unai Emery insists his absence was injury related, after an existing problem flared up in training on Friday: "I don't know if it's big or not big, but it's his knee." The Arsenal website flagged Hector Bellerin as a potential returner against Liverpool, but only three days earlier the full-back had been ruled out for around 2-3 weeks, so don’t expect the Spaniard to feature here either. Konstantinos Mavropanos is training but he may have to wait until the FA Cup due to a lack of match fitness. Nacho Monreal (tight hamstring) faces a late test, otherwise it’s as you were with Henrikh Mkhitaryan (foot), Rob Holding (knee) and Danny Welbeck (ankle) medium-to-long term absentees. Alexandre Lacazette continues to frustrate fantasy managers – the Frenchman hasn’t played 90 minutes since mid-November and has failed to return double-digits since GW8.
Aboubakar Kamara landed himself in hot water with the boss when he decided to take spot kick responsibilities upon himself against Huddersfield Town, a decision which almost cost the Lilywhites two valuable points. “I told [him] to leave the ball to Aleksandar Mitrovic,” Claudio Ranieri raged. “It is unbelievable, he did not respect me, the club, the team and crowd. I spoke with him, it is not right." His actions are likely to see the striker dropped from the side – or possibly the squad - for the trip across London. Alfie Mawson with has a knee problem checked but Callum Chambers is missing under the terms of his loan agreement. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa could return to the side if he passes a late fitness.
Cardiff City – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
The Bluebirds will be buoyed by a much-needed win on the road and three-points which takes up-to 15th. Neil Warnock made five changes at the John Smith’s Stadium which included the return of top scorer Callum Paterson. Aron Gunnarsson, Josh Murphy, Harry Arter and Greg Cunningham were also recalled to the side following the draw at Palace. Kenneth Zohore (thigh) will be sidelined for a “few weeks” but there is no news on availability of Jazz Richards (hamstring) or Danny Ward (knee).
After hitting 11 goals in two matches, most were expecting a similar score fest at Wembley, but Wolves had other ideas and Tottenham were left licking their wounds. The return of Dele Alli (hamstring) from injury was one of the few bright spots. Even Heung-Min Son struggled to spark Spurs into life…. Danny Rose is expected to return to the side, and even though Serge Aurier is back in full training, Pochettino may decide that Kyle Walker-Peters is best placed to come in at right-back after his three assists on Boxing Day. Erik Lamela (calf) will be a late decision.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Watford
The Cherries will be looking to bounce back after two heavy defeats on the road, but Watford will be looking to avenge their 4-0 hammering at the hands of the hosts in October. Nathan Ake (muscular) will be assessed closer to kick-off but Tyrone Mings is on standby should he miss out. The loss of club-captain Simon Francis (ACL knee) prompted a slight change of formation at Old Trafford and given his lack of options, Eddie Howe may be forced to continue with three at the back. A niggling calf complaint restricted Ryan Fraser to a place on the bench last time out, so he should return here. Adam Smith, Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook (all knee) remain out.
Javi Gracia wasn’t afraid to ring the changes (GW20) - six in total – but the Hornets should start with a more familiar looking line-up after struggling to breakdown the Tynesiders. Kiko Femenía missed out altogether as forgotten man Daryl Janmaat was handed a surprise recall – his first start since knee surgery in September. Jose Holebas and Abdoulaye Doucouré are poised to return but Adalberto Peñaranda "needs more time" to build fitness. Centre-back Christian Kabasele will miss the game following a collision with the goal post on Boxing Day.
Chelsea – vs – Southampton
Injury problems are beginning to mount for Maurizio Sarri after Olivier Giroud became the sixth name within the last week to be added to the Chelsea treatment list. The Blues boss said a hamstring injury was likely to keep Pedro Rodriguez out for around ten days while teammate Callum Hudson-Odoi suffered a similar problem at Vicarage Road – only not as serious – and he could return here. Olivier Giroud is a major doubt after leaving Selhurst Park on crutches, he rolled his left ankle following a challenge by Mamadou Sakho, but Álvaro Morata is back and available. Sarri admitted his side have been “a bit unlucky” recently after a trio of injuries in training on Saturday. “Yesterday in ten minutes we had three – Cesc Fàbregas (neck), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back) and Danny Drinkwater (undisclosed).”
