Swansea City manager Paul Clement has described his side’s match against Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium as a ‘must win’ fixture as the relegation net starts to close in on the Welsh club. The Swans are currently two points from safety and with just five games remaining the pressure is certainly starting to build and time is in short supply.
Clement made an immediate when he was appointed in early January, dragging the club out of the relegation zone with a number of impressive victories, but the honeymoon period is well and truly over for the former Derby County manager and his team have picked up just one solitary point from their previous six Premier League contests.
To make things worse for Swansea, they face an opponent on Saturday that they have beaten just once in their last seven meetings.
Stoke put to bed any peripheral concerns about being sucked into a relegation battle when they defeated Hull City last weekend and The Potters will be looking forward to a tenth consecutive season in the Premier League next campaign, a significant achievement for the North Staffordshire club.
Mark Hughes has come under some pressure in recent weeks from a small portion of supporters but will still have hopes of claiming a fourth consecutive top-half finish with his side currently sitting eleventh in the league table.
When Paul Clement stepped in as Swansea City’s third manager of the campaign he made an immediate positive impact on the club that his predecessors, Franceso Guidolin and Bob Bradley, had failed to elicit.
The Swans picked up four victories in six games from late January through to early March, giving supporters genuine hope that they can secure survival, but they have suffered an alarming dip in form in recent weeks that threatens to undo all of the good work done at the turn of the year.
Swansea have picked up just one solitary point from their last six Premier League contests, a goalless draw on home soil against Middlesbrough in early April, and have found the net just twice during the same period.
Defensively they have a continuous fragility that Clement has been unable to rectify, with just one clean sheet in their last twenty five matches in all competitions, whilst at the other end of the pitch the goals have all but dried up for the attacking duo of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
In short, it does not make good reading for Swansea supporters.
Stoke City have had something of a topsy-turvy season that has been characterised by inconsistency and extended periods of poor form. In fact, Mark Hughes’ side put an end to one such run of form last weekend when they beat Hull City on home soil – it ended a run of four consecutive defeats and five games in total without a win.
The Welshman has come under increasing pressure from a section of the club’s fan base who believe that the team has regressed during the current campaign and the former Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers manager will be keen to end the season with a good run of results.
The Potters may be inconsistent but their strength still remains their home form. On the road Stoke have picked up just one victory from their last nine contests, a 3-1 win against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light back in mid-January, and have failed to find the back of the net in any of their previous five away contests.
However, Stoke do have a good record against teams in the bottom half of the table, all but one of their league victories have come against teams that currently sit below them in the table.
Swansea City will be sweating on the fitness of midfielder Jack Cork. The 27-year-old is a major doubt for this weekend’s contest after picking up an ankle injury, but the match against Stoke City is expected to come one week too soon for the all-action central midfielder.
The only other absentees will be Nathan Dyer and Angel Rangel who have both already been ruled out the remainder of the campaign due to injuries.
Paul Clement is not expected to make too many changes to the side that were beaten by Watford last weekend.
Tom Carroll could be recalled in an attempt to add more creativity to the midfield whilst Jordan Ayew and Borja Baston, who both came off the bench last time out, could be installed into the starting eleven should Clement wish to boost his attacking options.
Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen remains a major doubt and may be set to miss the return to his former club due to a hamstring injury picked up a fortnight ago whilst Glenn Whelan is also a doubt due to illness.
Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland have both been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee issue and broken leg respectively, but The Potters were boosted by the return of Jack Butland to the match day squad against Hull City.
The England goalkeeper has been absent from first team action for over a year after breaking his ankle whilst on international duty and could be in line for a recall should Mark Hughes decide that the 24-year-old needs some game time prior to the summer.
Stoke have tended to alter and switch their formation on a regular basis in recent months and Hughes has deployed 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 systems since the turn of the year.
Against Hull last weekend The Potters started in a 3-4-3 formation, although it is notable that it was not until a switch to 4-4-2 early in the second half that they took control of the game.
Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters both climbed off the bench and had a significant impact against Hull which could put Saido Berahino’s role in the starting eleven in doubt. The former West Bromwich Albion striker has yet to find the back of the net for his new club since signing for Stoke in late January.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
Match Verdict: Swansea City 1-1 Stoke City
Swansea City have undoubtedly hit a poor run of form at just the wrong time and Paul Clement has made it abundantly clear in the run up to the weekend that he sees the contest against Stoke City as a must win.
Unfortunately for The Swans they have beaten Saturday’s visitors just once in their last seven meetings, although Mark Hughes side have been ineffective on their travels in recent months and have failed to score in any of their previous five away fixtures.
Swansea will be desperate for a positive result but The Potters are due to pick up some points on the road. We predict a score draw.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Bournemouth: Premier League match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction
Tottenham Hotspur head into tomorrow’s clash with struggling Bournemouth still searching for their first Premier League victory at Wembley Stadium. Much as been made about Spurs’ hoodoo at the national stadium, where they are temporarily based while construction continues on their new ground.
Mauricio Pochettino’s charges have dropped more points at ‘home’ so far this season than in the entirety of the last campaign. However, they take on a Bournemouth outfit that have collected four points and are above only Crystal Palace in the league standings.
