The Premier League so far has raised many eyebrows and drawn several sunken faces by going against the obvious. But that was the story of 2011. As the New Year slowly creeps in, the thrill and energy levels are only going to rise even further as teams step on the gas to finish as high up at the end of the season. Just when Manchester City were looking to open up the gap against United, they were held back to a loss at the Stadium of Light but their luck wagon was still on course since Blackburn gifted Ferguson a loss for his 70th birthday at Old Trafford.

Going down the ladder a little bit, Spurs have woken up after a disappointing start to the first half of the season and are now looking in good stead to steal the third spot. Good old ai???Arry must be loving his tea at this time of the year. This makes fourth spot the last train leaving the station and looks like Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle United, all want to get on board at the same time.

The other end of the tunnel (the one where there is not much light), Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn have a started a rat race of their own with the 17th spot as finish line. All three teams have tricky opening fixtures in 2012 and it will be interesting to see who gets the cheese at the end.

As you wake up from the traditional New Yearai??i??s hangover, here is a panoramic view of the upcoming fixtures starting January 2nd.

Aston Villa v Swansea: Confident Villans Welcome Crumbling Swans at Villa Park

With just one win in their last six games, the Villans looked in desperate need of points in order to avoid the realm of relegation. A bold performance at Stamford Bridge not only has come at a good point for Alex McLeish but has also boosted confidence levels in the Villa camp ahead of their game against Swansea City on Monday night. McLeish is set to walk into the game without the services of Emile Heskey who is nursing an Achilles injury.

New signing Rory Donnelly is sure to add more strength to the Swansai??i?? squad and Brendan Rodgers will be a happy man; after fending off competition from Liverpool and Everton. The Gaffer is keeping an eye out for Chelsea teenager Josh McEachran too, but that will take some time to materialize. Swansea have fared well in the League for the first half of the season.

However, for the pace and tenacity with which the Premier League flows post-New Yearai??i??s, every game will be vital for the Swans. Villa Park is never the easiest place to be but the Welsh club has proved they are no weak side even on the road. Expect a fast-paced, free-flowing game from both ends. There shouldnai??i??t be a stalemate in this clash.

Blackburn v Stoke City: Clash of the ai???Giantsai??? at Ewood Park

For Steve Kean to actually say ai???Happy New Yearai??? a lot has to change at Ewood Park. The manager has been kept at the peak of scrutiny and protest ever since he took charge at Rovers and luck has little to do with his managerial reign under Venkyai??i??s. But just when you think the man needs to be ousted, he comes in with a victory against joint League-leaders Manchester United on their home ground.

This might have handed Kean a little more time to set things right at Ewood Park. It might be the same League campaign but it is a new year and Kean will be looking for a fresh start by gaining all three points against Stoke. Givet, Dunn, Olsson and Hoilett will be making a comeback to the first team for this fixture.

Tony Pulisai??i?? side has done well to mark its territory in the top half of the League. The Potters have the highest negative goal difference amongst the top ten teams but their consistency has enabled them to sustain themselves so far. With just one loss in their last six games, Stoke will be looking to continue with their impressive run of results when they visit Ewood Park. Stoke will be travelling without full-back Andy Wilkinson and Glenn Whelan for this game. After picking up what can be considered as an unfortunate draw against Wigan over the weekend, Pulis will be hoping for his team to up the ante from this game once again.

Wolves v Chelsea: Injured Blues on the Road as AVB Looks to Save Face

Mick McCarthy will be thankful to see his team outside the relegation zone but they arenai??i??t too far off the fall. Having said this, the game against Chelsea hasnai??i??t really come at the right time. Wolves have lost six of their last seven League games against the Blues and have failed to score in five of these seven games. The absence of key players like Edwards, Zubar and Milijas will hurt but on the brighter side, new signing Emmanuel Frimpong will add considerable strength to the midfield. Fans at Molineux wonai??i??t be the happiest to see a Chelsea fixture but surely McCarthyai??i??s squad will take all they can get on Monday.

.

Time is Running Out

 

2011 wasnai??i??t really the best year for the Pensioners. The team succumbed to its worst start to a League campaign since Abramovichai??i??s takeover. Things were supposed to look up following Villa-Boasai??i?? arrival but instead they are now in muddy waters – fighting against a whole new competition to get into the top four. While reinforcements are the need of the hour, it is now evident to AVB that time is of the essence if the Blues are to march ahead of their rivals to a trip across Europe.

On paper, Wolves shouldnai??i??t prove to be much of a competition for Chelsea but the League has had its own share of randomizations this season and one can never predict a win/loss with conviction. But all said and done, Villa-Boas is now walking a thin line and needs to tighten the screws before his name is tossed around for all the wrong reasons. Ivanovic, Mikel and Essien remain sidelined for this game.

