1) Klopp begins post-Coutinho era against City
It is time for Liverpool to move on from Philippe Coutinho and what a way to start that process – a visit from runaway league leaders, Manchester City. The nature of the opponent means Jürgen Klopp may decide to play things safer than normal, and specifically in midfield – deploying former City player James Milner alongside, say, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can. Alternatively, Klopp may decide to be Klopp and simply go for it. That could be revealing in terms of how he sees the centre of his team shaping up post-Coutinho. There has been talk of a specific player having been targeted to fill the gap, but in the short term Klopp will have to look from within, which will likely mean a place for the fit-again Adam Lallana. The more interesting choice would arguably be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who after a slow start to life at Anfield has impressed on a consistent basis. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s desire is to play centrally regularly and he may now get his wish, starting with Sunday’s mouthwatering contest. SN
2) Underrated Mahrez has a chance to shine
No one doubts the class of the 2015 player of the year, Eden Hazard, but could it be that the 2016 winner of that award is underrated? Leicester are not complaining but the lack of offers for Riyad Mahrez so far this month is puzzling because he would enhance any squad in the Premier League. It is true that unlike Coutinho, for instance, Mahrez allowed his performances to dip when he wanted a move away but that is far from unusual and his ability remains exceptional, as he has demonstrated again in recent months. There is every chance of him serving another reminder of his rare ability this weekend at Stamford Bridge, the new home of Ross Barkley, who hopes to one day become as good as the Algerian. That might help attract bids from hesitant suitors and, more pertinently as far as Leicester are concerned, bring closer the prospect of Leicester returning to Europe next season. PD
3) Wenger wary of repeat performance from winger Fraser
When Bournemouth met Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium last season, Arsène Wenger’s side were simply unable to cope with the searing pace of Ryan Fraser and found themselves 3-0 down, only to mount a stirring comeback to rescue a point once the winger was forced off through injury. The Scotland international has been a regular in the Cherries’ line-up since scoring against Southampton in early December and will surely be given the opportunity to repeat his heroics of a just over a year ago. With Fraser having notched a further confidence-boosting brace against Everton in his most recent Premier League excursion, Arsenal’s defenders will need their wits about them to stop history repeating itself. Serving the final match of his touchline ban, their manager could endure an uncomfortable afternoon in the Vitality Stadium press box. BG
4) Allardyce to stick with pace attack against Spurs?
Everton’s season is in effect over. Out of Europe and both domestic cups following last Friday’s FA Cup defeat to Liverpool, Sam Allardyce’s men have 16 Premier League fixtures to play, knowing they are in no real danger of getting relegated and will struggle to secure a Europa League place. Motivation may be hard to come by for those in blue as they face Tottenham at Wembley but that should not be the case for Allardyce, if he is keen on remaining as manager beyond this campaign. The 63-year-old has done a good job dragging Everton up the table and making them more defensively solid but his approach has been less than adventurous. This has to improve if Allardyce is going to be accepted long-term by most Everton supporters – but hope can be taken from the arrival of new £27m striker Cenk Tosun and the performance at Anfield. Ademola Lookman, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Yannick Bolasie looked a real threat as an advanced unit, linking up well and going forward at pace, seen most clearly in Sigurdsson’s equaliser. It will be intriguing to see if Allardyce starts all four players against Tottenham. After all, his job prospects may depend on it. SN
5) Pellegrino the latest manager on borrowed time
Mauricio Pellegrino comes across as an intelligent man so he will be fully aware of just how precarious his position is right now. Following Stoke City’s sacking of Mark Hughes, Southampton are the only club in the bottom four not to have changed their manager this season, while two clubs just above them – Crystal Palace and West Ham United – have prospered having made such a change. There is only a limited amount of time before the powers-that-be at St Mary’s decide enough is enough. Under Pellegrino’s charge, Southampton have won just four league games and appear to have lost any semblance of an identity. They are neither exciting going forward or particularly sturdy at the back and relegation has become a real possibility – Southampton are currently out of the drop zone on goal difference alone. Pellegrino badly needs something from their trip to out-of-form Watford. Lose and it is hard not to see a Premier League trigger being pulled yet again. SN
6) Burnley to rediscover form at Selhurst Park?
