Football

/ News

Powered by ESPNfc
  • Premier League Preview

AVB under spotlight as Chelsea head to Molineux

ESPN staff
January 1, 2012 « Dogged Wade edges Part in thriller | Chartbeat test »
Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to pick up his players following defeat to Aston Villa © Getty Images
Enlarge

Arsenal were the big winners in a remarkable weekend in the Premier League. With Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City all suffering shock defeats and Tottenham held at Swansea, the Gunners moved into the top four for the first time this season. Arsene Wenger's men travel across London looking to take all three points from Fulham, while Andre Villas-Boas will be hoping his wounded Blues can bounce back at Molineux.

This season ESPN Goals is completely free. It's the first place to see every goal from every Premier League game, all season long


Wolves v Chelsea

Form: Wolves have picked up three draws from their last three matches - including a point at Emirates Stadium. While they may be in a more enviable position in the table, Chelsea have picked up just three points from a possible 12, allowing a 1-0 lead to slip from their grasp as they lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa.
Key battle: With two matches in three days, Andre Villas-Boas is likely to rotate his squad, and Fernando Torres could return to the starting line-up. The Spaniard rattled the bar against Villa on Saturday, and with Wolves defenders Ronald Zubar (knee injury) and Nenad Milijas (suspended) unavailable, Richard Stearman could have his work cut out.
Player to watch: With the transfer window open, Wolves boss Mick McCarthy wasted no time in snapping up Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong on loan. Described by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger as a "battler and a fighter", Frimpong has impressed in 14 appearances for the Gunners this season, and could be just what Wolves need to bolster their fight to avoid relegation.
Talking point: Andre Villas-Boas needs time to prove himself, but with Chelsea in danger of not qualifying for the Champions League, will Roman Abramovich run out of patience with mini-Mourinho?
Bet of the day: Fernando Torres to score first in a Chelsea win is 6/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-3


Fulham v Arsenal

Form: Inconsistent is probably the best word to describe Fulham's current form. After a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United, the Cottagers responded admirably with a hard fought draw at Chelsea on Boxing Day, only to concede a late equaliser at Norwich on Saturday. Arsenal, meanwhile, are one of the most in-form sides in the league, grinding out a 1-0 win against QPR to move into the top four for the first time this season.
Key battle: With Thomas Vermaelen adding to Wenger's defensive headache, Francis Coquelin is likely to deputise in a makeshift defence at left back. Orlando Sa, who scored his first goal for Fulham on Saturday, could cause problems for the Gunners.
Player to watch: With Wenger likely to rest top goalscorer Robin van Persie, the spotlight will be on Marouane Chamakh. The Moroccan has failed where Van Persie has flourished, his only goal this season coming back in September. With the imminent arrival of Gunners legend Thierry Henry, can Chamakh give Wenger a timely reminder of his abilities before he heads off for the African Cup of Nations?
Talking point: Are Arsenal still in the title race? Wenger has as good as conceded the title already this season, but with Manchester United, City and Chelsea all losing at the weekend, suddenly that nine point gap doesn't look quite so insurmountable.
Bet of the day: Marouane Chamakh to score the first goal: 11/2 with bet365
Prediction: 0-2

Aston Villa v Swansea

Form: When Alex McLeish looked at Villa's festive fixtures, he would have realistically targeted one win from three matches against Arsenal, Stoke and Chelsea. Villa got that one win, taking four points from their last three matches, but perhaps not from the expected source, claiming a memorable win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Draw specialists Swansea remain solid at Liberty Stadium, but are much less convincing on the road - they remain without a win away from home.
Key battle: Steven Caulker is expected to return to the Swansea line-up after being ineligible to play parent club Tottenham on Saturday, while Darren Bent looks set to start after scoring from the bench against Chelsea. It was Bent's first goal since Bonfire Night - has it sparked a return to form for the England striker?
Player to watch: Who else but Stephen Ireland? In the headlines for all the wrong reasons over Christmas, the former Manchester City midfielder was instrumental in Villa's win at Chelsea - scoring the equaliser before setting up Bent for Villa's third. Is he rediscovering the form he at City enjoyed before Mancini's arrival at Eastlands?
Talking point: Will the Villa fans ever truly accept Alex McLeish? The former Birmingham boss will have gone some way to win over his critics with Saturday's win at Stamford Bridge, but failure to beat Swansea will undo all his good work.
Bet of the day: Darren Bent to net a hat-trick: 28/1 with bet365
Prediction: 3-0

Blackburn grabbed a stunning win against Manchester United at the weekend © PA Photos
Enlarge

Blackburn v Stoke

Form: They may have been rock bottom at Christmas, but Blackburn ensured it would be a happy new year as they stunned Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford. Having lost to relegation rivals Bolton, they took four points from trips to Anfield and Old Trafford, and will now look to build on recent results with another three points at home to Stoke, who are without a win in three.
Key battle: Yakubu is the man in form, with seven goals in his last six matches. Ryan Shawcross doesn't shy away from a crunching tackle, and it may take a commanding performance from the defender to keep the big Nigerian quiet.
Player to watch: Gael Givet has missed four games for Rovers after being forced to undergo heart surgery, but the Frenchman has been given the green light to resume his career. Rovers are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, and the return of Givet will be a welcome boost as they look to climb out of the bottom three.
Talking point: Despite repeatedly insisting that he did not fear for his job, Steve Kean probably didn't enjoy his turkey as Rovers sat bottom at Christmas. Recent results even appear to have silenced many of the protestors. Is this the start of a remarkable turnaround for Blackburn?
Bet of the day: Yakubu to score first but Stoke to claim a point: 20/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2


QPR v Norwich

Form: QPR have not won any of their last six in the league and are heading in the wrong direction, while Norwich are winless in four, with three draws in that sequence.
Key battle: With Marc Tierney set to miss out again for Norwich, Adam Drury - who made his first appearance of the season recently against Tottenham - will be given the task of stopping Shaun Wright-Phillips, arguably QPR's most potent attacking threat.
Player to watch: Simeon Jackson hopped off the bench to earn Norwich a 1-1 draw with Fulham, and he will be in line for a start. Can he disrupt the highly successful strike partnership of Grant Holt and Steve Morison, who have won many admirers this season?
Talking point: QPR boss Neil Warnock says the next ten games will be vital in his club's battle against relegation - will be able to survive a couple of early defeats in that sequence?
Bet of the day: QPR win: 11/10 with bet365
Prediction: 2-0


What's your best Premier League XI of 2011? Let us know right here

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Close