QPR v Norwich: Former Championship Buddies Battle it out at Loftus Road

With a step away from becoming relegation fodder, Rangers need to step on the gas if they are to ensure survival towards the end of the season. It is a tough week for Neil Warnockai??i??s side with an away loss at Arsenal, this weekday fixture against the Canaries and the FA Cup away at MK Dons on the weekend. With Norwich also coming from the Championship, Warnock must be familiar with the teamai??i??s style and tactics.

This makes for an exciting match at Loftus Road. Keeper Paddy Kenny remains doubtful for this game while center-backs Fitz Hall and Anton Ferdinand are also ruled out with injuries. It is going to be a tough game from the Rangers perspective.

Norwich have been more than impressive this season when compared to their Premier League stint in the 2004-05 season. The Canaries are presently eleventh, a single victory from the past six games bringing them down the ladder. The game against QPR could be a start to get things back on track and Lambert will surely be gunning for no more than a victory as his side travels to London. Defenders Marc Tierney and Ritchie de Laet will be watching the game from the medicsai??i?? room.

Fulham v Arsenal: Hope is the Mantra as Gunnersai??i?? Revival Continues at Craven Cottage

Several mood swings later, Arsenal fans have finally found hope in the teamai??i??s progression. Arsene Wenger has worn a grim look for most of the season but the smiles are now returning on the Professor’s face. The Gunners went ahead of Chelsea to occupy the fourth spot after a 1 ai??i?? 0 victory against QPR at home. Robin Van Persieai??i??s blitzkrieg continues as he will soon be joined by another legend, Thierry Henry.

Wenger – Making the Right Moves

The duo is sure to raise eyebrows but the more important thing here is that Arsenal cannot boast about a huge gap between themselves and the next three teams. Hence, this period is as vital as any other on Wengerai??i??s calendar.

A win against the Cottagers will surely shift gears and help Arsenal give its competition a run for their money. The Gunners will be without Vermaelen, Gibbs and Santos for the derby. These are appended to the already existing list of Wilshere, Jenkinson and Sagna.

At the turn of the year, Fulham find themselves battling relegation yet again. Although the squad has put up some bold performances this season, the results havenai??i??t really been kind. A win against Arsenal will catapult Martin Jolai??i??s side up the table but any other result otherwise will prove fatal. Grygera and Schwarzer will sit out for this game as Fulham try to quell the Van Persie threat that is spreading across like wildfire. Second choice keeper Stockdale will be a busy man.

Wigan v Sunderland: Latics Look to Climb out of Relegation at Stadium of Light

Roberto Martinezai??i?? side came close to waking up in the Championship last season and looks like things arenai??i??t very different this time around at the DW stadium. With the club currently sitting eighteenth, the second half of the season will be a quest to crawl out of the relegation bracket. The team showed bold resilience after their 5 ai??i?? 0 away loss at the hands of Manchester United when they drew against mighty Stoke away from home.

On Tuesday when Sunderland visit, Wigan will look to improve their home form to climb out of relegation. Former Crystal Palace youngster Victor Moses has come to the forefront and delivered good performances this season and Martinez will be banking on him to cut loose against the Black Cats.

Euphoria was all over on New Yearai??i??s Day as Martin Oai??i??Neillai??i??s side got the better of League leaders Manchester City. An unexpected victory from a neutral perspective, but three points against Manciniai??i??s men has elevated the Black Cats to the thirteenth spot. The win has definitely served as a confidence booster precluding the need to deliver a motivational speech in the Sunderland dressing room. Wigan will walk into this game hoping for nothing more than a victory and Sunderland, now under Martin Oai??i??Neill will be hoping to forget the Steve Bruce era. Expect an entertainer from this one.

Tottenham v West Brom: High Flying Spurs Welcome Hodgson Army at White Hart Lane

Looking at the way Spurs started their season, not many wouldai??i??ve expected them to be where they are now. With each passing game, Harry Redknappai??i??s team has looked increasingly threatening while putting down their flag on the third spot; no wonder the Gaffer doesnai??i??t see the need to bring in new signings in the winter transfer window. Tuesdayai??i??s game against West Bromwich gives Tottenham a chance to further open up the gap between third and fourth. Spurs definitely have the better squad on paper and with Emmanuel Adebayor blending in well with his teammates, itai??i??s hard not to see Spurs move further ahead and give a shot at the title. Also, with the club being one game behind other teams in the League, the chances of catching up on Manchester United and moving away from Arsenal are surely in the offering.

