In this midweek round of games, the key fixture is definitely Tottenham against Man City, as the Premier League’s two form teams go head-to-head. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returns to Old Trafford as manager of Cardiff, and the other two of last season’s promoted clubs, Crystal Palace and Hull, play each other, both having surpassed expectations, finding themselves outside the relegation zone. There’s a Midlands derby as Aston Villa look to correct their atrocious home form against West Brom, now with Pepe Mel in charge, while Arsenal have a potentially difficult game away to Southampton.
Man Utd vs. Cardiff
Juan Mata is Manchester United’s record signing, and will be available to play in this match. He will not solve all of United’s problems in midfield, because they are still in need of a physical presence in the centre, a midfield general who will boss games. The signing has a slight feel of desperation to it, and you get a feeling that Mourinho has got the better end of the deal than Moyes. That signing pushes Wilfried Zaha further away from the first team picture, as he and Fabio Da Silva look likely to join United’s next opponents, Cardiff City. The South Wales club are now bottom of the table on goal difference, but only one point off safety. Like Mata, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a man who will get a warm reception when he arrives at Old Trafford, but no points. 2-0.
Norwich vs. Newcastle
Both teams have been given the weekend off, after they went out of the FA Cup in the third round. Norwich picked up a 1-0 win over Hull last time out, thanks to a late goal from the unlikely source of Ryan Bennett. The fact that such an important goal came from a centre-back, sums up their season so far. They have not scored enough goals, considering how much they have spent on strikers this summer. Only two teams have won more away matches than Newcastle, who picked up a sixth win on the road at West Ham. However, Yohan Cabaye, who netted a brace in that match, looks likely to join PSG. There are only four days left of the transfer window, and the club have some difficult decisions to make. They will want to haggle and get the best possible price for Cabaye, but also give themselves enough time to secure a replacement. He has been such a key player, you would worry for Newcastle without him in the team. 1-1.
Southampton vs. Arsenal
It seems surprising that Arsene Wenger risked fielding key players against League One opposition in the FA Cup, given that this is such a close title race. They play away to a Southampton side who are unbeaten in four in all forms, and by contrast, were able to change almost their entire team for the visit of Yeovil on Saturday. The main concern for the Saints is they have banned striker Osvaldo, who was their record signing this summer, for starting a training ground fight with team-mate Jose Fonte. Southampton have shown that they have a squad with a strong mentality though, and seem to be rarely affected by off-field issues. When they controversially changed their manager last season, and when their chairman stepped down, they have tended to respond positively so they might grab a point with home advantage. 1-1.
Swansea vs. Fulham
A replay against Sheffield United on a week night is the last thing Fulham need. With twelve members of the squad in their thirties, an injury crisis is something Rene Meulensteen must be careful to avoid, with his side involved in such a close relegation battle. Swansea are in danger of going down as well, but they reached the fifth round of the cup after victory at Birmingham. The Swans play three of the bottom four in the next two weeks, which is a crucial run of games, and they must be looking to win at least two of those. By mid-February, they will be involved in three competitions which will provide a challenge for their squad, with the Europa League starting up again. Next month will be a difficult one for both clubs. 1-1.
Crystal Palace vs. Hull
Remarkably, Crystal Palace are out of the relegation zone, and those saying they were certainties for relegation must accept a slice of humble pie. Tony Pulis has massively improved their performances at home, as they have only lost one of their last six at Selhurst Park. Palace’s home form does not bode well for Hull, given their abysmal away record. Steve Bruce’s side have taken just two points from their last eight games on the road, losing to Norwich last time out. The Tigers will have Tom Huddlestone back for this match, which is important, because he is a key player for them in midfield. These two teams tend to have very little of the ball in games, and naturally spend a lot of time soaking up pressure. There won’t be many goals. 1-0.
Liverpool vs. Everton
A Merseyside derby with huge significance, as both teams eye a Champions League spot. Liverpool put in a mediocre performance when they won at Bournemouth in the FA Cup, despite playing a number of first choice players, such as Suarez, Gerrard and Skrtel. Roberto Martinez took a slightly more pragmatic approach at Stevenage, with Coleman, Distin and Lukaku rested. Over the last twelve times this fixture has been played, there have been just twenty goals, but arguably that had a lot to do with David Moyes’ mentality as the visiting manager. He set his team up to simply not get beaten, but there is no doubt Roberto Martinez will go there trying to attack Liverpool. If the 3-3 draw at Goodison back in November is anything to go by, this will be an entertaining game. 2-2.
Aston Villa vs. West Brom
Aston Villa’s problem at the moment is that they cannot win at home. They have taken just two points from their last five at Villa Park, and recently fell out of the FA Cup there to League One Sheffield United. West Brom drew their first game under Pepe Mel at home to Everton, which was not a bad start. In the first half, Everton dominated them in possession but they showed character to fight back and gain a point with fifteen minutes to go. A new manager always tends to bring the best out of a team - the likes of Fulham, Palace and Tottenham have all seen a quick improvement in results since changing their boss. Given Villa’s home woes, this could be an away win. 1-2.
