Premier League Weekend Preview: Game-by-Game Guide

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2013

Premier League Weekend Preview: Game-by-Game Guide

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    This weekend's fixtures officially launch the Premier League into its frantic, festive mode.

    The games mark the first of four inside a two-week cycle for every team, sure to drastically alter the top flight's current appearance.

    Title credentials and survival hopes will be rigorously examined with each side more desperate than ever to find a quick burst of form.

    This round of fixtures will also determine which side sits where on Christmas Day.

    Here's a look ahead to each of this weekend's Premier League games, including Monday Night Football.

     

    All statistics via WhoScored?

     

Liverpool vs. Cardiff City

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    Where: Anfield

    When: Saturday 21 December, 12:45 p.m. GMT

    The weekend begins with Cardiff's tough-looking trip to face Liverpool.

    A win for the Reds would steal top spot away from Arsenal while the 15th-placed Bluebirds will look to expand on the four points separating them from the bottom three.

     

    Form

    Liverpool have been in rampant form this season, especially at home where they average almost three goals per game. They are the Premier League's form team, taking 13 points and scoring 22 goals in their past six games.

    Malky Mackay's side have slumped to 17th in the form guide, although they finally ended a six-game win-less run by defeating West Brom in their previous fixture.

    This game marks a first league meeting since 1959, with Cardiff winning all five of the previous divisional clashes. It's also a rematch of the 2012 Carling Cup Final, where Liverpool triumphed on penalties.

     

    Key Battles

    The Reds will starve their opponents of possession and look to unravel Cardiff with clever movement and slick interplay in advanced positions.

    Any hope for the visitors rests on their ability to suppress the Premier League's form player, Luis Suarez.

    The Uruguayan has an incredible 17 goals in 11 games this season—five more than the entire Cardiff squad—and Steven Caulker will need to lead an organised rearguard effort to smother him.

     

    Prediction: Liverpool 4-0 Cardiff

    Brendan Rodger's side are in free-scoring form and have become flat-track bullies at home; a fixture against newly-promoted Cardiff seems unlikely to halt their progress. 

Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle United

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    Where: Selhurst Park

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    A resurgent Crystal Palace host Newcastle as Alan Pardew meets a former club for consecutive weeks.

    The Eagles need a win to escape the relegation zone while the visitors will be aiming to cement their standing in the Premier League's top six.

     

    Form

    Crystal Palace are perhaps a surprising seventh in the form table, taking 10 points from their previous six games, all but three of their season's overall tally.

    Newcastle are fourth on form, having won four of their past six games.

    These sides have not met in the English top flight since 2005 but played in the Championship four seasons ago. Newcastle have won three of the past four league meetings.

     

    Key Battles

    Tony Pulis has simplified the Eagles' approach which has made them a more competitive unit. They will be happy inviting Newcastle on to them while looking for instant territory in the final third via some direct methods.

    Marouane Chamakh has three goals in three games and will face Mike Williamson who's been in impressive form himself. Their aerial battles with be just as important as their ground duels in establishing a platform for Palace to attack from.

    Elsewhere, the tussle between Mile Jedinak and Yohan Cabaye sees a clash of guile against brawn and will determine how fluent the visitors are in attack. 

     

    Prediction: 2-1

    Crystal Palace have found their rhythm in recent weeks and will be confident of surprising an in-form Newcastle. 

Fulham vs. Manchester City

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    Where: Craven Cottage

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    Fourth-placed Manchester City have a chance to temporarily move above Arsenal with a win away at Fulham.

    The Cottagers must take three points themselves to have a chance of spending Christmas Day out of the drop-zone.

     

    Form

    This is a match between the Premier League's second-best and second-worst form teams.

    Fulham are on a dreadful run, losing seven out of eight games and face a Manchester City side with 13 points and 19 goals in their last six games.

    The home side haven't won any of the eight most recent Premier League meetings between the sides, losing five. A late Edin Dzeko strike handed City a 2-1 win in last season's equivalent fixture.

     

    Key Battles

    The Premier League's best attack meets its joint-worst defence.

    Fulham concede almost two goals per game and have allowed 30 more shots against them than any other team, while City have scored eight more than any other side and average almost three goals per game.

    That said, Manchester City will be without Sergio Aguero and will therefore rely on a trio of attacking midfielders to unlock Fulham.

    The likes of Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and David Silva will play behind the striker and will look to interchange and pull defenders around to create space. Scott Parker will anchor the home side's midfield and must be at his very best against them.

     

    Prediction: Fulham 1-4 Manchester City

    The statistics insist upon a convincing away win and it's hard to see this game going any other way.

