Two intriguing matches take place in the Premier League on Sunday 15 January. Mark Hughes takes charge of his first match as manager of QPR who visit Newcastle United while two of the division’s great entertainers, Swansea City and Arsenal meet at the Liberty Stadium.
Newcastle United vs Queens Park Rangers
After a storming start to the season, Newcastle are starting to falter a little. They may have beaten Manchester United 3-0 in their last Premier League match but in their last 10 league matches, five have ended in defeat.
Alan Pardew’s side sit comfortably in seventh place but are without midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote and 15-goal Demba Ba who are both on duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. Losing two such influential players is a massive blow and it will be interesting to see how the Magpies cope in their absence.
As the old saying goes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain and new QPR boss Mark Hughes will look to capitalise on Newcastle’s weaknesses in his first match in charge.
Hughes, without a club since walking out on Fulham last summer, is an intriguing appointment. He left Craven Cottage because he felt the board lacked ambition and as a manager he wants to win trophies and compete at the highest level. In that case and with all due respect, what is he doing at QPR?
Realistically, the best they can hope to emulate is that of the likes of Stoke, or opponents Newcastle. Challenge for a top 10 finish and perhaps sneak into the Europa League. Hughes is living in a fantasy land if he believes he is in charge of a club destined for Champions League glory.
But, first there are more pressing matters at hand, like avoiding relegation to the Championship. QPR are without a win in their last eight games, registering two draws and six defeats – just two points from the last 24 available. Relegation form that needs to be turned around quickly. They have not won away from home since the 19 November when they beat Stoke City 3-2.
They don’t score many goals either – 20 all season in fact. Hughes will be concerned about the over reliance on Heidur Helguson who has score eight of those goals and a new striker will probably arrive during the transfer window.
Ironically, Hughes may have to adopt the tactics that ultimately cost him his job at Manchester City – view not getting beat as a good result. He may not be able to perform miracles on his first game in charge but a point at the Sports Direct Arena would be a good start.
Verdict: Draw @ 3.75 (Coral)
Swansea City vs Arsenal
The second televised match of the day pits two of the best footballing sides in the division against each other. Premier League new boys Swansea, who have built a reputation of a fast-paced, entertaining passing game against the grand masters of such a style of play in Arsenal.
The Gunners could give Thierry Henry his second Premier League debut. The 34-year-old striker is on loan from New York Red Bulls and scored the winning goal against Leeds United in the FA Cup on Monday after coming on as a late substitute.
Swansea have lost just once at home this season – to Manchester United – and the visit of Arsenal, the Premier League’s top goalscorer Robin Van Persie with 17 and returning legend Henry won’t phase them. The Swans narrowly lost 1-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in September when Andrei Arshavin scored the winner five minutes before half time.
Their defensive form at home is as good as table toppers Manchester City, with just four goals conceded but with a return of 12 goals in 10 matches, a quality-packed side like Arsenal will fancy their chances of nicking a result. Indeed, only Manchester City have scored more goals on the road than the 20 the Gunners have managed this season.
Swansea will undoubtedly give Arsenal a game at the Liberty Stadium and the football played by both sides is sure to be entertaining. But, I think Arsene Wenger’s side will return to London with all three points.
Verdict: Arsenal @ 1.83 (Bet Victor)