BOTH Tottenham Hotspurs and Nottingham Forest didn’t have midweek European games, so they were in action early Saturday morning (4am). Spurs came out on top 2-0 to heap further pressure on Forest boss Steve Cooper.
The win moves Spurs into fifth place on points with Manchester City, albeit having played a game more. Here are the rest of the weekend’s fixtures:
Newcastle United v Fulham (Sat, 11pm)
Two teams in opposite forms. The home side has conceded seven in their last two league games, losing 3-0 and 4-1, to Everton and Spurs respectively. Fulham have found their scoring boots and scored five for the second time this season, when they comprehensively thumped both Forest and West Ham 5-0 in consecutive matches.
The Magpies will be hurting after exiting the Champions League at the group stages and the squad is stretched to breaking point through injuries. It will be a test of Eddie Howe’s managerial nous as he tries to revitalise his tired side through the hectic Christmas schedule. He may also need to tweak his high-energy, high-pressing tactics to avoid being overly exposed by quick counterattacking sides.
Chelsea v Sheffield United (Sat, 11pm)
Chelsea simply has to win this game. It is as simple as that. Failure to take all three points at home against the Premiership’s bottom side will seriously put Mauricio Pochettino’s reign in jeopardy. Being beaten by Everton who are spurred by a strong sense of injustice is one thing; losing to a side with a goal difference of -28 is quite another.
Even a draw will probably bring the boo boys out in full force at Stamford Bridge and severely dent Poch’s managerial credentials. Chris Wilder will be hoping his side can somehow engineer a great escape and an away win against the Chelsea millionaires will do wonders for confidence and instill a belief that the impossible can be achieved.
Manchester City v Crystal Palace (Sat, 11pm)
This will be City’s last EPL assignment before heading off to warmer weather in Saudi Arabia for the World Club Cup. Pep Guardiola will want to ensure his team is not too far off the pace when they return to play catch-up. The Eagles are on a poor run with just one win in nine and are seriously hampered by injuries to key players.
Roy Hodgson will be lamenting his side’s poor luck against Liverpool last weekend when they lost to an injury-time Harvey Elliot screamer, no thanks to Jordan Ayew foolishly getting a second yellow card when they were comfortably in front. Eerling Haaland is due to miss this game due to injury, but City should still have too much firepower and should comfortably see off Palace.
Burnley v Everton (Sun, 1.30am)
Sean Dyche returns to his old stomping ground with a certain swagger as his Everton side have managed to climb out of the bottom three. Three impressive wins on the trot have seen the Toffees respond to the ten-point deduction for financial wrongdoings in perfect fashion. This is a relegation six-pointer, as a loss for either will have serious ramifications come the end of the season. Having removed the burden of being winless at home with a thumping 5-0 win against fellow relegation candidates Sheffield United, Vincent Kompany will be hoping to inspire his Burnley side to a repeat of that performance.
Bournemouth v Luton Town (Sat, 11pm)
A battling performance against reigning champions Manchester City last weekend will have given Luton supporters plenty of hope they can avoid the drop. Having drawn against Liverpool and even led against Pep Guardiola’s treble winners before losing 2-1, Luton might lack the big names but certainly fear no one.
A four-point gap has already appeared between the Hatters and Everton in the 18th spot and it will be imperative they stop the gulf from growing any wider. A trip to the south coast is always tricky, but Luton will feel they have shown enough in recent weeks that they can overcome the likes of Bournemouth.
Brentford v Aston Villa (Sat, 11pm)
Aston Villa are flying high after a 1-0 home win against title contenders Arsenal last weekend. Unai Emery though is keeping a level head and refuses to be drawn into talk of a title challenge by the Villans as they sit in third, above both Manchester clubs, high-spending Chelsea and ambitious Newcastle.
If they beat the Bees in the cauldron of their always noisy GTech Community Stadium, the noise around the Villans’ title tilt will be hard to ignore. Ollie Watkins, Villa have a genuine world-class no9 while skipper John McGinn has underlined his importance with his all-round battling performances culminating in his well-taken winner against the Gunners.
West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers (Sun, 10pm)
David Moyes will be celebrating sealing the top spot in the Hammers’ Europa League group and will be hoping they can carry that fine form domestically. They are comfortably midtable in ninth but West Ham fans are getting accustomed to European jaunts and will want to be higher up the table to qualify for those competitions.
A home win against the likes of Wolves will be a must if they want to break into the top seven but the 5-0 debacle at Craven Cottage last weekend has hinted at a soft underbelly.
Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion (Sun, 10pm)
Arsenal’s title charge last season came to a crashing halt with a 3-0 defeat at home to the Seagulls. This week sees Mikael Arteta’s men trying to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat to Villa last weekend and maintain impetus for their title challenge this season. Brighton though is looking somewhat jaded from their European exertions, and the sale of key personnel in the summer is beginning to have a telling effect.
Roberto De Zerbi will hope the feel-good factor of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League will spur his players to pull off another significant result at the Emirates.
Liverpool v Manchester United (Mon, 12.30am)
Erik ten Hag is under immense pressure following Manchester United’s dismal exit from the Champions League. A trip to Anfield awaits United after a limp 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich at home in midweek. The Dutchman is also facing rumours that former Chelsea boss Graham Potter has been lined up as his replacement, so the onus is on United players to show that the former Ajax coach hasn’t lost the Old Trafford dressing room. He has some good news though with both Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford back in training but Harry Macguire remains sidelined.
Jurgen Klopp had the luxury of fielding a heavily rotated side for Liverpool’s final Europa League group stage game having already confirmed the top spot. The German is wary of United’s wounded beast and has told his players to “ignore the noise”. – Dec 16, 2023
Main photo credit: Erik Ten Hag’s Facebook