Looking ahead to the games taking place in England this weekend.
Liverpool v Manchester United
Winger Kieran Richardson is expected to make his first Premiership start for the visitors tomorrow, deputizing at left back in the absence of Gabriel Heinze, who incurred a knee injury in United’s midweek match against Villarreal.
With Gary Neville and Wes Brown also out injured, and youngster Jonathan Spector on loan at Charlton Athletic, the Argentine’s absence compounds an ongoing defensive crisis for Alex Ferguson’s team. Skipper Roy Keane and Quentin Fortune will also miss out, with hamstring and ankle problems respectively.
Liverpool’s young French striker Florent Sinema Pongolle is expected to reprise the wide right role in which he acquitted himself so well on Tuesday night against Real Betis, leaving Peter Crouch as the lone centre forward in a 4 – 5 – 1 formation. Steve Finnan and Steven Warnock could also return to the starting line up, after being rested in midweek.
Recent form suggests that United will start the game as favourites. Though the home side have yet to lose a game or concede a goal this season, they have lost five of their last six meetings against United, including a 1 – 0 defeat in the corresponding fixture last season.
Aston Villa v Tottenham
Aston Villa go into tomorrow’s match against Tottenham Hotspur rocked by the news that defender Martin Laursen will miss the rest of the season. The Danish defender has undergone surgery for an injured knee that restricted his Premeirship appearances to just a dozen last season, and is not expected to recover for many months. Midfielder Gavin McCann may also be absent with a dead leg. Eric Djemba Djemba or Lee Hendrie could deputize.
More positively for David O’Leary, Wilfred Bouma and James Milner are fit to make their Premiership debuts for the club, and are likely to be deployed at centre back and right midfield respectively.
Tottenham – who walked out 5-1 winners the last time these teams met – will give a late fitness test to Edgar Davids, who has suffered a recrudesce of a groin strain that kept him out of the club’s opening day fixture at Portsmouth. Defenders Noe Pamarot (knee) and Michael Dawson (hamstring) are the other high profile absentees, along with Mido who is suspended.
Wayne Routledge, though, has recovered from a recent injury, and the midfielder could make a return, providing some much needed fire power to a side who have now gone three consecutive games without scoring.
Charlton v Chelsea
Second-placed Charlton – who trail leaders, and tomorrow’s opponents, Chelsea by three points with a game in hand – have made their best ever start to a Premierhsip season. They have won all four of their games thus far this term, and have not conceded a goal since Sunderland’s Andy Gray scored against them on the opening day.
The Blues’ early season form is even more impressive: Jose Mourinho’s men have so far played 5, and won 5 without conceding a single goal, extending their unbeaten league run to 34 games – a new club record.
Owing to a contarctual clause, Charlton’s on – loan midfielder Alexi Smertin is unable to play. The Addicks will also be without Dien Keily and Jason Euell, both of whom are nursing long term injuries.
In the absence of the injured Asier Del Horno, William Gallas is set to continue at left – back for Chelsea, who otherwise have a clean bill of health going into the game.
Sunderland v WBA
West Brom manager Bryan Robson has launched a withering attack on his team. Having successfully staved off relegation on the closing day of last season, the ex-Manchester United midfielder has accused his players of “resting on their laurels” in the wake of three successive defeats in the Premeiership.
“I think we’ve been resting on our laurels since last season”, he said.
“We were a good footballing team, and could pass and play a bit, but now we are forgetting about the hard work and defensive qualities which got us survival…we have to try to get back to the basics”
His efforts will be hampered somewhat by the likely absence of Geoff Horsefield, who has scored all but one of the Baggies’ five goals this season. The striker is struggling with a calf injury. If he fails to recover in time, he will be replace by either Diomansy Kamara or Robert Earnshaw. Kanu is also out (knee), but winger Zoltan Gera should return after having suffered from a dehydration problem.
Sunderland – the only team yet to register a Premiership point this season – welcome back defender Alan Stubbs who has recovered from a bout of concussion, although Steven Wright, Colin Healy (both knee) and Kevin Kyle (hip) are still unavailable for selection.
