Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane host Newcastle United in a match that opens up Matchweek 26 as another thrilling weekend of Barclays Premier League action gets under way.
IT'S MATCH-WEEK 26 IN THE BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE.
Here we preview all week 26 matches as the EPL season gradually draws to a close.
>>Tottenham vs Newcastle United:
Last season this same fixture ended in a 5-0 annihilation of the Magpies at White Hart Lane.
The Magpies though, fresh from their victory over Chelsea and lifted by their new January signings, will be looking to complete a League double over Spurs following their 2-1 win at St James' Park in August.
Alan Pardew's side just recorded their first back-to-back wins of the season last week, but now face a fearsome trip to White Hart Lane having lost each of their last three Premier League visits without scoring a goal.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is striker-light with Jermain Defoe out with an ankle injury and Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor's involvement is not certain depending on his fitness following his almost month-long participation in the African Cup of Nations. In-form Gareth Bale is likely to start up-front alongside Clint Dempsey in a possible 4-4-2 formation.
Newcastle on the other hand will be welcoming Ivory Coast's Cheikh Tiote after his involvement in the Africa Cup of Nation ended with the 2-1 loss to Nigeria on Sunday. Moussa Sissoko should retain his shirt after his man-of-the-match display against Chelsea.
Referee Phil Dowd is in charge and he has awarded more penalties than any other official in the EPL this season, 8 in 16 games.
>>Chelsea vs Wigan Athletic:
The Blues' recent form has been dire as the Champions League holders are without a victory in four and will be desperate to end that winless run against a Roberto Martinez side that's optimistic of getting points from Stamford Bridge.
We expect a flurry of goals in this encounter knowing fully well that Chelsea have scored exactly two goals in each of their last four Premier League games and on each of the last three occasions Frank Lampard and Juan Mata has one apiece, Wigan as well have recorded at least two goals in their last three League matches. Wigan have also kept just one clean sheet in thier last 15 Premier League games.
Demba Ba who suffered a broken nose in Chelsea last game against Newcastle could be in contention to start for the host. Fernando Torres is also available.
Eden Hazard returns from suspension for being sent off for attacking a Swansea ball boy. Wigan's top scorer Aroune Kone is also back from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Note; chelsea's gaffer Rafa Benitez has 22 points from 13 Premier League games, Roberto Di Matteo was sacked with 24 from 12 matches.
>>Norwich vs Fulham:
At Carrow Road, it's the battle between the 14th and 13th placed teams in the Barclays Premier League. Fulham will be looking to improve at the back after a run of 11 Premier League games without a clean sheet, the longest current run in the top-flight.
The Canaries though are one of three Premier League teams yet to win a penalty in the Premier League this season along with Swansea and Tottenham. A higher proportion of the goals Norwich have scored this season have been from headers than any other team in the top flight with 36%.
After a 10-match unbeaten run with 6 wins, 4 draws and have lost none, Norwich City have also won none of their last eight Premier League matches having 3 draws and 5 loses. And they have failed to score in three of their last four Premier League games and netted just once in the other game against Spurs.
>>Stoke City vs Reading:
Going into this match at the Britana stadium, Stoke have scored the highest proportion of goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches of any team in the top division this season with 25%.
While Reading on the other hand have scored the highest proportion of goals in the final 15 minutes of games with 41% and the most in total in that period with 13. Reading's Adam Le Fondre has scored five goals in his last four Premier League appearances, all off the substitutes bench. Stoke City have won just one of their last 10 Premier League matches drawing 5 and losing 4.
Reading have an edge going this encounter having won four and lost none of the last seven meetings with Stoke City in all competitions excluding penalty shootouts. Stoke City though have committed more fouls than any other team in the Premier League and earned the joint-most cards, 49 yellows and two reds along with Aston Villa.
>>Sunderland vs Arsenal:
Both sides enter the contest in mixed form, with the away side looking for three points in an attempt to gain ground on rivals Spurs who are 4th on the League standings, and four points ahead.
Arsene Wenger's side faces injury crisis with Laurent Koscielny(calf), Thomas Vermaelen(ankle), Kieran Gibbs (thigh) and Francis Coquelin (hamstring)all either doubtful or ruled out of this encounter. Aaron Ramsey is also doubtful after missing Wales' midweek friendly with Austria due to a calf strain.
Martin O’Neill on the other hand will be without Carlos Cuellar (hamstring) from the heart of his defence, soTitus Bramble will continue alongside John O'Shea.
The Irishman will captain the team in Lee Cattermole's (knee) absence, although the Stockton-born midfielder could make a return to the bench in this game.
You don't want to bet against Sunderland's Steven Fletcher who has scored the first goal of the game six times this season, more often than any other Premier League player getting the first goal in this match. Arsenal have made 13 errors leading to a goal in the Premier League this season; more than any other team in the league.
Sunderland's defence will definitely have their eyes on Lukas Podolski who has played a part in 10 goals over his last eight Premier League appearances for Arsenal with four goals and six assists. Just three of Arsenal’s 23 attempts at goal were on target as they drew 0-0 with Sunderland in the reverse fixture at the Emirates earlier this season.
