Tue, Dec 25, 11:46pm by Kevin Pitstock
The weekend brought some interesting results, to say the least. A lacklustre Manchester United managed to squeak out a 1-1 draw against Swansea in a match that had more action in the tabloids than it did during the 90 minutes of play. Patrice Evra scored the opening goal of the game by way of a set piece. This lead held until Michu hit the equalizer on a swift Swansea counter-attack. The majority of the match was played between the eighteens, with United out-possessing Swansea (a rare feat, as Swansea enjoy controlling the possession).
In the closing minutes of the match, Swansea captain drilled United striker Robin Van Persie in the head with the ball after play was stopped. Van Persie, who had gone to ground due to a foul that caused play to stop, responded to William’s careless move by shoving the defender and getting in his face. There was subsequent pushing and shoving between the two sides. Referee Michael Oliver separated the two sides and issued yellow cards to restore order. The match ended in uneventful fashion after the bookings.
After the match, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson expressed outrage in both William’s actions and in the official’s lack of concern. Ferguson cited that Van Persie could have been killed, as he was on the pitch and the ball was kicked square at the top of his head after play was stopped. His claims maintained Williams intentionally kicked at RVP and that the striker could have been killed. Thus, a ban is in order. Swansea, of course, have come out and said how ridiculous the charges are. Williams admitted to kicking out of frustration. However, he denies having “evil intentions” and claims he was not kicking at RVP, but rather kicking the ball away after the whistle. Such Christmas love between these two sides.
Speaking of Christmas love, Chelsea returned from the FIFA World Cup and delivered lots of early Christmas gifts to Aston Villa. Unfortunately for Villa, they did not ask for a complete set of footballs neatly placed in the net that Brad Guzan was tasked with defending. Chelsea inflicted an 8-nil whipping on the Villains. Seven Chelsea players delivered goals in this match (Torres, David Luiz, Ivanovic, Lampard, Ramires – 2 goals, Oscar, and Hazard). A few more performances of this nature just may win over Chelsea supporters on behalf of interim caretaker Rafa Benitez,
We move past Christmas and look to Boxing Day, where nine matches are scheduled to take place in what is a day-after-Christmas tradition for the English Premier League. The EPL stays quite busy right through the New Year, only to get busy in a different fashion, as we all have the January transfer window to look forward to at the conclusion of the EPL Holiday programme.
United, who have won five straight at home and have captured sixteen of a possible eighteen points in their last six matches, welcome 14th place Newcastle. Newcastle comes into this Boxing Day fixture on the back of a 1-nil victory over a depleted QPR side. Newcastle have yet to secure a win away from home and with Sir Alex Ferguson’s “hair dryer” still hot from the 1-1 United draw against Swansea, Newcastle are unlikely to leave Old Trafford with a point. Look for changes to the United Starting XI and a convincing win for the home side.
This fixture looks to welcome back QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar from injury and West Brom Youssouf Mulumbu from suspension. QPR boss Harry Rednapp has come out in the media very critical over the wages being paid at Loftus Road. Most sides would respond with a stellar performance, as this is a hint that Harry will be busy in the January transfer market. However, if history is any indication of what to expect from the Rangers – expect them to play with their heads down and disappoint the home crowd.
Reading are horrible defensively at the Madejski and they cannot score away from home. This is a side that is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Reading played on their heels over the weekend in their 1-nil defeat at Manchester City. Despite the entire game seemingly played in their defensive third, Reading held City off until stoppage time. Reading defended with nine players behind the ball in their 1-nil defeat. They are unlikely to repeat such a defensive posture against Swansea in front of their home crowd.
Swansea look to improve on their 1-1 draw against Manchester United. In order to do so, they will need the ball more than they have possessed it in their last two matches. Pablo Hernandez is expected to be available for this match, which should help the Swansea cause.
Marouane Fellaini misses this fixture due to suspension. However, Everton midfielder Darren Gibson does not despite his Red Card for a high kick against West Ham United. Gibson has filed an appeal, which will not be heard until next week. This dubs him eligible for selection.
Wigan have found the goal five times in eight road matches. Despite scoring so infrequently away from home, they surprisingly own two wins on the road this season. This weekend will not be the next win for them. Everton are strong and well organized defensively at home and the thought of Wigan netting even one goal is highly unlikely.
Manchester City defender and Captain Vincent Kompany is available for this fixture, as is Mario Balotelli. Balotelli “ran” practice for the Citizens on Christmas Eve in an effort to bond with his teammates and show he has a positive attitude and sense of team beyond his typical self-serving antics.
Sunderland may be without midfielders Adam Johnson and Sebastian Larsson due to injury.
Southampton captain Adam Lallana is set to miss this match with a knee injury, while Fulham have injury woes of their own. Mladen Petric is out with a bum knee. Damien Duff is set to miss this home match, as is Bryan Ruiz and Mahamadou Diarra. Dimitar Berbatov will likely be paired with Hugo Rodallega and their partnership should produce enough to book the home win.
Grant Holt is expected to be fit for the home side. Chelsea will surely come out firing after their 8-nil win over the weekend. For Chelsea, the 8-nil victory came as a much-needed morale boost for their team and for Fernando Torres, who has come into form since Benitez has taken charge of their side. The Blues have nearly a full squad to choose from less Daniel Sturridge, and Ryan Bertrand. Chelsea defender David Luiz has been featuring in the centre of the pitch in a midfield role, which seems to suit his playing style just fine. His pace and creativity, as well as his ability to handle the ball has taken the pressure off the defence and has allowed for some extremely creative plays to develop through him. Luis, along with Frank Lampard, and Eden Hazard are the ones to keep your eyes on in this match. Norwich are normally stingy at home, but I feel that Chelsea’s current form and mind-set will force Norwich into being an extremely generous side.
The Villains are still picking up their collective backsides from the 8-0 stomping inflicted upon them by Chelsea. Tottenham welcomed back Gareth Bale but were unable to crack the tough Stoke defence in their nil-nil bore draw. Look for Bale, Defoe, and company to have an easier time in cracking Villa’s defence. Villa striker Christian Benteke will find time on the ball but will not do enough to get the win for the home side.
Liverpool turned out an inspiring performance in dropping Fulham 4-nil at home with goals from players other than Suarez (though Suarez did score as well in their 4-nil routing. Stoke will be a good deal more challenging for the Reds, as Stoke boast the toughest defence at home in the EPL. Look for Suarez to go to ground early and often. If Liverpool score, it will surely come through Steven Gerrard at the penalty spot. However, even that is not something to count on.
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