Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Jacob Steinberg, Barry Glendenning, Paul Doyle and Will Unwin on 8 February 2019

1) A striking duel between City and Chelsea

The fact that Manchester City are pursuing four trophies makes each one more difficult to claim, and the effort could take a toll even on Pep Guardiola’s lavish squad. Chelsea should be able to make Sunday’s fixture one of the most demanding yet for City this season, but Maurizio Sarri’s erratic side have been so bad in recent away matches – deservedly losing at Arsenal and Bournemouth – that there is no telling what sort of outfit will turn up at the Etihad. With Gonzalo Higuaín looking sharp and Eden Hazard capable of bewildering Kyle Walker, Chelsea could, in theory, be even stronger than they were when they beat City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in December. Mind you, City squandered several chances to take the lead that day – and this time Sergio Agüero is available. PD

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2) Liverpool need Firmino to find form

At his best, Roberto Firmino is the player who makes Liverpool tick. He is the pulsing brain behind many of their devastating attacks, sometimes knitting moves together in the false nine role, or creating space for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané with clever movement off the ball. Salah is the team’s undoubted star after scoring 63 goals since joining Liverpool two summers ago, but the front three would not work without Firmino’s intelligent promptings. Just look at how Jurgen Klopp’s team struggled when the Brazilian had a subdued game in the tense 1-1 draw with West Ham on Monday. After being taken off with 15 minutes left at the London Stadium, Firmino needs to rediscover his zest when Liverpool host Bournemouth. JS

3) How many risks will Pochettino take?

Mauricio Pochettino has a difficult balance to strike when Tottenham host Leicester on Sunday. His side are gathering powerful momentum again and are five points off top spot after scoring late winners against Fulham, Newcastle and Watford. Yet Tottenham’s squad remains light after another quiet transfer window, Harry Kane and Dele Alli are still injured and Pochettino has to think about making sure his players are fresh to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League next Wednesday. Does the Argentinian rotate his side before the Dortmund game? Does he keep his team fresh for a crucial knockout game and rest someone like Christian Eriksen? If Pochettino feels that Danny Rose needs to be managed carefully and cannot start twice in the space of four days, which game is made for the buccaneering left-back? Do Spurs prioritise the grind of the league or the unpredictability of Europe? Or do they put it all on the line, throw caution to the wind and go for both? Fatigue be damned; history is there to be made. JS

The three-way gallop to the line

Liverpool 

9 Feb Bournemouth (h)
24 Feb Man Utd (a)
27 Feb Watford (h)
3 Mar
Everton (a)
10 Mar Burnley (h)
17 Mar Fulham (a)
31 Mar Tottenham (h)
6 Apr Southampton (a)
13 Apr Chelsea (h)
20 Apr Cardiff (a)
27 Apr Huddersfield (h)
4 May Newcastle (a)
12 May Wolves (h)

Manchester City

6 Feb Everton (a)
10 Feb Chelsea (h) 
27 Feb West Ham (h)
2 Mar Bournemouth (a) 
9 Mar Watford (h) 
16 Mar Man Utd (a)
30 Mar Fulham (a) 
6 Apr Cardiff (h) 
13 Apr Crystal Palace (a) 
20 Apr Tottenham (h) 
27 Apr Burnley (a) 
4 May Leicester (h) 
12 May Brighton (a)

Tottenham

10 Feb Leicester (h)
23 Feb Burnley (a)
27 Feb Chelsea (a)
2 Mar
Arsenal (h)
9 Mar Southampton (a)
17 Mar Crystal Palace (h)
31 Mar
Liverpool (a)
6 Apr Brighton (h)
13 Apr Huddersfield (h)
20 Apr Man City (a)
27 Apr West Ham (h)
4 May Bournemouth (a)
12 May Everton (h)

4) Watford have plans for Silva return

Marco Silva comes back to his old Vicarage Road stomping ground with a vote of confidence from his chairman that is unlikely to be endorsed by Everton fans who have watched his team lose seven of their past 10 Premier League matches. Everton’s comic inability to defend set-pieces properly is an area likely to be targeted by Watford, who in left-back José Holebas have one of the top-flight’s best dead-ball specialists. No slouch over a stationary ball himself, the aerial threat caused by Troy Deeney – not to mention Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa – is likely to cause Everton’s defenders no end of problems at free-kicks and corners on an afternoon when they desperately need a win to appease increasingly impatient fans. BG

5) Dendoncker is Wolves’ man in form

Leander Dendoncker had to wait for his chance after joining Wolves from Anderlecht last summer, but the versatile Belgian is beginning to demonstrate why he is regarded as one of the brightest young players in Europe. Nuno Espírito Santo rarely changes a winning team and the Wolves manager found it hard to find space for Dendoncker during the first half of the season. Yet the 23-year-old has impressed since making his first Premier League start in the 3-1 win over Tottenham on 29 December. Capable of playing in defence and midfield, Dendoncker has helped Wolves win their last three league games and scored his first goal for the club in last weekend’s impressive 3-1 win over Everton. He is likely to have a big role as Nuno’s team look to extend their winning sequence to four league matches when they host Newcastle on Monday. JS

