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Another Difficult Trip for Villas-Boas
Chelsea go to Newcastle, City host Norwich, United away to Villa
Posted Dec 01, 2011 by Chris White
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The difficult games just keep on coming for Chelsea and manager Andre Villas-Boas. Just when your team could do with a couple of relatively simple weeks – if such a thing exists in the Premier League – a trip to Newcastle probably wouldn’t be on many people’s wish list. The Premiership is reaching that traditionally hectic schedule around December and January where the games seem to be almost every other day, and the first managerial casualty has arrived, with Steve Bruce parting company with Sunderland, as the pressure mounts on teams and managers for results.
The Sunderland hierarchy have clearly lost faith in Bruce, with last weekend’s defeat proving to be the final straw. They’re not alone in their struggles, however, with many teams – including Chelsea who have won just two games in eight – struggling for results. The Blues were knocked out of the Carling Cup in midweek having rested several players, but they are looking horribly out of sorts at the moment, and Villas-Boas needs to address the defending quickly. Newcastle put in a strong performance at Old Trafford last week, coming away with a 1-1 draw after being awarded a controversial penalty, but they’ll take heart from the solid display defensively, which when coupled with the overwhelming support they get at home, will make it another difficult trip for Chelsea, especially in their current form.
One team not struggling for results at the moment is Manchester City, and they welcome Norwich to the Etihad Stadium. City came through a tough Carling Cup tie in the week, winning 1-0 at the Emirates thanks to a late strike from Sergio Aguero, who ended his baron run in front of goal, and they come up against a Norwich side who were boosted by their first win in three last time out. The league leaders made wholesale changes in the week, resting the majority of their first team squad, so they will all return to the side rejuvenated after a week off ahead of what will be a testing week for Roberto Mancini and his side, who must beat Bayern Munich in midweek to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League.
At the opposite end of the table, Blackburn face their second Welsh opposition of the week, when they welcome Swansea to Ewood Park. Rovers were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Cardiff on Tuesday night after manager Steve Kean “forfeited the game” in his words, making numerous changes to his side to focus on their league troubles. They certainly are in trouble too, with the calls for Kean’s departure gaining more support every week. Blackburn are now four points from safety, and look as though they can’t buy a win, so playing Swansea won’t be an easy game. The Swans have played some wonderful football at times this season, and maybe haven’t picked up the wins they’ve deserved, so this is a real chance to get three points on the board.
Tottenham are one of the most in-form sides in the Premiership at the moment, playing some phenomenal football at times, with the loan signing of Emmanuel Adebayor proving to be a brilliant piece of business for the club, contributing with goals and assists. The likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale are in full flow, and Spurs have been passing sides to death, something they’ll need to keep going against a dogged Bolton side on Saturday. The Trotters are struggling at the wrong end of the table at the moment, with just 9 points from 13 games, and they occupy the final place in the relegation zone. Boss Owen Coyle will see a point from White Hart Lane as a good result, but his side will need to show some drastic improvement if they’re going to get it.
Spurs’ North London rivals Arsenal have clicked into form in recent weeks, looking back to their best, and they travel north to play Wigan at the DW Stadium. The Latics beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light last weekend, moving two points clear of bottom club Blackburn, and they’ll need to produce a similarly dogged performance against the Gunners. Arsenal were able to rest a number of their key players, such as Robin van Persie and Aaron Ramsey in midweek, so they’ll return refreshed and ready to continue their push to catch the likes of Newcastle and Chelsea above them.
Manchester United have faltered in recent matches, struggling to find the back of the net and seeing Tottenham closing in behind them and City maintaining their unbeaten run ahead, so a win at Aston Villa is a must on Saturday evening. The injuries haven’t been kind to the champions lately, with a number of key players ruled out and disrupting their flow, but after making 11 changes for the midweek Carling Cup defeat to Crystal Palace, Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping his players return to the side with a bang. Villa meanwhile have lost their way of late, making a good start to the season and faltering in recent weeks with draws, including a goalless trip to Swansea last weekend. They are heavily reliant on Darren Bent’s goals at present and need their other top names to start finding the net.
At Loftus Road, QPR welcome West Brom in a battle between two sides anxious to claw their way up the table and away from the tight bottom half, which is separated by just nine points, from Blackburn at the bottom to Aston Villa in eighth. Rangers lost 2-1 at Norwich last weekend and have struggled for wins at home, while West Brom have been typically inconsistent, picking up good points followed up by poor performances and defeats. QPR will find breaking the Baggies down difficult, but if they can replicate their free-flowing football of last season, expect them to take the points.
Everton have shown signs of returning to form lately, and they take on a team that is going in the opposite direction, with Stoke having failed to win any of their last four before last weekend’s win against Blackburn. The Toffees have been grinding out results, which is what they’re all about, while the Stoke defence has been leaking goals like a sieve, which Tony Pulis will need to work on before the trip to Goodison. Everton have been linked with a number of strikers for when the January transfer window opens, and that is exactly what they need. They have all the creativity that can help them break sides such as Stoke down; they just have nobody to put the ball in the net. The Potters will need Peter Crouch on form, helping to bring the likes of Matthew Etherington and Jon Walters into the game, who have excelled in recent weeks.
Manager-less Sunderland are playing their first game without Steve Bruce in charge, and travel to struggling Wolves on Sunday. Both sides are struggling in front of goal, and the two occupy 16th and 17th places respectively.
Fulham and Liverpool contest the final game of the weekend on Monday night, and Liverpool are finding their form at the perfect time. With two wins in two weeks away at Chelsea, Kenny Dalglish’s side are full of confidence, and with Steven Gerrard sitting on the sidelines, things are looking bright for European football next season, particularly with Chelsea’s wobbles. For Fulham, meanwhile, they need to use their home advantage and start pulling clear of the relegation zone. At the moment, they’re in 15th, and with the two immediately below them playing each other, (Wolves and Sunderland), they have a great chance to open up a gap.
This weekend’s fixtures (3pm kick off unless stated):
Aston Villa v Manchester United (5.30pm), Blackburn v Swansea, Manchester City v Norwich, Newcastle v Chelsea (12.45pm), QPR v West Brom, Tottenham v Bolton, Wigan v Arsenal
Everton v Stoke, Wolves v Sunderland (4pm)
Fulham v Liverpool (8pm)