This week promises to be a crucial one in the three big races that are going on in the Premiership this season, with a full round of fixtures on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by the closing of the January transfer window on Friday evening. Although big mid-season deals have proven to be rare and not too successful in recent seasons, several clubs could benefit from bringing in the right player and in particular, those in the relegation dogfight will be hoping to bring in someone who can provide firepower to lift a side away from the danger of dropping out of the Premiership. Let’s look at the three big battles to be played out over the rest of this campaign and who each team faces in the midweek round of fixtures.
Contenders 1. Arsenal 51pts; 2. Manchester City 50pts; 3. Chelsea 49pts
The three teams going for the title all look to have settled squads and are unlikely to be making any big purchases in then next few days – although Chelsea have just completed a deal for Basel’s 21-year-old Egyptian winger, Mohamed Salah. To say these three are in a league of their own is actually an understatement – since December 23rd, between them they have played 23 games and have won 22 of them, with the only blip being City’s 1-1 draw away at Blackburn in the F.A. Cup, which they corrected with a 5-0 thrashing of Rovers in the replay. In midweek, Arsenal will try to maintain their position at the top when they face Southampton at St. Mary’s on Tuesday night; then, on Wednesday, Chelsea have a London derby against West Ham and Manchester City have a trip to White Hart Lane, a ground they were beaten on last season.
Contenders 4. Liverpool 43pts; 5. Tottenham 43pts; 6. Everton 42 pts; 7. Manchester United 37pts; 8. Newcastle United 36pts.
Manchester United completed the biggest bit of business so far this month over the weekend, as they completed the purchase of Juan Mata from Chelsea for a club record fee of £37.1m. With Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Felaini back in training, plus another further addition possible at Old Trafford, the reigning champions are far from out of the race for the final Champions League Places, even if they currently sit six points behind both Liverpool and Tottenham. Of the three clubs who are currently within a point of fourth place, Liverpool’s best hope will be the continued goal scoring of Luis Suarez; Everton’s toughness to beat will be their main asset – they have the fewest defeats (2) in the Premiership this season; and Spurs will need to continue their impressive league results since Tim Sherwood was appointed as manager. Tottenham’s cause may be hindered by a lack of tactical guile from their new boss, but they also have Jan Vertonghen, Paulinho, Younes Kaboul and Andros Townsend returning from injuries, though another striker should be brought in as well before February 1st, as Jermain Defoe is off to play in MLS next month. Newcastle are in the list mainly due to the fact that they are only a point behind Manchester United and thus it would have been ridiculous not to include them, but the chance of them usurping the four teams above them – particularly if Yohan Cabaye does leave the northeast in the next few days – seem remote at best.
In the midweek round of fixtures, United will have Juan Mata available for Cardiff’s visit, which will see Ole Gunnar Solskjær return as an opposing manager to the club where he made his name as a player; Spurs have the aforementioned contest against Manchester City; Newcastle are away at Norwich; while Liverpool and Everton meet in the Merseyside derby on Tuesday night at Anfield.
Contenders: Everyone else not listed in the above two races, except for Southampton. Bottom three currently all have 18 points, Cardiff, West Ham and Sunderland
With only six points covering the bottom 11 teams in the Premiership, it really could be any three of those clubs who could find themselves dropping out of the league come May. A couple of wins for any side currently in the relegation zone would propel them into mid table, though as Swansea have discovered – after suffering 7 defeats in their last 8 – it is just as easy to get dragged back into the mire. With only 1 loss in their last 7 league outings, Sunderland are the only team in the bottom three who are currently showing any kind of form and as Cardiff and West Ham both have tough looking away trips in midweek (against Manchester United and Chelsea respectively), the Black Cats have an opportunity to move out of the drop zone if they can beat Stoke at home on Wednesday evening. The other fixtures for those in the bottom half of the table see Swansea face Fulham; Crystal Palace host Hull; a Midlands derby between Aston Villa and West Brom; plus Norwich’s aforementioned match against Newcastle at Carrow Road.
At the weekend, the FA Cup fourth round fixtures were played and there was only one upset in all of the 16 ties, as holders Wigan defeated Crystal Palace, who at least for the moment are a division above them. At half-time at the Etihad, it did appear as though Watford would be pulling out a shock for the ages as they led Manchester City by two goals to nil, but a Sergio Aguero hat-trick in the second-half helped propel Manuel Pelligrini’s men to a 4-2 victory and place in the fifth round. The most interesting part of the FA Cup weekend may actually have been the draw for that fifth round, since it set up two super ties that see the top four in the Premiership face off for a place in the quarter-finals: Manchester City host Chelsea; while Arsenal have a home game against Liverpool to contend with.
Last time, 5-5; Season, 115-105
Home teams listed first
Manchester United vs Cardiff – Home win
Norwich vs Newcastle – Draw
Southampton vs Arsenal – Away win
Swansea vs Fulham – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Hull – Draw
Liverpool vs Everton – Home win
Aston Villa vs West Brom – Draw
Chelsea vs West Ham – Home win
Sunderland vs Stoke – Draw
Tottenham vs Manchester City – Away win