Premier League Weekend Preview: Game-by-Game Guide

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2013

Premier League Weekend Preview: Game-by-Game Guide

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    The Premier League is already approaching its halfway mark with Arsenal still leading the way by a five-point margin.

    The Gunners' title credentials will face a stern examination over a cluttered festive period with an especially tough run of games.

    At the other end of the table, the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Fulham and West Ham will be hoping to find some Christmas form and distance themselves from the relegation zone.

    This week represents the calm before the storm as every side faces a final fixture before a hectic run of four Premier League games across 10 days.

    Here's a look ahead to each of this weekend's Premier League fixtures.

     

    All statistics via WhoScored?

     

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

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    Where: City of Manchester Stadium

    When: Saturday 14 December, 12:45 GMT

    The weekend kicks off with a heavyweight clash between Premier League favourites, Manchester City, and the current leaders, Arsenal.

    It also pits the division's best home record against the most successful travellers.

    Manuel Pellegrini's side have an unblemished record at the City of Manchester Stadium with seven wins out of seven, scoring an incredible 29 goals and conceding just two. Arsenal's impressive 16-point haul from their seven away games is similarly impressive.

     

    Form

    Both sides have been in strong form of late, collecting 13 points from their past six games.

    They sit second and third in the form table, respectively, having both won three of their last four Premier League fixtures.

    This game was drawn 1-1 last season, although City hold three wins and a draw from the Gunners' previous five Premier League visits.

     

    Key Battles

    Both sides faced tough midweek away trips in the Champions League and are likely to make changes.

    Manchester City will look to soak up possession on home soil, stretch the field and work the ball into the box, while Arsenal may be content to play on the break.

    The Gunners surrendered the ball to Everton for much of their previous game yet were rarely exposed and created most of the game's best chances.

    Sergio Aguero's battle and success against the league's best defence will be intriguing viewing as will Aaron Ramsey's clash with Yaya Toure for midfield supremacy.

     

    Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal

    Arsenal have surprised most people with their consistency this season, but this is their toughest test of the season. They will struggle to take much from Manchester.

Newcastle United vs. Southampton

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    Where: St. James’ Park 

    When: Saturday 14 December, 15:00 GMT

    Eighth place Southampton travel to seventh place Newcastle for an attractive clash between two sides on the fringes of the top six.

    Both have impressed this season and suggested they could feature in the battle for Europe. This game will give an indication of which is more likely to disrupt the bigger teams. 

     

    Form

    Newcastle are the Premier League's form side, winning five of their past six outings.

    After such an imposing start to the season, Mauricio Pochettino's side have endured a mini-slump in form, losing three of their past four games. The Saints sit 15th in the Premier League form table and will be keen to show their fast start to the season was no coincidence.

    Newcastle emerged with a 4-2 victory from last year's corresponding fixture and have only lost one of their past eight Premier League games with Southampton.

     

    Key Battles

    Newcastle will look to attack in front of their considerable home support, while Southampton will enforce their high-pressing, high-tempo approach in an attempt to nullify their opponents.

    In what should be an entertaining clash, the direct tussle between Adam Lallana and Cheick Tiote will be one of the best matchups on show and will determine how creative the Saints can be.

    Loic Remy will be the key man for the hosts, scoring eight and assisting two thus far, making him directly involved in half of his side's 20 Premier League goals.

     

    Prediction: Newcastle 3-2 Southampton

    The form guide may well be key here in a contender for game of the weekend. An injury-ravaged Southampton have been unlucky in recent weeks but will find it difficult coping with a confident opponent.

Cardiff vs. West Bromwich Albion

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    Where: Cardiff City Stadium

    When: Saturday 14 December, 15:00 GMT

    Cardiff host West Brom in a key match at the foot of the table. Neither team boast more points than games played making them current participants in the relegation battle.

    A win would propel either side into a mid-table position and make the Christmas period a little more comfortable for supporters.

     

    Form

    Unsurprisingly, both sides have been in poor form of late, collecting just five points—and just one win—from their past six games. That puts them in the bottom five of the form table.

    Cardiff have taken just two points from their last five matches while the Baggies have lost three games in a row.

    Following the Bluebirds' recent promotion, this will be the first Premier League clash between the sides. Three of the past four meetings have been drawn with Cardiff winning the other.

     

    Key Battles

    Cardiff's primary weakness has been a lack of creativity. They have only scored 11 goals thus far, the second-lowest tally in the division and average just 10.3 shots per game—again, the lowest in the league.

    Despite conceding 21 goals—one less than CardiffWest Brom are often a tough side to break down, especially on their travels, with only seven sides conceding less. They are also mid-table (11th) in terms of average shots conceded.

    At home, the emphasis will be on the Bluebirds to attack, so the success of Fraizer Campbell against Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley will be crucial, as will the chances created by the likes of Peter Whittingham and Kim Bo-Kyung.

     

    Prediction: Cardiff 0-0 West Brom

    The statistics suggest this will be a game of few clear-cut chances. Cardiff will struggle to break down a compact, well-organised opponent who will pose questions on the break but may accept a point.

Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace

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    Where: Stamford Bridge

    When: Saturday 14 December, 15:00 GMT

    This match sees the biggest gap between teams as third-place Chelsea host Crystal Palace in 19th.

    On paper, this screams of a mauling with 17 points already separating the sides; but the fact it's a derby, and that Palace have been improving has the potential to even things up a little.

     

    Form

    Most envisaged the Eagles being relegation fodder all season, but Palace have found their rhythm in recent weeks and sit seventh in the form table, equal with Chelsea.

    Both sides have taken 10 points from their past six games, winning three, and for Palace that represents all but three of their overall points tally.

    This game is the first Premier League meeting since 2005 and Crystal Palace haven't beaten Chelsea in a divisional clash since 1990, 11 games ago. The Blues have won six and drawn the other two of the pair's eight Premier League ties.

     

    Key Battles

    Tony Pulis has already installed a more steely edge to the Eagles, who have surprisingly conceded just one goal in their past five games; however, this will be a huge test against Chelsea.

    Palace will have very little possession and will be relying on Julian Speroni to be in top form. Whichever attacking combination Joes Mourinho chooses, Joel Ward and Mile Jedinak—two players to impress this season—will also need to maintain their form in key positions.

    Chelsea will be hoping this game can help one of their strikers find form to boost their title charge.

     

    Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace

    As well as Palace have done in recent weeks, this is too tough a challenge to maintain their form. Chelsea will win this comfortably, which may well see them close the gap at the top of the table.

Everton vs. Fulham

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    Where: Goodison Park

    When: Saturday 14 December, 15:00 GMT

    Everton welcome Fulham to Goodison Park hoping to build on some impressive recent results. The Toffees lie fifth, and a win would put them in a Champions League spot at least until Sunday's games.

    Fulham will be looking for more points to move them out of the relegation zone in Rene Meulensteen's first away game in charge.

     

    Form

    Four points from trips to Old Trafford and the Emirates puts Everton fifth in the form table with only one defeat all season. The Toffees remain unbeaten at home in 2013 and will be looking for a third win in four games.

    Fulham prop up the form table, in 20th, with just three points in their last sixalthough those points came in their previous fixture against Aston Villa, ending a run of six straight losses.

    Everton have, incredibly, won the last 12 Premier League games between these two sides at Goodison Park. In total, the Cottagers have won just one of the past ten top flight meetings, although they did dump Roberto Martinez's side out of this seasons Capital One Cup.

     

    Key Battles

    Fulham have been shambolic in defence this season, conceding 26 goals in 15 games and averaging the most shots (19.2) against them of any Premier League team.

    For that reason, the confrontation between Romelu Lukaku and Fulham's centre-backs will be pivotal to the result. The Belgium international hasn't been as dominant in recent weeks, but has still produced flashes of quality that have often been decisive.

    Everton will win the possession battle, but Scott Parker can help slow the Toffees' build-up play by disrupting the likes of Gareth Barry and Leon Osman—making it far harder to be break Fulham down.

     

    Prediction: Everton 2-0 Fulham

    The Cottagers may start well, keen to impress their new manager; however, the Toffees should have enough to eventually take the lead and can seal the win on the break.

West Ham vs. Sunderland

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    Where: The Boleyn Ground

    When: Saturday 14 December, 15:00 GMT

    West Ham host Sunderland in another key game at the foot of the table.

    The Hammers have been unable to separate themselves from the lower echelons of the Premier League and sit just three places above rock bottom Sunderland.

    The Black Cats are five points adrift and will be keen to close the gap following some unfortunate recent results.

     

    Form

    These two have both endured relegation form of late, picking up just four points from their past six fixtures, putting them 18th and 19th in the form table.

    West Ham's win over Fulham punctuates a run of four losses while Sunderland have taken just a point from their past four games.

    The corresponding fixture was drawn last season thanks to Kevin Nolan's last minute equaliser, although Sunderland have won the other three most recent fixtures.

     

    Key Battles

    Scoring has been a major issue for both sides this season, with Cardiff and Crystal Palace the only teams to score less.

    This game is likely to be a tight affair with mistakes or individual brilliance the most likely cause of a goal.

    Both sides favour a wide approach, attacking from the flanks and the clashes between wingers and full-backs will be crucial. Adam Johnson on Sunderland's left and Matt Jarvis on the Hammers' right may be especially prominent with both sides favouring that side of the field.

     

    Prediction: West Ham 1-1 Sunderland

    This game could well unravel into a frantic game with mistakes at a premium. Whichever side takes the lead is unlikely to be able to keep it long enough to win.

Hull vs. Stoke

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    Where: KC Stadium

    When: Saturday 14 December, 17:30 GMT

    Saturday concludes with arguably the least riveting game of the weekend, as Hull face Stoke.

    That should serve as a compliment to both managers with each doing well to distance their side from the relegation scrap.

    Hull are 12th and Stoke 13th, and the winner of this game would hit the 20-point mark and unofficially take themselves halfway to safety. The loser might start to look over their shoulder a little more often.