Chelsea vs. West Ham
With Nemanja Matic giving Chelsea a much-needed physical presence in midfield, Jose Mourinho now has a very strong squad. He made a few changes for the FA Cup match against Stoke, but the drop off in quality was barely noticeable and with Mohammed Salah coming in to replace Mata, Chelsea have now added extra width. West Ham have conceded twenty-eight goals in their last nine games. The arrival of Nocerino from Milan might give them some extra defensive protection in midfield. He might not be too highly rated in Italy, but Allardyce would not be able to attract a player of his experience if he was. West Ham have also signed Marco Borriello from Roma which makes sense, because they cannot rely on Andy Carroll, given his fitness problems. The Hammers have three winnable home games coming up in February, but are unlikely to gain anything from their trip across London. 2-0.
Sunderland vs. Stoke
Four of Sunderland’s last six games have been cup matches, which in other circumstances would perhaps be an unnecessary distraction, but in this case it seems to have given them confidence. If you include their shoot-out win against Manchester United, the Black Cats have won five of their last six, but just need to convert that to their league form. Stoke have the worst away record in the Premier League, and have only scored once in their last six on the road. They need a finisher, and there are question marks as to whether Peter Crouch’s ability to win headers and get flick-ons compensate for his lack of goals. Sunderland would go just one point behind Stoke with a win, and the momentum they have generated, they might well do that. 2-0.
Tottenham vs. Man City
Spurs have been fantastic since Tim Sherwood took over, while Manchester City look to be putting their away problems to bed, with five wins from their last seven on the road. One problem for City is injuries. They will be without key attacking players in Silva, Negredo and Nasri, who they have been quite reliant on, whereas Spurs have got most of their wins without Townsend, Paulinho and Vertonghen, who may or may not return for this match. Both Adebayor and Soldado could give the often vulnerable Demichelis something to think about at centre-back. Throw in the fact that unlike City, Tottenham have had the weekend off to prepare for this match, and you’ve got a surprise result on the cards. 1-0.
The big game in the Championship on Tuesday night, comes at the Keepmoat, as there is a crucial game at the bottom between Doncaster and Charlton. Leicester are the only one of the top six who will not have home advantage, but they play a Birmingham side who rarely win at home. Derby will look to reproduce their form of a few weeks ago when they face Yeovil, who are joint-bottom of the table, but have shown signs of life in recent weeks.
Barnsley vs. Blackburn
Barnsley are five points adrift of safety, but they have games in hand on Millwall and Doncaster, and beat Blackpool 2-0 in their last match. That was their first win under Danny Wilson, who seems to have at least made them more solid at the back, with just four goals conceded from five games. That defensive improvement also coincides with Jean Yves M’Voto being out of the team due to injury, with Peter Ramage coming in and doing well. Wilson might not be so keen to force M’Voto back in. Blackburn conceded a late equalizer against Derby on Saturday, having had just 38% possession. Blackburn do not have much quality in the middle, and might get overrun by Barnsley, who tend to play with a midfield five. The Tykes will battle for a win here. 2-1.
Birmingham vs. Leicester
A team who don’t know how to win, against a team who cannot stop. Birmingham have not won at home in the league for four months, while Leicester have won their last seven. To make matters worse for the hosts, they will be without captain Paul Robinson due to suspension, without Dan Burn who has recently been recalled from his loan spell, while Kyle Bartley will play only his first game back after injury. A very bad situation to be in, when playing a Leicester side who are often clinical in the forward areas. Jamie Vardy’s relentless pace could be a big problem, against a potentially slow defence. Playing at home is not even an advantage for Birmingham at the moment, so this is the easiest call of the week. 1-3.
Bournemouth vs. Huddersfield
Two well-run clubs, in a similar lower mid-table position, who look capable of sustaining themselves in the Championship over the next few years. Bournemouth have not won in the league since Boxing Day, but they have not lost too many either. The Cherries put in an encouraging first half performance against Liverpool in the FA Cup, and it was only in the second that Liverpool’s quality showed. Huddersfield do not tend to do so well away from home, they have only taken one point from their last four on the road. Nahki Wells was rested in the cup against Charlton and could start for the second time, having already netted twice for his new side. There is not much to separate these two. 1-1.
Burnley vs. Brighton
Burnley have not been beaten at home this season. Five of their thirteen games at Turf Moor have ended in draws, so a combination of luck and defensive grit has seen them remain undefeated in East Lancashire. They play Brighton, who have a similar knack for getting results when they play away from home. Oscar Garcia’s side have conceded the fewest number of away goals in the Championship, having kept seven out of a possible thirteen clean sheets on the road. Matthew Upson in particular, has put in some very consistent performances in recent weeks, and Brighton’s defence seem to have benefitted from his experience. Both teams know how to keep a clean sheet. 0-0.
