Football: Weekend guide to the Premiership

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Nottingham Forest v Arsenal

Last season: No fixture

EVEN BEFORE his arrival at the club, Nottingham Forest's new manager, Ron Atkinson (left) launched a salvo to the club's players to let them know what he expects from them when he returns from holiday in Barbados three hours before kick-off this afternoon. "It's all about being positive in the coming weeks, and if anyone wants to think negative they can go and take their thoughts elsewhere," he said. "There's no place for them. It's out of our hands what other clubs do."

Forest have fitness doubts over four players for Atkinson's first game in charge. Chris Bart-Williams has been nursing an ankle injury while captain Steve Chettle has been confined to bed with the flu. Alan Rogers is still being troubled by the thigh problem that has forced him to miss the last two games, and Pierre van Hooijdonk is still feeling the effects of a calf injury. The quartet will undergo late fitness tests but definitely out of the reckoning is Steve Stone, who must serve a one-match ban. His place is likely to go to either Thierry Bonalair or Andy Gray.

Forest, who look likely to finally sign Carlton Palmer from Southampton for pounds 1.1m early next week, have not won in the league for a Premiership- record 18 matches, a string of results which stretches back to 29 August. They are seven points from the top of the relegation zone and face a testing run of fixtures, with Manchester United and Chelsea the next visitors to the City Ground after the Gunners. Atkinson will pick today's Forest line-up even though he has not seen them play in person.

Arsene Wenger (right) is likely to have his side strengthened by the return of Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn, but midfielder Patrick Vieira starts a three-match suspension and Luis Boa Morte has a knee injury. Adams, who had a run-out with the reserves on Monday to prove his fitness after seven weeks out with back trouble, replaces Steve Bould who has a bruised knee after being carried off against Liverpool last Saturday. Winterburn, also a long-term absentee with hamstring trouble, replaces French youngster David Grondin having made his fitness condition clear in the same reserve game as Adams. Bergkamp is back after missing two games with a shin injury and will link up with Nicolas Anelka in attack. New signing Nwankwo Kanu is ineligible until he receives a British work permit. Fredrik Ljungberg and Stephen Hughes are still on the injured list along with England goalkeeper David Seaman and Alex Manninger will continue to deputise in goal.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (from): Beasant, Lyttle, Louis-Jean, Rogers, Armstrong, Chettle, Hjelde, Doig, Bonalair, Gemmill, Johnson, Bart-Williams, Van Hooijdonk, Freedman, Shipperley, Woan, Darcheville, Williams, Harewood, Gray, Quashie, Crossley.

ARSENAL (from): Manninger, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Overmars, Petit, Anelka, Garde, Wreh, Vivas, Bergkamp, Mendez, Upson, Caballero, Lukic.

Suspensions: Forest: Stone. Arsenal: Vieira.

Referee: D Elleray.

Chelsea v


Last season: 3-1

CHELSEA'S MICHAEL DUBERRY is suspended today as his side look to extend an unbeaten run that stretches back to the opeing game of the season when today's visitors, Coventry, became the first and only side to beat them in the league this season. Duberry's absence is likely to mean Frenchman Marcel Desailly moving back into central defence, with Dennis Wise, Roberto Di Matteo and Jody Morris competing for the central midfield spots. Left-sided midfielder Celestine Babayaro is available again after missing last weekend's victory at Newcastle through suspension, but Gustavo Poyet, Tore Andre Flo and Pierluigi Casiraghi remain on the long-term injury list.

Coventry's Dutch midfielder George Boateng and winger Steve Froggatt return to the squad after one-match bans. Noel Whelan is suspended and his place on the left will go to Froggatt. The right side of midfield is expected to be between Boateng and Paul Telfer, who scored in City's 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest last weekend, which also saw Darren Huckerby's second hat-trick in two games.

CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Hitchcock, Kharine, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux, Ferrer, Myers, Lambourde, Babayaro, Petrescu, Wise, Goldbaek, Newton, Di Matteo, Nicholls, Morris, Terry, Vialli, Zola, Forssell.

COVENTRY CITY (from): Hedman, Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Burrows, Telfer, McAllister, Soltvedt, Huckerby, Aloisi, Froggatt, Boateng, Jackson, Giaocchini, Breen, Edworthy, Quinn, Ogrizovic.

