Fri, Mar 1, 3:57am by Kevin Pitstock
Week 28 of the EPL feature reverse fixtures from English Premier League match week 17. For the bigger and more successful clubs, they find themselves in the middle of a balancing act, as the FA Cup replays and European play are and have been inserted into the usual league play.
After a 2-nil win at Loftus Road against QPR, Manchester United remain on the top of the table and twelve points ahead of Manchester City. The Citizens threw down a 2-nil manhandling of Chelsea. The win by City allowed them to keep pace with their cross-town rivals, whilst the Blues loss dropped them into fourth place, as they slipped behind Tottenham on the table. The Spurs relied upon two Gareth Bale strikes to propel them over West Ham United. Arsenal now sit two points behind Chelsea in the fifth position on the League Table with 47 points following their 2-1 win over struggling and relegation threatened Aston Villa. Villa sit on 24 points in the eighteenth spot with a worse goal differential than Wigan, who is also on 24 points. Reading (23 points on the table) and QPR (17 points) reside in the 19th and 20th spots respectively. Southampton and Sunderland (29 and 27 points on the table) are dangerously close to the relegation zone, whilst Newcastle and West Ham each have thirty points.
At the Hawthorns, West Brom turned in the 2-1 shock result with goals from Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie. This win placed West Brom amongst the top 4 in the league. Since this victory, West Bromwich have slipped three spots to seventh on the table, whilst Chelsea now resides in the fourth spot after a 2-nil loss to Manchester City in Week 27. Joe Hart made an inspiring save on a Frank Lampard penalty kick, which triggered City to score twice in defeating the Blues.
West Bromwich Albion has now won two straight, as they dropped Sunderland 2-1 at home and shut out Liverpool 2-nil in a shock win on the road. Playing against West Brom is the fact that Romelu Lukaku, who has scored three times in their two wins, is not eligible for selection in this fixture, as he is on loan from Chelsea. Thus, he is not permitted to play against his parent club.
Chelsea handily defeated Middlesbrough 2-nil in their mid-week FA Cup match, which places the Blues on a collision course with Manchester United in the next round of the Cup. After the match, Chelsea “interim” boss Rafa Benitez went on a rant criticizing the Chelsea supporters and the Board of Directors over the tag “interim” being placed on his position. Additionally, he seemingly deflected blame to “others” over the poor form Chelsea have demonstrated under his command. It would not be the least bit surprising to see Benitez leave his post before the end of the Premier League season.
Drama aside, this is a match that Chelsea should have little problem winning. Frank Lampard has been in tremendous form for the Blues despite his penalty miss over the weekend. Jon Obi Mikel has returned from competing in the Cup of Nations and his presence will restore stability to the Chelsea line-up. Look for Chelsea to dominate in both possession and score line.
At Carrow Road, United put on a substantially less than inspiring performance when they lost 1-nil to Norwich in Week 17. Anthony Pilkington found the net in the 60th minute and his effort was more than enough for Norwich to drop United. Last week, Norwich delivered a last second blow to Everton, as Grant Holt found the goal in the 90th minute to send Everton packing from Carrow Road empty-handed.
United will be looking ahead to their Champion’s League mid-week home leg against Real Madrid. Thus, they may attempt to put this match to bed early and rest their mainstay players. Robin Van Persie is unlikely to feature in this home match at all, as he suffered a hip injury by crashing into the camera pit early in the first half of United’s 2-nil win over QPR. Van Persie bruised his hip and was substituted just before halftime. Even if he is fully fit, it is unlikely RVP will even suit up for this match, as the Champions League fixture is a much higher priority for the Dutch striker. Wayne Rooney should get the start at the top of the formation, as he is recovered from his sinus infection. Phil Jones will also likely miss this match with a leg injury.
Look for United to field a weaker than normal, yet sound line-up featuring the likes of Anderson and Nani and maybe even a youngster like Nick Powell in the middle of the pitch in support of Rooney. Expect fast, furious action in the first half as United will look to put this one away in the opening minutes.
Reading dropped Everton 2-1 in the reverse fixture via two Brian Le Fondre goals, which marked Reading’s first top flight victory. David Moyes’ Everton side are in a three-match slump with their two most recent outings resulting in losses (2-1 away to Norwich and 2-nil away to Manchester United). Their last two home outings saw them draw 3-3 with Villa and beat West Brom 2-1. To make matters worse, Everton did not earn a full three points in the entire month of February.
Reading have also dropped their last two after putting up an impressive defensive run and win streak. Their last two losses came by a 3-nil margin at home against Wigan and 2-1 on the road against Stoke. Reading will need to remain organized and disciplined in the back if they are to walk out of Goodison Park with as much as a single point. To do so, they are going to have to solve the Marion Fellini problem, which could prove too tall and tricky an order.
Southampton took it to QPR in the reverse fixture. Rickey Lambert, Puncheon, and an own goal contributed to the Saints marching on QPR at Loftus Road by a 3-1 margin. The last time these two sides met in the top flight at Southampton was in 1995 in a match that saw Matt Le Tissier and Jason Dodd score for the Saints in a 2-nil win over QPR.
