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Friday, December 11, 2015

Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

1) Time for Koeman to ring the changes against Crystal Palace



 
Councillors apologise after being caught watching Crystal Palace during debateLast weekend should have been an easy one for Southampton. They were facing an out-of-form Aston Villa with a bad attack and a worse defence. Instead, Ronald Koeman’s side passed up chance after chance and eventually needed to come from behind to earn a point. GrazianoPellè was more guilty than most when it came to those chances though that should come as
no surprise – with only one league goal to his name since the win over Chelsea at the beginning of October, he is searching for form. With Southampton’s league position in decline – and Pellè traditionally a more effective force at home – Koeman should consider dropping him for Shane Long. The Crystal Palace defence is not the most mobile and with Pellè more static than a wool jumper, that back four might find Long’s industry, endeavour and runs (as well as Juanmi) harder to deal with. That is not Koeman’s only tactical dilemma. Crystal Palace’s strengths are on the wings and he might well contemplate doubling up on the right by starting Maya Yoshida and Cédric Soares to negate the space that Palace like to attack. And then there is the question of Victor Wanyama. A few days ago Robert Pires was lavishing praise on him and urging Arsène Wenger to buy him but the Kenyan has looked out of sorts of late and is failing to impose himself on games as before. Come Saturday afternoon, he could well find himself next to Pellè with Oriol Romeu taking his place. IM

2) Can Chelsea stop the Leicester juggernaut?

It was intriguing to learn that only Sunderland and West Brom have had less possession than Leicester City this season. Leicester also have the worst pass completion rate in the league, but that has not hindered Claudio Ranieri’s side in their improbable rise to the Premier League’s summit. Their lightning pace on the break means that they are happy to let their opponents have the ball and strike quickly when they win it back. Yet will José Mourinho see them coming? Will it be a dull stalemate between Leicester and Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Monday night, with Mourinho parking the bus to guard against those searing counterattacks from Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy? JS

3) Van Gaal under scrutiny
Louis van Gaal suggested last week that he would quit as Manchester United manager if he felt he had lost the support of his employers or the players: since then those players have limped to a home draw with West Ham and been dumped out of the Champions League at Wolfsburg – and if his decision to replace Juan Mata with Nick Powell in Germany caused as much bemusement in the dressing room as it did everywhere else, then who knows what to expect from United this weekend? Champions League elimination makes success in the Premier League even more important for Van Gaal and it will be interesting to see who he deploys on Saturday, not only in defence, where Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling could be absent, but also further forward. And how about a start for Powell? After winning at Chelsea last week, Bournemouth must fancy their chances of gaining glorious back-to-back victories. PD

4) Time to bench Benteke in the league

To pick or not to pick Christian Benteke against West Bromwich Albion, that is the question. The answer to which is quite obviously no. The Belgian striker was poor against Newcastle last weekend. He didn’t find space, or play his part in the intense pressing game expected of a Jürgen Klopp side and he didn’t find the back of the net, even when he was gifted a gilt-edged chance – in fact, he has only two goals to his name since mid-September. For a player who cost £32.5m at a club of Liverpool’s aspirations, that is not good enough. Dropping him would allow the Liverpool manager to revert to the front three of Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino (who plays best alongside his fellow Brazilian) and the back-from-injury Philippe Coutinho.Those three helped destroy Manchester City and Chelsea and, in the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge, they are Liverpool’s best options up front. West Brom have rediscovered their perseverance and mental strength after their wobbly start to the season and have impressed in their five-game bout against sides from the top seven spots. However, Liverpool should have the guile to pick them apart. IMC

5) Norwich need a Rudd-y good performance

Nobody could accuse Alex Neil of failing to explore his options. The Norwich manager continues to try different approaches and personnel as he attempts to stop his team’s slow slide. Last weekend the Scot changed goalkeepers, dropping John Ruddy and introducing Declan Rudd, who had been waiting for such a chance for a long time and took it well when it came, even if his performance was not enough to prevent a 2-0 defeat at Watford. Rudd will need to excel again if Norwich are to prevent Everton from getting over the frustration of missing numerous chances as they drew at home to Crystal Palace on Monday. PD

6) Master v apprentice at Villa Park

Arsène Wenger counselled his protégé to accept the Aston Villa job when it was offered to him and you have to wonder how grateful Rémi Garde feels for that advice now. The younger Frenchman inherited a squad that looks raw and unbalanced and it will be quite a feat to keep them up this season. Villa enjoyed a lot of luck when drawing at Southampton last weekend but they were, at least, quite strong in midfield and they could conceivably impose themselves enough in that sector to make Arsenal feel the absence of Santi Cazorla, the player whom Wenger hails as “our guide” as the Spaniard is the main link between their defence and attack. But Arsenal overcame that in their rousing win at Olympiakoson Wednesday and, though still shorn of several key players, will arrive at Villa Park in buoyant mood. Theo Walcott was the one Arsenal player who was below par in Greece: the way Villa have been defending suggests this is an ideal match for him to get back into his groove. PD

7) Something had to change at Swansea – will it?


Swansea coaches leave club following departure of Monk
“Something has to change” said Huw Jenkins before ditching Garry Monk – now comes the players’ chance to show that the manager was the main problem. Radical improvements from several formerly reliable individuals will be required if Swansea are to put on a better collective display than they have in their last five winless matches. But even if Bafétimbi Gomis ends his 12-match fruitless streak, Swansea fans might still pine for Wilfried Bony, who could serve as a reminder of what they and Swansea have been missing. PD

8) Watford will have too much for Sunderland to cope with


Given the astounding amount of players who came and went at Watford this past summer, as well as the appointment of a manager who had never taken charge in this country before, it is nothing short of amazing that it’s December and Watford are in the top half of the table. Quique Sánchez Flores should receive a decent helping of praise as should his forward paring of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney – “I love my strikers,” said the manager and well he should since the duo have scored 14 of his side’s 17 league goals this season – but praise should also be reserved for that defence. They have conceded just 16 goals in 15 games and have kept six clean sheets so far this season – only the Manchester clubs can brag about keeping more than that. Sunderland, by contrast, are like a person suffering from food poisoning, they’re having problems at both ends. Admittedly, there has been an upturn in their performances since Sam
Allardyce took over but this Watford side in this type of form with this type of attack and this mean a defence should have too much for the Black Cats. IMC

9) Antonio’s time to shine

West Ham United’s growing injury list means that Michail Antonio should get a chance to impress against Stoke City. With Slaven Bilic’s attack depleted by injuries to Manuel Lanzini, Victor Moses, Diafra Sakho, Dimitri Payet and Enner Valencia, the time has come for Antonio to make his first start for West Ham. The 25-year-old winger has made only three appearances since leaving Nottingham Forest on the final day of the transfer window and Bilic will need to be patient with a player who has little Premier League experience. However, Antonio was excellent in the Championship for Forest and he looked promising when he replaced Victor Moses in West Ham’s draw with Manchester UnitedJS

10) Newcastle battle against recent history

It has been over a year since Newcastle won two matches in a row, and their first two league victories of this campaign were followed by painful beatings (3-0 bySunderland after the win over Norwich, then 3-0 by Leicester after the win at Bournemouth), so even a point at White Hart Lane would be well received on the back of last weekend’s win over Liverpool. But another draw would certainly not suit Spurs, as Mauricio Pochettino knows his team should be higher in the table after their long unbeaten run. Newcastle will probably have to perform with even more commitment than they did against Liverpool just to get a point this weekend. PD