Midfielder Yossi Benayoun, a key ally of under-pressure interim manager Rafael Benitez, is out of the Premier League clash with West Brom with an ankle injury. Gary Cahill (virus) and Cesar Azpilicueta (leg) are available again after missing the midweek FA Cup win at Middlesbrough. Oriol Romeu (knee) remains a long-term absentee.
West Brom could be without their two frontline strikers for the clash: on-loan Romelu Lukaku is ineligible to face his parent club but forward partner Shane Long is a doubt with the ankle injury suffered against Sunderland and has been unable to train so far this week. Left-back Goran Popov will complete a three game ban for his red card against Tottenham. Head coach Steve Clarke has included 16-year-old midfielder Isaiah Brown, who is still at school, in his squad.
Steve Clarke: “Forty points before the end of February is good. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t reach 40 points before that because we had put ourselves in a great position. But we are there now. Are we safe? I don’t know. By and large, if you look over the course of the Premier League history, 40 points is usually safe – but not always. I think it is better we look at the next few games coming up and try and add a few more points to the tally. I’m not sure the European spot is there. It only goes down to fifth in the league and at this stage of the season we’re a little bit away from that. It’s not something we will rule out because we’re going to try to get as many points as we can between now and the end of the season. But if we look at the teams above us, it will be difficult to catch them.”
Rafael Benitez: “I didn’t have any problem with the board. I didn’t have any problem with Michael Emenalo (the technical director). I didn’t have any problems with Roman Abramovich (the owner). I don’t have a problem with the players. What I want to do is the best for the team, the best for the club. I have been for 26 years training and coaching and always I have had principles, respect and education. It’s the way that I have achieved what I’ve achieved. We have 11 games to play. If we stick together, it will be easier and we can get more points. I would like to see a fantastic atmosphere supporting the team, and I will be really pleased with that.”
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