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Saturday, December 21

Premier League

Everton v Arsenal – Goodison Park

It could prove to be the battle of the new bosses at Goodison Park, with Everton hoping to install Carlo Ancelotti and Arsenal having tied up the signature of Mikel Arteta ahead of their Premier League meeting.

Out of sorts Arsenal head to Merseyside with just one win in eleven Premier League matches and with the words of interim boss, Freddie Ljungberg, ringing in their ears.

The Gunners crashed 3-0 to Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium last Sunday – the reigning champions scoring three times in the opening forty minutes and totally dominating proceedings. 

“I said to the players at half-time it was about pride, you need to show some heart out there and show that you’re proud,” the Swede explained.

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace – St James Park

Crystal Palace have injury concerns ahead of their trip to St James Park.

A brilliant Wilfried Zaha strike earned Palace a share of the spoils against bitter rivals, Brighton, at Selhurst Park on Monday evening. However, Jairo Riedewald was forced off at half-time, joining the ever-increasing list of casualties amongst Roy Hodgson’s squad.

Speaking to www.cpfc.co.uk after that draw with the Seagulls, Hodgson explained: “He (Riedewald) was injured before the game and it was touch and go whether he could take part.

“He was due to play after the Watford game when we knew there was no Van Aanholt and Jeffrey Schlupp. He was our chosen alternative to play at left-back. So we’d been working during the week towards that. In yesterday’s training, which was very light before the game as everyone will understand, he somehow got a slight knock on his hip which until the warm-up today looked like it was going to keep him out of the game entirely.

“But he came through the warm-up, he said he was prepared and able to play. But that only lasted until half-time so he’s another injury we can add to our growing list.”

Gary Cahill and Andros Townsend also missed the match – Hodgson spoke further about those occupying the treatment room, adding “The worst thing is everyone has injuries at times during the season but it’s so unusual that they’re all virtually in the same position. We had three players who could play at left-back and we’ve lost all three. We’re now looking for a fourth and that’s a hard task.

“Patrick van Aanholt: we’re hoping because it was a muscle injury, he’s working at it and we hope that might not be so long. But with Jeffrey Schlupp it’s a long-term injury, with Andros Townsend a long-term injury, with Gary Cahill, he’s had a minor operation, so that will be a relatively long-term injury. With Mamadou Sakho, he’s got one more game of his suspension to serve.”

Sky Bet Championship

Fulham v Leeds United – Craven Cottage

Having lost three on the bounce, Fulham face a huge test of their play-off credentials when they head to Elland Road to face second-placed Leeds United.

The Cottagers latest setback – by a goal to nil at fellow promotion hopefuls, Brentford – saw them slip to sixth place. However, Head Coach, Scott Parker, tried to remain positive.

“After 20 minutes I sensed some nerves and we’ve lost 1-0 with a team who lack confidence a bit,” he told BBC Radio London.

“The first 15 minutes we demonstrated what a good side we are, we cut them open and created a chance but they scored with their first attack and you saw a flatness about us.

“We’ve got a massive challenge ahead of us now against Leeds but as long as we keep trying we’ll be okay.”

Millwall v Barnsley – The Den

Millwall extended their unbeaten league sequence to seven matches at Derby County last weekend and will be keen to hone in on the play-off places when rock-bottom Barnsley are the visitors to the Den on Saturday.

Tom Bradshaw’s eighth goal of the season was enough to earn the Lions all three points at Pride Park. Speaking to www.millwallfc.co.uk after the match, Lions boss, Gary Rowett, explained: “We scored a really good – a really good finish from Bradders. We’ve been asking him to be a bit more threatening in those attacking areas, and it was a great touch to get the other side of his centre-half and a great finish.

“In the first half, we deserved it to a certain degree, and then looked fairly comfortable in the second half. When you come to a place like Derby, who are unbeaten in nine before today, they had one deflected shot on target. We made it really difficult for them to break us down, but certainly, the performance could’ve been better.”

Queen’s Park Rangers v Charlton Athletic – The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium

Mark Warburton was furious with his side after their recent run was brought to its conclusion at struggling Barnsley. 

The R’s went down by five goals to three at Oakwell and Warburton was particularly critical of his sides defending.

“We gave away soft goals and there are no excuses,” he told www.qpr.co.uk 

“You can talk about chances missed and that we could have scored four or five but that is irrelevant.

“You can’t come away from home and have to score five goals to get the points. It’s really disappointing – we had a chance to get nine points out of nine and make a statement – and we have let ourselves down as a group.

“We didn’t win the first contact, as we have done in our last three games. We didn’t pick up second balls; one-to-one duels they [Barnsley] were sharper sometimes and we knew what we faced.

“We faced an opponent fighting for their lives and if you don’t meet that challenge then you get hurt. That was unacceptable for us.”

Visitors, Charlton, are having a tough time of it just now – with injuries and a winless run beginning to stretch the patience of manager, Lee Bowyer. 

And the ‘Addicks chief was also left frustrated after his side were pegged back by Hull City deep into stoppage-time – the Tigers grabbing a 2-2 draw with extended Charlton recent poor run to ten matches.

“We didn’t defend until the final whistle,” Bowyer told www,cafc.co.uk. 

