The Premier League returns this weekend after some much needed time off given the busy schedule of the festive period.
Several teams have lost personnel to the African and Asian tournaments this month but there is still a wealth of talent ready to take this weekend’s fixtures by the scruff of the neck and deliver strong performances.
We look at the five biggest Premier League showdowns and highlight which players could make all the difference!
Sunderland v Liverpool
Patrick van Aanholt
The left-back made the perfect return to injury in Sunderland’s 1-0 FA Cup win over Leeds and he looks set for a busy game on Saturday lunch-time. Sunderland top the charts for time spent attacking via the left flank whilst at home with 43% and his blistering pace will be useful on the overlap.
Additionally Liverpool have spent 39% of their time attacking via the right flank – the fourth highest in the division – which points towards plenty of space for Aanholt to expose but also plenty of defending to do as well!
The club captain has now scored four goals in his last two games and is odds-on to have a big impact at the Stadium of Light. Liverpool are one of only two teams yet to draw on the road this season and Gerrard’s fierce winning mentality was on show against Wimbledon and has helped the Reds to four away victories.
It looks like it could be a rough game – although Lee Cattermole is still a doubt – as Sunderland have committed an average of 11.8 fouls per game while Liverpool has averaged 11.7 against them. So there is the opportunity for plenty of set-pieces and Gerrard is in fine form in that department converting three dead-ball situations to goals in the last two weeks.
Chelsea v Newcastle
Given that Newcastle are without Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor once again they will be forced to play young left-back Paul Dummett at centre-half. The young full-back has struggled when asked to play centrally, epitomised by his New Year’s Day own goal against Burnley.
Diego Costa has made the best defenders in the Premier League look amateur at best so far this season, popping up in all the right places at all the right times – but he should have an absolute field day when lined up against the central inexperience of Dummett.
Most teams know that when you go to Stamford Bridge this season you aren’t going to see all that much of the ball. The Toon will have to maximise the efficiency of every second they have in possession – and Jack Colback will play a big part in that.
His pass accuracy so far this term is a staggering 89% which is actually higher than every member of Chelsea’s midfield unit – Eden Hazard tops that list with 88.4%. He’s in fine form too with a two goals, one assist and a man of the match award to his name in his last two outings for the Magpies.
Everton v Man City
Everton have won four of their last five home Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and Romelu Lukaku in particular will be buoyed by his late equaliser in Tuesday’s Cup meeting with West Ham.
The Belgian striker found the net in both fixtures with City last year and could have another strong showing as the Citizens’ back four, who lose the protection of Yaya Toure to the 2015 AFCON.
The Montenegran striker impressed on his last outing setting up one and scoring one on his return from injury against Sunderland. With the news that Wilfried Bony could be Etihad bound Jovetic will be keen to stake his claim at City.
The 25-year-old was brought off on the hour mark as the Citizens came from behind to beat Sheffield Wednesday in the Cup hinting at Pellegrini’s plans to start him at Goodison. With negotiations still “on-going” with Wilfried Bony’s agent it’s looking increasingly likely that the Ivorian will not be available for Saturday afternoon so Pellegrini will have no choice but to start him.
Arsenal v Stoke
Stoke are still one of the roughest teams in the Premier League giving away 251 fouls since the start of the campaign – and with Arsenal second only to Everton for most fouls committed against them (244) there could be plenty of set-piece opportunities for Santi Cazorla.
Fresh from assisting in Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Hull he will be key for exploiting the lack of movement in Stoke’s back line as the Gunners look to get revenge on the embarrassing half-time 3-0 deficit at the Britannia in December.
Walters took home the man of the match award the last time these two met and could be set to make a difference once again. He’s won an average of 3.5 aerial battles so far this season which has helped Stoke top the charts for the division having won 497 since August.
Such an important stat will help Stoke wrestle some possession away from Arsenal as they are likely to revert to long-ball and counter-attack football as is their custom on the road.
Man United v Southampton
Robin van Persie
The Dutchman scores against Southampton for fun with his brace at St. Mary’s in December his fifth and sixth in just five games against them. His form has run hot and cold in the weeks since but Van Gaal may opt for van Persie’s consistency in this fixture over Falcao’s admittedly improving attempts at settling into Premier League life.
The return of Angel di Maria is likely so you would expect the Dutchman to be living off good service and he is generally able to convert most chances put on a plate for him.
Southampton rank joint second with Chelsea for time spent in the opposition’s half when on the road at 28% so far this season – and a lot of that has gone through playmaker Dusan Tadic.
He’s averaged 2.4 key passes away from home this campaign and will be buoyed from scoring against Arsenal and assisting against Chelsea. That’s a perfect track record to take into another match-up with a Premier League big boy.