Game week twenty-nine will bring an end to the fixtures in March as the international break leaves us hanging for a fortnight. Those players not involved with their respective country’s will see this as an opportunity to relax before April hits us from the off with game weeks commencing on the first and fourth of the month respectively.
Just ten games remain for some, and that was enough for Middlesbrough to pull the trigger on Aitor Karanka as the panic begins to set in. The Teesside club are three-points from safety, effectively four due to their inferior goal difference, and the cracks were beginning to appear. Talk of another fallout [with Stewart Downing], the latest in a long line, was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back and Steve Agnew will be tasked with trying to keep Boro in the Premier League.
A full programme lies in wait. Liverpool at City is the headline grabber but Arsenal must get a result in the first game on Saturday while anything less than a win for Sunderland means their odds of surviving are only reserved for the likes of Leicester.
You know the drill. The Rotoworld Premier League team are at your service for all of the latest news: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag | Ben | Galin | Nik
West Bromwich Albion – vs – Arsenal
James Morrison hurt his ankle in training and he remains a doubt for the early kick-off which means Claudio Yacob, his replacement at Goodison Park, could keep his place in the side. Since reaching 40-points, the Baggies have suffered consecutive defeats but Tony Pulis insists he does not want his side to drop off now that their top-flight status has been secured. "You need good balance to win games," he said and without Matt Phillips [hamstring] in the team "that's what we've missed." Jake Livermore earns himself an England call-up: “I hope he can push on now. He's got all the tools to be a very good player. It’s good for everyone. The lad, his family, the players and the club."
The availability of Kieran Gibbs on Saturday is "uncertain" although overall, the Arsenal squad is largely available "apart from long-term injuries." Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a fitness test after picking up a hamstring injury in the FA Cup but the 23-year-old has been included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad which suggests the problem is not too serious. Mo Elneny [ankle], David Ospina [groin] and Danny Welbeck [illness] returned to full training this week and hope to make the match day squad. Arsène Wenger was very coy when asked if Alexis Sanchez will be in the starting line-up after being named on the bench at Anfield: "I haven’t picked the team yet but he has a chance yes."
Crystal Palace – vs – Watford
Patrick van Aanholt is the only new injury from last time out: "He's hurt his ankle, but is moving forward quite quickly. Assessed day-to-day." Loic Remy is not fit either but hopefully both players will rejoin the first-team in full training over the international break. Three wins from five have helped Palace move out of the relegation zone, victories which have all come from keeping clean sheets according to Sam Allardyce: “Luka [Milivojevic] is a sitting midfield player and Mama [Sakho] have given us more defensive resilience. Our defensive unit has improved - a good way forward for us. The more clean sheets we keep the better chance we've got.”
Etienne Capoue is a doubt after missing training on Wednesday and Thursday: "He has had a fever,” said Mazzarri. “So, we will check tomorrow [Friday]." No fresh injury doubts for Watford who’ve enjoyed the luxury of a fortnight off. The rest has enabled Daryl Janmaat [groin], Costel Pantilimon and Nordin Amrabat [both ankle] to get back up-to speed and the trio are in contention. "Only Christian Kabasele, Ben Watson, Roberto Pereyra and Mauro Zarate are not training."
Everton – vs – Hull City
Leighton Baines returned to training on Thursday after he was forced off at half-time [vs West Brom] because of a back problem. Barring a setback, he will be available. James McCarthy [hamstring] is expected to miss out despite Martin O’Neill including the midfielder in the Republic of Ireland squad. Ronald Koeman is not concerned about Romelu Lukaku’s contract situation as he still has two more years to run: "No need to take him out of the team. I think every player has ambition to play for titles.”
Brazilian playmaker Evandro fails to recover from a niggling calf problem leaving Marco Silva with more/less the same squad. However, there is one exception, last weekends’ goal scoring hero Oumar Niasse is unable line-up against his parent club. Markus Henriksen has fully recovered from a shoulder dislocation but after missing the last two months, a place on the bench beckons. Hull could be unchanged from the side which beat Swansea 2-1 even though Curtis Davies is back in contention.
