Justified hype at Old Trafford, Manuel Lanzini returns, Leicester’s Youri Tielemans seeks the consistency that eluded him at Monaco and Spurs must be careful at Burnley
1) A clash for the ages at Old Trafford
Sometimes you just have to stoke the hype. The ramifications of Sunday’s fixture at Old Trafford could ripple out for years. A victory for Manchester United would deal a serious blow to Liverpool’s hopes of landing that long-awaited title. And if Jürgen Klopp’s team fall short this season, then winning the league will be exponentially more difficult for them in future, especially with title jitters close to institutionalised among their fanbase. That, in turn, would make a United victory particularly satisfying for their supporters and increase the chances of Ole Gunnar Solskjær being appointed as the club’s permanent manager (and a bonus offshoot of that could be, if reports are to be believed, that Chelsea get to thinking it would be a good idea to promote Gianfranco Zola).
On the other hand, if Liverpool were to prevail at Old Trafford in what looks to be one of their toughest remaining matches, then their title challenge would get a mighty boost. On top of restoring a three-point lead over Manchester City, it would help settle those all-too-palpable nerves, thus smoothing the run-in. And an away win at Old Trafford, on the back of Paris Saint-Germain’s victory there and Burnley’s draw, might also persuade United’s decision-makers that Solskjær is no magician and luring someone with better pedigree, such as Mauricio Pochettino, remains a better bet. PD
2) To Hendo or not to Hendo: that is the question for Klopp?
With Virgil Van Dijk sure to return to Liverpool’s defence, Fabinho, who deputised well for the Dutchman in defence against Bayern Munich, should take up his usual position in midfield, where his nous and snappy passing are important. So whither Jordan Henderson? Back to the bench despite the fact that he, too, played well against Bayern? Or should he be retained in the hope that he performs the José Mourinho role, stifling and riling Paul Pogba? Chances are that Jürgen Klopp will plump for solidity and dynamism in central midfield in recognition of, firstly, United’s improvement there since the sides met at Anfield in December and, secondly, the fact that Liverpool can be particularly confident of making gains down the wings if United are without the pace of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial. PD
The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.
3) A welcome sighting of the lesser-spotted Lanzini
Fulham’s ongoing search for an away win takes them to the Friday night lights of the London Stadium, where West Ham could welcome back into their matchday squad some or all of Samir Nasri, Fabian Balbuena and the lesser-spotted Manuel Lanzini. Lanzini has recovered from the cruciate injury he suffered in the build-up to the World Cup with Argentina and Manuel Pellegrini has stated how much he is looking forward to working with the playmaker before what is likely to be his first appearance under the Chilean. While Nasri is likely to start against Fulham, Lanzini looks a good bet to come off the bench at some point with the out-of-sorts Robert Snodgrass the player likely to make way. Against a Fulham defence that regularly borders on the slapstick, the duo may provide the spark of creativity that gets sullen Austrian colleague Marko Arnautovic firing on all cylinders again. BG
4) The return of Victor Camarasa to Cardiff’s starting line-up?
Although he didn’t start in either of Cardiff City’s impressive back-to-back wins against Bournemouth or Southampton, there is a strong argument to be made that Victor Camarasa is their most influential player. When the Spaniard plays in an advanced midfield position, Cardiff enjoy far more possession, and with successive home games to come against Watford and Everton, Neil Warnock will want to see him team spend more time on the ball. Should he decide to include Camarasa in his starting line-up, he will be forced into the difficult decision of dropping somebody from a winning team and it will be intriguing to see who he leaves out. Joe Ralls or Bobby Reid seem the most likely candidates, and should either player start the game against Watford on the substitute’s bench, they will have every right to feel a little aggrieved about being ordered to take one for the team. BG
5) Pereira and Tielemans crucial for Leicester
When Palace beat Leicester 1-0 at Selhurst Park in December, it was their first league win in two years without Wilfried Zaha. All the same, there is no chance of them choosing to do without their best player on Saturday, which gives Ricardo Pereira the perfect opportunity to show why he has made the Leicester right-back position his own – despite an unpromising start to his Premier League career earlier this season. One player who has made an excellent impression at the club is Youri Tielemans, who brought welcome creativity to their midfield during his debut against Spurs. The gifted Belgian’s problem at Monaco, who loaned him out in January, was inconsistency. But if he makes it two fine performances from two for Leicester, then Roy Hodgson will need Zaha to be on top form – otherwise Claude Puel will be celebrating a first home win since Boxing Day. PD
6) An even more invigorated Burnley?
Sean Dyche used the recent gap in Burnley’s schedule to take his squad to Portugal for five days of warm-weather training. Following their win against Brighton almost a fortnight ago, they entertain Tottenham at Turf Moor as they attempt to extend an unbeaten Premier League run in which they have harvested 15 points from their past seven games. Considering they only accumulated 12 in their previous 19, that’s quite the resurgence, and Tottenham will need to be extremely wary of the threat Burnley pose. Following a similar February break last season, Burnley drew their first game back, then won five in a row. BG
7) Bournemouth spark extinguished?
While Bournemouth were singularly unimpressive in defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, there were some mitigating factors. As well as missing long-term absentees Lewis Cook and Simon Francis, their loan signing Nathaniel Clyne was ineligible to play against his parent club, while key players such as Junior Stanislas, Callum Wilson and David Brooks were also absent. The ongoing absence of Wilson, Brooks and – possibly – Stanislas, not to mention the creativity the trio bring with them could make for a very tricky afternoon against an obdurate and well-drilled Wolves rearguard that can be extremely difficult to penetrate or break down. BG
8) A team of Terriers with a bit more bite
As Huddersfield prepare for their inevitable return to the Championship, their trip to Newcastle should give some indication as to whether they are likely to go down swinging and in style. The Terriers have taken just one point from the past 39 available, but have shown increasing signs of life since the appointment of Jan Siewert in January. The German has had the best part of two weeks to get his players used to his new, more energetic way of doing things, and their performance at St James’ Park could speak volumes.Twenty-one-year-old striker Karlan Grant, brought in from Charlton at the end of January, has now been awarded the strike originally adjudged to be a Sead Kolasinac own goal in Huddersfield’s defeat at the hands of Arsenal, and with 15 goals to his name this season (14 of them scored for Charlton), he has already scored once more than the rest of his new team-mates put together, and should make his first Premier League start at St James’. BG
9) A Southampton side that’s heard some home truths
One of many Premier League clubs who used their early exit from the FA Cup to go abroad for some warm-weather training, Southampton went to Tenerife, where their manager Ralph Hasenhüttl got to spend some one-on-one time with each member of his senior squad. The Austrian was visibly enraged following his side’s last-minute defeat at the hands of Cardiff City last time out, so it’s fair to say some of the aforementioned exchanges may have been decidedly frank and possibly a little brutal. “I think they want to see what deficit they have still and they also want to see what they make better now in their game,” he told the Southern Daily Echo. “We invested a lot of time to find the right clips for these guys, and maybe it helps the next time for them to find better decisions in those moments. I think for everybody it’s important to get that feedback, and for us it is also important to hear how they feel in the moment and what is the atmosphere in the group and what they think about our way.” The results of the quality time he spent with his players will be available for all to see when they travel to Arsenal. BG
10) Mike Dean bringing up his century
Having let everyone down by refusing to notch up his century of red cards in the marquee game between Manchester City and Chelsea, Mike Dean remains on 99 not out and will surely be unable to resist a bravura flourish, before waving his card in appreciation to all four corners of the ground. Turf Moor on Saturday lunchtime is his next port of call – the footballers of Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley should consider themselves warned. BG