Suspensions: Chelsea: Duberry. Coventry: Whelan.

Referee: J Winter.

Derby County v


Last season: 3-1

DERBY'S CAPTAIN Igor Stimac could play his first game since 31 October today. An ankle injury has kept the Croatian defender out of the last 11 matches but he came through a reserve game on Wednesday and is in the squad, although the Rams manager, Jim Smith, rates him as "doubtful". Darryl Powell is out with a knee injury but Stefan Schnoor and Francesco Baiano are available, having come through the same reserve match. Deon Burton is likely to play up front in place of Paulo Wanchope, who starts a three-match ban, and Tony Dorigo - who has been suffering from a hamstring strain - is also in the squad.

Blackburn's Tim Flowers has been missing for two months with a bicep injury, and although the England goalkeeper rejoins the squad he is unlikely to get much more than a place on the bench because of the outstanding recent form of the Australian John Filan. Kevin Gallacher (calf) faces a fitness test as Rovers look to increase their unbeaten run to eight. Kevin Davies is unlikely to feature after suffering a recurrence of a throat problem. Christian Dailly (thigh) will also be missing against the club he was bought from last season.

DERBY COUNTY (from): Poom, Prior, Carbonari, Stimac, Laursen, Dorigo, Carsley, Eranio, Bohinen, Baiano, Sturridge, Burton, Schnoor, Elliott, Hunt, Harper, Hoult.

BLACKBURN (from): Filan, Kenna, Broomes, Henchoz, Davidson, Sherwood, McKinlay, Gillespie, Wilcox, Duff, Ward, Peacock, Dunn, Fettis, Blake, Croft, Flowers, Gallacher.

Suspensions: Derby: Wanchope.

Referee: P Alcock.

Leeds Utd v


Last season: No fixture

LEEDS' ENGLAND U-20 defender Jonathon Woodgate misses today's match at Elland Road against his home town club Middlesbrough due to a one-match ban following his sending-off at Rushden and Diamonds in the FA Cup two weeks ago. Manager David O'Leary can at least count on the services again of a fit Lucas Radebe, who came through the 3-1 replay win unscathed following five games out with a knee injury. New signing Willem Korsten, on loan until the end of the season, played his first game for Leeds in the reserves defeat at Sunderland and may be added to the squad.

The Middlesbrough midfielder Robbie Mustoe is expected to return after missing the game against Aston Villa with a sciatica problem. Captain Andy Townsend serves a one-match suspension for the game but defender Colin Cooper returns from a ban. Boro have won only won of their last 15 games at Leeds, a 1-0 win in May 1996. They scored only eight goals in those 15 games and never scored more than one in any game.

LEEDS UNITED (from): Martyn, Haaland, Radebe, Wetherall, Wijnhard, Hasselbaink, Ribeiro, Bowyer, Hopkin, Granville, Halle, Kewell, Harte, McPhail, Smith, Jackson, Korsten, Robinson.

MIDDLESBROUGH (from): Schwarzer, Beresford, Fleming, Stockdale, Cooper, Festa, Vickers, Pallister, Gordon, Blackmore, Stamp, Summerbell, Mustoe, Maddison, Gascoigne, Deane, Ricard, Beck, Moore.

Suspensions: Leeds: Woodgate. Boro: Townsend.

Referee: S Lodge.

Leicester v

Man Utd

Last season: 0-0

LEICESTER'S TOP scorer Emile Heskey is struggling to be fit in time for today's match against Manchester United. The 21-year-old is suffering from a heavy cold and was ordered to stay away from the team's training ground yesterday. Central defenders Frank Sinclair and Matt Elliott are both out suspended and recent signing Andy Impey faces a late fitness test on an injured calf. The Foxes have won only once in United's last seven league visits to Filbert Street, 3-0 in November 1996.

Manchester United's Alex Ferguson has virtually a full-strength squad to choose from. England trio Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville are back in contention following their mid-season breaks, but definitely out is Teddy Sheringham, who has a knee injury. Ferguson may give Peter Schmeichel an extra weekend off and continue with Raimond van der Gouw in goal. United are one of three sides (along with Chelsea and Aston Villa) who could top the Premiership table after this weekend's programme, and after last week's 4-1 thrashing of West Ham, will be in no mood to let three points escape them today.