Stoke City – vs – Chelsea
Mark Hughes plans on making a “few changes” to the side which drew 0-0 at the Etihad 11 days ago. On current form, Marko Arnautovic appears to be a shoo-in with Mame Diouf the player most likely to make way. Peter Crouch is also pushing for his inclusion after Saido Berahino made his first start for the club. Glen Johnson won't be available so Phil Bardsley keeps his place at right-back. Xherdan Shaqiri "is an option" following a good week of training but his lack of fitness/sharpness will probably keep him on the bench from the start. Jack Butland is training on grass but Hughes stressed that the club will be taking his recovery “calmly and slowly” having missed the previous 12 months. “We will edge him forward."
Antonio Conte confirms Victor Moses [calf] trained well on Friday: "I think he's available" but the Blues boss will check on a couple of doubts before deciding on the team to face Stoke. Eden Hazard could be one of those, the Belgium wizard was on the receiving end of some roughhouse tactics on Monday in the FA Cup, although Conte is not worried about the leagues most fouled player “because he is very strong physically.”
Sunderland – vs – Burnley
David Moyes was hoping to use the break to get one/two players back, but the Sunderland boss admitted the news is not good. Jan Kirchhoff will miss at least six weeks after he suffered a recurrence of his recent injury: “He played for the reserves two weeks ago, but his knee swelled up immediately after and he only trained for a couple of days before pulling out. He’s been back to see the surgeon and I don’t think there’s any damage, I just think it’s going to take longer than we’d first hoped for it to heal.” Meanwhile, Anichebe is stateside on his road to recovery: “We’ve sent Victor to work with a specialist in America and he should be back shortly. He’s running and he’s back on it so we felt that sending him to someone who can work one-on-one with him constantly [was the best option], and it looks like it’s working.” Steven Pienaar [calf] will be checked but Darron Gibson [knee] is expected to be okay.
Sean Dyche will make a late decision on Steven Defour [hamstring] who has missed the last seven weeks. The Belgian is rated as 'touch and go' but Johann Gudmundsson will not feature on Saturday after meeting with a knee specialist. There were concerns over his [slow] recovery from a medial ligament strain, but there is nothing to be overly concerned about. "Other than a few bits and bobs, everyone else is good." Sean Dyche says Michael Keane and Tom Heaton's England call-ups are “fantastic” for the club.
West Ham United – vs – Leicester City
No Mark Noble this weekend after the Hammers captain picked up a knock at Bournemouth. His absence could see Kouyate return to midfield with Sam Byram filling in at right-back. Expect a much-improved performance from West Ham following the disappointing 3-2 defeat on the south coast: “I wasn't happy, the players know that [but] we are ready to bounce back," said Slaven Bilic. Although very painful, Antonio said he wouldn't let his shoulder injury keep him out of the Leicester game while there was no update on Robert Snodgrass [ankle], so let’s assume no news is good news.
Craig Shakespeare could name an unchanged side for the fourth successive game after guiding the Foxes to three straight wins since taking over from Claudio Ranieri. Leicester will be brimming with confidence after progressing through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Danny Drinkwater is available but won’t be joining up with England due to a persistent groin issue – the midfielder needs to be managed carefully between games. Nampalys Mendy [knee] is rated as '50-50' in terms of availability: "We’ll assess him again and make a decision after that." Molla Wague has been ruled out for the season after dislocating his shoulder in the FA Cup.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Swansea City
Eddie Howe will make late checks on the fitness of Harry Arter and Junior Stanislas ahead of the game against Swansea. Arter suffered a slight calf injury [GW28] while Stanislas is making progress after a groin problem: "Other than that, we don’t have any other [fresh] concerns." Adam Federici and Callum Wilson remain long-term absentees. Tyrone Mings will serve the second game of his five-match ban. The Cherries boss was "surprised" Jack Wilshere did not make the England squad but feels “there's a lot more to come" from the Arsenal loanee.
