Friday, 14 January 2011

Premier League Preview - Match Day 23

After last weeks FA cup weekend the players are back to earning their crust in the Premier League. With a full roster - yah -, we've got three local derbies on Sunday and quite a few debutants as we hit the midway point of the transfer window.

The first of our derby Sunday games starts in the Midlands with two teams desperate for a win and local bragging rights. Villa are currently languishing in the relegation zone something I'm sure the blues fans will remind them off throughout the match. David Bentley should be in th squad following the completion of his loan deal from Spurs. Scott Dann is out after tearing his hamstring in midweek though Lee Bowyer returns after his three-match ban for violent conduct.

Emile Heskey and Ashley Young are both suspended which only adds to Villa's worries. There are rumours that Spurs youngster Kyle Walker will make his league debut. After clear the air talks with boss Gerard Houllier in the week Robert Pires is likely to start on the bench. Both teams average about one goal a game, something they will need to rectify if they are to improve on their position in the table.

KEY MAN: Roger Johnson - One of Birmingham most important players this season.

Although they battered Championship side Ipswich at the weekend, Carlo Ancelotti will be judged primarily on his side league (and Champions League) form. Frank Lampard's return has been much lauded by the press and he will be the main man as they look to leap up from fifth place. They have been far better at home this season losing only one and drawing two of their ten matches, hopefully they can obtain another win this weekend. Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba are expected to return in place of Salomon Kalou and the increasingly impressive Daniel Sturridge.

Roque Santa Cruz has completed his deal from Manchester City and will be available though questions will arise over his match fitness as he hasn't played much for City. Paul Robinson has shook off his calf injury so should start in goal against the Champions. Nikola Kalinic returns from his suspension while Martin Olsson and Gael Givet are back following injuries.

KEY MAN: John Terry - Chelsea's captain needs to lead by example as they welcome a rejuvenated Rovers.


New signing Edin Dzeko will only get as far as the bench as he hasn't played a competitive match since the start of the German winter break. City can go top - for at least 24 hours - if they manage to beat Mic Mac's men. Mario Balotelli, Micah Richards and David Silva are all out with knee, back and knee problems respectively.

Wolves sit just above the bottom three but they have won three of their last six matches and they will have an air of confidence after beating Chelsea and Liverpool during that spell. Karl Henry will replace hamstring victim Dave Edwards in midfield while Jody Craddock is also fit following his hip problem.

KEY MAN: Vincent Kompany - Has been a brick in City's defense and will be vital for them to keep another clean sheet.

It's the 215th Merseyside derby in what will be King Kenny's third match in charge as Everton look to do the double over their rivals for the first time since 1984/85. The two clubs both sit on 25 points but Everton have a better goal difference than their neighbours. Stevie G is still suspended and Jamie Carrgher still injured, but expect to see both of them cheering on their side from the stands at Anfield. Joe Cole will return to the squad and KK has to decide whether to continue with the promising Martin Kelly in the line-up.

Everton are still without top scorer Tim Cahill, who is away at the Asia Cup with Australia. Defender Phil Jagielka is still out as he lacks match fitness following an injury spell. They will feel they have a good chance against a Liverpool side who have lost four of their last six games. Although he has signed a pre-contract with an unnamed club, Steven Pienaar will be available and David Moyes will hope his mind is on the job at hand.

KEY MAN: Louis Saha - His side could do with him hitting the goal trail again.

Stoke has won three of the last five league games between these two clubs, with 14 goals being scored. Eider Gudjohnsen's bad luck continues as he is still doubtful with a neck injury. Tuncay grabbed one against Cardiff and will hope that helps keep his place in the starting line-up. Demba Ba has reportedly completed his medical but it is unlikely he will be ready for this game.

Owen Coyle's men are still short on numbers and Ivan Klasnic is the latest player to join a growing sick list which includes Joey O'Brian and Sean Davis. Despite these problems they are a comfortable seventh in the table and another win would cement their place in the top half of the table.

KEY MAN: Kevin Davies - a physical match like this should bring out the best in the Bolton striker.

