Swansea v Man City, 12:45
Kind refereeing and a squad deeper than the Mariana Trench have really helped Manchester City over the Christmas period, as well as reinforcing the view that they must be considered favourites for the Premier League title now. Sitting just one point behind Arsenal with a far superior goal difference is a nice position to be in, and with the Gunners losing a couple of good men to injury the pounce could come at any moment if they slip up. I think City will find this a tough game, but win in the end, probably by a 1-goal margin at 14/5 with Boylesports.
Swansea remain without Michu, Michel Vorm and Nathan Dyer, but Angel Rangel and Wayne Routledge could return to the starting line-up. Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is available but David Silva is suspended and Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis, Stevan Jovetic and Micah Richards remain injured.
Arsenal v Cardiff, 15:00
2013 was a bit of a good year for the Gunners, who managed to finally spend some money and pretty much saw instant results from doing so, which is nice. Starting 2014 with a home game against managerless Cardiff isn’t a bad option for the Gunners either as the Welsh team have won just one of their last nine Premier League games and are labouring under the long-idiotic shadow of club owner Vincent Tan and his interesting views of football, and with a few men out the 7/5 on Lukas Podolski in the score/win double with Paddy Power is worth a peruse.
Arsenal have a lengthy injury list with Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Kieran Gibbs all out, while Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere face late fitness tests.Cardiff are without Craig Bellamy and Andrew Taylor, but Aron Gunnarsson and Peter Odemwingie will hope to earn recalls.
Crystal Palace v Norwich, 15:00
Judged purely on the form of Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh it seems to most observers that Tony Pulis is a superior manager to Arsene Wenger, and the longer the Gunners go without realising the more they are just hurting their own club. In all seriousness, since going to Palace the former Stoke boss has genuinely worked wonders with a very weak squad, proving himself at least superior to Ian Holloway, and if his side win against a Norwich team with just one win in their last six today they could be as high as 14th in the table. Palace by a 1-goal margin is a 31/10 shot with Ladbrokes, and very possible.
Crystal Palace striker Cameron Jerome will be assessed but there is good news as Stuart O’Keefe and Kagisho Dikgacoi are back in training after muscle injuries. Norwich’s Gary Hooper was substituted on Saturday but could be fit and Jonny Howson is doubtful with a back problem, but Michael Turner returns after a ban.
Fulham v West Ham, 15:00
One of the great things about the league this year is how fragile and temporary positions are in the table, meaning that a team can go from first to fifth in just a couple of games, or quickly rise up the table from the relegation zone like Palace have. The flip side is that a run of poor form or luck can have a much more dangerous effect than is usual, and with these two having managed only three wins in their last twenty combined matches it is no surprise they are now both in the bottom three. If fit, 9/5 anytime scorer with BWin Berbatov might be worth a look, but I’m really not sure how this will go.
Fulham will hand late fitness tests to Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taarabt, while Scott Parker returns to the squad and is expected to be one of several changes from the side beaten at Hull. West Ham have major defensive problems once again but James Collins could play, although Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing are out, and Ravel Morrison is doubtful.
Liverpool v Hull, 15:00
After two tough games it will be lovely for Liverpool to get back to Anfield, where the refereeing decisions are more likely to be correct (or even in their favour) and they don’t have to listen to the bleating of chubby Portuguese egotists, and with six points dropped against two of the title contenders the Reds also need to get back to winning ways. Hull utterly destroyed Fulham 6-0 in their last game, and have also beaten the Reds once this season already, so confidence won’t be an issue and with the way Liverpool defend at set pieces the 21/20 with Victor Chandler on both teams scoring might be worth a look, although I still expect a home win.
Liverpool could welcome back Steven Gerrard, good news as Joe Allen and Mamadou Sakho are injured. Hull City boss Steve Bruce could keep faith with the side that thrashed Fulham 6-0 on Saturday, with Robbie Brady a concern with his on-going groin problem.
