Elbows at ready as clubs hit January sales
Christmas and New Year are now well and truly behind us, which means the emergence of two certain things: resolutions and the January sales!
So while hoards of people will be quitting alcohol, only eating steamed vegetables, dusting off their gym kits and doing daily sunrise yoga sessions — new year, new you, right? — over in the football world, some clubs will be looking to flex their muscles, while others will have their elbows at the ready to rummage around in the bargain bins.
While there have been few major transfers of note as yet, aside from Dominic Solanke’s £19 million ($24 million) move from Liverpool to Bournemouth, there is no doubt the desperation to complete those deals will ramp up as the clock winds down on deadline day. Callum Wilson to Chelsea for more than $50 million, anyone? ... and they say you can’t beat a bargain!
Away from the madness of the sales and back on the pitch, League leaders Liverpool, away at Brighton & Hove Albion tomorrow, will be aiming to extend their four-point advantage over Manchester City with Pep Guardiola’s side not featuring until Monday, when they face Wolverhampton Wanderers at home.
Elsewhere, Cardiff City can drag themselves further away from the relegation zone with victory at home over seemingly doomed Huddersfield Town tomorrow, while Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s perfect run of five wins across all competitions as Manchester United caretaker manager faces his first major test away to third-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
West Ham United v Arsenal
Arsenal will be aiming to close the gap on the top four when they travel across London to take on West Ham.
Unai Emery’s men go into the weekend three points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea and will be aiming to add to their impressive record against West Ham, having won eight and lost none of their last 11 away matches against them.
However, with two of the last three meetings between this pair in East London resulting in draws and the expected return of talisman Marko Arnautovic, despite coming off injured in the 2-0 FA Cup win over Birmingham City, Manuel Pellegrini’s men may be confident of causing an upset. Prediction 1-2
Brighton and Hove Albion v Liverpool
Liverpool lost their opening fixture of the new year, when they were beaten by Manchester City — a first league defeat of the campaign — which was followed by an FA Cup third-round exit against Wolves at Molineux.
They will be determined to return to winning ways, but they will find a stiff test awaits at Amex Stadium, where Brighton have lost just one of their last seven matches on home soil.
Goals should be the order of the day with Brighton scoring in each of their ten home league matches so far this season, while only Manchester City have managed more league goals than Liverpool this term.
Brighton will be without goalkeeper Matt Ryan, who is on international duty at the Asian Cup with Australia, but top scorer Glenn Murray is expected to return. Prediction 1-3
Burnley v Fulham
A classic relegation six-pointer will take place at Turf Moor tomorrow as Burnley face Fulham in a Premier League relegation scrap.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley have pulled out of the bottom three in recent weeks after winning their last two consecutive league games, leaving themselves two points head of eighteenth-placed Southampton.
In contrast, Claudio Ranieri’s team followed up a 4-1 hammering by Arsenal with a cup upset at home to League Two Oldham Athletic, so will hardly be feeling particularly optimistic of improving on an away record that is the worst in the division. Prediction 1-0
Cardiff City v
South Wales is the venue for another crucial clash tomorrow as Cardiff take on bottom side Huddersfield Town.
Both sides were beaten by lower league opposition in the FA Cup last weekend — by Gillingham and Bristol City respectively — but it is precious Premier League points at stake on this occasion.
Cardiff have won just one of their last five Premier League fixtures, leaving Neil Warnock’s men just two points ahead of the bottom three. However, before back-to-back home defeats against United and Tottenham respectively, Cardiff chalked up three successive league wins on their own patch, and have claimed 13 of their 18 points at home.
The league table is grim reading for David Wagner’s Hudders- field, who have lost their last nine matches and are rock bottom, eight points adrift of safety.
Crystal Palace v Watford 11am
Crystal Palace will be aiming to maintain their impressive form over Watford tomorrow, having won five of their last seven home league matches against their opponents, beating them at Selhurst Park in each of the last two seasons.
Palace have failed to score in more home games than any other Premier League side this season, but only Liverpool and Chelsea have kept more home clean sheets this term.
