Preston North End are back in Championship action this Saturday after a 10-day break to host fellow play-off chasers Swansea City. North End found themselves in the unusual position of not having a game in this round of midweek fixtures.
That was because the game against Barnsley, scheduled for Tuesday this week, was pushed back a week in account of the Tykes’ passage to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Alex Neil’s men won 3-0 at Oakwell, goals from Daniel Johnson and a double from Tom Barkhuizen ensuring a successful trip to Yorkshire.
Attention now turns to Saturday’s clash with a Swansea side that have struggled for form of late, having topped the Championship table in early October. Steve Cooper’s side have only won five out of their last 15 matches in the league, the most recent of those coming in a 2-1 victory over relegation-threatened Wigan two weeks ago.
They have had a shrewd January window, though, signing Chelsea pair Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi, as well as Liverpool starlet Rhian Brewster, on loan deals. At the time of writing, they have also managed to keep hold of star man Andre Ayew – the former West Ham and Marseille frontman having netted 10 times this season.
With Ghana international Ayew an obvious threat for North End to deal with on Saturday, they will also have to watch out for former Manchester City midfielder Bersant Celina.
The Kosovo international was signed by the Swans in the summer of 2018 and made an instant impact in his second season of Championship football, having been on loan at Ipswich the year before. He scored eight goals in all competitions last season, adding a further six assists.
Those numbers have been slightly down in comparison this campaign – he has two goals and two assists, with his last strike coming in August – but Celina’s technical and passing ability has led to him being linked with Premier League Brighton this window.
The Seagulls, of course, are managed by Graham Potter, who managed Swansea last season.
The second big danger for Swansea is captain Matt Grimes. Grimes is, without doubt, one of Swansea’s star names, reflected by the fact that he has started every league game bar one since being given his Championship bow by Potter on the opening day of last season.
The midfielder, who joined the Swans from Exeter in 2015, helps keep play ticking over and has also provided two assists this campaign. He’s also formed a solid partnership in the middle of the park with Scotland’s George Byers, a graduate of the Swansea Academy having joined from Watford aged 20.
The third main danger for North End to watch on Saturday is Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster.
Swansea’s capture of Brewster on loan from European champions Liverpool was seen as a coup at the time, given the reported number of clubs interested in the striker. The 19-year-old is somewhat of an unknown quantity at senior level, with his Swansea debut his first senior league appearance.
He has also done well to battle back from a serious knee injury suffered whilst playing for Liverpool U23s in 2018. But Brewster has shown some encouraging signs in his three Swans appearances so far, scoring the 18th-minute opener in the 2-1 victory over Wigan.
The striker has blistering pace and also an eye for goal, and will surely give North End’s two centre backs a tough test on Saturday.
Swansea’s season so far has probably exceeded expectations. Losing Graham Potter was a blow, but Steve Cooper has come in and done a decent job. We’re happy with league position, but many performances have left a lot to be desired.
However, it’s a very average league and half the league will still feel the play-offs are in reach. Now we’ve made a couple of promising loan signings in Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher so we’re expecting a push towards the top six for the rest of the season.
Our likely eleven will be in a 4-3-3 formation as follows: Woodman; Roberts, Guehi, Cabango, Naughton; Grimes, Gallagher, Byers; Ayew, Brewster, Celina.
My score prediction is a 1-0 loss, I think you owe us one as we were a bit fortunate to win the clash at the Liberty earlier this season.
Steve Cooper’s side will present North End with a tough test this weekend. Their recent results haven’t been what they would have liked, but they have quality all over the pitch for Alex Neil’s men to deal with.
But North End are starting to find a run of form of their own and with an exceptional record in front of their own fans, I’d expect them to prevail in this one. Hopefully the North End faithful will see Scott Sinclair getting off the mark against his former club.
My prediction for this one is – PNE 2-1 Swansea City.
As far as the starting XI goes, I would expect North End to line up with a similar XI to the one that started at Oakwell. In a sort of 4-diamond-2 formation – Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Johnson, Browne, Harrop; Sinclair, Barkhuizen.
The main question I think will be what formation Alex Neil goes with, PNE having lined up against Barnsley, as just alluded to, with a diamond-type set up in the middle of the park that evening.
Finally, if you haven’t yet listened, the latest episode of From the Finney Meets… Colin Murray is now available to stream on all good streaming platforms. Or you can just hit the play button below and listen to it right here.