PREVIEW: WEEKEND ENGLISH ACTION
There are important battles at opposite ends of the standings for several Premier League yanks this weekend, amid vociferous and questionably hypocritical claims of unfair tactical replacements in midweek action.
Wolverhampton Wanderers - Burnley
Marcus Hahnemann will look to hold on to the goalkeepers jersey after being the only player from last Saturday's starting eleven to also start against Manchester United on Tuesday.
Head Coach Mick McCarthy has been the center of controversy this week after resting all of his outfield players in midweek so that they can be fit and available for Sunday's game, believing that this game is "more winnable."
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger was most unimpressed, as he felt that the decision had gifted Manchester United an unfair advantage and three uncontested league points. This is despite himself fielding a team of reserves against Olympiacos in the Champions League one week before, which it could be argued cost Lyon a place in the last sixteen of the competition.
In addition to goalie Matt Murray who has not played this season due to a serious knee injury, Wolves also have lost three important players over the last two weeks. Michael Kightly, Andy Keogh and David Edwards will all be out for several weeks with ankle injuries.
The Clarets will not have Jay Rodriguez available for selection as he is suffering with an ankle injury. Martin Paterson and Chris McCann will also be missing because of knee injuries.
Aston Villa - Stoke City
Brad Friedel will be keen to help his team consolidate their position in the standings for Champions League qualification while Brad Guzan will take his place on the bench as backup to his compatriot.
Curtis Davies has not yet recovered from a dislocated shoulder, and will be missing the game. Wilfred Bouma, who has been suffering with an ankle injury, and Craig Gardner with a back injury are both nearing full fitness, and may be included in the squad.
Abdoulaye Faye will not be available for the visitors due to a back injury. Robert Huth is suspended for one game, and will sit this one out.
Fulham - Manchester United
Clint Dempsey will return to the starting line-up after being rested for the first 70 minutes of Europa League action against FC Basel in midweek. Eddie Johnson will hope to make the list of substitutes.
Forward Andy Johnson suffered another setback in his recovery from surgery on a groin injury, and will be a serious doubt for this fixture. Simon Davies will definitely be unavailable with an ankle injury, as will Diomansy Kamara with a knee injury, but Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Dickson Etuhu are fit, and should see some involvement.
United have severe injury problems, especially in defense, and will be without Gary Neville with a groin strain, Wes Brown and Ryan Giggs with hamstring injuries, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand with calf injuries and John O' Shea with a thigh muscle strain. There could be a return this weekend for Edwin Van Der Sar, Nani and Owen Hargreaves, who are all training again.
Arsenal - Hull City
Jozy Altidore will be hoping to win back a starting slot against the Gunners after having to come on from the bench in the 66th minute against Blackburn last weekend.
The Gunners will be without Cesc Fabregas with a hamstring strain, along with Tomas Rosicky who has a groin strain and Robin Van Persie with an ankle strain. Kieran Gibbs has a broken foot, Nicklas Bendtner is suffering with a hernia, and Johan Djourou has a knee injury, but there is hope that Armand Traore and Gael Clichy may be able to feature after recovering from injury.
The Tigers will be without Jimmy Bullard and Ian Ashbee, who are both suffering with knee injuries.
Arsenal Head Coach Arsene Wenger has caused a stir in recent days with his complaints about the way that schedules are organized, as Hull have not played since last Saturday, whilst the game will be the hosts' third contest in seven days.
Everton - Birmingham City
Tim Howard and his team-mates will be aiming to put a stop to City's impressive run which has seen them win five successive games, and be unbeaten in eight when the teams meet on Sunday.
Everton have a large amount of injuries which include Dan Gosling, Joseph Yobo and Sylvain Distin with hamstring problems. Knee injuries rule out James Vaughn, Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka, Victor Anichebe and Mikel Arteta, whilst an ankle injury also rules out Leon Osman.
The Blues will lose Teemu Tainio and David Murphy to knee problems, with Stuart Parnaby also misses out due to a back injury. Mark Taylor has an ankle injury, and Garry O' Connor is being bothered with a troublesome hip injury.
Everton are reported to be close to signing American Landon Donovan on loan, however will still have to wait until January until the LA Galaxy man has a chance to bolster their ailing attack.
Leicester City - Watford
Jay DeMerit and his Watford colleagues will try to keep their minds on football amidst political infighting among directors that has taken the Hornets to the brink of "administration," a course of action that would see the team lose ten league points, and threaten them with the possibility of relegation.
Three directors were voted out, and have insisted that the parent company of the soccer team immediately repay nearly seven million dollars in loans owing to them with immediate effect, money which the club does not have readily at hand.
The Posh should have Gaby Zakuani back after a two month injury period. Aaron Maclean is the subject of intense transfer speculation, and has had a transfer request accepted, so may miss out due to doubts of his ability to concentrate on soccer matters.
The Hornets will be without Craig Cathcart who has a knee problem and Henri Lansbury, who is still out with a hip injury. In addition, Ross Jenkins has had surgery on his back, and will miss several weeks playing time.
Hereford United - Lincoln City
Eric Lichaj will be a starter on Friday night as Lincoln look to notch their first League Two win since October 10th.
The Bulls should see the return of Ryan Green and Richard Rose, giving Hereford head coach John Trewick a fully fit squad to choose from.
Anthony Pulis and Sergio Torres are still nursing ankle injuries, and will not play for the Imps, while Jamie Clarke is a doubt after limping off at Port Vale. Paul Green could make his first start of the season following recovery from major hip surgery.
Jonathan Spector will be on the bench as West Ham United host Chelsea on Sunday.
Frank Simek will be watching from the bench as struggling Sheffield Wednesday are at home to Swansea City.
Mike Grella will start on the bench as Leeds United welcome Southampton to Elland Road.
Jon-Paul Pittman is likely to be a substitute as Wycombe Wanderers host fellow strugglers Oldham Athletic.
Zak Whitbread is back in training after his hip injury, but will miss out when Millwall travel to London neighbors Charlton Athletic.
Ian Joyce will be ready to get involved as needed from the bench as Southend United visit Exeter City.
Jemal Johnson is unlikely to start as Milton Keynes Dons welcome Brentford to Stadium MK.
Seb Harris will be on the substitute's bench when Northampton Town make the journey to Darlington.