Burnley have rightly received a lot of praise this season, but Sean Dyche’s men are in a slump right now and are in danger of undoing their good work from the first half of the campaign. While they can be excused the 4-1 beating at Manchester City in the FA Cup and deserve credit for securing a 2-2 draw at Manchester United on Boxing Day, there have also been some disappointing results in a six-game winless run, including a goalless draw at Huddersfield and a last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Liverpool. Burnley travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday in seventh but could find themselves steadily sliding down the table if they don’t start winning soon. Dyche can take heart from their last trip to Selhurst Park for a 2-0 victory in April. For supporters and neutrals who would love to see Burnley maintain their pursuit of European football, now would be the ideal time for a repeat result. SN
7) Newcastle hope to cope without captain Lascelles
Rafa Benítez will be well aware that Carlos Carvalhal masterminded two victories over his team while in charge of Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship last season. Despite the renowned passion of their supporters, Newcastle’s record at home this season is far from special: three wins in 11 league games, the most recent coming against Crystal Palace in October. Swansea will fancy their chances against a team once again deprived of their captain Jamaal Lascelles, who was injured last weekend. Newcastle have lost four of the five league matches they have played without their central defender this season, conceding an average of three goals per defeat. In the 17 games he has played, the average number of goals they have shipped is less than one. While it would be misguided to suggest these statistics are entirely down to Lascelles, they provide fairly incontrovertible evidence that his influence cannot be overstated. BG
8) Will West Brom’s long wait for a league win go on?
When Brighton whupped West Brom 3-1 in September, it was the Seagulls’ first top-flight win for 34 years. That would be like if West Brom did not win again in the Premier League until 2051. Can you imagine that? Yes, you probably can. Victory has proved beyond the Baggies in all of their last 20 league matches, including the last eight under Alan Pardew. That does not necessarily mean the club was wrong to ditch Tony Pulis but does increase the doubts about the wisdom of replacing him with Pardew. The new manager has at least tried to make West Brom more adventurous but without tangible reward. The strikers remain erratic and there has been little improvement in the supply lines, with Nacer Chadli and Grezgorz Krychowiak still below par andSam Field, whose emergence was the highlight of Gary Megson’s caretaker tenure, fading from view. If they lose to Brighton again they will be 10 points below Chris Hughton’s side and ominously adrift of almost everyone else, too. PD
9) Reinforced Huddersfield seek statement win
As in the last transfer window, Huddersfield have acted quickly and shrewdly this month, strengthening areas that needed addressing. The signing of Terence Kongolo and likely arrival of Norwich’s Alex Pritchard give David Wagner important new options and it will be interesting to see how he uses them. Kongolo is available to face West Ham and his arrival on loan from Monaco offers the possibility of introducing a back three. That might be one way for Huddersfield to increase their firepower, especially if Pritchard arrives to share creative duties with Aaron Mooy. West Ham could have several injury absentees so their visit to the John Smith’s Stadium represents a good chance for Huddersfield to move a step closer to survival while ensuring West Ham remain in danger. PD
10) A happy Monday for post-Hughes Stoke?
Like the revolution, the first match of Stoke’s post-Mark Hughes era will be televised, as they travel to Manchester United on Monday night. At the time of writing, the identity of Hughes’ replacement is yet to be confirmed, but whoever is in charge for this match, it constitutes something of a free swing for a team in the relegation zone but far from doomed. Given the likelihood of a new manager bounce (or perhaps more pertinently, the old manager’s absence) and the fact Stoke are unbeaten in eight Monday night Premier League matches, it would not be a huge surprise to see the Potters emerge with a point. BG