Fri, Dec 28, 1:50am by Kevin Pitstock
We have reached the mid-point of the 2012-13 English Premier League Season, as 19 match weeks have been completed. The January transfer window is set to open in a few short days, which will provide us plenty of material for the rumour mill. Several Premier League sides can do with an upgrade of sorts – be it a single player or an entire new defence for that matter. The January transfer period is always enjoyable, as the tabloids will go wild with speculation spun as fact. I would not be the least bit surprised to see headlines strongly suggesting Harry Rednapp is set to sack his entire QPR squad or the usual talk of Arsene Wenger refusing to spend in January because even the free transfers are quite overpriced. We could even see Manchester City linked with signing Barcelona’s Lionel Messi or Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in January (neither of which will happen, by the way).
The Boxing Day fixtures provided plenty of excitement and a bit of shock for some supporters. The Newcastle – Manchester United match provided plenty of goals and very little defensive play. Newcastle took the lead very early in the match by way of a Demba Ba shot from distance that was mishandled by United keeper David De Gea. The young net minder parried Ba’s shot right into the path of Newcastle defender James Perch to give the visitors a 1-nil lead. Jonny Evans made it 1-1 for United in the 25th minute by finishing from a set piece. Evans would score again a few short minutes later – albeit for the opposing side. Evans put the ball in his own net and the offside flag went up, as Newcastle striker Papiss Cissé was offside. However, after a powwow between Referee Mike Dean and his linesmen, the goal counted, thus giving Newcastle the lead and sending United boss Sir Alex Ferguson into the tank. Sir Alex spent the bulk of halftime giving the officials the hairdryer treatment, which is usually reserved for his locker room speeches. United would equalize yet again with Patrice Evra hitting the equalizer amidst open play. The match featured attack after attack with the midfielders from both sides doing very little, if anything to hold up play. Clearly, both sides wanted the full three points.
Papiss Cissé made it 3-2 in the 68th minute by finishing from a brilliant pull back from Newcastle substitute and former Manchester United winger Gabriel Obertan. Robin Van Persie equalized three short minutes later, finally finding the goal, as he (and Chicharito Hernandez) misfired on several occasions throughout the match. Speaking of Hernandez, he hit the match winner in the 90th minute, sliding in to get on the end of a sharp Michael Carrick diagonal ball to put the home side and league leaders in front for the very first time. The final whistle saw United book the 4-3 win, which placed them seven points clear of second place Manchester City, who dropped their match 1-nil in a shock result inspired by former City winger Adam Johnson. Johnson was not expected to play, but passed match fitness in an effort that surely gave him a sense of revenge for being overlooked by his former club.
In other results, Chelsea used a Juan Mata goal to hand Norwich their second loss in a row. Everton handled Wigan Athletic by a 2-1 margin, whilst Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov assured the world they need only keep calm and pass him the ball as his side put up a 1-1 result against Southampton. Reading surprisingly managed to keep their home match scoreless against Swansea, whilst Villa conceded four more against the Spurs to follow their 8-0 whipping by Chelsea over the weekend. The Britannia featured four goals in Stoke’s 3-1 win against Liverpool. Typically, it takes at least four games for that many goals when Stoke play at home. However, the match featured plenty of them – none of which scored by Luis Suarez.
We expect more of the same – lots of goals, shock results, and exciting matches as we dive into the final games of 2012 before the January transfer window opens.
Gareth Bale netted a hat trick against a very poor Aston Villa side in the Boxing Day fixture, whilst Sunderland ride the high of their 1-nil victory over the defending champions. Danny Rose is ineligible to play against Tottenham, as he is on loan from the Spurs and players on loan may not face their parent clubs. Clint Dempsey faces fitness issues and is a match day decision for AVB and the Spurs.
With or without Dempsey, Tottenham will field an attacking side designed to capture a full three points against Sunderland. Gareth Bale is on nine goals for the season, whilst Jermain Defoe leads the team with ten. It is hard to imagine the visiting side failing to score with those two, Emmanuel Adebayor, and the speedy Aaron Lennon on the pitch. Tottenham average over two goals per away match, as they are the second highest scoring visiting side (behind only Manchester United). Expect at least two from Tottenham and a clean win from the Spurs.
Eighth place Stoke City are unbeaten in their last nine home matches. They are additionally unbeaten in their last nine league matches overall. Rightfully, they are the favourites to win at home against seventeenth place Southampton – who are one point clear of the “drop zone”. Southampton have difficulty scoring away from home and virtually everyone has problems scoring at the Britannia. We anticipate a low scoring affair that ends with Stoke unbeaten in ten straight.
