Friday, December 15, 2023

Premier League Preview Match Week 17

The current leaders of the Premier League table anxiously await their historic rival to visit Sunday when Liverpool plays host to a reeling Manchester United. Liverpool moved into the top spot with last week’s win over Crystal Palace and Arsenal’s defeat at Aston Villa. All is misery meanwhile for Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag whose team was embarrassed by Bournemouth last weekend and then was booted out of Europe midweek by Bayern Munich. The Red Devils have now lost more matches than they have won across all competitions this season. Manchester United has to be anxious facing this match. Their visit to Anfield last year resulted in a 7-0 drubbing. This year, Liverpool has scored exactly twice as many goals in league play as their opponent. The Manchester United attack gets little production from its forward players. Striker Rasmus Hojlund has yet to score a Premier League goal. Marcus Rashford has just one goal from open play all season. In defense, the backline has been a revolving door, part due to injury and part due to manager decisions hinting of locker room issues. Previously out of favor Champions League winner Rafael Varane is now back in the lineup while 35-year-old Jonny Evans is likely forced to start as once out of favor, now back in favor Harry Maguire was injured in the midweek Champions League loss. Liverpool, meanwhile, boasts an intimidating strike force of five forwards capable of scoring at  any time. Only Manchester City is more proficient in attack than Liverpool and only Erling Haaland has more Premier League goals than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah this season. While a recent injury to center back Joel Matip will test Liverpool’s depth, the Red’s defense has conceded the joint lowest number of goals in the league this season. Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes, a much-criticized figure in last season’s debacle for his club at Anfield, will miss this year’s contest due to accumulated red cards.

Second place Arsenal will try to keep the pressure on Liverpool when the Gunners take on Brighton at the Emirates. Strangely, Brighton has been kryptonite for Arsenal at the Emirates. The Seagulls have won on their last three visits and effectively ended Arsenal’s title bid last May with victory at the home of the Gunners. The Seagulls, however, scored a critical victory on Thursday against Marseilles to clinch their Europa League qualifying group and could have trouble with the recovery time for Sunday’s match. Arsenal, meanwhile, was able to heavily rotate its squad for its non-consequential Tuesday Champions League match.

Aston Villa will try to build on the momentum of league wins over Manchester City and Arsenal in consecutive weeks when Unai Emery takes his squad to Brentford on Sunday. The Villans have crept up to third in the table, just two points behind leaders Liverpool. The Bees, meanwhile, were stung by bottom of the table Sheffield United in their last outing. An overmatched Brentford side on Sunday will hope to ride its strong home form (three wins in their last four home league matches) against a potentially fatigued Aston Villa which played in Conference League on Thursday.

Manchester City should have little problem dispensing with Crystal Palace on Saturday despite past success by the Eagles at the Etihad. Crystal Palace has won twice and drawn once in their last five trips to visit the Citizens. Palace, however, is missing key players across its lineup and is starting its third-choice goalkeeper against the defending champions.

Tottenham Hotspur is three points behind Manchester City and a top four spot as  the north London side begins the Premier League weekend with a visit to Nottingham Forest on Friday. Spurs hopes to have turned a corner by ending a five-match winless run with a rout of Newcastle last weekend. Nottingham Forest Manager Steve Cooper, meanwhile, stayed one step ahead of the sack by earning a point at Wolves last weekend. The Tricky Trees have won but once in their last 12 Premier League matches. They will see a familiar face in Spurs forward Brennan Johnson Friday. The 22-year-old former Nottingham Forest academy player was instrumental in the club’s promotion to the Premier League.

Fulham has surprisingly been one of the highest scoring teams in the league of late with 16 goals in their last four matches. The Cottagers head to the northeast on Saturday to face Newcastle which has lost its last two league matches while conceding seven goals. Neither of those matches, however, was at St. James Park where the Magpies have won six consecutive league matches while conceding only one goal at their home fortress.

West Ham were coldcocked by Fulham in a 5-0 pasting last weekend. The Hammers believe that result to be an anomaly, marking the only defeat for Manager David Moyes’ in the last eight matches across all competitions. In any event, Sunday’s home match against Wolverhampton should be closer, with neither of these sides noted for attacking firepower. West Ham may be tired from its Thursday Europa League match, but Wolves have lost three consecutive Premier League away matches and the Hammers have taken all three points in four of their last five appearances at London Stadium.

Across town in London, meanwhile, Chelsea Manager Mauricio Pochettino faces a potential must win match when basement dwelling Sheffield United visits Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s lack of success and Pochettino’s calls for further additions to an already expensively assembled side have not endeared him to club supporters. Chelsea has won just two of their eight matches at home this season.

Bournemouth Manager Andoni Iraola, meanwhile, is now seeing success with his Cherries who take a five-match unbeaten run, including four victories, into Saturday’s first ever top-flight meeting between Bournemouth and Luton Town. The Hatters have taken fewer points in their last 10 matches than any other Premier League side.

Everton has moved past Luton Town and out of the relegation zone with a three-match winning run. Manager Sean Dyche revisits his old club, Burnley, on Saturday as the Toffees try to continue clawing their way back up the table after a points deduction temporarily put them in the drop zone. Burnley is ahead of only basement dwelling Sheffield United, on goal differential, as it has been a rough transition to the Premier League for Manager Vincent Kompany’s club. 

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