Manchester United vs. West Ham

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    Where: Old Trafford

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    Manchester United welcome West Ham to Old Trafford hoping to arrest some alarming home form.

    A win could see the champions return to the top six while West Ham will be hoping to pull away from the relegation zone. The Hammers currently sit 17th, just one point clear.

     

    Form

    Manchester United have blown hot and cold under David Moyes but were positivity freezing during their past two home games, losing to Everton and Newcastle. The Red Devils have eight points from their past six games, good enough for 11th in the form table.

    West Ham have lost four of their past six and are 17th in terms of form. They will hope their impressive Capital One Cup form can rouse them into another shock at Old Trafford.

    History is against the Hammers who have taken just one point from their past nine games against United. Last season's meeting was settled by an early Robin van Persie goal. 

     

    Key Battles

    The home side will typically look to stretch the field and find their wingers, both of whom will be central to their play. Antonio Valencia has been in strong recent form and will give Razvan Rat a tough afternoon.

    West Ham are suffering an injury crisis and don't have the players in attack or on the flanks to enforce Sam Allardyce's desired methods.

    They have recorded the joint highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League and will look to contain their opponents long enough to irritate the hosts and frustrate the crowd.

     

    Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 West Ham

    It may take a while, but Manchester United will have enough to eventually grind down an injury-hit West Ham. 

Stoke City vs. Aston Villa

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    Where: The Britannia Stadium

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    Arguably the least absorbing contest of the weekend sees 11th-placed Aston Villa travel to 13th-placed Stoke.

    Both sides sit comfortably in mid-table and don't seem likely to feature at either end of the table, although the relentless run of Christmas fixtures could suddenly drag either into a relegation scrap.

     

    Form

    Both sides maintain unspectacular mid-table form.

    Stoke have nine points from six games while Villa have eight points over the same period, despite losing consecutive games.

    This fixture has seen a flurry of draws in recent years. The points have been shared in six of their nine most recent meetings, although late strikes from Matt Lowton and Christian Benteke gave Villa a 3-1 away win in last season's clash.

     

    Key Battles

    Aston Villa are a better side away from home, more at ease surrendering possession and playing on the break, which is more natural on their travels.

    Fabian Delph is back from suspension and is integral to his side's transitions between defence and attack. His battle with Steven N'Zonzi will be especially pivotal.

    Stoke have been evolving under Mark Hughes and will try to stretch the field and draw their opponents on to them.

    These sides boast two of the Premier League's three worst disciplinary records this season, which should lead to a few feisty altercations in this game.

     

    Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Aston Villa

    Villa are the more likely winners, but their defensive fragility may prevent them holding on to a lead and continue the recent trend of draws in this fixture.

Sunderland vs. Norwich City

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    Where: The Stadium of Light

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    This is a key game at the foot of the table with Sunderland four points adrift, destined to be bottom on Christmas Day.

    Their fortunes have looked brighter under Gus Poyet and taking three points from 14th-placed Norwich would make things a little more congested at the bottom. The Canaries are just five points above the relegation zone themselves.

     

    Form

    Sunderland have been unfortunate in recent weeks and sit 15th in the form table with five points from six games.

    Their opponents have 10 points from alternate wins over a six-game stretch but have lost six of their eight away trips this season.

    Sunderland fought back to claim a 1-1 draw in this game last year but have only won one of the recent four Premier League meetings between the two, losing twice.

     

    Key Battles

    Poyet's side are likely to throw everything at Norwich in search of three vital points.

    The Canaries have conceded four more goals than any other Premier League club on their travels this season and only two sides have conceded more than their 272 shots, meaning John Ruddy will once again face a busy afternoon.

    Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner must attempt to out-muscle Jozy Altidore and reduce the host's access to the final third.

     

    Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Norwich

    Sunderland must win this game and have enough to sneak past a Norwich side that rarely travels well.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Hull City

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    Where: The Hawthorns 

    When: Saturday 21 December, 3 p.m. GMT

    Hull travel to a West Brom side under new leadership, with Steve Clarke placed on gardening leave following the 1-0 loss at Cardiff.

    The Baggies have been plummeting down the table and sit 16th, just two points above the drop-zone. Hull are four places and four points better off, and will look to put further distance between themselves and the bottom sides.

     

    Form

    Clarke's dismissal came on the back of four consecutive defeats which leaves West Brom rock bottom of the form table as the only side without a win in six. The Baggies have just two points from 18 and have only won one of their last 10 games.

    Hull's early-season promise has faltered of late as Steve Bruce's squad have taken just five points from their previous six games.

    The last time this pair met was in the 2008/09 season in which Hull won the corresponding fixture 3-0.

