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December is here, and the fixtures are coming thick and fast… Injuries, rotation, suspensions and, of course, COVID-19 are commonplace. So make sure you check out this weekend’s preview to help you stay ahead.
Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac, knee and ankle, are still not ready, but Bukayo Saka passed a late test on Thursday, and the winger was given minutes from the bench at Old Trafford. Mikel Arteta spoke about his decision to select Nuno Tavares over Kieran Tierney in recent matches, saying the 21-year-old “deserved to be there.” Still, after the loss to United, and a third game in nine days, the Scottish international could be in line for a recall. Mo Elneny was a surprise inclusion against Manchester United, his first league start of the campaign, and a reward for his performances on the training pitches. However, I do expect the Egyptian midfielder to make way. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of missing another gilt-edged opportunity, and his place in the side needs to be questioned, although I suspect the skipper will be retained.
Steven Gerrard reveals he was “protecting” Danny Ings at Crystal Palace after suffering a “little bit of a setback” in training. But the striker could make a surprise return with Leon Bailey, who limped off with a thigh problem against Manchester City, ruled out until January. “He was starting to look a real threat,” mused the new manager. “He’ll be missing for a number of weeks. It’s difficult to put a date on that right now, but we won’t see him before Christmas.” Bertrand Traoré is targeting a return to the training pitches later this month, and Trezeguet will play for the Under-23s next week as he steps up his recovery from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
Mathias’ Zanka‘ Jorgensen is expected to miss out again as he struggles to overcome a muscle issue. Thomas Frank says decisions on the defenders’ availability are being taken weekly. Kristoffer Ajer is “doing well” with an expected return to play in late December, but Tarique Fosu “will take a while” following surgery on his hamstring. Joshua Dasilva has made his first tentative steps back onto the grass after more than nine months out due to a “rare” and complicated hip injury.
Brighton and Hove Albion
The Seagulls secured a point at West Ham on Wednesday night thanks to a wonder-strike from Neal Maupay, but the performance was marred by the loss of three players that will force Graham Potter into a reshuffle. After feeling his hamstring, Jeremy Sarmiento lasted just ten minutes into his first Premier League start, and teammate Adam Webster wasn’t far behind succumbing to a calf injury. Adam Lallana did manage to complete 90 minutes despite a thigh strain. “It’s still early days in terms of assessing everything,” the Brighton boss said less than 24 hours after the game. “There’s nothing to report, other than all those three will not be available at the weekend. But as for the extent of the injuries, I haven’t got that information yet.” Steven Alzate and Danny Welbeck hope to be back before the end of the year.
Phil Bardsley is likely to miss out due to what Sean Dyche describes as a “niggly one”. The problem also saw the full-back absent from the squad at Molineux. Dale Stephens tested positive for COVID-19, and while his symptoms are mild, government protocol means the midfielder must self-isolate for ten days. Ashley Barnes is going to be “weeks”, but James Tarkowski and Ashley Westwood come under consideration again after completing a one-match ban. Nathan Collins and Jack Cork went into the side that drew 0-0 with Wolves.
It’s safe to say that Thomas Tuchel wasn’t impressed with his side midweek despite the win at Watford. “The only thing we could do was hang in there and focus on the easy things. It was a lucky win. I see this totally as an exception from the rule.” That performance may prompt a few changes with Jorginho, and Timo Werner both cleared to start. Reece James is also available despite being in too much pain to travel on Wednesday. Trevoh Chalobah is out, and his hamstring injury is a worry. “We need more examinations to see how bad the injury is.” The Blues boss gave nothing away regarding a possible start for Romelu Lukaku, who has minutes from the bench in the last two. “I will not tell you because this is a part of the line-up I want the opponents to know very late. He is in training, and he is eager to start.”
Joachim Andersen could yet feature with a decision on his availability being made after the final session on Saturday. The centre-back has responded well to treatment. Joel Ward is suspended, which means Patrick Vieira needs to consider a new right-back for the first time this season. James Tomkins could shuffle across if Andersen is fit. Otherwise, Martin Kelly or Nathaniel Clyne are options, although their only involvement has been sitting on the bench so far.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin will remain out for another “two weeks minimum”, but given that the strikers’ return keeps on being extended, then I wouldn’t be surprised if it was January before he was back. “We have to be very careful with him because he has had two injuries,” said Rafa Benitez. “We want to be sure that it is getting stronger.” Tom Davies (knee) is also still out, and a decision on Yerry Mina will be made over the weekend after he took part in training on Friday. André Gomes is working normally, but there was no word on the extent of the injury suffered by Salomon Rondon. “He felt his hamstring, so we will have to see what the physios say.”
Earlier this week, when Marcelo Bielsa was asked if Patrick Bamford would be available to face Brentford, he said. “Perhaps for this weekend not, but definitely for the following one.” However, on Friday, the Argentine sounded a little more optimistic that both the striker and Luke Ayling are “likely” to be included, although minutes will probably come from the bench. “To be available and healthy is the first step for a player who has been without competition for two months. Nobody just through their presence guarantees their performance.” Pascal Struijk is expected to overcome a hip injury that has been hampering him in recent matches.