The Rangers have won once in 2013, with their last league win occurring on 2 January in a shock result against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Since then, QPR have drawn four straight before losing their last two. During that same timeframe, Southampton have accumulated six points, knocked off Manchester City at home, and played to a draw against Chelsea, Everton, and Wigan. Lambert and Puncheon will be called upon to deliver for the Saints to keep QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar busy.
These two sides played a physical match at Upton Park that ended in a 1-1 draw in their first meeting of the season. Joey O’Brien netted his first goal for West Ham whilst Jonathan Walters scored for Stoke. The return leg should be just as physical, as Stoke love to bully on their home grounds and West Ham are scrappy regardless of where they play. The visiting Hammers have lost two straight (2-1 at Aston Villa and 3-2 home to Tottenham). West Ham will have to score twice in order to handle Stoke and do so without captain Kevin Nolan, as he is due to miss around two months due to a broken foot.
Sunderland are winless in their last four and losers of their past three. They have been held scoreless in two of their last four matches and their last win came in mid-January against Wigan. Fulham’s defence has played well recently, as they have conceded one or fewer goals in each of their last four matches. Their defensive efforts have resulted in two wins and a draw in their last four, with their only loss coming by way of a 1-nil loss against league-leading Manchester United.
When these two sides met earlier in the season, Stephen Fletcher, Carlos Cuellar, and Sessegnon scored for Sunderland to take advantage of a red card issued to Brede Hangeland that dropped Fulham to ten men in their initial meeting of the season at Craven Cottage.
Sunderland will not have the advantage of playing one man up as they did for the majority of their last meeting with Fulham. Dimitar Berbatov scored a cracking goal to close the first half against Stoke last week. He also found the net in Fulham’s three-goal effort against West Ham United. However, Fulham have managed fifteen goals in thirteen away matches whilst conceding 25. Despite scoring just over a goal a game on the road, they have managed to score more away from home than Sunderland have managed on their own grounds. Expect a low scoring affair between these two clubs. One goal should be good enough for a draw, whilst the winner of the race to two goals will likely spell a win.
At St. James Park, the League Cup winners dropped Newcastle 2-1 via goals by Michu and de Guzman. Former Newcastle front man Demba Ba put in a last minute effort, but it was not enough, as Swansea won the initial meeting between these two clubs. With Demba Ba gone and Newcastle’s language of choice now seemingly French, this match may play differently than their initial meeting of the season.
After overhauling what seems like their entire line-up, Newcastle have won three of four, handily defeating Southampton, and besting both Chelsea and Aston Villa by a one goal margin. Swansea dropped their last league match by a 5-nil margin in an effort that saw them resting key players in anticipation of the League Cup Finals. Coincidentally, Swansea took down surprise finalist side Bradford by a 5-nil margin. The last league match in which Swansea fielded a proper side saw them go over last place QPR 4-1 with Michu contributing two of their four goals.
Newcastle will travel to Wales without goalkeeper Tim Krul, as he is sidelined for five weeks with an ankle injury he sustained in a rough challenge in the Europa league.
Luis Suarez netted a brace and Jose Enrique hit a 65th minute effort as Liverpool coasted to victory at Anfield in Week 17 by a 3-nil margin. Both sides come into this match off clean sheet performances, as Liverpool beat a makeshift Swansea side 5-nil, whilst Wigan held Reading to 3-nil. Wigan’s Arouna Kone scored twice within three minutes at the Madejski, whilst Liverpool featured five players getting on the score sheet against the Swans.
At the Emirates, Arsenal took advantage of an early red shown to former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor in the 17th minute. Prior to the foolish red for a dreadful and foolish challenge on Santi Cazorla at midfield, the Spurs were dominant in that match. Adebayor opened the scoring in the tenth minute with a brilliant effort. However, the momentum changed drastically after his sending off. Reduced to ten men, Tottenham conceded five Arsenal goals in a relentless and swarming Arsenal onslaught.
Both sides are peaking in league play at the moment, as they have both won their last three by a one-goal margin. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five matches, whilst Tottenham last experienced defeat at Everton on 9 December. Arsenal are without Abu Diaby and Bacary Sagna in this match, which will surely be the deciding factor. Arsenal do not have proper backups for these players without sacrificing quality on the pitch. Thus, give the edge to the home side.
Aston Villa surely hope the results will be less painful than the 5-nil butt kicking that Manchester City inflicted upon them at the Etihad in Week 17. David Silva opened the scoring whilst Sergio Kun Aguero and Carlos Tevez each scored from open play and the penalty spot in their dominant performance against the visiting Villains.
For the visiting Citizens, it is closing time, as Roberto Mancini has called for his side to win out if they are to have even the slightest chance of retaining the League title. Villa have improved, albeit ever so slightly from their holiday slump that saw them without a win and unable to find the goal on a consistent basis. Look for City to dominate this match with Eden Dzeko playing a prominent role in their routing of Villa.
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