We have midweek Premier League action this week, and while most of the top-half teams are saved for tomorrow, there are still some important matches today in the relegation picture, with a trio of matches kicking off at 2:45 ET.
Most notably, a Midlands derby brings us Aston Villa vs West Brom, as Tim Sherwood and Tony Pulis do battle with their new squads. Tim Sherwood has yet to pick up a single point in two matches in charge of Villa, and they remain in the relegation zone, but snagging his first win today would pull the Claret & Blue out of the drop and send them above three other clubs.
Sherwood believes should they win today, Villa would “never look back” as they rise out of the relegation area. Their drop to the Championship would be a big story, given they were a founding member of the Premier League and have played in every year since despite flirting with the drop multiple times. Villa has not won since December 7.
Hull City also hosts Sunderland, with the two teams just a point apart in the bottom quarter of the table. Hull City is just four points above the relegation zone, while Sunderland precariously lays a point behind them and three above the flashing red lights. The Tigers are coming off a match where they produced just a single shot against Stoke City over the weekend, and they take on a Sunderland side that has won once since the holiday season.
But with Sunderland now stunned with Adam Johnson – who scored in this reverse fixture on Boxing Day – now suspended indefinitely following his arrest for his alleged sexual encounter with an underage girl, Hull City could make its move. Three points for either side here would be absolutely enormous, and could mark a third home win in a row for the Tigers to give Steve Bruce some wiggle room.
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Finally, Southampton welcomes a roaring Crystal Palace squad, a matchup of teams on either ends of the table but also trending in opposite directions. Palace has been revitalized under Alan Pardew and got back to winning ways this weekend with a 3-1 victory over West Ham. Pardew arrived at Palace with the club in the relegation zone, and now has them a whopping eight points clear.
Saints, meanwhile, are just trying to cling to their European position for dear life. They sit a pair above Tottenham in sixth position, but have lost two straight and four of their last five. Graziano Pelle hasn’t scored in a whopping 10 matches, and after missing an absolute sitter over the weekend, there are calls for him to get a spell on the bench. Last time Alan Pardew visited St. Mary’s, he was in charge of Newcastle and was hammered 4-0 back in September. Now he gets another chance with a different squad.
What they’re saying
Aston Villa’s Tim Sherwood on two losses so far: “Zero points could have easily been six, it could have been four. We have to bounce back and get points as soon as we can.”
West Brom’s Tony Pulis on Tim Sherwood: “I like Tim. He’s a very, very honest, straight-talking chap. There’s no fluff surrounding him. He’s a good football man, he’s worked for some good managers and coaches and has taken lots of good things on board. He is what he is and he’ll leave all the jargon to other people.”
Hull City’s Steve Bruce on the relegation battle: “We’re in a horrible dogfight and there’s eight or nine teams in with us who are all feeling it. Two weeks ago we were in the bottom three and now we’re four points clear, but we’ve got to maintain it. We’re not out of the woods yet. If you can put another couple of results together at this particular stage of the season, it will really help.”
Gus Poyet on Sunderland’s position: “To play a certain kind of football I like you need to play with your heart but also be calm. There’s a tension but at the same time on the ball you need to relax. I don’t think there will be too much relaxing now. It’s a different kind of game now. We have to try our nuts off. We need to get something, somehow. It’s not about beautiful football any more, it’s just about making sure you beat your rival. I’m convinced we’ll be OK but I’m trying to make sure we do the right thing now. That’s a challenge and a big responsibility. It would be better not to be going through this again.”
Alan Pardew on Crystal Palace’s aims: “We need to stay in the division, it’s as simple as that. That’s our only goal.”
Ronald Koeman on scoring early: “I think [our results are] also a lot down to scoring in the game. I think 90 per cent of when we scored the first goal we won the games. That means for us it is a comfortable situation. But if we are down in the result then it makes it difficult. We still try, we still have the spirit to score, but the opponents make it very difficult for us and then you need to be patient, then you need quality in the last part of the attacking.”
Aston Villa: Ron Vlaar was suspended for the weekend for yellow card accumulation but is doubtful today with a calf injury. Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho are no-go’s. Allan Hutton must also prove fit before the match.
West Brom: Victor Anichebe is a definite no with a groin problem, while Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye are question marks. Berahino would be the biggest loss by far, as he limped off against Southampton with a foot injury.
Hull City: Robbie Brady is looking at the possibility of six weeks out after picking up a calf injury, but the rest is good news. Dame N’Doye was rested Saturday and should be back, while Nikica Jelavic has a swollen knee but should be good to go.
Sunderland: Adam Johnson is suspended by the club and unavailable, but Wes Brown is ready to go after winning his red card appeal for wrongful dismissal. The rest is good news as well, with Jack Rodwell, Ricky Alvarez and Billy Jones all set to make returns.
Southampton: Toby Alderweireld is available after seven weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring tear. That appears to have cleared up the only injury problem for Southampton aside from Jay Rodriguez’s long-term injury.
Crystal Palace: Mile Jedinak was suspended four matches for throwing an elbow at Diafra Sakho over the weekend, and decided not to appeal. Glenn Murray is also suspended, and a group of Jordan Mutch, Frazier Campbell, Marouane Chamakh, and Yaya Sanogo are all out, the latter trio with hamstring injuries.