Following Newcastle's 5-0 win in the last Tyne-wear derby, Steve Bruce and his men will be looking to give their fans something to cheer about. David Meyler will be out for at least two months while Lee Cattermole and Danny Welbeck are rated 50:50 to start. Bolo Zenden has completed his suspension and should return to the starting-11. Sitting in sixth, the Black Cats have only lost once at home this season.

Alan Pardew will be missing what many judge as his two best players in Andy Carroll and Cheik Tiote, who are injured and suspended respectively. Hatem Ben Arfa has officially joined the club but is still missing with that awful double leg fracture and Dan Gosling will be included in the squad for the first time since his move from Everton. While Shola Ameobi and Steven Taylor should be back to strengthen the team that travels.

KEY MAN: Shola Ameobi - Without Andy Carroll, Ameobi will be running the visiting teams front line.

Spurs look to cement fourth place as they welcome Sir Alex's unbeaten Manchester side. 'The World's Greatest Player', Gareth Bale is pushing for a start after returning to training after missing the end of the Everton match. Having not beaten United in ten years, 'Arry will see this as a big chance to show how far they have come since he took over.

Wayne Rooney returns to the squad as do Nemanja Vidic and Edwin van der Sar. Many see this as the start of the run where we will see exactly what United are made of. Paul Scholes may return after recovering from his groin injury. Sir Alex's men have won five of their last six and with the return of Rooney they will look forward to taking their game to White Hart Lane.

KEY MAN: Gareth Bale - Let's see how good he is against the side who sit at the top of the table.

Two of the promoted sides meet at the Hawthornes in a match that would've been predicted as a six-pointer in the summer. But both teams, particularly Blackpool have exceeded expectations. Scott Carson will be replaced in goal by Moaz Myhill after the latter's impressive showing against Reading in the FA Cup. Peter Odemwingie is fighting to be fit as he recovers from an ankle injury, while Chris Brunt will wear the captain's armband with Carson on the bench. The home side have conceded 39 goals and Roberto Di Matteo could do with a clean sheet.

The delightful Ian Holloway's Seasiders sit in ninth, above Premier League veterans such as Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham. After doing the double over Liverpool in their postponed fixture, they should be feeling pretty confident. Only Manchester City and Arsenal have a better away record. Elliot Grandin faces a late fitness test before the manager will make a decision on him. Holloway has no new injury worries and they still have captain Charlie Adam after turning down a £3.5 million bid. Rightly, he believes his star player is worth more than that.

KEY MAN: Marek Cech - This game will be won or lost in defence so Cech will need to help keep Blackpool's attacking players at bay.

West Ham will be the happier of the two following the first leg of their Carling Cup ties. Victor Obinna is serving his suspension after his juvenile sending-off at Birmingham which should see Carlton Cole recalled to the side. The Hammers still have quite a large injury list but Lars Jacobsen and Danny Gabbidon are now available for selection. they have improved somewhat in recent weeks, only losing two of their last six but Avram Grant's job still appears to be on the line. New signing Wayne Bridge may start his first game for the club.

After losing to Ipswich in midweek, faith needs to be restored in the silly fans who think the solution is getting rid of Mr Wenger. Because that worked for so many other clubs, didn't it? Wojciech Szczesny is likely to start again and there will be changes in defence with Bacary Sagna still suspended after that red card, while Sebastian Squallici is kept out due to a troublesome hamstring. RVP and Samir Nasri should return and I hope they're well rested as another three points are needed to keep up with the boys from Manchester.

KEY MAN: Cesc Fabregas - Went missing in midweek, hopefully he's been practising his free-kicks.

Two sides who have spent the majority of the season in the bottom half of the table. Mario Boselli, the clubs record signing won't feature as he has joined Genoa on loan until the end of the season. Roberto Martinez will be happy to welcome back Charles N'Zogbia after his three-match ban. Loanee Tom Cleverley, Victor Moses and James McCarthy are all still out for this six-pointer.

Steve Sidwell may start on the bench as he struggles for match fitness following his move from Aston Villa. Andy Johnson should be back after a minor hamstring tweak. Both teams need to win this game in order to move up the table.

KEY MAN: Damian Duff - This type of match needs a flair player to make the difference.

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