With Chelsea tightening their grip at the top of the Premier League, focus shifts to the battle of the basement, with no fewer than six clubs separated by only two-points. Paul Clement deservedly took the Manager of the Month award for January, winning three of his five games which included a five-goal thriller at Anfield. Swansea rise to seventeenth, while Crystal Palace’s form takes a nose dive to leave the Eagles joint bottom.
Despite a host of injury problems, and against all odds, Sunderland have given themselves a fighting chance. A draw with Tottenham was followed up by an emphatic win at Selhurst Park, results have coincided with the return of Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong.
Southampton have taken their eye off the ball in the league [6 defeats in seven] and along with Bournemouth, they find themselves perilously close being sucked into the dogfight. There’s never a dull moment.
There’ll be a Premier League hiatus after game week 25 as the FA Cup fifth round takes prescient. For some, the break will provide an ideal opportunity for players to feel the sun on their back with a few days away warm weather training. Nice work if you can get it……!
Keep your finger on the Premier League pulse and don’t miss a thing this weekend. Twitter: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag | Ben | Galin | Nik
Arsenal – vs – Hull City
Mo Elneny "is fully focused" following his involvement at AFCoN and he will return to the squad on Saturday. Hector Bellerin continues to be assessed "he is going through tests every day [and] we will only know tomorrow [Friday] if he gets the green light [from the doctors]." Aaron Ramsey [calf] remains on the sidelines while Granit Xhaka will miss out through suspension. Lucas Perez is expected to recover from the minor ankle injury he picked up in training prior to the Chelsea match.
Hull have "no exact time frame" on when Michael Dawson will return but his "calf injury is likely to keep him out of action for a few weeks." Abel Hernandez could miss up-to a month after suffering a "small tear in his hamstring muscle" and his absence should open the door for Everton loanee Oumar Niasse. Curtis Davies [hamstring] is recovering well and is still on schedule to return within eight weeks. Harry Maguire and Andrea Ranocchia are expected to be paired centrally in defence. Markus Henriksen [shoulder dislocation] is close to regaining full movement in his joint and will step up his rehab next week. The 24-year-old is targeting a return in late March / early April. Ahmed Elmohamady is back in contention after international duty: "He is an important player for us.” Meanwhile. Dieumerci Mbokani faces a late fitness test after missing training because of illness.
Manchester United – vs – Watford
Marcos Rojo and Wayne Rooney return for United. No Phil Jones [foot] who is taking a lot longer than the "few days" originally anticipated. "Now it’s time for Jones to be out and time for Eric [Bailly] to be in,” said Jose Mourinho. “Of course, we’re happy he played already that last match and he showed again security and understanding with the other guys, so we’re fine."
Walter Mazzarri will check on the fitness of Miguel Britos [groin] and Valon Behrami [hamstring] ahead the trip to Old Trafford. Both have missed training days this week and the medical staff will assess them today [Friday]. Nordin Amrabat [ankle], Zuniga [illness], Costel Pantilimon [ankle] and Christian Kabasele [calf] are expected to remain on the sidelines. Roberto Pereyra has been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign.
Middlesbrough – vs – Everton
Gaston Ramirez is back in contention after completing a week of warm weather training in Spain. The Middlesbrough midfielder has not played since injuring his knee on January 02 at Leicester. Aitor Karanka’s only [expected] injury absentees are Antonio Barragan [hamstring] and George Friend [calf] who picked up a muscular strain during the fourth-round FA Cup win over Accrington Stanley.
No fresh injury concerns for Everton. Ronald Koeman could stick with the same side which put six past Bournemouth, although Kevin Mirallas will be hoping for a recall having dropped out for Ademola Lookman who made his first Premier League start last weekend. Ross Barkley is likely to keep his place supporting Romelu Lukaku but Gareth Barry, Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies and James McCarthy will battle it out for a place in midfield. Idrissa Gueye has returned from international duty and is also pushing for his inclusion.
