English Premier League: Latest EPL Rumors, Preview and Predictions for Week 21
Manchester United head into 2013 with a seven-point lead in the Premier League. The Red Devils used a commanding performance to take down West Brom over the weekend, ensuring they are in firm control as the season's second half gets underway.
Their main competition comes from rival Manchester City. Even though City haven't been able to rediscover the form that allowed them to take the title last season, they remain within striking distance. Chelsea and Tottenham round out the top four.
The other major event that will take place this week is the beginning of the January transfer window. It's a chance for clubs looking to make a second-half charge to fortify their rosters with a couple moves, albeit usually at a steep cost.
With so much action to keep tabs on, let's take a look at some of the latest news and rumors making the rounds before making predictions for the week's matches.
Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United?
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Wilfried Zaha was one of the most coveted commodities leading up to the January transfer window, and that's continued into the new year. The Crystal Palace striker is on the radar of multiple Premier League clubs, including Manchester United.
Miguel Delaney of ESPN reports the Red Devils have emerged as the new favorites to land Zaha. They are willing to let him remain with the Eagles until season's end, which is a more convenient arrangement for his current club. Arsenal and Tottenham are also interested.
Even though United already sports plenty of depth up front, led by the goal-scoring tandem of Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, Zaha would be a good move with the future in mind. It will be interesting to see if they can complete the deal amidst serious competition.
Tottenham Tracking Joao Moutinho
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Tottenham is on track to earn a Champions League spot for next season, but could use some reinforcements to ensure they maintain that position in the second half. A play-making midfielder tops the need list for manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Knowing that, it's no surprise the Spurs are being linked to Porto star Joao Moutinho again. Greg Stobart of Goal.com reports the club's interest remains even though a previous attempt to sign him during the summer window fell short.
While he would certainly be a terrific addition for Tottenham, it's yet to be seen if talks are actually making progress or if things are still in the preliminary stage. Either way, the Spurs should make a strong push to land him and hope for better results than the last window.
Arsenal Hunt for Striker
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Although Arsenal's attack has improved markedly after a slow start, adding another striker to the mix would go a long way in making sure the offense doesn't suffer another drought moving forward. That's key to cracking the top four.
Wayne Veysey of Goal.com states that the Gunners have interest in several high-profile stars, including Adrian, David Villa and Fernando Llorente. He reports the club has even gone as far as making a €12.5 million offer for Adrian.
The Atletico Madrid forward is often overshadowed by superstar teammate Radamel Falcao, but he has the potential to thrive in a more prominent role. He would receive it at Emirates. One way or another, it looks like Arsenal will make a strong push for another offensive weapon.
Latest on Demba Ba to Chelsea
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Demba Ba has been one of the most talked-about players leading up to the January window. The Newcastle United star, who's tied for second with 13 Premier League goals this season, would be a welcome addition to any attack.
It looked like he was on the verge of a deal with Chelsea, but The Guardian reports that negotiations have already hit their first roadblock. The Magpies also remain hopeful of keeping him as they fight to avoid an extended relegation battle.
These types of developments are common, especially early in transfer windows. Everybody still has leverage because there's so much time to work out a deal. As for now, it doesn't appear a deal between Ba and Chelsea is imminent, but stay tuned.
Match of the Week: Manchester City vs. Stoke City
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Manchester City have basically no margin for error in the second half of the season. They are seven points behind rival Manchester United and can't afford to drop any points at home against clubs like Stoke that can't match their talent level.
That said, the Potters are incredibly difficult to play against. They lead the league in defense, allowing just 17 goals in 20 matches, and that often leads to frustrated opponents. Stoke have no problem sitting back and waiting for one or two counterattack chances.
The Citizens must make sure they don't let that playing style force them into mental errors. They need to dominate possession and remain on the attack. Eventually, that will lead to the scoring chances they need to secure a victory.
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West Bromwich Albion vs. Fulham
Although West Brom didn't have enough firepower to overcome the Red Devils, they are still within striking distance of the top four. Most fans didn't expect that before the season began. They must capture all three points against a struggling Fulham side to keep pace.
Prediction: 1-0 West Brom
Manchester City vs. Stoke City
Scoring first is of monumental importance for Man City. They can't allow Stoke to strike early on a counterattack, which would allow them to dig even deeper in their defensive shell. It won't be easy, but City should prevail.
Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City
Swansea City vs. Aston Villa
Swansea continue to impress. They earned a draw with the Red Devils last weekend and were able to grind out a victory over Fulham on Saturday. Similar optimism can't be expressed about Villa. Their last three losses are by a combined score of 15-0.
Prediction: 2-0 Swansea
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Reading
Perhaps the most amazing part about Tottenham's season is how they have flown under the radar. They are in fourth place and within range of second, and yet they are not being talked about. Expect the Spurs to cruise to another victory as the seek some much-deserved praise.
Prediction: 3-1 Tottenham
West Ham United vs. Norwich City
West Ham and Norwich have both hit the skids recently, which makes it hard to predict which club will show up in better form on New Year's Day. Ultimately, a draw seems like the most likely result for the mid-table teams.
Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester United
Even though United haven't been in top form over the past few weeks, they are still managing to secure points, and that's why they continue to pace the EPL. Wigan have lost to Arsenal and Everton in recent matches and won't be able to keep up on Tuesday.
Prediction: 2-0 Manchester United
Southampton vs. Arsenal
After so much early concern was expressed about the Gunners' offense, they have bounced back and are currently tied for second in goals with 39 in 19 matches. Their strong run of play should continue against an overmatched Southampton squad.
Prediction: 2-0 Arsenal
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Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers
Frank Lampard showed he still has some magic left in his legs, scoring both goals for Chelsea in a comeback victory over Everton. The sledding should be a lot easier against a QPR squad that currently sits in last place.
Prediction: 3-0 Chelsea
Liverpool vs. Sunderland
Liverpool bounced back from a lackluster performance against Stoke City to crush QPR. Luis Suarez shows no signs of slowing down, despite a lack of other threats up front, and should lead the charge again against Sunderland.
Prediction: 2-1 Liverpool
Newcastle United vs. Everton
Even though Everton remain within five points of the top three, they have let far too many points slip away in recent weeks. They must find a way to start getting wins instead of draws, but there's no sign that will begin against Newcastle on the road.