Swansea’s nil-nil bore draw resulted in their Spanish Striker Michu limping off the pitch and watching the match play through from the tunnel. His participation in the away fixture against Fulham is in question. In the event Michu is not fit for the match, Brendon Rogers will likely give the start to Danny Graham for the Swans striker position. Swansea have gone four straight without a win, whilst Fulham have dropped points in three straight. Bryan Ruiz logged 45 minutes against Southampton and he is expected to start against Swansea. His partnership with Berbatov has been more productive than other attempted partnerships on the Fulham side. Look for Ruiz to give the home side a boost and book Fulham for the win if Michu misses the match.
United striker David De Gea will surely find himself on the bench against West Bromwich Albion in favour of Anders Lindegaard. Wayne Rooney picked up a knock in training and was not available in the Newcastle match. His fitness is in question for the weekend fixture as well. Although, in fairness to Rooney’s health, there always seems to speculation regarding his physical or mental fitness around the holidays. In form striker Robin Van Persie has managed to tow the line for United despite inept defending, subpar goalkeeping, and Rooney’s up and down form.
Shane Long has been silenced in West Brom’s last six outings. However, on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku has stepped up and now leads the side with six goals. Expect open play, however United are desperate for a clean sheet and they are likely to field a more defensive side to start the first half.
Carrow Road usually features matches that are low scoring affairs. However, with the defending champions coming to town carrying a huge chip on their shoulders, this is likely not going to be the case. Roberto Mancini has been extremely critical of his side’s ability to score goals in recent matches. And to think a few weeks ago, he was critical of his defending. One would think he was dissatisfied with his entire team.
Norwich have dropped two on the bounce after their impressive run that lifted them from the relegation zone and into eleventh place. Grant Holt should be fit for Norwich, but I find it tough to believe that he or anyone else on the Norwich roster will make a difference in this match. Expect a high scoring, one sided affair with the “Blue team” winning in convincing fashion.
Reading have shifted their formation to play one up top. Their adjustment has resulted in keeping Manchester City to one goal and a nil-nil draw against Swansea. Their newly found defensive discipline, however, has come at a price, as Reading has failed to score in their last two matches.
West Ham’s defence is quite difficult to crack and with one striker, Reading’s scoring difficulties will continue. West Ham are getting decent odds as the favourites, which makes their win on the road worth the punt.
How do you stop conceding goals when you have surrendered a dozen of them in the past two games, you ask? How about welcoming a side that has problems scoring away from home! Only one side has scored less away from home than Wigan have. Wigan have scored six times in nine away matches and they could be just what the doctor ordered to end the spewing of goals that Villa are suffering from. Look for a low scoring affair and a goal from Villa striker Christian Benteke.
Arsenal took the day off, as their Boxing Day encounter with West Ham United was postponed due to transportation issues in London. The Gunners should be fully rested and Newcastle could well be bankrupt in terms of morale after their heart-breaking loss to United in the 90th minute. Newcastle are without a road win in their last nine, whilst Arsenal are hot and cold at home.
I think Newcastle boss Alan Pardew may well be managing for his job in this one. Demba Ba, who is on eleven Premier League goals this season will need a huge game if Newcastle are going to win. I like the Gunners for the win, but the price is not right. There is, however, plenty of value in the goal scorer market if you like Newcastle to get on the board. Papiss Cisse is at 11.00, whilst Demba Ba is at 10.00. Ba will play the natural striker position, whilst Cissé has been featuring on the right side in recent matches. Of the two, Ba is in a better position to score.
Rafa Benitez has whipped his Chelsea side into shape. The trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup has proved beneficial in bringing form back to the Blue’s side. Both Fernando Torres and Juan Mata are immanent threats to score for the visitors and Chelsea are favoured at above evens for the road win.
Worthy of note, fifth place Everton are unbeaten in nine outings during their 2012 Premier League campaign. Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini serves the final game of his three-match ban. Whilst Everton are on a two win run in his absence, Chelsea will be a bit much for them to handle. I expect Chelsea to hand Everton their first home loss of the season.
Luis Suarez looked a battered and bruised man at the end of Liverpool’s 3-1 loss at Stoke on Boxing Day. Even with a battered and bruised striker, Liverpool should have little problem with bottom of the table QPR. If Suarez is unable to go, Liverpool could employ a “False Nine”, as they are deep in the midfield.
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