Stoke City – vs – Crystal Palace
Geoff Cameron could begin training with the first team on Friday, initially in the warm up with a view to taking part fully from next week. Xherdan Shaqiri [calf] and Glen Johnson [Achilles] remain doubts "they will probably miss out" although the latter "has the slightly better chance." Saido Berahino "is still not where he can be" in terms of his match fitness "he is getting sharper [but] he needs game time". The former Baggies striker will be better placed to start matches after next week’s mini break - no FA Cup duty for the Potters who have a fortnight off. Ramadan Sobhi is available again: “He is in a good place and there's no reason why he won’t be involved."
"We did what we had to do in terms of addressing the issues of last week,” said Sam Allardyce following his sides humiliation at the hands of Sunderland. “It was a huge disappointment the way we slipped." No warm weather training in Dubai for the Eagles next week, Allardyce insists they couldn’t get the “right” hotel or flights. Luka Milivojevic has received international clearance and will be added to the squad, but his involvement is likely to be from the bench: "He hasn't trained much here [he has elsewhere]. He got back here Wednesday, but he's been following the programme back at home." All four new signings will be available which includes Jeffrey Schlupp who has recovered from a minor hamstring complaint. Scott Dann looks like he won’t make it this weekend, the centre-back picked up a knock against Sunderland, but Yohan Cabaye is expected to recover from an ankle knock.
Sunderland – vs – Southampton
John O'Shea [hamstring] and Adnan Januzaj [hip] have trained: "Hopefully they'll be available." David Moyes confirms Jack Rodwell is ruled out: "Not as bad as we first thought but his [hamstring] will keep him out for a few weeks." Jordan Pickford is training fully "but the medical team want him to complete his rehab [as outlined by the surgeon]. He won't be involved."
Claude Puel says his "squad is angry" with recent results but "for the first time in a long time, we've had a whole week to prepare." Sofiane Boufal [ankle] is ruled out and his availability for EFL Cup final later this month hangs in the balance. No other fresh injury concerns. Martin Caceres has NOT signed for the club: "We will see what happens in the next few days," but it’s hoped the former Juventus defender can provide cover for Virgil van Dijk who may not play again this season: "We know he is a big miss for the team. The answer is to give a little more as a collective."
West Ham United – vs – West Bromwich Albion
Slaven Bilic confirms a few players are yet to train - Aaron Cresswell, Andy Carroll and Cheikhou Kouyate – “we will wait and see [but they] all have a good chance of recovering in time”. Carroll has a niggling groin problem: "It is always a fine balance not to put him at risk of serious injury. This is the only week he has not trained with us since being back”. Sam Byram is available after missing the win at Southampton as a precaution, he recently returned from a long-term hamstring injury. Arthur Masuaku has been training with the development squad under the watchful gaze of the fitness coach and will rejoin the first team on Friday. Havard Nordtveit is back while Alvaro Arbeloa is also taking part in full sessions. Angelo Ogbonna successfully underwent knee surgery in Paris and will now continue his rehab, in London, for the next 12 to 16 weeks.
Claudio Yacob has recovered from stomach cramps and finally, Jonny Evans is ready after more than a month out due to a calf strain to give Tony Pulis a selection headache. The Baggies boss was full of praise for Chris Brunt who has spent the last 10 years at the club: "He's been absolutely outstanding. He's got back in the team and played really well." James Morrison could make his 300th appearance on Saturday: "His form has been very good. He can open doors and makes passes." No FA Cup match next week: "We will give the players a few days off. They can take their families away. They've deserved it."
Liverpool – vs – Tottenham Hotspur
On Loris Karius returning to the starting XI: "It's a rumour, I've not decided," reveals Jürgen Klopp. The players have enjoyed "a good week of training" following the disappointing loss at Hull seven days ago: " We don't look for excuses, we look for solutions." Dejan Lovren is still struggling with his knee "we're not 100% if he can train today [Friday]". Adam Lallana has also missed a couple of days due to a "little problem" with his Achilles "we hope he can train." Ragnar Klavan is back after illness. He took part in a full session "but we will see [on his availability]" after he spent six days laid up in bed and lost weight.