Portsmouth v Birmingham City
Under fire Portsmouth boss Alain Perrin appeared to vindicate Chairman Milan Mandaric’s decision to grant him the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ , by guiding Portsmouth to a hard fought victory against Everton last week – their first of the season so far.
They will be looking to make it two on the trot as they host a struggling Birmingham side, who are still missing some key players. David Dunn, though he has returned to full training, is still not match fit, whilst Emile Heskey and Mario Melchiot are both still recovering from ankle and knee injuries respectively, and are not expected to play.
Portsmouth should hand a recall to Colombian midfielder John Viafara, whilst Serbian Zvonimir Vukic is in contention to make his Premiership debut,
Though both games between the two sides last season ended in draws, the away side should begin as slight favourites, having only lost one of their last ten games at Fratton Park .
Fulham v West Ham United
Buoyed by their emphatic 4-0 home defeat of Aston Villa on Monday, the Hammers will be confident of securing their first back to back league victories since May 2003 ahead of tomorrow’s tie with Fulham: it is now 39 years since they were beaten by their cross city rivals. Were West Ham to win, it would be their third consecutive victory in a London derby.
Alan Pardew may decide to rest 39-year-old striker Teddy Sherrinham, and hand Bobby Zamora his first Premiership start of the season, whilst left back Clive Clarke is a major doubt having yet to shake off a niggling hamstring injury.
Fulham, meanwhile, are unlikely to hand a Premeirship debut to new signing Phillipe Christanval, as the ex-Barcelona defender is still short of match fitness. Furthermore, Mark Crossley, Jaroslav Drobny, Alain Goma, Sylvain Legwinski, Ian Pearce and Mark Pembridge all remain sidelined with long term injuries.
Wigan v Middlesbrough
Wigan will be looking to record their third straight victory of the campaign having recently beaten both Sunderland and West Brom, Form, however, favours the Teesiders, who have not conceded a single goal in the previous two league matches that the teams have contested.
After being cup tied for Middlesbrough’s UEFA Cup defeat of Skoda Xanthi, Fabio Rochemback should return to the starting XI, in place of Doriva. Hasslebaink, Downing, Parnaby and Mendietta are, however, still missing through injury.
Wigan, meanwhile, are able to call upon Senegalese striker Henri Camara, who has recovered from a foot injury, but the in – form Arjen De Zeeuw is struggling with an ankle knock, and could be replaced by Emerson Thome.
Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle United
Craig Bellamy has recovered from a recent injury, and looks set to play against the club whom he left at the start of the season in acrimonious circumstances.
He is likely to partner Shefi Kuqi up – front, as Mark Hughes reverts from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 formation, with South African midfielder Aaron Mokoena most likely to make way. Paul Dickov is unlikely to be named in the Welshman’s squad owing to a back injury, and Andy Todd is absent through suspension.
Newcastle will be without several key players: Emre, Dyer and Luque are all out injured, whilst Scott Parker begins the first of a three-match suspension for the red card he incurred at Fulham last week.
Manchester City v Bolton Wanderers
Still nursing the hamstring injury that caused him to miss their UEFA Cup tie against Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Gary Speed remains the Trotters’ only injury concern ahead of Sunday’s trip to the city of Manchester stadium, as Sam Allardyce’s men prepare to face a City side who have not lost any of their last 13 Premeirship ties.
Having recovered from a toe injury, Jussi Jaaskeleanen will take his place in goal behind a back four of Hunt, Gardner, Jaidi and N’Gotty. However, despite impressive displays earlier on in the week, Borgetti and Fernades are likely to start on the bench, with Diouf and fit again Kevin Davies assuming wide left and lone centre forward berths respectively.
Despite returning to full fitness, the impressive early season form of City’s strike duo Darius Vassel and Andrew Cole will probably preclude Robbie Fowler starting in what should bean unchanged first XI for the hosts.