Despite their difficulties at Wembley, Tottenham are unbeaten in the top-flight since August and sit third in the table with 14 points from seven matches. Their demolition of Huddersfield Town before the international break, in which the in-form Harry Kane netted a brace, highlighted their ability to crush opponents.
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe will be acutely aware of the task facing his side. The Cherries have a terrible record against Spurs since being promoted to the Premier League and have yet to gain a single point on their travels this term.
Pochettino has no fresh injury concerns and could be boosted by the return of Mousa Dembele, who has recovered from a foot problem. Victor Wanyama is still sidelined with a knee injury, though. Harry Winks, who impressed on his England debut, is set to retain his place in the starting XI. Long-term absentees Danny Rose and Erik Lamela are several weeks away from first team action.
Howe’s line-up will depend on whether striker Joshua King passes a fitness test after suffering a tight hamstring for Norway. Ryan Fraser and Brad Smith are both poised to miss out, after suffering knocks during the international break. Callum Wilson has been continuing his recuperation by getting minutes under his belt for the Under-23s.
Match prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Bournemouth
Spurs have thrashed Bournemouth in the two fixtures between the clubs at White Hart Lane – and a change of venue is unlikely to bring the Cherries better fortune. If at their best, Howe’s side can at least give Tottenham something to think about and prey on the anxiety they have experienced at Wembley. However, with no away form to speak of, Spurs look set to be too strong.
Liverpool vs Manchester United: Premier League match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction
The two most successful clubs in the history of English football will resume hostilities tomorrow, when Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield. It is a mouth-watering return to the Premier League following the international break, which sees Jose Mourinho’s side put their unbeaten start to the season on the line. The atmosphere is sure to be electric for Saturday’s early kick-off and victory for the hosts would bring them to within four points of their fierce rivals.
With only one win from their past four top-flight outings, Liverpool’s form has stalled somewhat after a bright start. Scoring goals has not been a problem for Jurgen Klopp’s men – but in contrast, no club in the top half has shipped more. It is these defensive shortcomings which have been to blame for too many dropped points.
United meanwhile, have been mightily impressive, taking 19 points from 21. For all their attacking flair, they have also been watertight in defence, with the only goals they have conceded coming in the 2-2 draw away to Stoke City.
Klopp has been left reeling from the news that key player Sadio Mane has been ruled out from up to two months after injuring his hamstring during the international break, which means Daniel Sturridge may keep his place in attack. Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne are edging towards a return, although no date has yet been set.
United have selection problems of their own and will be without Marouane Fellaini, who suffered damage to his knee while playing for Belgium. Paul Pogba, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Marcus Rojo all remain sidelined.
Match prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United
Mourinho is a master tactician whose game-plan will be to keep it tight and frustrate Liverpool. Klopp’s team are more than capable of ruining his approach however, although Mane’s absence is a huge blow. The first goal will be crucial in deciding the outcome.
Everton vs Burnley: Premier League match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction
Everton will look to record just their third Premier League win of the season when a high-flying Burnley take the short trip across the north west to Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon.
Sean Dyche’s side have started the year in impressive fashion, losing just once in their opening six matches, and they’ll provide another stern test for an Everton side that are struggling to grind out results.
Yet Ronald Koeman will hope his side’s comeback victory over Bournemouth last time out can add some inspiration around Merseyside and kick-start a season that hasn’t got going just yet.
Despite spending over £100million during the summer on some well-known names, Everton have found it difficult to convert that into results on the pitch with just two wins from their first six league games.
Consecutive defeats against Chelsea (2-0), Tottenham (3-0) and Manchester United (4-0) had dampened spirits around Goodison somewhat but they secured a much-needed win last week against the Cherries.
Their Europa League adventure hasn’t quite gone to plan either, losing heavily away at Atalanta before being held at home by Cypriot minnows Apollon Limassol to leave them at the bottom of Group E.
The visitors have fared a little better so far this season, only losing the once against West Brom, and they’ve already surprised a few by drawing with Liverpool and Tottenham and seeing off Chelsea.
They’ll arrive on Merseyside with a fine away record too, unbeaten in their first three matches – all three of which ironically were against these top-six contenders – and they’ll want to extend the run.
Ronald Koeman could be without the services of both Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane after the defensive duo missed out on the draw with Apollon Limassol through respective injury problems.
That could see young Mason Holgate drafted into the centre of defence alongside Ashley Williams, with Everton potentially reverting to a four-man defensive system to cater for their lengthy injury list.
There’s little to report for Burnley ahead of Sunday’s clash, although Jonathan Walters could be in contention for a spot on the bench after recovering from an ongoing ligament problem in his ankle.
Match Prediction; Everton 2-1 Burnley
Ronald Koeman will be desperate to see a reaction from his team after their disappointing late set-back against ten-man Apollon on Thursday, and he will want to make it two wins from two in the league.
But it certainly won’t be an easy task against a disciplined Burnley team, who have only conceded five goals all season despite facing a tough run of away games against Premier League title contenders.
Oumar Niasse is in-line for a start after his starring role in the win last weekend and his presence could lift a depleted Everton side, and whilst it won’t be a stroll in the park the hosts should nick a close affair.
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