Danny Rose is recovering well from a knee ligament strain amid initial concerns that he would miss up-to two months: "After seeing the specialist we're happy with the assessment. Now it's about recovery and building fitness. It’s not a big issue, it’s a minor problem" and although Pochettino won't put a timescale on his return, Tottenham are hopeful the left-back could play again within a month. Kieran Tripper [hip] has been training well since the beginning of the week and "we hope he will be available for the squad." Jan Vertonghen is looking to start work with the group from next week. Erik Lamela is taking it step by step: "The good thing is the injured players are all very positive, that's important."
Burnley – vs – Chelsea
Sean Dyche reveals Robbie Brady and Ashley Westwood could be handed their first starts for the club after coming off the bench at Vicarage Road. Jeff Hendrick starts the first game of a three-match ban after his red card for a high challenge on Jose Holebas last weekend. Steven Defour [hamstring] is hoping to be back after the break but Dean Marney [ACL] won’t play again until next season.
Antonio Conte says he "wanted" to give the players an extra day off following the win over Arsenal. "There are moments when you work hard, but sometimes it's important to relax." The Chelsea manager explains he replaced Eden Hazard because "he deserved great applause for his work with and without the ball." There were also reports that the Belgium star had injured his calf. David Luiz is playing with a "little pain" in his knee "but he's a warrior and still performing well."
Swansea City – vs – Leicester City
Jordan Ayew has trained after returning from AFCoN: "He is ready to go and will be involved at weekend,” although Paul Clement has not decided if he will start. “His fitness is fine, it’s about getting information into him so he can go out and do his job.” Luciano Narsingh is knocking at the door having provided assists in each of his two substitute appearances. Sung-Yeung Ki is still hampered by a knee injury and will meet with a specialist next week: “It is not a long-term injury, I am hoping it will be three to four weeks and we see him back again.” Leon Britton could miss out leaving Swansea a little short in midfield. Jefferson Montero is taking a lot longer than originally envisioned and won’t be back until next month at the earliest: "Hopefully we will see him on the pitch training again in March," said Clement. "He had a hamstring tear."
Leicester will be looking to use Wednesdays win over Derby in the FA Cup at a springboard to improve their abysmal recent Premier League form. Claudio Ranieri will check his players on Friday/Saturday "but I think everyone could be available" except for Leonardo Ulloa who is "getting better [but] is not yet available". Islam Slimani "is not 100 percent" and the Leicester manager "will see [in training] how he recovers from the last match". Daniel Amartey returned midweek and came through 120 minutes of football unscathed.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Manchester City
Eddie Howe admits the Cherries "have a few injury concerns" but the extra recovery days will help those in the treatment room. Charlie Daniels [knee], Simon Francis [hamstring] and Adam Smith [unspecified knock] will all be assessed over the weekend to determine their availability for Monday night. The Bournemouth boss would love Jack Wilshere to remain at the club "but there's been no discussion with Arsenal. We are treating it as a loan." Callum Wilson successfully underwent knee surgery on Thursday: "Now we're looking forward to helping him with his recovery." Back-up goalkeeper Adam Federici is set to miss the remainder of 2016/17 after damaging the cartilage in his right knee during training.
Manchester City boast a clean bill of health, apart from Ilkay Gundogan: "Everyone is fit. They are training amazing. I am so, so happy." When asked if Willy Caballero or Claudio Bravo would start at Bournemouth, Guardiola replied: "I don’t know. I will decide the day of the game." And on why Nolito was omitted from the match day squad last time out, Pep said: “We have Sterling, Sane and Jesus in top shape. That is the reason."