Friday, January 13, 2023

Matchweek 20 Preview: Derbies Take Center Stage

Two classic derby matches dominate the weekend schedule for the Premier League. Top of the table Arsenal makes the short trip to Tottenham Hotspur to take on their north London rivals who are scratching for a return to the league’s top four and Championship League qualification. Arsenal leads second place Manchester City in the table by five points, having won all but two matches during an 11-match unbeaten run. The Gunners haven’t lost a Premier League match since their solitary blemish in early September. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, fell from the ranks of the top four for the first time this season with a New Year’s day loss to Aston Villa. Spurs then stomped on Crystal Palace in their next league match before squeaking past Portsmouth on a Harry Kane goal in the FA Cup last Saturday. Kane is now one goal from the all-time Tottenham Hotspur career record. Matching or exceeding that milestone against his club’s historic rival would come with even greater meaning for the Spurs talisman. Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah, meanwhile, has four goals in four matches since stepping in after the World Cup break for the injured Gabriel Jesus. The 193rd meeting between the bitter rivals promises to be a hard fought affair as the league leading Gunners seek to end a three match losing run at Tottenham Stadium.

Manchester City also visits the home of their archrival this weekend as the second place Citizens are at Old Trafford for their match with Manchester United. Pep Guardiola’s side was shocked in the Carabao Cup during the week by Premier League cellar dweller Southampton. The manager will hope that match served as a wakeup call to a squad which has not looked sharp after the World Cup break. Inevitably questions are being asked whether Erling Haaland’s role as a traditional number nine striker fits with Guardiola’s preferred style of play. City have scored multiple goals in only three of their last eight league matches despite Haaland himself being only two goals away from the goal total which won the Premier League Golden Boot last season. Manchester City smashed their rivals by a 6-3 margin at the Etihad in October but will be facing a much-improved Manchester United side under Manager Eric ten Hag. The Red Devils have won their last eight matches across all competitions and have won nine consecutive matches at Old Trafford. Ten Hag’s men have won their last four league matches to overtake Spurs for fourth position in the table. Marcus Rashford is in scintillating form for Manchester United, scoring in all six matches his club has played since the World Cup.

Surprisingly a third match this weekend could have European qualification implications. Fulham smashed Chelsea on Thursday for the club’s fourth consecutive league win. The surprising Cottagers are now sixth in the table and get suspended striker Aleksandar Mitrovic back for Fulham’s match with third place Newcastle on Sunday. Mitrovic, fourth in the Premier League with 11 goals this season, will be anxious to increase his goal tally against his former club. Newcastle, however, hasn’t conceded a goal in their last four league outings as the Magpies look to equal a club record 14 match topflight unbeaten run. Manager Eddie Howe could have forward Alexander Isak back from injury for his first league appearance for Newcastle in four months.

Everton Manager Frank Lampard could be facing a critical match when Southampton comes to Goodison Park Saturday. The Toffees have entered the relegation zone after losing four of their last five matches. Everton have lost 19 of 36 Premier League matches with Lampard in charge and a loss to bottom of the table Southampton, a club which has only won once before in Premier League play at Goodison, could be fatal to the manager’s job security.

The Saints, meanwhile, come marching in after victories in FA Cup and Carabao Cup contests which have come since their last league match. Southampton shockingly defeated Manchester City in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals Wednesday. No manager is receiving more current criticism than Chelsea’s Graham Potter. Potter’s patsies have lost seven of their last 10 matches across all competitions as the once proud club experiences its worst run of performance in more than a decade. In Potter’s defense, injuries have been crippling for the Blues as the manager will face Crystal Palace on Sunday without 10 injured first line players. Adding insult to injury will be the absence of newly acquired Joao Felix who was red carded in his Premier League debut on Thursday and will be forced to miss the next three matches. Crystal Palace enter this London derby having lost three of their last four league matches and three consecutive home matches across all competitions. Questionable defending has plagued the Eagles of late, a circumstance which could be good news for Chelsea’s struggling attack.

Liverpool are three points outside the top six as the Reds travel to Brighton on Saturday. The Seagulls, meanwhile, are just a point behind Liverpool in the table after winning  four of their last six matches. Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbe, however, is sidelining top scorer Leandro Trossard for the match versus Liverpool over attitudinal issues amid transfer rumors swirling about the midfielder. The Seagulls will thus look to Kaoro Mituma and Evan Ferguson to carry the attack with each player having scored in each of Brighton’s last two league matches. Darwin Nunez will miss the match for Liverpool, putting more pressure on Mohamed Salah to replicate his historic success against Brighton. Salah’s six career goals versus Brighton are tied with Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy for most Premier League goals scored against the Seagulls.

A midlands derby will see Leicester playing at Nottingham Forest. The Foxes have lost three league matches on the trot and continue to suffer from the injury absence of playmaker James Maddison. Forest, meanwhile, moved out of the relegation zone with a win at Southampton in their last league match. Manager Steve Cooper’s promoted side are unbeaten in their last five matches at their home City Ground.

Wolves will try to claw their way out of the drop zone when manager Julen Lopetegui and his charges host West Ham Saturday. Wolverhampton is just a point behind West Ham which is just barely safe at 17th in the table. The Hammers had lost five in a row before snapping their loss streak in the league with a draw at Leeds. Wolves have looked better under Lopetegui but remain the league’s lowest scoring club.

Bournemouth is one of the clubs who Lopetegui will feel he can surpass in the table. After an initial bounce following the appointment of Gary O’Neil, the Cherries have steadily descended to their current position just one point removed from the drop zone. O’Neil takes his club to Brentford Saturday where the Bees have lost just once this season. Brentford Manager Thomas Frank has his club on a six-match unbeaten run in the league and leading scorer Ivan Toney has been announced as fit to compete versus the Cherries.

Weekend action begins Friday with Leeds travelling to Aston Villa. Leeds suffered a critical injury when forward Crysencio Summerville was injured in the club’s recent FA Cup match. Leeds forward Patrick Bamford is reportedly healed from his latest injury but remains a fitness question mark. Leeds is one of five clubs which are currently safe but hovering within two points of the relegation zone. Aston Villa, for now, is comfortably mid-table. Emery has faced Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch previously when his Villareal side defeated Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg club in 2020/21 Europa League play. 

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