September 29, 2006
The EPL Weekend Preview: September 30-October 2
Two unbeaten sides remain in the English Premier League, and one of them faces the most difficult fixture in the entire league. Rafa Benitez changes his side again. A fat Irishman will try to take on Arsenal’s remaining English defender. While yet another boring match will take place at Bramall Lane. Yes, it really is Round 7 of the EPL.
Bolton Wanderers (11 pts, 6th) v. Liverpool (10 pts, 7th) – The bung scandal hasn’t stopped the Trotters momentum as they ended Pompey’s unbeaten start on Monday. Quinton Fortune is unlikely to make it back into the squad for tomorrow’s match, and that leaves Sam Allardyce contemplating making no changes to his team.
Rafa Benitez will make changes. He always does after all. Benitez will opt for height against Bolton’s physical attack and that means recalls for Sami Hyypia, Mohamed Sissoko and John Arne Riise as Liverpool lineup with a different eleven for the 95th consecutive time.
Charlton Athletic (3 pts, 19th) v. Arsenal (8 pts, 9th) – Things are looking increasingly bleak for the south London side. The only good news ahead of their match with the Gunners is the potential return of obese Irish winger Andy Reid. They do have several key players returning to training next week, however.
William Gallas is likely to make this fixture despite injury concerns as he looks ahead to next weekend’s Euro 2008 qualifiers. Johan Djourou is a doubt, so the Arsene Wenger may have to deploy Justin Hoyte out of position whether he wants to or not.
Chelsea (15 pts, 1st) v. Aston Villa (12 pts, 5th) – The Blues looked excellent in their midweek destruction of Levski Sofia. Particularly impressive was the contribution of John Obi Mikel who may be handed his first Premiership start against the Villans. Michael Ballack continues to miss out due to suspension.
Martin O’Neill has yet to lose as Aston Villa manager; a record that is unlikely to continue at Stamford Bridge. The Villans are at full-strength, and O’Neill may choose to recall Martin Laursen in central defense.
Everton (12 pts, 4th) v. Manchester City (7 pts, 13th) – The Toffees are the Premiership’s other unbeaten side and they have a good opportunity to extend their run. Tony Hibbert is suspended after being sent off against Newcastle and Gary Naysmith misses out after having his knee done in by Obafemi Martins.
Stuart Pearce is expected to play five in midfield against Everton as he welcomes back Ousmane Dabo from suspension. Hatem Trabelsi is questionable as he continues to recover from a groin strain. Georgios Samaras faces the prospect of being dropped despite his brace against West Ham last week.
Sheffield United (2 pts, 20th) v. Middlesbrough (5 pts, 16th) – The Blades head into the worst match for neutrals this weekend with one of their best chances of picking up three points this season. Steve Kabba and Paddy Kenny are expected to make their returns from injury.
George Boateng and Stewart Downing have recovered from their own injuries to be hacked at by Sheffield United’s errant tackles. Gareth Southgate is prepared to utilize two strikers as he thinks he can get the three points.
West Ham United (5 pts, 15th) v. Reading (10 pts, 8th) – The Hammers are playing poorly at the moment after being dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Palermo 4-0 on aggregate. Bobby Zamora and Yossi Benayoun are pressing for recalls into the Hammers’ starting eleven. Anton Ferdinand is an injury concern after missing the match in Sicily.
Reading have accumulated twice as many points as their fellow promoted teams combined, and they have to see themselves as a quarter of the way to survival. Graeme Murty will miss out meaning a debut for summer signing Ulises de la Cruz.
Blackburn Rovers (8 pts, 10th) v. Wigan Athletic (5 pts, 14th) – Rovers advanced in the UEFA Cup after their win over Red Bull Salzburg yesterday, but they are waiting on the fitness of Robbie Savage, who left that match with an injury. Jason Roberts may return from a groin injury, but will start on the bench if he is named in the squad at all.
Not much going on with the Latics at the moment. Lee McCulloch may return from injury to travel to Ewood Park. Ryan Taylor and Steve McMillan are still out as they have been for a while and will continue to be out.
Manchester United (13 pts, 2nd) v. Newcastle United (7 pts, 12th) – Alex Ferguson is likely to stick with the same side that triumphed in Portugal in midweek as injuries to Ryan Giggs and Mikael Silvestre have left him with little option. Of course they are playing Newcastle, which leaves him with little concern anyway.
The Magpies defense is reinforced through the suspension of Titus Bramble. Pavel Smicek may take a place on the bench as the backup to Steve Harper, but that is dependent on how fast the FA moves with his paperwork after he signed a short-term contract.
Tottenham Hotspur (4 pts, 17th) v. Portsmouth (13 pts, 3rd) – Ledley King and Jermain Defoe may miss out should they fail late fitness tests. If they do not make it they join a lengthy injury list which has prevented them from looking like anything other than a relegation struggler so far this season.
Portsmouth are doing what Spurs were expected to do this season by flying high in third position in the league table. The loss to Bolton means changes to the Pompey side. Andy Cole is expected to make his debut for Portsmouth, but off the bench. Lomana LuaLua will end up making his first start of the season as a result.
Watford (3 pts, 18th) v. Fulham (8 pts, 11th) – The Hornets face one of the worst away sides in England as they look to climb out of the relegation zone. They played well in their 1-1 draw with Wigan last weekend, and Adrian Boothroyd is set to name an unchanged side to see if they can find some form.
The Cottagers were unfortunate in their 2-0 defeat to Chelsea last week. They should perform a little better as Papa Bouba Diop and Carlos Bocanegra will not be playing with the injuries they had going into their last game, but will instead be fully fit.