LEICESTER CITY (from): Keller, Arphexad, Taggart, Walsh, Izzet, Lennon, Heskey, Parker, Guppy, Kaamark, Campbell, Ullathorne, Marshall, Fenton, Impey, Wilson, Cottee, Zagorakis, Oakes.

MANCHESTER UNITED (from): Schmeichel, Van der Gouw, G Neville, P Neville, Brown, Irwin, Johnsen, Stam, Berg, Butt, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, Blomqvist, Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer.

Suspensions: Leicester: Sinclair, Elliott.

Referee: S Dunn.

Liverpool v


Last season: 2-3

DOMINIC MATTEO will get the opportunity to revive his Liverpool career with a place in the starting line-up against Southampton at Anfield today. Matteo has not started a Premiership game this season and has struggled with a knee problem but he will replace Steve Staunton (groin). Stig Bjornebye is available again after suspension but Steve Harkness could hold his place after a solid performance at Arsenal last week as stand-in for the Norwegian.

Scott Marshall is in contention to start only his third game for Southampton. The former Arsenal defender, who has missed the last three months with a back injury, is in line for a recall as Ken Monkou starts a three-match ban after being sent off against Fulham at the start of the month. Carlton Palmer is included in the squad after his expected move to Nottingham Forest stalled in midweek. Captain Jason Dodd and midfielder Matt Le Tissier are both hoping to recover from ankle injuries in time to play while young defenders Gary Monk and Phil Warner are both available again following one-match bans.

LIVERPOOL (from): James, Heggem, Carragher, Babb, Matteo, Harkness, Bjornebye, Ince, Redknapp, Berger, Owen, Fowler, Riedle, McAteer, Friedel, Thompson, Kvarme.

SOUTHAMPTON (from): Jones, Dodd, Colleter, Lundekvam, Marshall, Palmer, Howells, Oakley, Le Tissier, M Hughes, Ostenstad, Beattie, Monk, Bridge, Warner, Basham, Hiley, Stensgaard.

Suspension: Southampton: Monkou.

Referee: U Rennie.

Tottenham v Wimbledon

Last season: 0-0

MAURICIO TARICCO could make his long-awaited debut for Tottenham at home to Wimbledon today. The Argentinian full-back had an ankle injury when Spurs bought him from Ipswich towards the end of last year for pounds 1.75m but is now fully fit and may be called in to help alleviate injury problems. Manager George Graham has doubts over Darren Anderton (calf), Les Ferdinand (knee), Allan Nielsen, Ruel Fox (both hamstring) and Luke Young (virus). John Scales and Ramon Vega are both also still out. Graham has added highly- rated youth players Alton Thelwell and Ledley King to the squad.

Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear will give pounds 7.5m club record signing John Hartson a debut, assuming yesterday's high jinx in training (his tracksuit was burnt, among other japes) did not scare him away from the club. Hartson's capture was a timely one with Jason Euell serving a one-match ban and Efan Ekoku away on international duty with Nigeria. Winger Gareth Ainsworth (hamstring) victim, is to undergo a late fitness test.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (from): Walker, Carr, Calderwood, Nielsen, Fox, Anderton, Ferdinand, Armstrong, Ginola, Freund, Taricco, Edinburgh, Iversen, Dominguez, Allen, Sinton, Campbell, Clemence, Young, Thelwell, King, Baardsen.

WIMBLEDON (from): Sullivan, Bakke, Heald, Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher, Kimble, Jupp, C Hughes, Earle, M Hughes, Roberts, Ainsworth, Kennedy, Ardley, Gayle, Cort, Hartson, Leaburn.

Suspensions: Wimbledon: Euell.

Referee: M Riley.

West Ham

v Sheff Wed

Last season: 1-0

SCOTT MINTO will make his West Ham debut this afternoon following his pounds 1m arrival from Benfica, but the defensive pairing of Julian Dicks and Richard Hall will be left out of the Upton Park match encounter with Sheffield Wednesday. Striker Paul Kitson is not yet ready for a comeback, so it is likely that Samassi Abou will be the man to fill the hole left by the pounds 7.5m departure of John Hartson to Wimbledon. John Moncur is still out with a thigh problem but Marc Keller is training again.

