Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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Wilfried Zaha is a threat to injury-hit Liverpool, José Mourinho checks in at Spurs, and Chelsea can make a statement

Nick Ames, Simon Burnton and Paul Doyle  –  The Guardian

Clockwise from top left: Wilfried Zaha, Steve Bruce, New Spurs head coach José Mourinho, Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori, Quique Sánchez Flores, Sheffield United’s Phil Jagielka, Unai Emery, Rúben Neves, Brighton mascot Gully and Teemu Pukki. Composite: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Reuters

1) Mourinho settles in at Spurs after tables turn

It has been 50 weeks since the Sun led with the back-page headline “£40m to get Poch”, in which they detailed how Mauricio Pochettino was poised to take over from José Mourinho at Manchester United. “The Tottenham boss is the ONLY contender to replace Mourinho next summer,” they insisted, adding that “Daniel Levy faces a huge battle to keep his manager”. Mourinho did indeed leave United, and some time sooner than the summer, but he has since pulled off a complete reversal of fortunes. Now it is Pochettino who is out of a job, and Mourinho who was headhunted to replace him. Mourinho spoke warmly and generously of his predecessor on Thursday in his first Tottenham press conference, but a person as proud as the Portuguese will surely take some pleasure at the situation. Mourinho will face West Ham in his first game as Tottenham manager, just as Pochettino did, and Tim Sherwood before him. SB

  • West Ham v Tottenham (12.30pm, Saturday)

2) Can Zaha prosper against depleted Liverpool?

Liverpool could go 12 points clear of Manchester City before Pep Guardiola’s side kick off against Chelsea later on Saturday, but to do that they will have to win at Selhurst Park without, in all likelihood, Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson, both of whom are set to miss out with ankle injuries. Divock Origi will probably replace Salah while James Milner is likely to step in for Robertson. Both deputies are very useful, but neither is nearly as good as the man he will replace. With Robertson missing, Palace will no doubt hope that Wilfried Zaha keeps Trent Alexander-Arnold going backwards, in which case Liverpool would have far less creativity than usual from the full-back positions. That will increase the need for extra thrust from midfield – so Jürgen Klopp must have been pleased to see Georginio Wijnaldum score a hat-trick for the Netherlands during the international break and, perhaps, to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain start both of England’s matches. Both should feature on Saturday if fit. PD

3) Emery hopes to cash in on Emirates home banker

It feels like a pivotal couple of weeks for Unai Emery although, in one way, the Arsenal head coach is on a hiding to nothing. Southampton simply must be beaten at the Emirates on Saturday if the home crowd are to afford him a modicum of breathing space. Eight days later, a visit to Norwich will hold similar importance. Arsenal really should win both, even allowing for their shoddy run before the international break, but that may only dampen the discord before Manchester City, United and Chelsea all visit within three weeks. For now, they can only defeat what is in front of them and Emery believes a dominant performance would fuel some optimism. “Getting three points is 100% our focus, but above all we need to connect with our supporters, while playing better and being in control of the game” he said on Thursday. Bonding with the fans has become a consistent theme for Emery. The processmust begin this weekend if the cries of discontent are not to grow louder. NA

4) Leicester to prey on tired Brighton

Lewis Dunk has played every Premier League minute for Brighton this season at the heart of their defence, but after picking up five bookings, the Seagulls will have to do without Dunk and the injured Adam Webster here, against in-form Leicester and the league’s top scorer, Jamie Vardy. . The caution Dunk received against Manchester United came in the 19th minute; the centre-back’s four previous bookings came in the 83rd, 88th, 88th and 89th minutes. This suggests that Dunk, and possibly his defensive colleagues too, are tiring in the second half. It is not unusual for a team to tail off towards the end of matches, but Brighton have conceded almost as many goals in the last 15 minutes of games (five) as in the first half (six). Leicester, on the other hand, get better as games go on. The aggregate score in the first half-hour of their games this season is 5-5; across the remaining hour they lead 24-3. SB

  • Brighton v Leicester (3pm, Saturday)

