Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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Chelsea are fragile before meeting Manchester City, Manchester United at home to the bottom club no longer looks a walkover and will it be same old for Saints despite a new manager?

Nick Ames, Paul Doyle and Barry Glendenning– The Guardian

1) Sarri’s first stumbles give cause for concern against City

It is far too early for any “I’m Sarri I haven’t a clue” headlines but the past few weeks have given a more accurate impression of the job Chelsea’s manager faces. Their defeat by Wolves was sloppy, particularly given they looked comfortable at 1-0 up, and with an evisceration by Spurs still fresh in the memory Sarri is presented with his first real bump in the road. The odds on things improving this Saturday, when Manchester City visit Stamford Bridge, are unpromising but Sarri has always been aware this would be a rebuilding effort and the squad still requires a mini overhaul if the gap with City is to be closed in the long term. The setback at Molineux proved that Sarri does not yet have the facility to rest key players: Jorginho, who stayed on the bench throughout, was missed and greater depth is surely a priority in January. City may show Chelsea how far there is to go; the hope must be that those in the club’s corridors of power are, for once, sympathetic. NA

 

2) Pogback again or just Pogoff?

Manchester United at home to the league’s bottom club used to be a foregone conclusion. Now it would not be a shock if Claudio Ranieri’s improving Fulham took a point, at least, at Old Trafford. Not only is the result difficult to predict, so is United’s lineup. Because of injuries, inconsistencies and beefs, José Mourinho has continually altered his team this season. The biggest decision he has to make is whether to restore Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku to the starting lineup after both were demoted to the bench for the visit of Arsenal. Will that dropping stimulate Pogba, in particular, to show more dynamism and muscle? It is clear that Pogba does not have the ability to be the all-round midfielder he once aspired to being but if he cannot even bring himself to be a French Mesut Özil, then he will be useless to United, even at home to the bottom club. PD

 

 

3) Early Koscielny comeback on the cards for Emery?

Having stepped up for Arsenal in the absence of Laurent Koscielny in the early days of Unai Emery’s reign, Rob Holding was stretchered off at Old Trafford with what his manager described as “a big knee injury” that will rule the 23-year-old out for the foreseeable future, possibly the rest of the season. Emery’s preferred system of playing three central defenders leaves him with plenty to ponder as fixtures come thick and fast. Due to make his own return against Qarabag in the Europa League next week, Koscielny may make an early comeback from long-term injury depending on his levels of fitness. Konstantinos Mavropanos is also close to a return from a groin injury but he has made only three appearances for the club. Emery’s other options are to switch to four at the back against Huddersfield on Saturday, or to stick with Stephan Lichtsteiner, who replaced Holding on Wednesday. The wing-back may not be tested too much by David Wagner’s men but is not a viable long-term option. BG

4) Southampton enter new era trying to solve same old problems

 

Ralph Hasenhüttl, Southampton’s fourth manager in two and half seasons, begins his reign against Cardiff on Saturday. Let’s see how long it lasts. The Austrian may have charisma and snazzy ideas but he inherits players who have flunked under several managers, not only Mark Hughes. There has not been a reliable and regularly fit scorer in the squad for a while, and that problem has been compounded this season, in particular, by basic defensive mistakes that sabotage otherwise decent performances. With the club’s invisible majority shareholder, Gao Jisheng, unable or unwilling to invest heavily, Hasenhüttl’s success will depend on his ability to teach long-erratic forwards – or promising youngsters such as Michael Obafemi – to be more clinical and defenders to be more solid. Southampton have more skill than Cardiff but on Saturday Neil Warnock’s side will test the visitors’ capacity to do the fundamentals. PD

5) Howe’s forward trio can wreak similar havoc to Klopp’s

“Gloriously madcap” is how the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield described Bournemouth’s come-from-behind victory by the odd goal of seven when they stunned Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium a little over two years ago. While Liverpool ran out comfortable winners of both league encounters against Eddie Howe’s side last season, this is a tricky fixture their fans will be viewing with no little trepidation. Ryan Fraser, Joshua King and Callum Wilson are like a similarly menacing cut-price version of Liverpool trio Sadio Mané (an injury concern for this game), Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino; capable of wreaking all sorts of havoc with their speed, precision and borderline telepathy. Thirteen of the 18 players selected for the Bournemouth match-day squad that contested the 2016 thriller remain at the club, with two out injured and six likely to be starters. It speaks volumes for the apparent air of serenity around the south coast club and the obvious regard in which Howe is held by those in whom he puts his trust. BG