The Wednesday defender Dejan Stefanovic's one-match ban following his sending off at Aston Villa last month could mean a recall for Danny Sonner. Manager Danny Wilson may revert to a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate midfielder Sonner, rather than use the 5-3-2 system in which Stefanovic had been employed. If Wilson decides to keep faith with three centre-backs then Jon Newsome, who recently returned from a month's loan with Bolton, may play. Striker Andy Booth looks poised for a recall if he has fully recovered from an ankle injury which forced him out of the last two games. Ritchie Humphreys would make way.

WEST HAM (from): Hislop, Forrest, Breacker, Potts, Ruddock, Keller, Sinclair, Lomas, Ferdinand, Lazaridis, Lampard, Pearce, Minto, Abou, Cole, Hodges, Berkovic, Omoyinmi.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (from): Srnicek, Atherton, Jonk, Newsome, Walker, Carbone, Booth, Hyde, Sanetti, Humphreys, Briscoe, Hinchcliffe, Emerson, Rudi, Alexandersson, Sonner, Pressman.

Suspensions: Wednesday: Stefanovic.

Referee: K Burge.


Aston Villa v Everton

Last season: 2-1

ASTON VILLA'S success this season has been based largely on a rock-solid defence. This was highlighted yet again last week when a rampant Middlesbrough were kept at bay and the game finished 0-0 at the Riverside. Whether John Gregory's side can sustain their challenge for the Premiership title will depend not only on the form of Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Barry, but on the kind of team spirit that has been present at Villa Park and even yesterday say a falling out between Paul Merson and his manager resolved. Come Monday night, Villa could be as low as third in the table and will be looking for three points if they are to remain in realistic contention as their main rivals' strength in depth becomes more apparent as the season progresses.

Everton's Slaven Bilic needs an exploratory operation on his hip, which has been booked for next Friday. The fear is that the groin injury Bilic picked up at Spurs last month is linked to the pelvic problem that kept him out after the World Cup finals until Everton's victory over Southampton on 12 December. The 30-year-old admits he is worried and said: "I feel that it is the same injury. I have tried to avoid this, but the exploratory operation has now become a must for me." Aside from Bilic, Everton desperately need someone to score goals, and Monday may be a good time for Ibrahima Bakayoko to make an impact.


Charlton v Newcastle

Last season: No fixture

CHARLTON WILL be without the suspended Neil Redfearn for tomorrow's match with Newcastle at The Valley. The former Barnsley midfielder will serve a one-match ban after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Arsenal. Centre-half Richard Rufus, who was sent off in the match between the two teams at St James' Park earlier this year, is doubtful after picking up a knock in the 3-1 defeat at Southampton last weekend. The Addicks' manager Alan Curbishley has Carl Tiler available again after suspension and Swedish international Martin Pringle is set for his full debut alongside Andy Hunt. Charlton's situation looks perilous to say the least, with the defeat at The Dell taking their run of consecutive defeats to nine matches. Their only consolation ahead of tomorrow's game will be that Newcastle are still not that far from safety themselves and have been showing patchy form of late.

Ruud Gullit's side will be without the French striker Louis Saha after he pulled out of the squad with a hamstring injury. His absence will compound existing problems, including an injury which is keeping Duncan Ferguson from playing, and the failure to sign Crystal Palace's Matt Jansen after the price escalated. Gullit will also be missing goalkeeper Shay Given and German midfielder Dietmar Hamann through suspension. The teenage defender Andy Griffin, who is fit again after undergoing surgery on a groin injury, has been added to the squad. Newcastle won their last league visit to Charlton, 3-1, in November 1992.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC (from): Ilic, Mills, Powell, Tiler, Youds, Rufus, Kinsella, Robinson, Newton, Hunt, Brown, K Jones, Lisbie, Holmes, Konchesky, Bright, Parker, Royce, Pringle.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (from): Harper, Perez, Charvet, Domi, Barton, Griffin, Pearce, Lee, Speed, Glass, Solano, Georgiadis, Shearer, Andersson, Ketsbaia, Dalglish, Dabizas, Howey, Hughes.

Suspensions: Charlton: Redfearn. Newcastle: Given, Hamann.

Referee: P Jones.