Premier League – Team news: Torres may return
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Kick-off 3 pm unless stated
Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers
Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is set for a possible return as the Reds entertain Bolton on Boxing Day.
Torres recently suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury which had earlier kept him out of the side for five weeks and has now not played since November 26, but assistant manager Sammy Lee claims that the Spanish star is improving.
“Fernando’s progress has markedly improved,” he said. “He is getting better. He improves with every training session and he has worked very hard on his rehabilitation.”
Also hoping to be back on Friday is manager Rafa Benitez, who is recovering from a second operation on his kidney stone problem. Since he was afflicted Benitez has been relegated to relaying instructions via mobile phone to Lee, but he hopes to return to the dugout for the Bolton match.
Bolton, who will be seeking a first league victory at Anfield since 1954, have no new injury problems for manager Gary Megson to deal with. Joey O’Brien and Tamir Cohen are both still out with long-term problems.
Potters manager Tony Pulis was looking forward to the Potters’ clash with the newly-crowned World Club Champions, despite the fact that his side were trounced 5-0 at Old Trafford just a few weeks ago.
“The place will be rocking,” he said. “I’m just delighted for everybody in the city.”
Pulis might have to send his team out against the champions without Liam Lawrence, Leon Cort, Salif Diao and Andy Griffin, though Danish international keeper Thomas Sorensen will return despite breaking a finger in the warm-up for last weekend’s match against Blackburn.
Nemanja Vidic will be able to line-up for United despite his red card during the final of the Club World Cup, though he will be suspended for the Champions League match against Internazionale in the new year.
Chelsea v West Bromwich, 1pm
And though boss Luiz Felipe Scolari still has to deal with the absences of Michael Essien (knee) and Franco Di Santo (hamstring), Ricardo Carvalho is close to recovering from his knee injury and may play some part against the Baggies.
West Brom captain Jonathan Greening might miss out on the trip to London after a head injury left him with blurred vision towards the end of Saturday’s game against Manchester City.
Luke Moore will likely start up front alongside Czech international Roman Bednar, who scored the winner in the City encounter.
Portsmouth v West Ham, 1pm
Glen Johnson is hoping to return to the Portsmouth side from his knee injury to face his former club, while John Utaka and Younes Kaboul will also be monitored. Johnson and Kaboul are almost certain to play if fit.
For the Hammers Kieron Dyer is still suffering from the virus which has delayed his return from the broken leg that has kept him out of action since August 2007, and is now unlikely to play until 2009.
Dean Ashton is close to returning from his ankle problem, though not close enough to make the weekend’s matches. Danny Gabbidon (groin) and James Collins (calf) are also likely to miss the trip to Pompey.
Zoltan Gera is unavailable for the Cottagers after picking up a calf problem that will keep him out of all the Christmas fixtures. Diomansy Kamara is still on the long-term injury list, as is Iranian midfielder Andranik Taymourian – though Roy Hodgson confirmed that the latter is back in training and close to returning.
Middlesbrough v Everton
Justin Hoyte is still out for Boro as he recovers from knee surgery earlier this month.
Didier Digard may return from the groin injury he picked up as his side entertained Arsenal a fortnight ago, while Gary O’Neil is also a 50/50 with a hamstring problem. Egyptian striker Mido is likely to start up front after being one of the few positives from Boro’s 3-0 defeat by Fulham at the weekend.
Joseph Yobo will likely be missing from the Toffees’ line-up after coming off injured during the Monday night game against Chelsea. Leighton Baines is expected to fill in, with the in-form Joleon Lescott switching to central defence.
Victor Anichebe and Louis Saha both face fitness tests if they are to return from back and hamstring problems respectively. If neither player is ruled fit, Aussie striker Tim Cahill will start in attack.
Manchester City v Hull City
Brazilian superstar Robinho is slated for a possible return to action during Hull’s visit to the City of Manchester Stadium on Boxing Day, with the £32.5 million striker having recovered from his sprained ankle.
Benjani Mwaruwari’s injury in the defeat at West Brom at the weekend means that he misses out, while Chedwyn Evans (foot) and Darius Vassell (toe) will await the outcome of scans to assess their fitness prior to the match.
Hull manager Phil Brown is likely to hold back Andrew Dawson, Craig Fagan and Anthony Gardner from the trip across the Pennines as they recover from their respective injuries, while Sam Ricketts is suspended following his sending off against Sunderland. Paul McShane, however, is back following his suspension.
Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers
Marton Fulop will retain goalkeeping duties for the Black Cats as Craig Gordon continues his recovery from ankle surgery, and George McCartney is still on the long-term absence list with his own ankle problem.
Newly-installed Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce has no new injury worries as he takes his new charges on the road for the first time.
With Manchester United tied up in the Far East last week it was Wigan who sat out the weekend’s fixtures, meaning that the Latics will be well-rested when they entertain Newcastle.
The only injury worry for manager Steve Bruce is Emerson Boyce’s hamstring problem, which puts his participation in doubt.
The match is likely to come too soon for Obafemi Martins to return for the Toon as he works to overcome his groin strain. Shola Ameobi is also a doubt after limping off during the win against Spurs on Sunday, while Joey Barton (knee), Alan Smith (Achilles) and Ignacio Gonzalez (Achilles) are all still on the long-term injury list.
Aston Villa v Arsenal, 5.15 pm
Martin O’Neill’s only injury problems for Arsenal’s visit to Villa Park are striker Jon Carew, who is still struggling with his back problem, and Wilfred Bouma, who is still out with an ankle injury.
A victory for the Gunners would see them leapfrog Villa in the league table, but with inspirational captain Cesc Fabregas out Arsene Wenger’s side face a tough battle.
Fabregas will be out for four months after sustaining a partial rupture of his medial ligament during the match against Liverpool at the weekend. Emmanuel Adebayor will be suspended after receiving two yellows during the same match.