EPL Week 18 Predictions: Players Sure to Land in All-EPL Team for Week's Clash
The 2012 English Premier League season will roll on this weekend, and teams will have just two more matches to evaluate their strategy for the upcoming transfer window.
These final performances will cause some managers to lose faith in the ability of their current squad, while others will be completely secure with their side's prospect with its current players.
With just three matches between teams in the top half of the table, there is likely to be little movement among the clubs fighting for European spots. But these games may cause a struggling team to make a splash in the transfer market and shake up the Premiership.
Here are the stars who will make their managers feel at ease with top-class performances this weekend.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris, Tottenham
A stretch of admirable performances from Brad Friedel kept Hugo Lloris on the bench after he moved from Lyon, but the French shot-stopper has now firmly established himself as Tottenham's first-choice goalkeeper.
He is coming off of a clean sheet against Swansea City, and his confidence is continuing to grow. His play has helped Spurs climb to fourth in the table.
This weekend, he will need to keep Stoke City's powerful forwards out of the back of the net. The Potters are capable of fantastic defensive performances, and any mistake from Lloris will likely cost Tottenham points.
But the Frenchman will be flawless on Saturday as Spurs give supporters at White Hart Lane more reasons to cheer.
Left-Back: Luke Shaw, Southampton
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed impossible that a Southampton defender would ever make this list.
The Saints were allowing nearly three goals per game earlier in the season, and their atrocious back line appeared as if it would doom the team to relegation.
But 17-year-old Luke Shaw has helped lead a defensive revival. The club has moved out of the bottom three spots and has not allowed more than one goal in its last six matches.
Shaw has featured in all of these contests and played exceptionally well. He is one of the brightest young talents in England, and he will continue his fine form against Sunderland.
Centre-Back: Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United
Manchester United supporters are buzzing over Nemanja Vidic's return and the Red Devils will be extremely dangerous if the skipper can help the back line play at a high level.
Vidic injured his knee at the start of the season and made his first appearance in months against Sunderland this past weekend. He came on as a substitute and he has a chance to progress into the starting 11 for United's upcoming fixture against Swansea City.
Sir Alex Ferguson will need Vidic to shut down Michu, who is tied with Robin van Persie with a Premiership-best 12 goals.
The Serbian centre-back will play up to the standard he has set during his illustrious career with United and he will shut down Michu while helping his side to victory.
Centre-Back: Gary Cahill, Chelsea
Chelsea's Gary Cahill will have a challenge this weekend as he takes on Aston Villa's Christian Benteke.
The young Belgian is coming off of a fantastic performance against Liverpool in which he recorded two goals and an assist. Benteke has been impressive this season, but he had not unleashed a performance like the one against Reds until this past weekend.
Now, he will be surging with confidence and will be looking to lead an upset over the Blues. But Cahill has the strength, athleticism and experience to contain Benteke.
Chelsea's centre-back will anchor the back line and frustrate Villa's attack throughout this match.
Right-Back: Kyle Walker, Tottenham
Tottenham cannot afford mistakes at the back against Stoke City this weekend.
While the Potters' defense is stingy, it is significantly more vulnerable without the supportive crowd at Britannia Stadium. Spurs' talented attack will be able to get on the score sheet, but there will not be a lot of goals in this match.
A loss or a tie in this fixture would be disappointing after Tottenham's recent form has put them tied with Chelsea on points. Arsenal, Everton and West Bromwich Albion are just two points back and capable of causing Spurs to suffer a painful fall down the table this weekend.
But Walker will turn in another fine performance, and he will cause constant problems for Stoke with runs forward up the touchline. Arsenal will have to wait at least another week to climb back into the top-four after Spurs get a victory.
Left Midfielder: Chris Brunt, West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City will be fighting for the European qualifying spot this weekend, and that is all a Premier League fan needs to know about how strange this season has been.
Similarities between the two sides include first-year managers and surprising success this season, but the clubs' current forms could not be more different. The Canaries have come away with points in their last 10 EPL matches while the Baggies have lost three in a row.
Norwich's recent success has been spurred by top-class performances from right midfielder Robert Snodgrass, and West Brom will stop their skid by containing the Scotsman. But with a recent injury to first-choice left-back Liam Ridgewell, the Baggies will have to defend through its attack.
Steve Clarke will make it a point to feed Chris Brunt down the left flank, and Snodgrass will have to fall back into a defensive position far more often than he would like. Norwich's attack will struggle because of this, and Brunt's performance will be the driving force behind West Brom's victory.
Central Midfielder: Santi Cazorla, Arsenal
Santi Cazorla abused Reading's back line last weekend and earned his first hat trick in an Arsenal uniform.
This season has been full of top-class performances from the Spanish playmaker, but his demolition of the Royals defense was his best yet. With Cazorla in his current form, Wigan—the Gunners' next opponent—stands little chance at slowing him down.
The Latics' back four may not be as futile as Reading's, but it certainly has not been impressive this season. Cazorla's confidence will continue to grow when Arsenal heads to DW Stadium.
Fans looking for fireworks should clear their calendars for this match, as Cazorla will surely set up several goals in this match.
Central Midfielder: Leon Osman, Everton
With just one victory in its last six league matches, the early season excitement surrounding Everton is starting to disappear.
Facing an away match against a West Ham team that has also failed to achieve favorable results recently, the Toffees must find a way to earn three points.
A strong performance from Leon Osman will ensure a victory. The veteran central midfielder has the ability to control possession and stop the Hammers from building attacks.
Osman will provide Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic with quality service, and neither player has made a habit of wasting opportunities this season.
Right Midfielder: David Silva, Manchester City
Reading has now allowed 36 goals in this season, which is the highest total in the Premier League. With a match against Manchester City nearing, the Royals' lead in this category will continue to grow.
David Silva had a lackluster start to the season, but his play has continually improved and he is coming off a first-rate performance against Newcastle.
Even when a player as talented as Silva is playing poorly, Reading's defense would have trouble slowing him down. But in his current form, the Spanish international will be causing Brian McDermott a significant amount of frustration.
Silva will be delivering pinpoint passes to City's strikers throughout this match, and it will be another long 90 minutes for Reading.
Striker: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
Sergio Aguero will be the beneficiary of many of David Silva's passes, and he will look to equal Santi Cazorla's output against Reading last week.
FourFourTwo.com notes that Manchester City are 20-0-1 in matches that Aguero has scored, and Roberto Mancini will make it a point to get the Argentine involved early.
Aguero will be active and focused to start this match, and it will not take long for him to give the Citizens a lead. A demoralized Reading will struggle to contain him from there on out.
The Royals defense is in woeful form, and Aguero will not let this match go by without adding to his goal total.
Striker: Demba Ba, Newcastle
Queens Park Rangers won for the first time this season last week, but Harry Redknapp will not be leading the London-based club on a winning streak.
Demba Ba has been remarkably dangerous in front of goal during Newcastle's campaign, and when they host QPR, he will add to his 11 goals in league matches.
While Redknapp will certainly get Rangers to improve, the team is not disciplined enough at the back to deny Ba quality opportunities. When he gets a decent a chance, the striker will bury it.
The Magpies will start to climb back towards the top half of the table while QPR will have to wait another week to climb out relegation danger.