     

    Form

    Stoke are in better form, ninth overall, with nine points from their past six outings, including an impressive win over Chelsea in their last game. 

    Hull have taken seven points from their past six matches but have only won one of their previous five games.

    These sides have not faced each other for a couple of seasons. Stoke have won two and lost just one of their past four meetings, but Hull were victorious the last time they hosted the Potters.

     

    Key Battles

    Both sides have produced similar statistics for this current season and seem evenly matched. 

    Curtis Davies' tussle with Peter Crouch will have a large bearing on the Potters' attacking production with the former England striker tasked with holding up play as his side move forward.

    Tom Huddlestone will be the Tigers' main influence in possession, spraying the ball around the field. The closer Steven N'Zonzi can get to him, the less cohesive Hull will be.

     

    Prediction: 0-0

    This game seems likely to end all square as both sides will effectively cancel each other out.

Norwich vs. Swansea

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    Where: Carrow Road

    When: Sunday 15 December, 13:30 GMT

    Sunday begins with another mid-table clash of slightly more relevance than Hull against Stoke.

    That's simply because Swansea lie a few places closer to the top, in tenth, while Norwich find themselves a bit nearer the drop, in 14th. 

     

    Form

    Norwich have been in marginally better form, taking nine points from their past six games and have alternated wins and losses over that six game stretch.

    Following a 1-1 draw with Hull, Swansea have eight points from their previous six games.

    Norwich have dominated recent encounters between these two, winning three of their four Premier League clashes, although a Luke Moore equaliser saw this fixture drawn 2-2 last season.

     

    Key Battles

    Norwich have the Premier League's second-most porous defence, although only seven of their 28 goals have been shipped at home. Remarkably the Canaries have conceded five more goals on their travels than any other team.

    Clearly there's weaknesses for the likes of Michu to test out, but the key contest may come in a crowded midfield where Leroy Fer and Jonjo Shelvey will be striving for supremacy.

    Expect Swansea to win the lion's share of possession with Norwich initiating quick bursts from their wide men following any sudden turnover.

     

    Prediction: Norwich 1-2 Swansea

    Swansea have travelled well this season, winning three times already at Fulham, Crystal Palace and West Brom. They will control this game and seem the more likely winner.

Aston Villa vs. Manchester United

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    Where: Villa Park

    When: Sunday 15 December, 13:30 GMT

    The second Sunday lunchtime fixture presents an intriguing clash between the ailing Manchester United and the frightfully unpredictable Aston Villa.

    United currently sit ninth, already 13 points behind Arsenal, while Villa sit 11th, six points above the relegation zone.

     

    Form

    United have struggled for consistency under the leadership of David Moyes. Two painful home defeats on the spin see the Red Devils fall to 11th in the form table, with three losses in their past six games.

    Villa are eighth, with nine points from six games, although the recent loss to Fulham was especially tough to take.

    Moyes will take comfort from the fact his new side have recorded five consecutive wins against Villa, amazingly suffering just one top flight defeat in 35 games. They have won nine and drawn three of their last 12 Premier League trips to Villa Park.

     

    Key Battles

    Villa are a tough side to predict. They struggle for possession and find it difficult to dominate poorer teams but can be clinical on the break.

    Paul Lambert's side have already beaten Arsenal, Manchester City and Southampton thanks to some lethal counter-attacking and seem poised to adopt this game plan against United.

    If he plays, this could be a game for Marouane Fellaini to show his worth and slow Villa's transitions on the break, while Wayne Rooney will be favoured to dominate Villa's defence.

     

    Prediction: Aston Villa 3-3 Manchester United

    These conditions suit Villa. With a rampant home crowd and an opponent likely to overload in attack, they can keep picking them off on the break. United have the firepower to keep up but may yet again fall short of the win.

Tottenham vs. Liverpool

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    Where: White Hart Lane

    When: Sunday 15 December, 16:00 GMT

    The weekend climaxes with a clash of two top-four contenders: Liverpool and Tottenham.

    The Reds currently sit second, four places and three points above Spurs, although a home win would condense an already tight European race even further and put each club on 30 points.

     

    Form

    Both sides are coming off two successive wins but are separated by nine places in the form table.

    Liverpool are fourth, with three wins and a draw from their last five games, while Spurs sit 13th, with eight points from six matches.

    Spurs have won all five of the Reds' most recent visits to White Hart Lane and have only lost three of the last 10 Premier League ties against Liverpool.

     

    Key Battles

    For Spurs to win, quite simply they will need to find a way of nullifying Luis Suarez.

    The controversial Uruguayan has been in sensational form this season. He's the Premier League's top scorer despite his early ban, hitting the net 15 times in 10 games with six coming in his last two matches.

    Spurs haven't always been convincing at the back this season, most notably against Manchester City, and Michael Dawson must rouse his back four to keep the Premier League's form player quiet. 

     

    Prediction: Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool

    Following yet another midweek European tie, Spurs will start strong but will find it tough maintaining their intensity long enough to win. A draw seems probable.