Youri Tielemans is back in training, but Brendan Rodgers feels Sunday “might” be too soon for the playmaker. James Justin is also with the first team, although he will feature for the Under-23s before being considered for the Premier League. In-form James Maddison is over his recent glute problem. “That seems fine and okay, so he’ll be ready for the game.”
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Joe Gomez and Naby Keita started working with the group on Thursday. “It was really nice to see them in training; they looked brilliant,” Jurgen Klopp said. “If nothing happens, they should be in contention again [after the Wolves game].” Roberto Firmino is aiming for a comeback by mid-December, and Curtis Jones is “completely fine”, although he needs to be cleared before he can start playing again.
As City go in search of their seventh consecutive win, Pep Guardiola confirms everyone but Ferran Torres is available. John Stones, Kyle Walker and Ilkay Gundogan are in contention after missing out midweek, while Kevin De Bruyne can be considered, but only from the bench, I suspect. “He needs time to be fit,” Pep said earlier this week. “All the people with COVID explain the drain and tiredness, and they need time.” Aymeric Laporte returns after his ban for accumulating five yellow cards.
Former interim boss Michael Carrick revealed Aaron Wan-Bissaka is rated as “touch and go” after Callum Hudson-Odoi stood on his hand at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Diogo Dalot could deputise again. Nemanja Matic also faces a late fitness test due to a “little niggle” in his hamstring. Alex Telles looks set for his third consecutive Premier League start with Luke Shaw still recovering from a concussion. “We’re just being careful with Luke, assessing day by day. Hopefully, he won’t be too far away.” Sunday will come too soon for Raphael Varane. “He’s out on the grass, but it won’t be any time this week, by any stretch; it’ll be a little bit further than that, if not even longer.” Paul Pogba is out for the rest of the year, while Edinson Cavani hopes to be back before Christmas.
Injury-wise, Eddie Howe‘s men picked up a “few bumps and bruises” during the 1-1 draw with Norwich; thankfully, none are believed to be serious. Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie will be added to the squad. Ciaran Clark is suspended after his early dismissal for denying Teemu Pukki a goal-scoring opportunity, which resulted in a one-game ban. Howe described the performance of Federico Fernández as “outstanding”, and he could get his first start under the new boss. Paul Dummett is working outside with the physios, although he still has “quite a bit to go through” following a longstanding calf problem.
Mathias Normann met with a specialist this week, and after receiving an injection, it is hoped he can return a bit quicker. The midfielder won’t make Sunday, but he may recover in time to face Manchester United in game week sixteen. Dean Smith confirms the injury that kept Milot Rashica out of the trip to St James’ Park is much worse than initially feared. “We thought [he] had a slight groin problem, but after a scan, it looks more significant. We think he’ll be out for three to four weeks.” Todd Cantwell is back with the group after being cleared of his COVID-19 issues.
Fraser Forster picked up a “bit of an injury” in training on Thursday, and it sounds as if the backup goalkeeper will miss out. However, Ralph Hasenhuttl will be boosted by the timely return of Jack Stephens, a direct replacement for Jan Bednarek, who won’t recover from the calf injury he suffered midweek. Ibrahima Diallo and Theo Walcott are expected to be included in the matchday squad, but Stuart Armstrong remains out.
Antonio Conte admits Cristian Romero suffered a significant setback playing for Argentina, and the centre-back will not feature again this year. “We need to check his injury week by week,” he mused. “He needs time to recover. January, February, I don’t know, but 2021 is finished to play. We have to wait to recover well.” Giovani Lo Celso was hoping to work with the squad from Friday, but Conte confirms he will start with the group after the game with Norwich.
Ismaïla Sarr has sustained knee ligament damage that will require a further MRI scan in around a month. “Until then, he will continue to be monitored and assessed by the club’s medical team.” Nicolas N’Koulou will be sidelined until the New Year after suffering a hamstring strain, and imaging confirms Ben Foster will be sidelined until January due to a groin complaint. Adam Masina (thigh) was forced off on Wednesday, and the full-back needs more tests to determine the severity of his injury. Ken Sema hopes to re-join full training at the end of this week, although Saturday could come too soon. Francisco Sierralta (hamstring) is now running outside.
West Ham United
David Moyes said Aaron Cresswell has “done a bit of light training” following a back problem, and the defender faces a late fitness test. Vladimir Coufal came in for the Brighton game with Ben Johnson switching flanks. “Otherwise, we’re okay, other than Angelo Ogbonna being out with his cruciate. In the main, we’ve got everybody fit.” Meanwhile, Moyes is hopeful that Michail Antonio can end his barren spell in front of goal. “Michail has been a little unlucky. He is really important for us, and he is our focal point. Strikers just need to keep getting in there and getting chances.”
Marcal remains out following a positive COVID-19 test, but Bruno Lage is “hopeful” that Daniel Podence will be involved in some capacity after missing the last two. Rúben Neves returns after his ban; otherwise, the remainder are the same, with Wolves missing at least six. Adama Traoré returned to the side midweek, and his performance pleased Lage. “We were very happy with how he is playing – he missed a chance, but he played well. He played very well inside, and that is something we are working on with him. It was the sort of Adama the fans want to see.”