Lazar Markovic could make his first Fulham appearance.
Lazar Markovic could make his first Fulham appearance. Photograph: Ian Tuttle/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

6) Solskjær’s fringe options to get Fulham run-out

Days before the arrival of PSG at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjær could be forgiven for engaging in a little rotation when he takes Manchester United to Craven Cottage for a match against a Fulham side seven points from safety and with only Huddersfield beneath them. Despite his public pronouncements and nice-guy image, Solskjær has been ruthless in banishing those players he evidently doesn’t rate to the margins. If fit peripheral figures such as Fred, Antonio Valencia, Andreas Pereira, Matteo Darmian and Scott McTominay can’t be trusted to do a job on Saturday, then they probably have no future at Manchester United. Keep your eyes peeled, too, for the lesser spotted Lazar Markovic, who could play in the Premier League for the first time since 2017 after signing for Fulham on deadline day. BG

7) Here come the Belgians for Palace

Belgians could be the order of the day for Crystal Palace, following Christian Benteke’s impressive start in the win over Fulham, coupled with Michy Batshuayi’s debut impact. It would be a sign of Roy Hodgson’s intent if he decides to select the two strikers in the absence of the suspended Wilfried Zaha. Hodgson is known for playing with the handbrake firmly on, but now he has a potentially exciting forward line at his disposal he might be keen to utilise it against West Ham, and create some breathing space above the drop zone. Attack being the best form of defence might be largely alien to Hodgson but rarely has he been permitted such talent in the final third, even if Batshuayi may be required to play out wide. Palace need points and Hodgson knows how to eke them out, but this is his chance to get them with a sledgehammer rather than reason. WU

8) Suárez to get his teeth into Arsenal task

Having come off the bench against Manchester City, a full debut against the worst team in the top flight will give January signing Denis Suárez as good an opportunity as any to show what he can bring to the Arsenal party. Despite failing to impress at Barcelona, the midfielder clearly did enough in the one season he spent playing under Unai Emery at Sevilla to convince Arsenal’s manager he has much to offer and, if he starts, it will be intriguing to see in what role. While Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have forged a successful partnership and clearly enjoy playing together, Andrew Mangan of Arseblog is of the opinion Emery may rotate them “a bit more if Suárez can find his feet quickly, ensuring he doesn’t fatigue them, as well as giving us a bit more depth on the bench”. That, or given his current paucity of defenders, the Spaniard may be handed a pair of stilts and asked to do a job in the centre of defence. BG

9) Brighton’s bid to end league slump

Before Brighton travelled to Turf Moor, they were 11 points above Burnley. But their 1-0 defeat that day was the start of a slump during which they have mustered just one win from 10 league games. Burnley, meanwhile, have found form and another victory for them on Saturday would take Sean Dyche’s side to the same points tally as Chris Hughton’s, indicating that Burnley are pulling clear of trouble and Brighton are slipping into it. Glenn Murray was not fit enough to play from the start in December’s meeting, but he underlined his readiness for this game, and his continued importance to Brighton despite the promise of Florin Andone, by scoring twice in Wednesday’s FA Cup win at West Brom. If Brighton defend set-pieces better than they did in the away game, they should be able to keep Burnley at a reassuring distance below them in the table. PD

Defeat at Turf Moor in December has sparked a poor run of form for Brighton.
Defeat at Turf Moor in December has sparked a poor run of form for Brighton. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

10) Saints face true test of improvement under Hasenhüttl

Cardiff City are the first Premier League side Southampton have faced twice since Ralph Hasenhüttl’s appointment, after losing 1-0 away in his first game in charge. The Austrian has turned Saints’ fortunes around, but defeat would see Neil Warnock’s side leapfrog them in the league. Hasenhüttl’s side have beaten Arsenal and drawn with Chelsea since his arrival, but victory over relegation rivals at St Mary’s will be a truer test of his side’s improvement and character. On that December day, Cardiff were well-organised, and the return fixture is a chance for Hasenhüttl to show he can break down the archetypal lower-half Premier League side as he continues his learning curve. WU

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Man City 26 48 62
2 Liverpool 25 41 62
3 Tottenham Hotspur 25 27 57
4 Chelsea 25 22 50
5 Man Utd 25 14 48
6 Arsenal 25 15 47
7 Wolverhampton 25 1 38
8 Watford 25 -1 34
9 Everton 26 -2 33
10 AFC Bournemouth 25 -7 33
11 Leicester 25 -1 32
12 West Ham 25 -7 32
13 Brighton 25 -9 27
14 Crystal Palace 25 -7 26
15 Newcastle 25 -12 24
16 Southampton 25 -15 24
17 Burnley 25 -20 24
18 Cardiff 25 -24 22
19 Fulham 25 -30 17
20 Huddersfield 25 -33 11

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