Swansea City v. Cardiff City: The South Wales derby resumes

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  • The last time this fixture was played at Liberty Stadium, Craig Bellamy scored the winner for Cardiff City.
  • If Premier League games ended at half-time so far this season, Cardiff would be bottom by seven points, Swansea would be 19th.
  • If Swansea lose this match it will be the first time they’ve ever lost three consecutive league games to their arch-rivals.

The second Premier League installment of the South Wales derby is set to take place Saturday 12:30pm ET on free to air NBC and streaming via Live Extra. Last time these two sides met a first half chess match turned into an up-tempo second half laced with bruising tackles and a single goal, from Cardiff’s Steven Caulker.

This time around the Welsh sides head to the Liberty Stadium where the atmosphere will be intense as the two relegation-threatened sides play out one of the best rivalries in the Premier League. Swansea City enter the match 12th in the table but just two points clear of the relegation zone. Making matters worse, the Swans must make do with long time defender Gary Monk at the helm after chairman Huw Jenkins fired manager Michael Laudrup earlier this week.

The firing comes after a poor domestic run of form where Swansea won only a single league match in their last ten. Part of the poor results has come from the caliber of the clubs Swansea have faced (Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City) but injuries to key players Michu and Michel Vorm have also dulled the club’s typically sharp play. Last week was one of the club’s weakest performances of the season, dropping a 2-0 decision to an under-whelming West Ham side.

Cardiff come into the weekend with a bit more kick to their step, having beaten Norwich 2-1 last Saturday. It was the Bluebirds first league victory since the 1-0 triumph over West Brom on December 14th. Very much a club settling into its own under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Cardiff made some key acquisitions in the January transfer window brining in Fabio and Wilfried Zaha from Manchester United, swapping Kenwyne Jones for Peter Odemwingie and buying three Norweigians, Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Mats Moller Daehli and Jo Inge Berget.

Critically for Swansea, Michu (ankle) and Vorm (knee) may both make their returns from injury while Jonjo Shelvey (hamstring) and Jose Canas (ankle) are late fitness tests. For Cardiff, defender Andrew Taylor remains sidelined with a calf injury while Mark Hudson is out for an extended period with a hamstring problem.

What They’re Saying

Caretaker manager Gary Monk: “It’s massive. The circumstances make it even bigger but we are focused on the football now. We lost the first game at their place and they will want to do us at our place. These are the sorts of games you want to play in and be a part of.”

Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer : “I know about the history of this fixture… I am aware there has never been a league double. This may be the time…. There is a passion among Cardiff fans which I knew about before and has been evident since I arrived. We understand what this fixture means to the fans.”

Predictions

It’s almost impossible to predict how Swansea will react to Laudrup’s firing. Typically players raise their level to impress the new manager but with Monk at the helm it could be a different story. At the end of the day, this match requires no greater motivation. Feels like a draw so what a special story it will be when the Swans pull this one off.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.