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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018

International break hits clubs hard and the Premier League talking points

This weekend kicks off with the Merseyside derby and ends with a meeting between Arsenal and Manchester City.

Liverpool's Adam Lallana picked up an injury on England duty.
Liverpool's Adam Lallana picked up an injury on England duty.
Image: Press Association Images

1. International duty comes at a cost

PREMIER LEAGUE MANAGERS must spend international weeks with rosary beads in hand, praying that their star players will return unscathed.

With that in mind, quite a few have been cursing their luck and publicly criticising the schedule as it appears that this particular break has not been kind.

We’ve read all about the ongoing spat between Everton boss Ronald Koeman and Ireland manager Martin O’Neill over the fitness of James McCarthy, but the Dutchman now also has to plan for the long-term absence of Seamus Coleman.

On top of that, Ramiro Funes Mori is missing for the Toffees in Saturday’s Merseyside derby after suffering a torn meniscus on Argentina duty.

Elsewhere, Manchester United (Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini), Chelsea (Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa), Manchester City (Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne) and Liverpool (Adam Lallana) may all be potentially weakened by events of the past seven days.

2. Red and blue clash on Merseyside

As mentioned in the previous point, Everton go into the 228th Merseyside derby significantly depleted on Saturday lunch-time. But it’s not just the blue half of the city who have their injury problems.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp must prepare without the services of England trio Lallana (thigh), Jordan Henderson (foot) and Daniel Sturridge (hip), but Brazilian pair Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are back in contention.

Despite the high number of absentees, there will be no lack of bite when sides meet at Anfield. Liverpool, who are intent on remaining in the top four, have rediscovered some form with wins over Tottenham, Arsenal and Burnley and a 1-1 draw with Manchester City in the past month.

The visitors, six points back in seventh, have won four of their last six with just one defeat during that period.

3. Champions elect should march on

Crystal Palace finally seem to have got their act together under Sam Allardyce. The Eagles have strung together three straight league victories — against Watford, West Brom and Middlesbrough — without conceding a single goal.

They will need to maintain that defensive solidity to move out of sight of the bottom three, while winger Wilfried Zaha has been excellent of late (his recent goal for the Ivory Coast against Russia was special).


A visit to Stamford Bridge is unlikely to prove fruitful, however. Ten points clear at the top of the table, Chelsea are looking to make it a 17th win in 18 home games. Courtois, Costa and Victor Moses are doubts, but Eden Hazard is set to return to the team.

4. Busy month for Man United

This coming month will effectively make-or-break Jose Mourinho’s debut season at Manchester United as the club begins a run of nine fixtures in 30 days.

With two games in hand, the Red Devils are four points outside the Champions League places and their league fixture list for April looks like this — West Brom (h), Everton (h), Sunderland (a), Chelsea (h), Burnley (a), Manchester City (a), Swansea (a).

In between those matches, there’s also the two-legged tie with Anderlecht in the quarter-finals of the Europa League to contest. First up is the visit of the Baggies to Old Trafford on Saturday, where Mourinho will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (suspended), Ander Herrera (suspended), Paul Pogba (hamstring), Phil Jones (toe) and Chris Smalling (undisclosed).

Eighth-placed West Brom come into the game on the back of an excellent 3-1 win over Arsenal and Tony Pulis’ side are sure to prove tricky opponents.

5. Gunners and City face off twice this month

Last but certainly not least, the biggest game of the weekend is also the final fixture of the round as Manchester City travel to the Emirates on Sunday afternoon.

Recent defeats to Liverpool and West Brom have seen Arsenal drop to sixth in the table, with the calls for Arsene Wenger to step down after 21 years at the helm growing by the week.

Out of the Champions League after a fascinating 12-goal tie with Monaco, City are seeking to close the gap at the top on Spurs (two points) and Chelsea (12 points) after dropping points to Stoke and Liverpool in March.

This is the first of two significant meetings between these clubs in the space of three weeks as they clash in the semi-finals of the FA Cup on 23 April.

Originally published on Friday

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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