Derby vs. Yeovil
After recently winning at Birmingham, Yeovil have brought Ishmael Miller back on loan from Nottingham Forest. That could be a vital signing, because in his two month spell there previously, he provided them with a touch of class in the final third, something they have been lacking deeply this season. Still, this is the first of two testing trips to the East Midlands for the Glovers. Their next opponents, Derby, have brought in a decent loan signing themselves, in Patrick Bamford. Bamford had a successful time at League One MK Dons, and looks to be settling at Championship level, with two goals already for the Rams. On the whole though, Derby have not really continued the momentum they built up until New Year - just one win in five now. 2-1.
Doncaster vs. Charlton
A crucial game for both clubs, who look to be stuck in a relegation battle this season. The two teams have suffered from a lack of goals, as only Yeovil have scored less than either of them. Doncaster could be improving defensively, they have only conceded twice in three games since the introduction of Abdoulaye Meite at centre back. Charlton, meanwhile, have been in FA Cup action, winning away to Huddersfield Town in the fourth round. Before that, they won comfortably away to Oxford, keeping a clean sheet on both occasions, which will give their defence some confidence. Because they have played more games than a lot of teams around them, this is a match Doncaster must win. They will do so, in a low-scoring affair. 1-0.
Leeds vs. Ipswich
A big problem for Leeds is that Matt Smith will be suspended for this match. Smith playing is key to getting the best out of Ross McCormack, because his height as a target man draws defenders away, which creates space for McCormack to play just behind. It could be difficult for McCormack to operate as the main striker. Ipswich got a 2-0 victory over Reading, which was their only win in seven games, and their first home win in five. The Tractor Boys remain just two points off the play-offs, but are lacking creativity in midfield. At various times this season, these teams have been talked about with regards to a possible promotion push, but a mid-table finish awaits both clubs. 1-1.
Middlesbrough vs. Wigan
Two teams who have benefitted from a change of manager this season. Both have seen improved results with a more progressive, foreign boss coming in - Karanka at Middlesbrough and Rosler at Wigan. Middlesbrough ended a run of six games unbeaten with defeat at league leaders Leicester, and did not create too much, with just the one shot on target. Wigan bounced back from a 3-0 loss at Doncaster by knocking out Premier League Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, thanks to a late goal from James McClean, who has disappointed thus far. Under their respective new managers, both teams have learnt to win games without having much possession, or dominating play. A tight game is on the cards. 1-1.
Millwall vs. Sheff Wed
If Ian Holloway can have the same impact at Millwall, as Stuart Gray has had at Sheffield Wednesday, he will be very happy. After a fine run of form since the start of December, the Owls look to be pushing further away from the relegation zone, and are enjoying a cup run to boot. Millwall are one point above the drop, and have played a game more than each of the teams below them. It makes their triumph over Ipswich last time out all the more important, winning 1-0 thanks to a fluke goal from debutant fullback Ryan Fredericks, who has joined on loan from Tottenham. A share of the points at the Den. 1-1.
QPR vs. Bolton
Bolton were unable to put the 7-1 hammering at Reading behind them in the FA Cup on Saturday, losing at home to Cardiff. They are currently just four points above the drop, having played a game extra, and have lost some goal power with David N’Gog leaving for Swansea. They are completely reliant on the consistency of Jermaine Beckford up front. QPR finally look to be taking the initiative in the promotion race, with three consecutive league wins, thanks to a few goals from top scorer Charlie Austin. This should be a routine win for the Rs. 2-0.
Reading vs. Blackpool
It was a case of ‘one step forward, one step back’ for Reading on Saturday. They lost 2-0 at Ipswich, after having won 7-1 the week before, with Adam Le Fondre doing little to build on his hat-trick. The same could be said about Blackpool, who conceded a late equalizer at home to Doncaster, in Barry Ferguson’s first match as caretaker manager. It is difficult to see Ferguson, given his distinct lack of experience in management, doing much for Blackpool long-term. If he, like a lot of managers at Bloomfield Road before him, is not backed in the transfer market, the club will not progress. However, a change of manager often brings around an instant change in results, so the Tangerines could take a valuable point from their trip to Berkshire. 1-1.
Nottm Forest vs. Watford
Nottingham Forest are unbeaten in eleven games, albeit they have drawn six of them. No Championship team has drawn more games than Forest, which suggests they are in need of a striker. They will hope to conclude the signing of forward Rafik Djebbour from Olympiakos before the transfer window closes. He is the same player they nearly signed this summer, but the deal fell through due to him refusing to take a medical, so it is difficult to say whether Djebbour will prove successful. Judging by recent results, it looks as though Watford will spend the rest of the season midtable, having not won in the league since Boxing Day. Still, that will give Giuseppe Sannino some time to fully assess his squad without any pressure, and identify which areas he’ll need to improve in the transfer market this summer. 2-1.