Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Ed Aarons, Simon Burnton and Niall McVeigh on 13 December 2019

1) Pearson’s head out of sand over past persona

Nigel Pearson was introduced to the media at Vicarage Road on Thursday, when he was asked about the reputation he has gained across his career. Towards the end of his time at Leicester one press conference memorably dissolved into an instantly infamous rant – “If you don’t know the answer to that question then I think you are an ostrich” – which sealed his reputation as, frankly, a bit of a grump. “I know I have at times been perceived as difficult to work with, but a lot of that was born out of trying to protect my players,” he said. “I’m a human being, I’m like anybody else. You would prefer to be liked than disliked, wouldn’t you? But I have to accept I have been responsible for creating a persona.” In the other dugout on Saturday will be a manager who has created an entirely contrasting persona, but sadly for Pearson there are likely to be more frowns for him than Jürgen Klopp. In their last three visits, Watford have lost 5-0, 5-0 and 6-1. Since then, they have got worse and Liverpool better. SB

Liverpool v Watford (12.30pm, Saturday – all times GMT)

Nigel Pearson’s first game in charge of Watford is a tricky one.
Nigel Pearson’s first game in charge of Watford is a tricky one. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

2) Vardy benefiting from Leicester’s patience

A funny thing happened last week: Leicester scored in the first half. Twice, in fact. They hadn’t managed a first-half league goal since the 9-0 thrashing of Southampton in October, despite a run of eight successive victories that has seen Brendan Rodgers’s side emerge as the closest challengers to Liverpool. Leicester may be slow starters but they more than make up for it in the second half, having scored 27 times and conceded just twice after the break in their 16 league games. The patient approach is clearly paying dividends for Jamie Vardy, who will be confident of at least maintaining his one goal-per-game ratio against lowly Norwich. EA

Leicester v Norwich (3pm, Saturday)

3) Success for Arsenal at last against shaky City?

Everything seems a little rosier in the Emirates garden. Sort of. But what better way to build on the surprise comeback against West Ham that gave Freddie Ljungberg his first win as Arsenal’s interim manager than to face an out-of-sorts Manchester City at home? The problem is that the Gunners haven’t overcome City at home in the league since the pre-Pep Guardiola days in December 2015, when Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud scored in a 2-1 win. With Nicolas Pépé finding his feet and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang always good for a goal, Ljungberg may decide to go bold in a bid to exploit their opponents’ shaky defence. EA

Arsenal v Manchester City (4.30pm, Sunday)

4) Brighton buoyant before the A23 derby

Brighton hold the bragging rights after doing the double over Crystal Palace last season, even if Roy Hodgson’s side ended up finishing 13 points ahead of their bitter rivals in the table. Graham Potter’s first experience of the A23 derby on Monday night should be intriguing as he faces Roy Hodgson, another manager who first found success in Scandinavia before returning home. Brighton’s problems picking up results on the road have held them back from challenging for the top 10 during their two previous seasons in the Premier League but, after the win at Arsenal last week, a second successive away win over Palace would no doubt go down well in deepest Sussex. EA

Brighton v Crystal Palace (7.45pm, Monday)

A Crystal Palace fan with a t-shirt saying ‘Keep calm and hate Brighton’
A Crystal Palace fan lets his feelings be known about Brighton. Photograph: Kieran McManus/BPI/Shutterstock

5) Pellegrini on the brink at St Mary’s

Not many pundits had West Ham’s trip to Southampton down as a potential relegation six-pointer at the start of the season, and it still not might be. But following the capitulation to Arsenal, the pressure is mounting on Manuel Pellegrini and defeat at St Mary’s could spell the end for the league’s second-oldest manager. One win in 11 matches – albeit against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – has left the east London side in serious peril as the age-old issues in defence and up front have quickly resurfaced. Pellegrini must decide whether to recall the £45m striker Sébastian Haller on the south coast, while his players must decide whether they want to risk the upheaval of yet another mid-season managerial change. EA

Southampton v West Ham (5.30pm, Saturday)

6) A 90s throwback to savour at Old Trafford

Manchester United and Everton have both underperformed spectacularly at times this season but both have recently found form, and pulled off unexpected wins, by going back to basics. United’s quick, direct counter attacks proved too much for Manchester City or Tottenham to handle, while Everton bullied Chelsea into submission last Saturday. How these new approaches fare when pitted against one another will be interesting to watch. Will United’s youngsters suffer as Chelsea’s did at Goodison? Will Everton’s defence unravel as it did at Anfield? For neutrals, this will be an intriguing, physical 90s throwback, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Duncan Ferguson on the touchlines urging their teams on. NMc