Paul Clement says Stephen Kingsley will start at left-back in the absence of Martin Olsson [ankle]: “He is a good young player. He has been involved with his national team and has experience of playing at this level.” The Swans have been boosted by the return of Fernando Llorente [dead leg] and Kyle Naughton [hamstring] who will replace Angel Rangel after he broke a bone in his foot. Jefferson Montero is hoping to make the match day squad following his return for the Under-23s on Monday night. The Ecuadorian winger has been out since late December. Ki Sung-Yeung is also available.
Middlesbrough - vs - Manchesternited
Boro have a few concerns, particularly in defence, but the extra day will help. There are no guarantees George Friend [calf] and Daniel Ayala [hamstring] will make it after Steve Agnew revealed the pair are “probably” out but Bernardo Espinosa [ankle] did train on Friday morning. Calum Chambers won’t be back until April due to a stress fracture of the foot. Those players who are fit “have trained well and we look forward to the weekend.” Rudy Gestede impressed for half-an-hour in the FA Cup before a hamstring problem forced him off – Alvaro Negredo is poised for a return if he misses out.
Domestic cup and Europa League exertions are beginning to take their toll if Jose Mourinho is to be believed. "We will probably lose the game on Sunday. Fatigue has a price," he said after scraping past Rostov on Thursday night. Paul Pogba is out although there is no current timeline on how long his hamstring injury is expected to side-line him. Daley Blind faces a late test after taking a whack to the head and Gareth Southgate said Wayne Rooney [knee] “could” be fit despite his omission from the England squad. Anthony Martial, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw trained away from the main group earlier this week but at least one could return as United play their third game in six days. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera are both suspended.
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – Southampton
Kyle Walker suffered a minor ankle injury at home on Monday and to add fuel to the flames of suspicion, Pochettino said it was a “private matter” before swiftly moving on. The full-back will be assessed nearer kick-off along with Victor Wanyama [neck] who is also a slight concern. Mousa Dembele has recovered from an ankle injury and he will be available selection. There was good news regarding Harry Kane who could be back within 3/4 weeks: "I don't know [for sure], if it’s not [then] it’s 5 or 6 weeks" giving the striker a good chance of returning for the FA Cup semi-final. Heung-Min Son and Vincent Janssen will be handed their opportunity to shine in the White Hart limelight.
Claude Puel has no fresh injury concerns. “The long-term injuries are still out like Virgil [van Dijk], Matt Targett and Alex McCarthy.” There was better news regarding Jeremy Pied who will come back with the Under-23s next week. Charlie Austin is also nearing a return, he took part in light training session on Friday morning [without any opponents]: “It was great to see him. We will see when he can come back with the group, with intensity and opposition.” Martin Caceres is available after playing twice for the development side and he will challenge Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens with the Premier League fixtures coming thick and fast in April.
Manchester City – vs – Liverpool
The Citizens will be looking to bounce back after they were knocked out of the UCL on Wednesday in Monaco. Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus are the only expected absentees as City focus on continuing their impressive domestic form of late. Pep remains cautious over Vincent Kompany: "I left him out [against Monaco] because he’s been injured for a while and it would be a risk to put him in if he might get injured again. That’s why I would like a little bit more time with him to be sure... But we’re so happy with his progress."
A few players have missed training this week reveals Jürgen Klopp. Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge have "no chance" for Sunday but Firmino will be back with the team on Friday or Saturday so "he could be an option." Divock Origi was absent from Thursdays session due to illness "he wasn't feeling too good" and the Liverpool boss will wait and see. Dejan Lovren is fit after playing for the Under-23s on Monday evening and Philippe Coutinho is in a good way: “In training he has been perfect and looks confident." Henderson is targeting a return in the Merseyside derby on April 1st: "He should be back."