The Late Fitness Check | Gameweek Twenty-one

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If you have managed to navigate your way successfully through the festive fixtures, then I doff my cap. Injuries, suspensions, postponements, and of course, COVID have conspired to ruin my FPL Christmas, and I'm looking forward to seeing the back of 2021. This is the last round of fixtures before domestic cup duty, although there has been lots of talk around the possibility of rearranging fixtures over the next week, so keep your eyes peeled for updates. Have a great New Year, everyone!

Arsenal

Mikel Arteta will be missing from the dugout after testing positive for COVID-19, meaning assistant manager Albert Stuivenberg will take charge of matchday duties. Thomas Partey will feature before his departure to the Africa Cup of Nations; however, the status of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains unclear after the former captain found himself out of contention following another disciplinary breach. Calum Chambers is the closest of those players who are currently self-isolating, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Cedric Soares doubts.

Aston Villa

With no fixture in game week twenty, Villa arrive at the Brentford Community Stadium fully refreshed. Given his additional recovery time, Ashley Young has a chance, although he is managing a fractured toe, and Steven Gerrard will be back amongst the ranks following COVID. Bertrand Traoré is available for one last game before departing to Cameroon to represent Burkina Faso. Marvelous Nakamba is still around three months away, while the game will come too soon for Leon Bailey. Axel Tuanzebe and Kortney Hause are vying for a place alongside Ezri Konsa, with Tyrone Mings suspended.

Brentford

Bryan Mbeumo is expected to recover from a minor calf issue, but Thomas Frank won't see Rico Henry (hamstring) in contention until game week twenty-two. Kristoffer Ajer is nearing a return after more than two months on the sidelines, although the FA Cup third-round tie versus Port Vale looks to be a more realistic target. Dominic Thompson looked to have picked up an ankle problem late on in the game against Manchester City, although there was no mention post-match from the Bees boss. Christian Norgaard is in contention after serving a one-match ban, but the remainder of the treatment room is expected to stay the same.

Brighton and Hove Albion

The Seagulls snatched a late point at Stamford Bridge when Danny Welbeck scored in time added on to secure their ninth draw of the campaign. Joel Veltman and Shane Duffy returned on Wednesday, and with Leandro Trossard training normally, Lewis Dunk is the only recognised first-team regular out of Sundays' game.

Burnley

Sean Dyche says Maxwel Cornet should be in and around the squad after almost a month out. This would be his last appearance for a few weeks following his call up to the Ivory Coast squad. Elsewhere, the Clarets could welcome one or two players back from COVID depending on "the last bit of testing", although Dyche failed to mention who from - Kevin Long, Nick Pope, Jay Rodríguez and Josh Brownhill – was the closest after they all missed the game at Old Trafford

Chelsea

Thomas Tuchel admitted it was a "huge blow" to lose Reece James to a hamstring injury, a setback that is likely to keep him out for weeks after he left Stamford Bridge on crutches. The Blues were also forced into a second change against Brighton as Andreas Christensen continues to be hampered by an ongoing back issue. Ideally, the defender will be rested, but squad numbers are stretched due to injury and COVID. N'Golo Kanté was handed minutes from the bench after he took a knock to his knee on Boxing Day, and Kai Havertz was named in the matchday squad, although he did not feature. Timo Werner, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Thiago Silva are out of contention. At the same time, Ben Chilwell is sidelined for the season, having successfully undergone knee surgery as his recovery from a minor tear in his anterior cruciate ligament was not responding to conservative treatment.

Crystal Palace

The Eagles will be hoping Patrick Vieira is fit enough to take his place in the dugout following COVID having missed the last two games. Wilfried Zaha returns after his ban, but with Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard on the scoresheet in the win over Norwich, there may be a case to leave the front three unchanged. James Tomkins is likely to return to the XI after Joachim Andersen suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that recently ruled him out for three weeks. Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Nathaniel Clyne should be close to bolstering numbers on the bench. Conor Gallagher remains a doubt, and a decision on his availability could be left until the last minute.

Everton

The clash with Newcastle (GW20) was called off, giving the Toffees extra time to recover from a fairly extensive absentee list that saw the fixture at Turf Moor postponed on Boxing Day. Everton haven't played since the 1-1 draw with Chelsea in mid-December. The break has provided Dominic Calvert-Lewin with some much-needed time on the training pitches, while Lucas Digne, Demarai Gray and Fabian Delph should be back after illness. Tom Davies is working with the team, but the game is probably too soon for Richarlison.

Leeds United

Patrick Bamford says he is on the verge of a comeback following a return to full training, but whether that's enough to convince Marcelo Bielsa of a place in his squad remains to be seen. The Lilywhites have several players missing, including Jamie Shackleton, Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips and Rodrigo. Still, problems are easing with Daniel James, Robin Koch, Firpo, Diego Llorente and Jack Harrison all fit. Could this be the last game for Raphinha, who has been heavily linked with a move to Bundesliga outfit Bayern Munich? Not if local media reports are to be believed. The Brazilian looks set to stay, and there is even talk of a possible contract extension.