     

    Key Battles

    Both sides favour their right flank, especially Hull who use it more than any other side in the division; expect the versatile Ahmed Elmohamady to be a prominent factor for the visitors.

    Whether it's in a 3-5-2 formation or with four at the back, the Tigers will look to draw their opponents in and unleash the Egyptian on the overlap. At the same time, the Baggies can capitalise on any pockets of space behind him.

    The home side will be similarly reliant on Stephane Sessegnon and Morgan Amalfitano, who will look to interchange and create overloads on their right. Both left-backs will need to remain committed to their defensive duties in this game.

     

    Prediction: West Brom 0-0 Hull

    New-manager syndrome always throws up some unpredictable results, but it's tough to separate two out-of-form sides. West Brom will struggle to break down Hull, who will be content with another point. 

Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Where: St Mary's Stadium

    When: Sunday 21 December, 1:30 p.m. GMT

    Sunday begins with one of the weekend's most enticing fixtures as Tottenham travel to Southampton.

    Both sides have seen poor form distance themselves from the European places and must win to resurrect their challenge.

     

    Form

    Southampton are 14th in the form table, without a win in five particularly testing games.

    They sit a place and two points below Spurs, in terms of form, who have seven points from their past six gamesenough to send Andre Villas-Boas packing.

    The Saints lost both games against the visitors last season, their first meetings since 2005.

     

    Key Battles

    Tim Sherwood abandoned Spurs' increasingly fragile high-line and introduced a 4-4-2 system against West Ham that left his side especially vulnerable at the back.

    Southampton will look to press their opponents high up the pitch and will be keen to see another 4-4-2 approach in front of them.

    Etienne Capoue has been shaky as a makeshift defender but should return to midfield where he had impressed earlier in the season. His exchanges with Adam Lallana will be especially intriguing as he attempts to shield a floundering defence.

     

    Prediction: Southampton 2-0 Tottenham

    Southampton can return to form by capitalising on their opponents' current plight. Tottenham are struggling with injuries and so many new faces will struggle for direction without a new manager in place.

Swansea City vs. Everton

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    Where: The Liberty Stadium

    When: Sunday 22 December, 4 p.m. GMT

    Tenth-placed Swansea host Everton in the final match of the weekend.

    The Toffees have started in rampant form under Roberto Martinez and will be hoping to return to the top four with a win in Wales.

     

    Form

    Swansea's draw at Norwich sees them ninth in the form table with nine points and just one defeat in their past six outings.

    Everton have only lost once all season and have taken 12 points from their past six games.

    The hosts have never beaten Everton in their history, losing three of their four Premier League clashes including a convincing 3-0 defeat last season.

     

    Key Battles

    This promises to be a fierce scrap for possession, with both sides eager to keep hold of the ball. Swansea have kept possession more than any other side this season while Everton are fifth in that department.

    Jonjo Shelvey and Gareth Barry will be integral to their side's hopes of maintaining play and present an intriguing match-up of experience versus youth. 

    Swansea's back-line can be vulnerable in the air, which may prompt a few more long diagonals to Romelu Lukaku, which Ashley Williams must contend with.

     

    Prediction: Swansea 0-2 Everton

    Everton have been consistent under Martinez and have found goals easier to come by in recent weeks. They have the defence to shut out Swansea and enough fire-power to claim another win.

Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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    Where: The Emirates Stadium

    When: Monday 23 December, 8 p.m. GMT

    This round of fixtures concludes with a tasty bout of Monday Night Football between league leaders Arsenal and third-placed Chelsea.

    The Gunners have seen their five-point lead cut to just two and may be overtaken by the time this fixture kicks off. A win for Chelsea would see them climb above Arsenal who could even slip to fourth by the end of the weekend.

     

    Form

    Defeat against Manchester City dropped Arsenal down to sixth in the form table, three points and three places below Chelsea.

    These sides have already met this season in the Capital One Cup, with Chelsea winning 2-0 at the Emirates.

    Arsenal have struggled in recent games against Chelsea, losing six of their past nine Premier League meetings and winning just twice.

     

    Key Battles

    Chelsea haven't had a problem creating chances, it's finishing them off that's become the issue.

    Arsenal have generally appeared uncompromising in defence but shipped six against Manchester City and will be without Laurent Koscielny. Fernando Torres must be clinical and look to open any wounds caused by the City game while testing the under-used Thomas Vermaelen.   

    At the other end, Olivier Giroud has been struggling in recent weeks but must look to dominate against Chelsea's defenders, allowing Arsenal's play-makers to work around him.

     

    Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea

    It's tough to separate these sides in a game that may well finish a tactically absorbing, low-scoring draw.