Roy Hodgson’s men are also on their customary second half of the season upturn in form, losing just one of their last six in all competitions, including a shock away win at Manchester City last month.
Eighth-placed Watford, who have earned back-to-back league draws, will be looking to complete a league double over Palace for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign. Prediction 1-1
Leicester City v
Leicester slipped up last time out in the Premier League at the King Power Stadium, losing 1-0 to Cardiff, and they will be hoping to bounce back from a shock FA Cup defeat away to lower league minnow Newport County.
As bad as that sounds, Claude Puel’s side have had a great few weeks after beating Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton and they face his former side Southampton, unbeaten in their last three away matches and improving under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
However, Leicester can take advantage of the Southampton’s injury woes, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand, Stuart Armstrong and Mayo Yoshida all missing for the visiting side.
Leicester have also lost just one of their 12 home Premier League matches against Southampton. Prediction 1-0
Rafael Benítez will be hoping to come back to haunt his former club when Newcastle United visit Chelsea.
The Spaniard oversaw a Europa League triumph and third-placed Premier League finish in a six-month interim spell at Stamford Bridge back in 2013, but has only won once in 14 away games at this stadium as an opposition manager.
His side have won just one of their last nine fixtures in all competitions, however, a glimmer of hope for Newcastle comes with the fact that Chelsea have failed to win or even find the net in their last two home matches in the league.
After starting the season in free-flowing attacking form, Maurizio Sarri’s team have found cutting edge a little more difficult to come by in recent weeks, scoring just six goals in their last seven fixtures.
However, they have at least been able to rely on a defence that has conceded only four goals in those seven games, and just eight in 11 home games in the league — a record bettered only by leaders Liverpool.
Alvaro Morata is a doubt after missing their Carabao Cup defeat at Tottenham with a minor hamstring injury, although Pedro is set to return to the attack.
Everton will be looking to build on their positive form over Bournemouth at home having beaten Sunday’s opponents at Goodison Park in each of the last three Premier League campaigns.
Before beating Sky Bet League Two Lincoln 2-1 in the FA Cup last time out, Everton had previously lost four of their last five top-flight fixtures, with a 5-1 romp at Burnley breaking up the disappointments, to see them slip to eleventh in the table.
Bournemouth have also been sliding in the wrong direction after a promising start to the season, losing eight of ten league games during November and December.
Eddie Howe’s side kicked off 2019 with a decent 3-3 draw at home to Watford, but last weekend’s 3-1 FA Cup loss to Brighton at Vitality Stadium will have darkened his mood once more.
New signing Solanke will be sidelined until next month, while Howe will be hoping the arrival of Nathaniel Clyne can help shore up a defence that has conceded 15 goals in four games, Prediction 2-1
Tottenham Hotspur v
Solskjaer faces, by far, the stiffest test of his short United reign when taking on Tottenham at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Spurs beat United 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season and are still very much in the hunt for a first title triumph since 1961.
Tottenham made it seven wins from their last eight matches in all competitions when beating Chelsea 1-0 in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final clash and remain in third place, six points adrift of leaders Liverpool.
Solskjaer enjoyed a fifth straight success as United’s interim boss in a workmanlike 2-0 win over Reading in the FA Cup.
However, United’s four previous top-flight victories came against teams in the bottom half of the table and this represents a huge step up in class.
Solskjaer is also stretched at the back with Eric Bailly suspended and Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo both injured.
Manchester City v
Wolverhampton Wanderers 4pm
Wolves have shown a real willingness to compete with the top clubs since returning to the Premier League and can give Manchester City a decent workout again at Etihad Stadium on Monday.
The teams drew 1-1 at Molineux in August and Wanderers have since secured a number of positive results against elite sides, beating Chelsea at home and Tottenham away last month, while previously picking up a point at United and Arsenal.
City’s title defence was rocked by losses to Palace and Leicester over Christmas, but they got back on track by beating Southampton away and Liverpool at home.
Wolves will travel north in great heart after a 2-1 FA Cup triumph over Liverpool, and if they fend off an early assault at Etihad Stadium, they have a chance of clinching another memorable result against one of the top six. Prediction 2-1
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