Southampton v Chelsea, 15:00
You could tell from his post-match interviews following the Liverpool game that Jose Mourinho is starting to feel the pressure in his second spell as Chelsea manager, and his amusingly pops about the number of ex-Liverpool pundits (do you remember who Andy Townsend played for, anyone? Pat Nevin or Craig Burley?) in the British media confirmed that. Going to Southampton was a thankless task at the start of the season, but with the Saints slipping to ninth in the table after just one win in their last eight there is a much better chance of an away win for Chelsea than you might think, and the 15/2 on a 1-0 away win with Bet365 is our pick.
Southampton will assess Dani Osvaldo, but Morgan Schneiderlin returns following a one-game suspension. Chelsea midfielder Ramires is available and could replace the banned David Luiz, and Chelsea are also without Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic.
Stoke v Everton, 15:00
This will be a tough match, possibly the most painful of the day to watch if you’re a physio but since Mark Hughes has joined Stoke it is fair to say they’ve at least made an attempt to clean up their act a bit, except for Charlie Adam of course. Everton sit fourth in the table and a point ahead of their neighbours prior to kick-off, and are aware that they can’t really afford to drop any points if that want that state of affairs to continue now Liverpool have got a couple of tough games out of the way. At 9/1 to win 2-1 Everton are considered a good bet at Victor Chandler, and really don’t look like losing often.
Stoke welcome back Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson after suspension, and Marko Arnautovic following illness, but Andy Wilkinson faces a spell on the sidelines. Everton have Tim Howard and Gareth Barry available after bans, and although Sylvain Distin is expected to shake off a minor hamstring problem Phil Jagielka is definitely out with a similar injury.
Sunderland v Aston Villa, 15:00
When a manager is sacked there is often a lot of talk about the inevitable boost their side will gain just from seeing a change, and maybe a toxic presence depart, but Sunderland have already made a change and sacked the most toxic man since Pestilence himself, and still can’t get away from the foot of the table. Villa are a team within the reach of the Black Cats, and to be honest this is verging on a must-win game for a big side with a lot of older players being paid pretty good wages, who probably can’t afford to go down. It is tough to know whether poor attack will triumph of dodgy defences keep them out, but at 4/5 to be under 2.5 goals with Victor Chandler the bookies have made their minds up.
Sunderland duo Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini are doubtful while John O’Shea has a shoulder problem and Wes Brown serves the final game of a three-match ban. Aston Villa will monitor the fitness of Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar, while Ciaran Clark is banned.
West Brom v Newcastle, 15:00
After last weekend, when they went up against Arsenal and looked pretty good without getting anything more than West Ham had it is time for Newcastle to get back to winning ways against West Brom, still without a manager at the time of writing. The Baggies haven’t taken three points from any of their last nine Premier League games, a good sign for the visitors, and after dealing with a pretty idiotic bit of work from Nicolas Anelka as well the home side and their fans might not be confident of a big win. Loic Remy is in fine form, and 11/2 in the score/win with BWin.
West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka seems free to play in this one, and Shane Long is back in contention after a calf strain while winger Chris Brunt may also be fit, but Victor Anichebe is doubtful with a groin problem. Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has no new injury or suspension worries following Sunday’s defeat by Arsenal.
Man Utd v Tottenham, 17:30
A kind fixture list over Christmas combined with a fairly hefty pair of budgets has left Spurs and United much closer to the top four than they might have expected after the season start. Both sides have already lost some big ties this term and probably can’t afford to drop too many more to their competition, but for new Spurs manager Tim Sherwood this is also the first big game in charge and a really important event in his fledgling managerial career. I’d expect United to win, but not by a lot, with 14/5 at Ladbrokes on a home victory by a 1-goal margin.
Manchester United will assess the fitness of Wayne Rooney and have Antonio Valencia back from a one-game ban, but will probably miss Robin van Persie. Tottenham are without midfielder Paulinho, Kyle Walker returns from suspension but Jermain Defoe is doubtful with a hamstring problem.
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