Baggies boss vows to be bold
West Brom boss Roberto di Matteo has vowed his team will play with "no fear'' against English Premier League leaders Manchester United, despite missing two key defenders through suspension.
Central defender Gabriel Tamas is out for three games after being sent off against Blackburn, while right-back Gonzalo Jara picked up his fifth yellow card in the same game, and is therefore missing for the match.
Defender Jonas Olsson is still sidelined with an Achilles injury, meaning the Baggies will have to field a makeshift back line at The Hawthorns on Saturday lunchtime. Despite this, Di Matteo believes his team will approach the game in their usual positive manner. "We play with no fear against anybody, that's been our strength,'' he said.
The Italian admitted that while the situation is not ideal, he's hoping that some of his fringe players can take their chance in the first team. "We've got three defenders out, so we'll have problems at the back," he said. "I'll have to make changes, and that gives other players the opportunity to come into the team. It's obviously not a settled back four, but that's what the reality is.''
Second-placed Manchester City kick off against Blackpool later in the day and will be looking to capitalise on any slip-up by their neighbours. There have been reports claiming that City have agreed a fee with Wolfsburg for striker Edin Dzeko and negotiations over personal terms are well on their way to reaching a positive conclusion.
However, with the transfer window two days away from opening and a tricky encounter with the in-form Seasiders to fulfil, City are in no mood to confirm the Bosnian's impending arrival. "I don't think it's right to speak about other players at other clubs," said assistant manager Brian Kidd. "Only one man will decide - and that's the boss."
Arsenal, who head into the weekend in third spot - two points behind the Manchester clubs - visit Birmingham on Saturday evening.
Champions Chelsea, who jumped back into the top four with a 1-0 win over Bolton last night, will look to heap more pressure on Gerard Houllier with another three points at Stamford Bridge against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has urged his team to continue their fine festive form when Fulham visit White Hart Lane on Saturday. Fifth-placed Spurs will be looking to build on Christmas victories over Aston Villa and Newcastle - both achieved with 10 men - when they face Mark Hughes' Cottagers on New Year's Day.
Bale, who netted the winner against the Magpies on Tuesday, told the club's website: "It was a great win and it's been a good Christmas period for us. Now we want to take this into the New Year, keep plugging away and get the maximum points like we know we can.
"It's been difficult. Playing two games in three days is difficult enough with 11 men, but playing most of the game at Villa with 10 men is much harder work and the last half-hour against Newcastle [after Younes Kaboul's red card] was a lot of hard work," he went on. "But we showed the character we've got, the work ethic we've got and we came away with maximum points from the two games and hopefully we can take that into the New Year now."
Stiff test for Hodgson's Reds
Liverpool host sixth-spotted Bolton on Saturday with manager Roy Hodgson insisting the backing he has had from the players and within the club itself makes up for his lack of support outside it. The 63-year-old, who was the subject of fans' anger again in last night's 1-0 defeat at home to Wolves, said: "I have been lucky the support I have had has been from the players and within the club. I haven't had a lot of support from the fans ever since I came here."
There is a relegation six-pointer on Saturday as the bottom two - West Ham and Wolves - go head to head at Upton Park.
Stephen Ward - Wolves' match-winner at Anfield - has challenged his team to achieve back-to-back wins for the first time this season. "If you look at our form, it has improved because we've won three of the last five games," he said. "Now we need to win two games in a row which we haven't done so far this season. We definitely let the fans down against Wigan on Sunday [2-1 home defeat] and needed to bounce back and show the fans that we deserve to stay in this league."
In other games this weekend, Stoke tackle Everton and Sunderland play Blackburn on Saturday, while Wigan host Newcastle on Sunday.