With no further international breaks until March, the Premier League is about to hit full throttle as the heavyweights seperate from the pack in the Winter period, a time where the smaller teams begin to tire and the title contenders flex their muscle.
Here is our preview of Matchday 12:
Arsenal v Tottenham
Unbeaten in their past four against the Gunners, Tottenham hit the first North London derby of the season in good spirits given their recent history, while also having qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. On the other hand, pressure is steadily intensifying on long-standing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, with his side 12 points off the pace of Manchester City having lost four of their first 11 matches of the season.
This looms a crucial fixture in the shape of the top six heading into the Christmas period, with Arsenal only four points adrift of Spurs in third.
Last Time They Played:
Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0 (White Hart Lane – April 30)
With a host of players from both sides involved in international football over the past week or so, there may be some shuffling of the packs given there will be some sore bodies.
Olivier Giroud is in doubt for Arsenal after sustaining a thigh injury with France, while Danny Welbeck is expected to be available.
Spurs stars Harry Kane (knee), Dele Alli (hamstring), Huge Lloris (groin) and Harry Winks (ankle) will all be available at the Emirates, having undergone 10 days of rehabilitation, returning to training on Thursday. However, in bad news for Tottenham fans, Toby Alderweireld has been ruled out until potentially next year with a serious hamstring injury.
Player to Watch: Harry Kane
With the links to Real Madrid only intensifying by the week, the time is now for Kane to physically drag the Spurs to within touching distance of Manchester City over this winter period, with his side eight points adrift. A loss at the Emirates could spell disaster for Tottenham but Kane’s record of 20 goals in his past 24 all-capital derbies (Arsenal, West Ham, Chelsea, Crystal Palace) just might alleviate that disaster. A former youth academy product at Arsenal, Kane was released after one season at just the age of eight and you have to wonder what could have been had Kane progressed through the ranks at the Gunners.
Prediction: Arsenal 0 Tottenham 2
Funnily enough, both teams have scored the exact number of goals this season (20) but it is their defence that sets them apart. Spurs hold the far superior record of just seven goals conceded in 11 matches, while Arsenal have let through 16.
With three of Tottenham’s best players fresh and rested following a 10-day break, there should be no excuse for Spurs not to get the points at the Emirates against an Arsenal side who have failed to inspire this season.
Despite sitting six points off fifth-placed Liverpool in 13th, Southampton pose an outstanding recent record against the Reds, unbeaten in their past five having won three of them and conceding just four goals in total. They have never gone six in a row without defeat.
Nevertheless, the Reds dismantling of West Ham in their past outing is difficult to get a read on given where the London club are at, while the Saints were shocked at home by Burnley. An intriguing contest awaits.
Last Time They Played:
In a timely boost for Liverpool, Sadio Mane returned to training this week and is expected to be available for Liverpool following a minor injury on international duty with Senegal. Adam Lallana has also returned to full training after a length injury lay-off and is a chance to feature off the bench. While he won’t be lacing the boots up, Jurgen Klopp is also expected to be on the touchline despite being unwell this week.
Player to Watch: Mohamed Salah
The Egyptian dynamo has made a glittering start to his Liverpool career, with 13 goals in his opening 19 appearances in all competitions, proving an astute buy for the club. His recent form leaps of the page even more so, with six goals in his past five matches and a reunion with partner-in-crime Mane could spell danger for Southampton.
Despite the Saints impressive recent record, you cannot see Liverpool going six matches without a win against Pellegrino’s men.
With Sane and potentially Lallana also to return in some capacity, Klopp will be gifted with his most powerful attacking squadron of players this season as his side looks to address their early-season slump over the winter period.
The Devilsreturn from the international break with an eye for victory against Newcastle on the back of their last Premier League outing against Chelsea, which ended in a disappointing loss.
The 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge before the break leaves Jose Moutinho’s men eight points behind their cross-town rivals, who remain unbeaten ahead of their trip to Leicester City this weekend.
Newcastle have remained solid without setting the world alight in their return to the top-flight. 10 goals, 10 conceded and four wins from 11 matches, but they travel to Old Trafford on the back of consecutive 1-0 defeats in the Premier League.
Last Time They Played
Phil Jones could be fit to face the Magpies despite coming off injured in England’s draw with Germany, while Michael Carrick and Paul Pogba are still not fit to return after long-term injury set-backs.
Doubts surround the fitness of Christian Atsu, Jamaal Lascelles and Mikel Merino, while there are no indications as to whether goalkeeper Rob Elliot will be available after he left the Republic of Ireland squad before their World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark because of a personal matter. Meanwhile, Paul Dummett is back in training for the first time since he was injured in the opening minutes of the season and is considered a chance to make the squad.
While we’d usually opt for a player to watch, it would be reminisce of us not to acknowledge the managerial battle at play here, with Mourinho and Benitez to resume hostilities after a ten-year hiatus. In what was once one of the most gripping rivalries of the Premier League era, the pair were pitted against each other 16 times in under three years as managers of Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, with Mourinho claiming seven wins to Benitez’s five. However, the Spaniard arguably edged the personal battle by securing two Champions League semi-final triumphs against ‘The Special One’. With their careers having spanned into different directions but appearing intertwined at times, the pair have not crossed paths since August 2007, a 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea. On Saturday, the battle resumes.
Prediction: Manchester United 2 Newcastle 0
On a positive note for United, it appears as though they have regained the Old Trafford supremacy they have lacked in spades since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, with eight wins from eight matches in all competitions, 24 goals scored and just one conceded.
Mourinho will be well aware that if anyone were to impede on that perfect record it would be Benitez, even with a mid-table squad at his disposal as opposed to previous encounters.
United have made short work of the lesser clubs this season and you’d expect them to do so again this weekend, possessing a hardened defensive edge that the Magpies lack while having numerous players in attack to do the damage at the other end.
Other Matchday 12predictions:
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Stoke City 1