Manchester United v Everton (2pm, Sunday)

United’s Marcus Rashford puts on the after burners during the Manchester derby.
United’s Marcus Rashford puts on the after burners during the Manchester derby. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

7) Chelsea’s defence under scrutiny with Aké a target

The late wobble against Lille in the Champions League on Tuesday will have done nothing for Frank Lampard’s heart rate and with Chelsea now free to make additions in January, surely the priority should be fixing his leaky defence. With almost 100 Premier League games under his belt and now an established member of the Netherlands squad, Nathan Aké certainly ticks all the boxes for Chelsea, the club he joined from Feyenoord at the age of 16. Many questioned the wisdom of allowing one the club’s best young players to join Bournemouth for £20m in 2017, but the decision to insert a £40m buyback clause in his contract could prove to be a masterstroke. Eddie Howe admitted this week that he was powerless to stop Aké moving if a bid is received, although it remains to be seen whether he will feature on Saturday after limping out of last week’s defeat to Liverpool with a suspected hamstring problem. Nervously looking over their shoulders after losing five league games in a row and with a mounting injury crisis in defence, Bournemouth could do with him returning sooner than expected. EA

Chelsea v Bournemouth (3pm, Saturday)

8) Nuno scents chance to stretch lead over Mourinho

Wolves spent the week basking in the warmth of Marbella before playing a largely reserve side in the Europa League against Besiktas on Thursday, so should be ready for the challenge of facing José Mourinho’s Tottenham at Molineux on Sunday. It will be their 31st match of a campaign that could eventually reach at least double that figure, and Nuno Espírito Santo will know that keeping his first-choice players fresh is the key to maintaining their challenge on all fronts. With Liverpool and Manchester City to come over Christmas, beating the side led by his former manager at Porto would give Nuno’s team a four-point lead over one of their rivals for the coveted top-four finish that does not look beyond them at this stage. EA

Wolves v Tottenham (2pm, Sunday)

9) Will anyone want the ball at Turf Moor?

Newcastle have attempted 4,878 passes so far this season, 337 fewer than any other Premier League side and better than only one team in Europe’s top five leagues – La Liga’s Getafe. England’s next lowest figure, and Europe’s fourth lowest passers, are Burnley. Newcastle have averaged 38.3% of possession this season, the lowest in Europe’s top five leagues, while Burnley are third bottom on 42.7%. At least one of these teams is going to find Saturday’s encounter quite disconcerting. They can’t both have less than 50% of possession, and at some point, someone is going to have to have a go at passing. Tim Robinson makes his Premier League debut as referee, though he did take charge of Newcastle’s Carabao Cup defeat to Leicester earlier this season, after which Steve Bruce was highly critical of his decision to only book Hamza Choudhury for a foul on Matt Ritchie. “It’s a horror challenge and I don’t want people sent off and red cards, but when I see the state of Matty’s leg …. He’s a mess and the referee is five yards away from him, which is difficult to take.” Ritchie has not played since. SB

Burnley v Newcastle (3pm, Saturday)

10) Time for Villa to give McGinn a rest?

After some promising signs in early autumn, Aston Villa’s first season back in the Premier League is on a knife-edge again. The disappointing defeat to Leicester last week was compounded by the injury suffered by Tyrone Mings, with Dean Smith expected to recall Björn Engels to partner Ezri Konsa for the trip to face the high-flying Blades on Saturday. Yet while Villa’s defensive problems are obvious, John McGinn’s loss of form is even more worrying. The Scotland midfielder scored the last of his three league goals at the end of September and has been struggling to exert the influence he showed during the opening weeks of the season. The former Villa striker Darren Bent suggested this week it could be time to give him a rest with games against Southampton, Norwich, Watford and Burnley to come over the festive period. He may have a point. EA

• Sheffield United v Aston Villa (3pm, Saturday)

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 16 26 46
2 Leicester 16 29 38
3 Man City 16 25 32
4 Chelsea 16 7 29
5 Man Utd 16 6 24
6 Wolverhampton 16 4 24
7 Tottenham Hotspur 16 7 23
8 Sheff Utd 16 3 22
9 Arsenal 16 0 22
10 Crystal Palace 16 -4 22
11 Newcastle 16 -6 22
12 Brighton 16 -4 19
13 Burnley 16 -8 18
14 Everton 16 -9 17
15 AFC Bournemouth 16 -6 16
16 West Ham 16 -10 16
17 Aston Villa 16 -5 15
18 Southampton 16 -17 15
19 Norwich 16 -17 11
20 Watford 16 -21 9

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