“That’s where we went wrong. You think we’d learn after Tuesday when the same thing happened. They scored with thirty seconds to go then and then tonight they scored in the injury time of injury time.

“They put up four minutes and then they decided to add on another minute. Then five minutes was up when the foul was given. Then the referee let them put the ball into the box, we cleared that… but I’ve been in the game long enough and every game I’ve seen once the clearance is gone then they blow. But no, he lets them play another cross in and then they score.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was bad defending, but now my lads… I feel for them so much because as you’ve seen there, they’ve given absolutely everything again. To get done like that when the whistle should have been blown – I’m gutted.”

West Bromwich Albion v Brentford – The Hawthorns

Fourth-placed Brentford head to the Hawthorns where they face a West Bromwich Albion side topping the table and looking every bit likely to return to the Premier League come the end of the current campaign.

However, having recorded back-to-back league victories, the Bees will arrive in the Black Country buoyant, particularly after last weeks derby success over Fulham at Griffin Park.

Bryan Mbeumo netted midway through the opening half to secure the win. Speaking after the match, Bees Head Coach, Thomas Frank, enthused: “It was certainly one of the best performances since I have been here, especially as we were playing a relegated Premier League side.

“I was pleased with how we outplayed them but most importantly how we outran them. I told the boys before that if we did that, we would win the game.

Sky Bet League One

Tranmere Rovers v AFC Wimbledon – Prenton Park

Dons boss, Glyn Hodges, was satisfied with what he saw after his side came from behind to see off Doncaster Rovers at Kingsmeadow last time out. 

Marcus Forss and Callum Reilly found the net after the interval to move the south Londoners further clear of the League One dropzone – this after Kwame Thomas had nodded Rovers into an early lead.

“It was the old cliché of a game of two halves,” Hodges told www.afcwimbledon.co.uk.

“We were not at the races in the first half and we were quite fortunate to be just 1-0 down as they could have got one or two more. 

“We felt we were under the cosh, but once we sorted things out at half-time we were a different team and we showed what we were about. I don’t know the last time we came from 1-0 down to win, so it was brilliant. We got our just rewards.”

Host’s Tranmere – without a win in four – are one place below Wimbledon and sit above the relegation zone by virtue of a single goal. 

The Birkenhead side went down to a John Akinde goal at Lincoln City last time out. Rovers’ misery was compounded by the dismissal of Corey Blackett-Taylor shortly before the break.

Sky Bet League Two

Cambridge United v Leyton Orient – The Abbey Stadium

Interim boss, Ross Embleton, remains in the Leyton Orient hot seat, looking to build on back-to-back draws achieved by the O’s against Oldham Athletic and Bradford City.

Nineteenth placed Orient are without a win in seven League Two matches, but a notable improvement recently will see them head up the M11 with renewed vigour and confidence.

Embleton has no further injury concerns ahead of the game. Midfield duo, Brendon Shabani and Jobi McAnuff, remain unavailable – Craig Clay should feature after returning from illness to complete the goalless stalemate with Bradford at the Breyer Group Stadium.

Sunday, December 22

Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Jose Mourinho faces his former club employees, Chelsea, for the first time since taking charge at Tottenham Hotspur, in the knowledge that a victory will see Spurs leapfrog the west Londoners and jump into the top four.

Back-to-back victories over Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers have seen the Lilywhites close the gap to three points, with Mourinho’s men holding a slightly better goal difference.

Mourinho insisted he is fully focused on Spurs, despite having won three Premier League titles during his first spell at Stamford Bridge.

“For me, it’s a game. I am one hundred per cent Tottenham – one hundred per cent my club always, all my career,” he explained.

“No space at all for my previous clubs. I gave everything to all of them, my previously. Everything. I kept nothing from them.”

Chelsea have wobbled of late, losing four of their last five league outings. However, the Blues will point to a phenomenal record against Spurs, whom they have beaten 28 times in the Premier League era – more than any other team in the league.

Boss, Frank Lampard, insisted his side were positive ahead of the game, adding: “We’ve got a good spirit, a good group.

“Questions start to be asked of you in house when you get difficult results. It’s important to be very upfront and honest with each other.

“I see a positive group in training, a team training hard, a group that’s together.”

Watford v Manchester United – Vicarage Road

Watford midfielder, Will Hughes, insisted the rock-bottom Hornets will turn things around following the appointment of Nigel Pearson as the clubs new manager.

Pearson witnessed his new charges put in a decent display at Anfield, but ultimately slipped to a 2-0 defeat against the Premier League leaders. Nevertheless, Hughes though the result was harsh on his side, who passed up several opportunities before Liverpool clinically killed the contest: “If you watch the whole game then we’ve not necessarily deserved it but we’ve come here with a game plan and we’ve implemented that,” the 24-year-old told www.watfordfc.com.

“We’ve created good chances away at Anfield, which is good in itself, but you can’t expect to come away with something if you don’t put them away.”

Hughes added: “We’re bottom of the table so there’s a whole host of little things that have to change on the pitch and hopefully with the new gaffer we can start doing that.

“It’s not even half the season gone yet, we’re in a very difficult position and we know that, but we’ve got the quality. So as long as the commitment and work rate is there, we will start turning it around.”

Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]

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