The return of the Premier League is less than 24 hours away and there’s some key match-ups this weekend.
Sunderland and Liverpool will entertain at lunchtime while Chelsea and Man City face Newcastle and Everton respectively during the 3pm kick offs.
Arsenal and Manchester United host tricky opposition in Stoke and Southampton respectively on Sunday and we’ve predicted who the winners and losers will be.
Sunderland v Liverpool
One of these two sides will experience a change of fortune on Saturday lunch time – Sunderland are the draw specialists but Liverpool are yet to tie a game on the road this season. The return of Patrick van Aanholt and Ricky Alvarez will make for more intensity for the Black Cats but there is a doubt over midfield pair Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell.
Given those circumstances, you’d expect Gerrard to control things centrally, which may prove to be a pivotal factor. Sunderland will provide plenty of width which will be hard for Liverpool to deal with so it should be an interesting encounter. But neither side is known for its goals this campaign so don’t expect a goal fest.
Chelsea v Newcastle United
Newcastle may have been the first side to take down Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side this season but there’s pretty long-odds on them completing a double over them at Stamford Bridge. The Toon are currently manager-less following Pardew’s departure and are missing two key players to the African Cup of Nations in Papiss Cisse and Cheick Tiote.
Chelsea conversely are one of the few teams not losing any personnel to international duty and will be itching to atone for New Year’s Day embarrassment at White Hart Lane.
Diego Costa will have a great afternoon opposite makeshift centre-back Paul Dummett who struggled to stop Burnley scoring three times at St. James Park – so expect something of a one-sided affair.
Everton v Manchester City
Manchester City have won their last five away games on the spin in all competitions and look set to extend that run as they head to the ground where they seized control of the title last April. Everton may have won four of their last five home fixtures against the Citizens but they were seen off in the most recent meeting at Goodison as City emerged 3-2 winners.
And add Everton’s defensive woes of late to the equation and there is not a lot of hope for the Toffees as they look to win only their second league game since mid-November. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as Romelu Lukaku will look to use his late FA Cup equaliser as motivation to score for a third consecutive home game against the champions.
And with Yaya Toure now away on international duty there will be slightly less protection for City’s back four. Both teams have struggled defensively but have natural goal scorers in their team so we’re going for an exciting high scoring City win.
Arsenal v Stoke City
The Gunners will be itching to set the record straight against their bogey team of late and thankfully for them they are still unbeaten at home against the Potters since Stoke’s promotion in 2008. But that will by no means point towards an easy game as Arsenal clearly still have plenty of problems at the back.
Question marks have been attached to every member of the back unit and the visit of a Stoke City side now based around counter attacking football will be interesting match up. Manchester United’s smash and grab 2-1 earlier this season shows how vulnerable Arsenal are to the counter and Stoke will do a good job of soaking up Arsenal’s pressure.
A mixture of fast players for both teams and an error prone Arsenal defence should make for a high scoring stalemate.
Manchester United v Southampton
The Red Devils drew three of their four league matches over Christmas scoring just five goals in that time – and home advantage won’t go a long way when the Saints are in town.
Southampton have taken four points from their last two Premier League “big boy” match ups and are joint second for time spent in opponent’s half away from home this season.
Defensively they are also the best on the road, conceding just eight times on their travels since August. The return of Angel di Maria will be a boost for Louis Van Gaal’s men but the Red Devils have struggled against physical teams recently and the strength of Victor Wanyama may make life difficult for them.