Leicester City (This game has been postponed)

Jamie Vardy could spend the next month sidelined after re-injuring his hamstring during the win over Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers expects the striker to be missing for a minimum of three weeks, leaving Kelechi Iheanacho as the only available senior striker with Patson Daka also out. Jonny Evans, and Çaglar Soyuncu, will need at least another three weeks, and COVID has delayed the return of James Justin, who will play for the U23s before a first-team comeback. Wesley Fofana remains out until February, but James Maddison "should be fine," and Harvey Barnes re-joined the group on Thursday, which is likely to result in his inclusion against Norwich.

Liverpool

Thiago Alcántara and Takumi Minamino missed the loss to Leicester after complaining of muscle soreness, and Jurgen Klopp confirms the pair will miss out again at Stamford Bridge. The Reds have also been hit by three positive COVID cases, although the German coach was not prepared to name individuals. "You will see the day after tomorrow on the team sheet," he told reporters on Friday. "It will be pretty clear then who is affected or infected." Andrew Robertson is the only other major absentee due to his suspension. Sadio Mané, Naby Keita, and Mohamed Salah will play their final games before departing for Cameroon's Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola remains coy on the availability of Kyle Walker, although the City defender was seen in training ahead of the early kick-off with Arsenal. However, there was no sign of John Stones (injury) and Rodrigo (possibly COVID), and they could miss out again. City made no substitutions at Brentford on Wednesday, indicating that Pep will possibly rotate heavily with Ilkay Gundogan, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Riyad Mahrez, and Raheem Sterling primed to come in after being fully rested midweek. There is a doubt over Joao Cancelo after intruders broke into his home and attacked the Portuguese star.

Manchester United

Scott McTominay played through the pain barrier to help United take three points against Burnley on Thursday evening. The midfielder was forced off with an ankle injury at St James' Park (GW19), and a decision on his involvement was only made on the afternoon of the match. Raphael Varane is expected to return to the XI as Ralph Rangnick manages the defender's comeback from injury. Paul Pogba is the only confirmed injury doubt; however, Anthony Martial has not been included since recovering from a knee problem. Bruno Fernandes returns after serving a ban, and Victor Lindelof will be out of isolation after testing positive on the eve of the Newcastle fixture.

Newcastle United (This game has been postponed)

I'd be amazed if the game at St Mary's got the go-ahead after the Premier League postponed the Magpies' trip to Goodison Park due to an extensive injury and illness list. And with no one expected back, Eddie Howe's squad remains threadbare following the latest injuries to Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, Ryan Fraser, and Isaac Hayden, who has successfully undergone knee surgery. Newcastle have 12 potential players missing, while the prospect of further omissions looms large in the present COVID climate.

Norwich City (This game has been postponed)

Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki were all "pulled out" of training on the eve of the Crystal Palace game, and while Dean Smith wouldn't clarify the reason behind their withdrawal, illness appears to be the most likely cause. Dimitris Giannoulis has also picked up a knock and their availability on New Year's Day is unclear. "I won't know if anyone will be back for Leicester," mused Smith after losing to Crystal Palace. "I'll have to round it all up." Milot Rashica and Lukas Rupp are the closest of those sidelined to return, while Tim Krul (COVID) could be included after testing positive before Christmas.

Southampton (This game has been postponed)

Ralph Hasenhüttl is hoping to call upon Jack Stephens and Lyanco after they recently tested positive. However, Che Adams and Nathan Tella are two players that could miss out because of the virus. Mohamed Salisu and Kyle Walker-Peters are suspended, while Alex McCarthy and Will Smallbone are injured. Fluid on the knee kept Tino Livramento out of the game with Spurs, and assessments continue to find the underlying cause of the problem.

Tottenham Hotspur

Antonio Conte didn't give much of an update on his squad when he spoke to the press on Thursday, although we know that Steven Bergwijn and Giovani Lo Celso "won't be back for the weekend," as per the Italian coach following the draw at Southampton. Cristian Romero is nearing a return, and Ryan Sessegnon will hopefully be ready for the FA Cup tie against Morecambe.

Watford

Danny Rose (knee) was a late casualty ahead of the West Ham game, and the left-back is poised to miss out again. However, there was better news regarding Tom Cleverley, who has recovered from a minor hamstring issue. Kiko Femenía adds to Claudio Ranieri's problems after limping off before half-time in GW20. Ben Foster is slightly ahead of schedule, and the goalkeeper is now training with the team, although this weekend might be too early. There is not much change elsewhere with Ismailia Sarr out until February and Christian Kabasele still 2-3 weeks away. The Hornets have "some" players isolating following COVID, although the club has not named individuals. Jeremy Ngakia and William Troost-Ekong were missing from the squad on Tuesday, with no explanation offered on their absence.

West Ham United

Declan Rice is back after his ban, but Pablo Fornals will again miss out due to COVID. Speaking on Thursday, David Moyes revealed the latest round of testing was clear, although the situation "changes every day", and he cannot be certain what will happen closer to kick off. It might be after the winter break before we see Aaron Creswell again – his back injury is far more serious than initially believed, with some reports indicating that it will be a minimum of six weeks.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves did not reveal the full extent of their COVID outbreak that contributed to the game at Arsenal being called off. We know of seven current absentees with only one or two players possibly in line for a recall. Fabio Silva tested positive earlier this month, meaning he has completed his isolation period, and Rayan Ait-Nouri is on the cusp of full training after recovering from a groin strain. The rest of the players may not return before the winter break.