Roy Hodgson has developed a good reputation at the Hawthorns but two losses and two draws in their last six games have decelerated West Bromai??i??s progress so far. The team was at the receiving end of pain as they lost late against Everton at home on New Yearai??i??s Day. Hodgson would like to put this behind as he takes his team to White Hart Lane to face a formidable Spurs side. New signing Shane Long and midfielder Chris Brunt will be key in this game. The former Championship striker has scored five goals so far and adds that bit of quality to the Baggiesai??i?? frontline while Brunt has notched up five assists so far, again proving his vitality to the West Brom midfield. Itai??i??ll be a lot of hard work getting the better of Spurs but the flavour of unpredictability that the Premier League has developed gives every side an equal probability of winning a game.

Manchester City v Liverpool: Reds March with Gerrard, without Suarez, City Look to Fix Damages

The reverse fixture at Anfield was one of the most exciting games this season and there is no doubt this fixture stands out to be the one to watch this week. Manchester City have slumped in their recent games and Mancini realizes that any more mistakes at this point could cost them the title. Sundayai??i??s loss at Sunderland has set the Citizens a step back as they missed a chance on creating a void with their neighbouring rivals. This means that the Liverpool game could be the turning point in Cityai??i??s campaign. Mancini will start without Balotelli against the Reds as the Italian prodigy is ruled out due to injury. Yet, the manager can trust in the quality of his side to stage a comeback.

Captain Returns with New Responsibilities

Liverpoolai??i??s fortunes havenai??i??t really come through this season. Gerrardai??i??s arrival saw Suarezai??i?? preclusion which means the duo still hasnai??i??t got enough chances to foster a working partnership. Captain Fantastic came on during the last half hour against Newcastle and showed what the Reds were missing by whipping in pin-point crosses for Andy Carroll while scoring a goal for himself. His return will be more than a solace after the team has lost Suarez following FAai??i??s verdict. Kenny has prepped the captain well for this game and will be hoping that he can this time create an impact by spurring the rest of the team which has, so far performed exceptionally in his absence.

Newcastle United v Manchester United: Sir Alex Looks to Recharge against Pardewai??i??s Magpies

The Magpies have come out as the surprise package this season and boy have they taken everyone by surprise! Demba Ba, Tiote and Cabaye have proved instrumental in Newcastleai??i??s rise to prominence and will once again catch the eye of supporters as the team faces one of the most important fixtures of its season. Alan Pardew steered the side in nitro-mode to the top four before their testing period began toward the end of the year. Newcastle went through the whole of December without a victory and will be looking to turn things around as they welcome Manchester United two days later. While a win will only keep them in the race for fourth spot, a loss can cause equal damage to their hopes of contesting in the Champions League next season.

Even as you read are reading this, there are people still talking about the mystery over the weekend losses that the Manchester teams suffered. Manchester United couldnai??i??t have asked for a better opportunity to close in on their neighbours but Blackburn pulled out a rabbit from the hat by edging them on the final whistle. While they were lucky to have seen City lose too, such events will not transcend week-in week-out again. As the Red Devils travel to Tyneside on Wednesday, staying in the title hunt will be the only thing on playersai??i?? minds. It is going to be yet another mouth-watering game as Newcastle will hate to be forced out of the race to enter Europe for the following season. Rooney is said to be back in training after his recent fall-out against Ferguson and could be in contention for this fixture.

Everton v Bolton: Trotters Desperate to Move out of Relegation, Moyes Eyes Progress

The Toffees have made a slow and steady rise to the top half of the League this season. Manager David Moyes had to operate under a shoe-string budget at the beginning of the season which came as a scare to several Everton fans. However, the team seems to have found its chemistry again as they are now currently placed ninth with an extra game in hand over the rest of the teams. Wednesdayai??i??s game against Bolton will present another chance for the Merseyside outfit to cement a position in the top ten. Moyes heaped praise on Nigerian international Victor Anichebe for scoring the late winner against West Brom. The 23 year-old made a comeback after a lengthy injury that kept him out of action for four months. All eyes will now be on the youngster as he looks to aid Everton in the second half of their Premier League season.

Bolton have been on both sides of the coin when compared to last season. While Owen Coyle orchestrated a fantastic campaign for the Trotters last year, this season has been quite the opposite for the club. With injuries forcing several first-team players out of action, the team has been hurt deeply, probably more severely than one might have imagined. On the bright side, majority of these players could make a comeback soon, a piece of news that Coyle will welcome with a smile. The likes of Lee Chung-Yong, Tyrone Mears and Stuart Holden are slowly making progress with their injuries and could come back sooner rather than later. This is absolutely vital for the club considering they recently sold their star defender Gary Cahill to Chelsea which has made the road ahead an even tougher path to tread on.

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One Response to “EPL Midweek Preview: Man City Take On Liverpool While Man Utd Travel To Newcastle”

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  1. Ashfah Hussain says:

    Looks like a draw in the card for Man. City = Liverpool game.