BIG MATCH: Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini
ARGUABLY THE biggest match of the season takes place at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night (January 31). Premier League leaders Chelsea play host to champions Manchester City.
The fixture has added spice with Blues boss Jose Mourinho playing the siege mentality card on the back of his own Football Association fine and three-match ban of his talented and controversial striker Diego Costa, who will have to sit out the match against City.
It all adds up to an intriguing contest which could be turned on one magic moment. It promises to be a humdinger which is genuinely too close to call prior to kick-off.
All matches at 15.00 unless otherwise stated
Saturday, January 31
Hull – Newcastle 12.45
Both of these clubs are in freefall. The hosts are bang in trouble in the drop zone with just 19 points after 22 matches. Injuries to the club’s forwards have not helped but even so last year’s FA Cup finalists would have expected a better first half to the campaign. The only recent shining light has been Sone Aluko who has quick feet but needs to learn to take his chances when in front of goal. As for the men in black and white, they have struggled since manager Alan Pardew left; a case of be careful what you wish for as Pards was much maligned when he was in charge. The visitors will need another big display from Mohamed Sissoko. Away win.
Crystal Palace – Everton
What a difference a manager can make! New boss Alan Pardew has breathed some life into Palace’s bid to beat the drop. Wins against Spurs and Burnley has seen the Eagles soar to 13th in the league. Diminutive striker Dwight Gayle, who many have doubted, has come up with the goods in terms of goals as has Jason Puncheon, and the southeast London side enter the second period of the campaign with renewed hope. Everton, among season 2013-14’s high flyers, sit in 12th place after a term of underachievement. Draw.
Liverpool – West Ham
This should be a tasty encounter. Just one point separates these two sides, with the Hammers sitting just one place above Saturday’s opponents. A break in Jamaica has clearly done Raheem Sterling a world of good, he looks refreshed and potent in front of goal. I fancy the home side just to edge this one. Key to the East Enders will be the form of Alex Song, Stewart Downing and former Red Andy Carroll.
Man United – Leicester
You can never take Premier League results for granted but this is a home banker! United, still suffering from sluggish form, will have too much for a City side that knock the ball about nicely but fail to deliver when it matters. Leicester captain Wes Morgan, and his fellow defenders, are in for a sticky afternoon at the Theatre of Dreams.
Stoke – QPR
You would like to think that at some stage Rangers will win an away match! Whether it will be this one I’m not too sure. The Britannia Stadium is a difficult place to go and brittle QPR will have to be up for the fight. The likes of City’s Steven N’zonzi, Ryan Shawcross and Glenn Whelan will no doubt carry out manager Mark Hughes’ orders to the letter. The Londoners will need Charlie Austin’s goals and Joey Barton’s obduracy. Home win.
Sunderland – Burnley
The Stadium of Light was the last place I expected Jermain Defoe to pop up! But he has, after an underwhelming time in Toronto, and said striker will now be expected to notch the goals to take 16th placed Sunderland up the table. Burnley have proved over the last few weeks that they are up for the fight. Sean Dyche has his men putting in a shift every match. They are good enough to eke out a draw.
WBA – Tottenham
This might have been a certain away win a few months back. However, Tony Pulis is now in charge of WBA and they will no longer possess a soft centre. The new boss will be putting extra drills into his defenders and will coax the best out of the likes of James Morrison and Stephane Sessegnon. Baggies bouncing after this one!
Chelsea – Man City 17.30
Quite simply the match of the day! The league leaders take on the second placed champions in what should be a humdinger. City’s loss to Arsenal last time out makes it imperative that Manuel Pellegrini’s men take the spoils in West London, otherwise the Blues will extend the current five point gap between the teams. The personal battles take place all over the field: Fabregas - Silva, Terry – Aguero and Costa – Kompany will be mouthwatering. All even at the final whistle.
Sunday, February 1
Arsenal – Aston Villa 13.30
Having beaten Man City last time out, the team in red and white will have to avoid complacency to dispatch Villa who are 15th and out of form. Young gun Francis Coquelin is currently bossing Arsenal’s midfield to such good effect that he is in line for a new long term contract. Villa shot down at the Emirates.
Southampton – Swansea 16.00
This has all the makings of an entertaining fixture. The Saints – still marching towards a European berth – are the team of the season to date. They have lost star players and suffered more than their fair share of injuries, but they just keep accumulating the points. Swansea, who are going through a difficult spell, can make it difficult for anyone on their day. Sadly that day won’t be this Sunday as the hosts keep their dreams alive.