Features: The North London Derby, Gerrard’s last Merseyside derby, Mourinho seek for First Career win at Villa Park
By Oriade Ayomide
Opening week 24 of this EPL season will be the 156th North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Arsenal have won five of the last seven meetings between the two sides, with Spurs winning just one in that time. In those matches Arsenal’s record is scored: 16, conceded: 7.
The Gunners go into the fixture in blistering form having won five matches in a row scoring 15 goals and conceding 2.
Spurs are also on a good run of form in the league having won four of their last six league matches scoring 13 goals and conceding 7 in the process. Despite their recent form, Spurs have struggled at home this season with league defeats to West Brom, Stoke and FA Cup capitulation against Leicester indicative of their home frailties.
They can however take succor in their recent 5-3 thrashing of leaders Chelsea, and the fact that their arch rivals will be without their ‘Duracell Battery’ (Alexis Sanchez). Spurs will however have to stop the rage of Arsenal’s resurgent midfield led by the little magician, Santi Carzola. The Spaniard has been in sensational form since the start of December – his last ten games have yielded six goals and five assists.
With Coquelin marshalling the midfield behind him, Cazorla has had the license to more or less do as he pleases, and he has relished his newfound freedom. Such has been Cazorla’s influence in recent weeks that Paulinho or Ryan Mason may be tasked specifically with stopping the 30-year-old, but even that could benefit Arsenal by opening up space for the likes of Ozil, Walcott and Ramsey.
Spurs also carry their own threat in this regard. Harry kane has been a revelation this season with the midfielder already on 20 goals. His combination with Nacer Chadli was described as ‘unplayable for Chelsea defenders’ by Jose Mourinho in January. This combination will also be bolstered by the return of their midfield linchpin Nabil Bentaleb from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Matches between these two guarantees display of good football artistry and goals, as games between them have only failed to produce goals once in the last 15 years. (kick-off 1:45 pm)
Mourinho seek First Career win at Villa Park
In between the derbies will be Chelsea’s trip to Aston Villa. José Mourinho has never managed a team to victory at Villa Park. The Portuguese will have to orchestrate one this weekend if his team is to keep the five points’ gap intact, but will have to do it without the services of his two treasured assets; Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Villa were trounced 5-0 last time out by Arsenal and will have to be well organized against the league leaders to stand any chance in this fixture. Chelsea didn’t look convincing against Manchester City last weekend, but have been known for their ruthlessness against less fancied opposition this season.
Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor have fired blank in recent matches and Villa remain the lowest scoring team in the league with just 11 goals in 23 matches. Mourinho’s men have only won two league fixtures in which they have failed to lead at half time this season and if Villa can keep them out for the first 45 minutes, there could be an upset on the cards. This fixture ended 1-0 last season in favour of Villa with Mourinho and Willian sent to the stands. (kick-off 4:pm)
Rumble at Merseyside
Tagged the longest top-flight derby in England, the Merseyside derby is always a special fixture but this 224th derby will be the most special in recent years. Having made his 700th appearance for Liverpool in the FA Cup replay at Bolton on Wednesday night, Steven Gerrard would face Everton for the 33rd and probably his last time as a Liverpool player in the late EPL match on Saturday evening.
Liverpool currently top the EPL form Table; being the only side not to have lost a match in 2015. They have only lost once in 13 matches and Brendan Rodgers keeps pointing out that his sides are always stronger in the second half of the season than in the first.
More often than not, Liverpool go into the derby as favourites and this will be no exception. Everton have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Liverpool and Roberto Martinez’s team have picked up just nine points from a possible 33 since beating West Ham on 22 November, but one lesson football has often thought is that form counts for nothing on derby days.
Romelu Lukaku and his cohorts have been struggling to salvage Everton’s season but he can take courage from his records against Liverpool which has seen him scored four goals in his last five derby games. Ross Barkley, and Kelvin Mirallas will be at the heart of Everton midfield onslaughts with Aaron Lennon on loan from Spurs expected to add drive with his speed.
Philippe Coutinho is in the form of his life and is expected to partner Steven Gerrard who has five goals and two assists in his last six Premier League appearances against the Toffees. Liverpool have labored for goals since the departure of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s injury but Sturridge who has scored six career goals against Everton is expected to star for Liverpool after returning from injury.
With its rogue gallery of 20 red cards in the last 15 years, the Merseyside derby is the Premier League’s dirtiest game. However, the last six meetings have not produced a red card and Saturdays encounter promises a feisty and exciting football as Everton prepare to finally kick-start their way back to where they belong on the table. (Kick-off 6:30 pm)