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has only just come back from suspension, but the midfielder will have to serve another ban following his straight red for clattering Fernandinho. Mario Lemina is not 100 per cent as he continues to battle an ongoing abdominal issue. Manager Ralph Hasenhüttl said he would bring in “a few more younger players” on Sunday, and true to his word, the Austrian handed 18-year-old Kayne Ramsay his senior debut. Cedric Soares is nowhere to be seen despite a return to full training and Danny Ings should replace Charlie Austin who could face a retrospective ban following an obscene gesture.
Huddersfield Town – vs – Burnley
No new obvious injury concerns following the late defeat at Craven Cottage – although players were still being assessed at the time of writing! Aaron Mooy, Danny Williams, Tommy Smith and Abdelhamid Sabiri will be sidelined until late January (at the earliest) while Rajiv Van la Parra is on the verge of signing for Championship side Middlesbrough.
Sean Dyche decided to shuffle his pack on Sunday making five changes which included the return of Tom Heaton for his first Premier League appearance of the campaign. Joe Hart was named on the bench. Robbie Brady and Steven Defour face a late test, but both are major doubts while Aaron Lennon and Stephen Ward are ruled out. Matt Lowton is back in contention after serving a one match ban.
West Ham United – vs – Brighton and Hove Albion
Marko Arnautovic was a surprise starter at Turf Moor, but the Hammers lacked energy and were comfortably beaten. That could prompt Manuel Pellegrini into a few changes, although with up-to nine players at risk of missing out, his options are limited. Pablo Zabaleta (illness) and Javier Hernández (tight hamstring) are the only possible returners of those currently sidelined.
David Button excelled on his Premier League debut, saving superbly from Richarlison to help the Seagulls to a narrow win over Everton. The 29-year-old will continue to deputise for Mat Ryan who is on Asian Cup duty. Chris Hughton continues to rotate his strikers which means Glenn Murray should return in place of Florin Andone. José Izquierdo is sidelined with a similar knee injury which kept him out for almost three months post-World Cup, so the winger could be out for a little longer yet.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – vs – Crystal Palace
A decision on Diogo Jota (hamstring) will be made closer to kick-off. Nuno Espírito Santo will also need to run the rule over Adama Traoré (tight hamstring) who limped off at Wembley, after arguably, one of his best performances of the season. Substitutes Joao Moutinho and Hélder Costa helped change the game from the bench on Saturday and will come into the managers thinking.
Christian Benteke is the only confirmed injury absentee following the return of Wayne Hennessey and Martin Kelly to full training. The Welsh goalkeeper had to play second fiddle to Vicente Guaita last time out while Kelly failed to make the matchday squad. The Eagles perform better away from home and will fancy their chances of upsetting the form book.
Newcastle United – vs – Manchester United
Federico Fernandez was forced off with a hip injury at Watford and the defender will be assessed. Ciaran Clark (ankle) is a like-for-like replacement if he can recover from an ankle injury, but Rafa Benitez is unlikely to risk Florian Lejeune. Kenedy was omitted from the squad the squad (GW20) following a poor few days of training. Ki Sung-Yeung is at the Asian Cup but Jonjo Shelvey is back after recovering from a thigh strain.
United made it three in three under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer against Bournemouth. Marcus Rashford was excellent, but the striker was withdrawn as a precaution due to an apparent groin problem. Romelu Lukaku could come into the side after scoring from the bench. Alexis Sánchez has returned to full training, although he lacks match fitness and may have to settle for a place amongst the substitutes. Phil Jones is expected to replace Eric Bailly who was dismissed for a flying scissor tackle on Ryan Fraser which earned him a three-match suspension. Marcos Rojo and Scott McTominay should be back soon.
Manchester City – vs – Liverpool
The top-of-the-table clash takes place on Thursday which will give Kevin De Bruyne every chance of proving his fitness: "I don’t know [if he can play],” Pep said after the Belgium star missed out at Southampton. “Today he was not able [but it's] not a big issue. Something muscular - it's normal after 3/4 months injured." Ilkay Gundogan should be okay. "I think [yeah] he [will be fit]." Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus and Vincent Kompany were back in action at St Mary’s while David Silva marked his first Premier League start in three weeks with a goal in the 3-1 victory. Zinchenko could continue to deputise at left-back for the suspended Fabian Delph.
James Milner stands every chance of making a comeback against City having missed out in GW20 with a hamstring problem. Alberto Moreno (back) is available despite his failure to make the 18 versus Arsenal. Dominic Solanke (groin) is poised to join Crystal Palace on-loan and defensive teammates Joel Matip (collarbone) and Joe Gomez (lower leg fracture) are pencilled in to return by late-January. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is ahead of schedule. "If he makes further steps like he did in the last few weeks then he can play Premier League football this season.”