Premier League, Week 15 Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle, Relegation Rumble, more

IMAGE, CHELSEAFC.COM

Hosting Chelsea at St. James Park may be the only saving grace for Alan Pardew’s men as Newcastle host the red-hot Premiership leaders.

Chelsea are undefeated on the season (11-3-0, 36 pts.), six points past defending league champs, Manchester City.  Newcastle, however, scratched and clawed their way back to top ten status, riding a five game winning streak past a winless start to the season.

Pardew’s job is once again secure, but a result against Chelsea is clearly no sure thing.  Even with the return of Moussa Sissoko and Jack Colback to the roster, containing Chelsea’s calculated attack will be a an uphill battle.  The likely absence of Fabricio Coloccini won’t help matters, either.  A loss, while perhaps expected, would bring Newcastle to an even 5-5-5 record, inviting chatter on the team’s strength once more.

On the other side, Chelsea look to perform in a less than inviting arena.  They remain as potent as ever with Diego Costa returning to the lineup, hauling 11 goals on his back, and Eden Hazard playing inspired football across the field.  However, their last road match — a 0-0 draw vs. toothless Sunderland — proves teams can find success against the traveling Blues.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

More Than Just One Player Teams: Manchester City and Arsenal have been buoyed by the play of standout goalscorers Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez.  The Argentine dynamo leads the league with 14 goals while Sanchez, who net the winner this week against Southampton, is third with nine.

Arsenal are a single point out of the top five as they visit Stoke this week.  Mark Hughes’ men are on a three match snide, falling to Manchester United, Liverpool and a lowly Burnley side.  Historically, the Gunners have struggled  at the Britannia, winners of one in their last eight matches as visitors in Stoke.  Both teams have injury concerns, but it is the Gunners who find themselves with more to prove and play for.  Three points separates them from a top three finish or a collapse to mid table.  Containing Sanchez will be key for Stoke as the Chilean has scored nine of the team’s 22 goals this season.

City is in a similar situation.  Second in the league and six points behind Chelsea, Manchester face a floundering Everton side — winners of one in their last five games.  Roberto Martinez’s magic has worn thin early this year, with the team’s attacking flare lacking the workmanlike identity of the Moyes era.

The Toffees will be buoyed of course by the absence of Vincent Kompany and David Silva, but even their void will lend little help in the Etihad.

Relegation Rumble: Harry Redknapp has been snakebite all season long as QPR’s Premiership resurrection looks to be short lived.  However, they can help themselves out of the zone with a positive result against Burnley.

Loftus Road has been a site of recent success for the club and they will need that extra push against their fellow bottom dwellers.  A win can potentially lift either club out of the bottom three.  That will be important to each, particularly as the winter transfer window approaches and potential suitors are lured in.

Leicester City vs. Aston Villa brings two struggling sides together as well.  Christian Benteke’s return has field a small resurgence for the Villains, particularly after their midweek win over Crystal Palace on the road.  A terrible slide has seen Villa resurface, going undefeated in their last four matches (1-4-0).  Leicester, meanwhile, looks destined for the Championship.  They last won ten games ago in a memorable upset of Manchester United, and have since gone winless (0-2-6).   Hull and West Brom and 17 and 16 respectively round out the relegation wars this weekend, with the Tigers hoping to give the home crowd their first win in seven matches.

Top Five Clash: ‘Monday Night Football’ features a cracker between a resurgent Manchester United and Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium.  Both teams are currently behind City and Chelsea at the top of the table.  Unlikely Southampton have done so with the stingiest defense in the league, letting up all of 10 goals this season.  They have, however, gone winless in their last three games.

United, meanwhile, have resurrected their season in convincing fashion with wins over Palace, Arsenal, Hull and Stoke.  They will, however, limp into St. Mary’s with Angel di Maria, Jonny Evans, Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Rafael and Phil Jones out.

As an aside, this match will feature the first time in Premiership history that two Dutch bosses man the touchline in Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal.  With both sides jockeying for position, this top four clash is the match of the week in the Premiership.