 

 

6) Ashley’s latest exit plans put fan protests on ice

 

Fan boycotts of Premier League football matches are rare, possibly out of concern that the presence of thousands of fans boycotting the boycott demonstrates a lack of unity that is as dispiriting as it is self-defeating for those protesting. Newcastle fans had planned one for their Sunday match against Wolves but unconfirmed reports that Mike Ashley could be about to sell the club prompted the True Faith website to call on supporters to abandon their plans. “A successful takeover will be greatly enhanced by Newcastle United’s Premier League status looking more positive than it does now,” it said. “Therefore it is the agreed editorial position of True Faith to withdraw our support for any match boycott of this game.” Sunday will provide some indication of whether or not fans believe the current talk of the Toon. BG

7) Fragile Palace vulnerable to Hammers

Tuesday’s defeat to 10-man Brighton was a reminder to Crystal Palace that just because you can beat Burnley, as Palace did three days earlier, it does not mean you are good enough to avoid relegation. Palace remain ominously blunt up front and on Tuesday the relative defensive solidity on which they had been leaning began to crumble. If that trend continues, they are doomed. Marko Arnautovic’s hamstring injury may be a lucky break for Palace but with Javier Hernández and Lucas Pérez rediscovering their scoring touches in recent games for the Hammers, Roy Hodgson’s side will have to sharpen up to avoid their 16th league match of the season ending in their 10th defeat. PD

8) Silva reunion gives Watford a chance to lift off again

Marco Silva will have to wait until February before facing the wrath of Vicarage Road but his former club’s visit to Merseyside on Monday night gives extra significance to a fixture between two sides with something to prove. Everton sit sixth, look increasingly impressive under Silva but still drop sloppy points – Newcastle taking one at Goodison Park on Wednesday – and the goals have dried up slightly. Watford are among those placed to challenge for that best-of-the-rest position but their question marks are more pronounced: they have lost four of their last five, and the talk of a Javi Gracia-fuelled revolution has dulled slightly. The likely conclusion is that they are too good to go down but a mite short of the requirement for a place in the top seven, but perhaps the chance to show their old manager what he is missing will stoke enough fire to get them going again. NA

9) Smart summer signings make Leicester trouble for Spurs

Tottenham have a longstanding interest in Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and made efforts to sign him during the summer. He is good but Spurs would have been better off going for James Maddison, whom Leicester prised from Norwich for £22m. That is much less than Villa demanded for Grealish and is proving to have been a snip. With Caglar Soyuncu showing in recent weeks that he has the tools to become a very accomplished centre-back to partner or lessen the dependency on Harry Maguire, Leicester could seriously trouble Spurs on Saturday. And while Tottenham recruited no one, Leicester have strong claims to have made the signings of the season, with only the captures of Lucas Torreira, David Brooks and Xherdan Shaqiri looking as shrewd as those of Soyuncu and especially Maddison. PD

 

 

10) Expect Dyche’s men to dig in at home to Brighton

While Burnley only lost 2-0 at Crystal Palace last weekend, the scoreline did little justice to the home side’s almost total dominance. Lucky to escape Selhurst Park without being slaughtered, Burnley were much improved against Liverpool, even if the two-goal margin remained. A home game against Brighton is next on the itinerary for Sean Dyche’s side, whose aggression in the tackle so annoyed Jürgen Klopp on Wednesday night despite few or any of the challenges that prompted the Liverpool boss to clutch his pearls having been fouls. With only two wins to their name all season, Burnley need more points on the board and they need them fast. Expect Klopp’s sermonising on their approach to go unheeded as they try to take all three in the kind of game they have to start winning if they are to have any chance of survival. BG

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Man City 15 38 41
2 Liverpool 15 24 39
3 Tottenham Hotspur 15 12 33
4 Chelsea 15 18 31
5 Arsenal 15 14 31
6 Everton 15 4 23
7 AFC Bournemouth 15 3 23
8 Man Utd 15 -1 23
9 Leicester 15 3 22
10 Brighton 15 -2 21
11 Watford 15 -3 20
12 Wolverhampton 15 -3 19
13 West Ham 15 -3 18
14 Newcastle 15 -8 13
15 Crystal Palace 15 -9 12
16 Cardiff 15 -16 11
17 Huddersfield 15 -16 10
18 Southampton 15 -16 9
19 Burnley 15 -18 9
20 Fulham 15 -21 9

 

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