Swansea vs Queens Park Rangers:
The reverse fixture of this game saw Swansea net five goals from juts six shots on target when they trounced QPR at Loftus Road on the opening day.
QPR have drawn their last four Premier League matches, with three of those games ending goaless.
With 29 players QPR have used more players than any other Premier League team this season after using the most in 2011-12 with 35. Swansea City though are on the longest run of any current Premier League club without having won a penalty in 35 games.
Swansea City's goalie Gerhard Tremmel has saved the highest percentage of opposition shots on target of any goal keeper in the top flight with a record 81.7%.
The German stopper has also been forced into a save every 21 minutes on average, no goalkeeper has been more busy even though he's levelled with Queen Park Ranger's Julio Cesar.
We won't be expecting goals aplenty with the Swans having scored the lowest percentage of set piece goals this season (9%) and conceded the highest proportion (54%) and Rangers having scored with just 7.8% of their shots this season, the lowest conversion rate in the top flight and meaning they need, on average, 13 shots for every goal scored.
>>Southampton vs Manchester City:
The reverse fixture ended in favour of the defending champions Manchester City 3 goals to 2. The Saints netted from their only two shots on target when they lost to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season, precisely on the 29th of August 2012.
With two draws from their last two games, Manchester City now find themselves trailing League leader Manchester United with 9 points.
The defending champions will be looking to cut that gap to 6 at least momentarily with the tricky trip to the St. Mary's Stadium, as Manchester United play a day later.
Both sides will have their eyes keen on Eden Dzeko of Manchester City who has scored five goals in his last six Premier League appearances and Southampton's Rickie Lambert who also have scored five goals in his last eight Premier League matches but all of them have come in away games.
Southampton have won none of their games against team currently in the top half of the Premier League table drawing 5 and losing 8, while Manchester City have won nine and lost none of their 10 games against teams currently in the bottom eight places in the Premier League table.
Six of Southampton’s last eight Premier League matches have ended as draws winning 1, drawing 6 and losing 1 while Manchester City have drawn their last two.
>>Aston Villa vs West Ham:
Paul Lambert’s side are on a run of nine Premier League games without a clean sheet; only Fulham in 11 games are on a longer current run in the Premier League.
Aston Villa have won none of their last eight Premier League games drawing 3 and losing 5 and overall they have picked up just 31 points in their last 40 Premier League games. While the Hammers have earned 30 points in their last 25 Premier League matches.
Both teams are in a run of bad form with the Hammers having taken just one point from the last 21 available on the road and scored just five goals in their last nine games away from home in the Premier League, and Aston Villa having scored just two goals in their last seven Premier League matches at Villa Park.
Christian Benteke has now scored in four successive appearances for Aston Villa in all competitions with five goals.
Only Stoke (326) have committed more fouls in the Premier League this season than West Ham (319) while Aston Villa have seen fewer opponents booked against them than any other team in the Premier League with 20 yellows and one red.
Referee Mark Clattenburg who will be in charge of this match has shown more red cards than any other official this season with six in 14 games.
>>Manchester United vs Everton:
Everton’s 4-4 draw with the Red Devils last season arguably derailed United's title challenge with two goals in the last seven minutes, turning three points into one as Manchester City eventually won the league on goal difference.
Rooney comes up against his former club Everton on Sunday in a fixture which United have dominated particularly at Old Trafford since the Premier League’s inception. United have beaten the Toffees 29 times in the Premier League and have not lost to them in their last 12 games at home.
Wayne Rooney has scored eight goals in his last seven Premier League appearances and has scored or assisted 17 goals in 17 Premier League apps overall this term. Manchester United have earned more points this season than they have ever done in Premier League history after 25 games with 62 points.
Manchester United have scored the most headed goals in the top flight this season with 13 while Everton have conceded the most with 12. Everton have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League games, while Manchester United are 13 games without defeat.
>>Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion:
Monday night football sees West Bromwich Albion travel to the Anfield stadium to take on Liverpool.
Liverpool haven't beaten any of the other teams in the top half of the Premier League this season going into this weekend matches.
After losing the first nine Premier League games against Liverpool without scoring a single goal, West Brom have won three of the last four and losing just one.
Liverpool have scored the joint-most goals from outside the penalty area of any team in the top division with 9 goals, while West Brom had conceded the joint-most from long range going into the weekend with 9 also along with Norwich. Brendan Rodgers’ side have kept five clean sheets in their last six Premier League matches at Anfield including the last three in a row.
West Brom on the other hand have kept just one clean sheet in their last 29 Premier League away games but that was in their 1-0 win at Anfield in April 2012.
Daniel Sturridge has scored in three of his four Premier League appearances for Liverpool.
Steven Gerrard has now equalled his highest ever assist total in a single Premier League season with 9 so far. Luis Suarez has averaged a shot every 21 minutes, a more prolific rate than any other player in the top flight.
Liverpool have won just one of their last 10 Premier League games where the opposition has scored drawing 5 and losing 4 while the Baggies have lost five and won none of their last six Premier League matches.
David Obasogie is a vibrant soccer pundit and a presenter on Sport Digest on NOUN Radio 105.9 fm. You can follow him on twitter on @Dhaveedobas and his face book ID is simply David Obasogie