Friday, December 1, 2023

Premier League Preview: Match Week 14

The spotlight will be on St. James Park this weekend where two clubs similarly frustrated in midweek European competition return to league action when Manchester United visits Newcastle. Despite a rocky Champions League journey where they sit at the bottom of their qualifying group, Manchester United has been on a good run domestically. The Red Devils have won five of their last six Premier League matches even while Manger Eric ten Hag’ seat purportedly becomes warmer amidst criticism from supporters and pundits alike. A win at St. James where Newcastle has lost just once this season could serve to mute some of that criticism. Newcastle is just a point behind the sixth place Red Devils in the table, having lost just one league match since the first weekend in September. A potent Newcastle attack has scored more goals at St. James this season than Manchester United  has scored across all its matches. The Red Devils, however, are looking to hold a league opponent scoreless for a fourth consecutive match.

Manchester City’s home match versus Tottenham Hotspur would have been a scintillating matchup had it occurred before a lost November for Spurs. Three consecutive losses have knocked the London club from the top of the table to its present fifth place position. Injuries and suspension make near term improvement problematic for Tottenham Hotspur. The losses of James Maddison and Mickey van de Ven until sometime in the new year are particularly crippling. Cristian Romero will be serving the last of a three-match suspension on Saturday though Yves Bissouma returns from his own suspension. Manchester City, meanwhile, are unbeaten at home in their last 27 matches across all competitions.

Arsenal supporters are ecstatic after moving to the top of the Premier League table last weekend and clinching first place in their Champions League grouping midweek. The Gunners host a Wolves side this weekend which has lost two of its last three matches though the howling continues over penalty decisions which helped defeat Wolverhampton at Fulham last weekend. Wolves is an improved attacking team this season under Manager Gary O’Neil this season, even while continuing to labor without a quality striker. Wolves have scored in each of their last twelve league outings but will find things difficult against a Gunner defense which has conceded the fewest goals in the league this season.

Liverpool looks to extend its current 12 match Premier League unbeaten run at home when Fulham visits Anfield. The prolific Reds attack has found the net 15 times more than the Cottagers this season with each club having played 13 matches. Mohamed Salah unsurprisingly leads Liverpool in scoring with 10 goals, four behind league leader Erling Haaland. Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson is expected to miss the match with a hamstring injury as Caoimhin Keller is set to make his first Premier League start of the season between the sticks for Liverpool.

Aston Villa is hoping to have Ollie Watkins back on the pitch when Aston Villa visits Bournemouth on Saturday. The club’s leading goal scorer was held out of his side’s midweek Europa Conference win after sustaining discomfort during training. Aston Villa leapfrogged Tottenham Hotspur into the top four last weekend with a win over the London club. Bournemouth, however, has also had recent success. After failing to win in the first nine matches of their promotion season, the Cherries have now won three of their last four league matches. Once firmly situated on the hot seat, Bournemouth Manager Andoni Iraola is now nominee for November’s Premier League Manager of the month award.

Chelsea’s disaster versus Newcastle last week has continuing ramifications as both Reece James and Marc Cucarella will be suspended for Sunday’s matchup at Stamford Bridge with Brighton. Defender Cucarella, midfielder Moises Caicedo and goalkeeper Robert Sanchez are all former Brighton players currently on the Chelsea roster. Brighton also has two players suspended in midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud and defender Lewis Dunk. The Seagulls, however, could see Kaoru Mitoma return from his injury absence. Chelsea have been shockingly terrible at Stamford Bridge where they have won only one of their last 14 Premier League fixtures with the only win coming against newly promoted Luton Town.

The Seagulls are eighth in the league table after a win at Nottingham Forest last week snapped a string of three consecutive 1-1 draws for Brighton. West Ham is just two points behind Brighton in the table and riding back-to-back wins as the Hammers host Crystal Palace.  Both teams will be shorthanded for their London derby. Michail Antonio seems definite to be sidelined for the Hammers while fellow forward Jarrod Bowen also remains an injury doubt. Several other players will be gametime decision due to an illness making its way through the squad. Crystal Palace, losers of four of their last five league matches, will be without the services on Sunday of playmaker Eberechi Eze and defensive midfielder Cheick Doucoure due to injury.

The bottom of the table will see a battle between two newly promoted clubs unlikely to escape their current relegation position when Burnley host Sheffield United on Thursday. The third promoted side, Luton Town, sits four points above the drop line after a win over Crystal Palace last weekend. The Hatters visit Brentford Saturday with the Bees looking to rebound after back-to-back losses to two of the league’s top teams, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Luton town’s survival chances are greatly enhanced by the massive point deduction levied against Everton which dropped the Toffees into the doom zone. Everton is at Nottingham Forest Saturday as the club tries to revive its survival hopes after the 10-point league penalty and a desultory loss to Manchester United last weekend. The City Ground, however, can be a difficult place to play. Nottingham Forest was chopped down for the first time at home this season in a loss last weekend to Brighton.

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