5) Sky’s the limit for Chelsea if they can upset City

On Sunday night, pressed to comment on Chelsea’s title chances after making his England debut in Kosovo, Fikayo Tomori applied the neat trick of playing everything down while ruling nothing out. “We’re just focusing on ourselves … at the same time I don’t think we should limit ourselves to anything,” he said. If Frank Lampard’s side come away victorious at the Etihad then everyone would be forgiven for wondering what their ceiling really is. They are in outstanding form and the Saturday evening fixture may tell us a lot. Chelsea’s last league defeat was to Liverpool two months ago and this is comfortably their stiffest task since then. Despite being a point and a place ahead of City, Chelsea find themselves under far less pressure to compete with Jürgen Klopp’s side at this point, a curious dynamic that may work to their advantage. The shackles can come off and, if they can capitalise on City’s skittishness, perhaps the idea of going the distance will seem within their boundaries. NA

  • Manchester City v Chelsea (5.30pm, Saturday)

6) Disruption at the back will test Blades

Sheffield United have been able to name the same back six for every league game of the season so far, and each member of it has done superbly. But this weekend Chris Wilder will have to change against Manchester United. On-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson is forbidden from playing against his parent club, while the participation of John Egan, the linchpin of central defence, is in doubt owing to a calf problem picked up while playing for the Republic of Ireland on Monday. Back-up goalkeeper Simon Moore, 29, is likely to make the first Premier League appearance of his career, while Phil Jagielka could get a first league start since rejoining the Blades in the summer. Perhaps those are developments that will work in the favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who is under even more pressure than usual now that Pochettino is free to take calls. PD

  • Sheffield United v Manchester United (4.30pm, Sunday)

7) Pukki to spoil the party at Goodison Park?

After this game Everton play Leicester, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in a row before Christmas, with Manchester City to follow on New Year’s Day. The need to improve on their current league position of 15th (albeit only three points behind Sheffield United in fifth) as the league’s bottom side visit this weekend is pressing. Norwich have taken one point from 21, scoring two and conceding 16 since September’s victory over Manchester City. Daniel Farke will at least be able to call upon a morale-boosted Teemu Pukki, fresh from two goals and an assist in Finland’s two international games. The Canaries have not won a league game at Goodison Park since 1993, when they came back from a goal down to thump their hapless opponents 5-1, Efan Ekoku becoming the first person to score four in a game in the Premier League era. SB

8) Neves can end Wolves’ lean run at Bournemouth

Wolves fans were not 100% serious when they sang that Rúben Neves is “better than Zidane”, but it was a fun tune with which to celebrate a fine player. It hasn’t been sung much this season because Neves has been below par. In the last few weeks, however, the midfielder has shown signs of regaining his influence, especially going forward, and he crowned a return to form by scoring a lovely goal against Aston Villa. If he continues like that, despite the muscular attention of Philip Billing and Jefferson Lerma, he should help Wolves to their first victory at Bournemouth since 1948. PD

 

9) Don’t expect a thriller at Vicarage Road

Watford have the second-worst home record in the division, having mustered just three points (all from draws) in six games at Vicarage Road. Burnley have the second-worst away record in the division, having mustered just three points away from Turf Moor in six games – all from draws. Something has to give here, unless there is a repeat of last season’s action-free 0-0 draw. Clearly the bookmakers suspect that is a very possible outcome, given that the first goalscorer betting is led by Troy Deeney, who has not played since August. It would be Watford’s third stalemate in four home matches, with Quique Sánchez Flores prioritising defensive stability. That will have to be achieved without the suspended Christian Kabasele, sent off at Carrow Road as the Hornets snaffled their first win of the season last time out. NA

  • Watford v Burnley (3pm, Saturday)

10) Bruce returns to Villa Park with point to prove

Villa’s summer spending spree will not have been lost on Steve Bruce, who spent much of his tenure at the club operating with one hand behind his back. “We were practically bust … it was horrendous at the time,” he said on Thursday of the period before the NSWE group took over. They replaced him with Dean Smith within weeks and there was the indignation, at his final game in charge, of seeing a cabbage hurled in his direction. Bruce did not deserve that and his early fortunes at Newcastle, where the red carpet was not exactly rolled out, suggest he is still a capable enough manager at the top level. He returns to Villa Park with the sides in contrasting form, Newcastle having gained seven points from their last three games and Villa zero. In mitigation, Smith’s side faced Manchester City, Liverpool and Wolves, and have shown enough to suggest they should not be worrying about relegation come May. Bruce is not one to harbour ill feeling but he would gladly heighten any anxiety creeping in around his old workplace. NA

 

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