Aston Villa v Everton – Stevie Ireland v Darron Gibson
Two much-derided players go head-to-head today, both with major points to prove.
Ireland went from being Superman to the Invisible Man in a dramatic loss of form that persisted for several seasons. Now, finally, he has managed to piece a couple of decent performances together and it is hoped this continues for both his sake and for a Villa side in desperate need of some creativity and inspiration. Alex McLeish’s men have endured a horrid time of it of late gathering only 12 points from their previous 13 games and often looking beaten before the opening whistle. The lack of fight and ambition is what’s troubling the Holte End the most and a revitalised, Kryptonite-free midfielder back to his old marauding ways is just what can get them back to winning ways.
For Gibson time will be given to prove he can cut the mustard at this level though his thirty appearances for United suggests otherwise. For only half a million it was a risk worth taking for David Moyes – despite their perilous financial state – but the list of United rejects who have gone on to become top flight successes (youth players and those who have left in bad blood not permitting) is a short one. Gibson is looking to re-establish himself in the Republic of Ireland reckoning but for now – for today at least – a competent debut where he keeps things simple and neat will encourage the fans and take the pressure off. If he outshines a rejuvenated superhero so much the better.
Incidentally Villa v Everton is the most played fixture in the English top division.
Huth is a plodding, physical incarnation of all that Pulis wants from his team.
Liverpool v Stoke City – Andy Carroll v Robert Huth
Lay some straw down on the Anfield turf and prepare to get some serious neck-ache as two combative donkeys prepare to do aerial battle this afternoon.
With Suarez on the naughty step reading up on cultural differences the onus to improve an atrocious goals for column for the reds falls upon their pony-tailed Geordie. In truth he really could do without any additional expectation at present considering he is undergoing a prolonged crisis of confidence. This is most evident in his stationary movement when the ball falls into areas where strikers traditionally come alive. Even an occasional dart across towards the near post might elicit the odd goal to take that £35M burden off his burly back.
Huth is a plodding, physical incarnation of all that Pulis wants from his team and will relish the challenge of nullifying Carroll throughout in a slo-mo battle of the giants.
Swansea City v Arsenal – Nathan Dyer v Theo Walcott
Though there will be little direct contact between these two as they scurry and scamper along opposing touchlines this is a portentous match-up for each player as they attempt to outshine the other. Dyer has emerged as a surprise contender for Capello’s next England squad with a succession of sparkling displays while Walcott will be keen to put the jet-heeled pretender in his place with a headline-grabbing performance of his own. If selected – and with Henry still not up to Premier League pace he should be – this is an important 90 minutes for the Arsenal flyer who has seen his international hopes wane this term after a string of ineffective outings. What better opportunity to force his way back into Capello’s thinking than out-dazzling his new rival?
The Italian meanwhile probably won’t be crossing the Severn to assess two young exciting English talents competing desperately to impress him. Instead he’ll presumably be sitting in his usual plush seat at Stamford Bridge watching Frank Lampard for the thousandth time.