Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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Fred is finding his feet under Solskjær, Maddison and Grealish jostle for England attention and do Everton have a new plan?

Guardian sport

Jack Grealish will hope to impress Gareth Southgate, Trent Alexander-Arnold could need a rest and Fred will face Fernandinho in the Manchester derby. Photograph: Getty Images and Rex/Shutterstock

1) Fred finding his feet at last

Fred has described Fernandinho has his role model in the past but, until recently, it seemed like the only thing the pair had in common was that they both moved from Brazil to Shakhtar Donetsk before arriving in Manchester. Over the last month, however, Fred has finally started showing the quality that persuaded United to spend £52m on him last year. He and Scott McTominay form a midfield partnership of formerly maligned players who have become more than useful. They, along with Marcus Rashford’s refulgent form and the fact that United now relish being underdogs, are reasons why City might not annihilate Saturday’s visitors to the Etihad. Paul Doyle

  • Manchester City v Manchester Utd (5.30pm, Saturday – all times GMT)

2) Everton to ditch the back five

There is inevitable uncertainty over who will be in the Everton team against Chelsea, given that it will be Duncan Ferguson choosing the XI, but one change they will surely make is to their defensive shape. Having played a back four all season, against Leicester and Liverpool in their last two games Marco Silva suddenly switched to a back five. Thirty-four minutes into the derby he abandoned the experiment, bringing Bernard on for Djibril Sidibé and changing his team’s shape, and it would be very surprising if his successor gives it another go here. Everton’s recent record against Chelsea is appalling – between the 2009 FA Cup final and the summer of 2016 they at least scored in 16 of their 18 games against them, but in six of their seven matches since then they have managed nil (with an aggregate score of 14-1). Simon Burnton

  • Everton v Chelsea (12.30pm, Saturday)

3) Time for Alexander-Arnold to get a breather?

Having rested two-thirds of his forward line for the Merseyside derby without negative effect, and with at least eight more games to play this month, there may well be more rotation from Jürgen Klopp here. On Wednesday he even gave Trent Alexander-Arnold a brief breather, with his late substitution meaning the right-back missed his first seven minutes of league action this season. Klopp may have been concentrating on the fact that the 21-year-old was flirting with disciplinary disaster at the time having already been booked, though the Englishman surely proved his ability to avoid incurring the wrath of refs when, after being cautioned in his first three games of last season, he was not in any of his final 37. Anyway, he is one more yellow card away from a suspension, which would take the decision out of the manager’s hands. Last season, like the year before that, Liverpool beat Bournemouth 3-0 at home and 4-0 away. SB

4) Ljungberg is not the bad guy at Arsenal

For any Arsenal fans thinking of printing out a ‘Ljungberg Out’ sign and bringing it to the London Stadium away end for Monday’s game at West Ham, don’t bother, and not just because you’ll be too far away for anyone else to read what’s on your A4 sheet of paper. Ljungberg didn’t get Arsenal into this mess, and on Thursday’s showing against Brighton, he’s not going to be around long enough to get them out of it. The Gunners’ problem is that most of the people that could actually help don’t want anything to do with the club until at least the summer, with Max Allegri timing his sabbatical announcement on Thursday to perfection. Ljungberg is a substitute teacher having a bad week rather than the man to blame for deep, structural problems but a quick change or two could make life easier for him in the short-term at West Ham, namely playing Arsenal’s captain and best player, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in his best position (hot tip: it’s not on the wing). Michael Butler

5) Saints revival to keep rolling on?

The old cliche about the importance of beating the teams around you feels reassuringly pertinent for Southampton fans at the moment. Saints still showed vulnerabilities in their narrow home wins over Watford and Norwich, but the results bore testimony to their resilient response to that 0-9 drubbing by Leicester, a side who, after all, haven’t dropped points against anyone else since either. That mauling put Ralph Hussenhüttl’s position in jeopardy but the Southampton manager was given reassurances in its aftermath by the club’s chief executive, Martin Semmens, that his job was safe. That faith has been repaid by his side hauling themselves out of the bottom three. Their resilience faces another test on Sunday with the long trip to Newcastle, who have found some. But with Saints’ strikers firing more reliably than Newcastle’s – with Danny Ings in particular looking sharp – a third straight win is well within reasonable expectations. Tom Davies

 

6) Burnley hoping to cause more trouble for Tottenham

The two teams beaten in midweek by Manchester sides try to make amends. Before these sides last met, at Turf Moor in February, Spurs had won their last three games, and 20 of their opening 26, to sit just five points behind the title-vying duo of Liverpool and Manchester City. But Burnley won 2-1, Mauricio Pochettino “crossed the line” in angrily confronting the referee, Mike Dean, after the final whistle and Tottenham then went on a run of six wins in 24 league games that culminated in the Argentinian being sacked. So, in short, it was all Burnley’s fault. Both managers have decisions to make regarding their central midfield, with José Mourinho pairing Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko at Old Trafford to disappointing effect, having picked Eric Dier and Tanguy Ndombele against Bournemouth last weekend. Burnley belatedly gave Danny Drinkwater his league debut against Manchester City, and with Ashley Westwood still injured will likely give him another go. As Dyche said on Tuesday: “He does need football and how do you get him football unless he plays?” SB

7) Palace enjoying a strange superiority

In the four completed seasons since Watford’s promotion reunited them with the club that edged past them in the 2012-13 Championship play-off final, they and Crystal Palace have been separated by three points, one point, three points and one point, with the Hornets twice ahead and twice in arrears. The clubs have the division’s 17th and 18th biggest stadiums; they have both won two of their last five meetings 2-1 (the other was drawn 0-0); none of their last 13 encounters going back nearly eight years has been won by more than a single goal. Palace’s assistant manager used to manage Watford; Watford’s caretaker manager used to play for Palace. The clubs are, in short, similar to the point of mild weirdness, but suddenly there are 13 points between them, and for the first time in a long time one team enters this fixture as clear favourites. It is a feeling Palace might have to get used to: this is the third of a run of eight successive matches against sides in the bottom 10 – and they won the first two. SB

  • Watford v Crystal Palace (3pm, Saturday)

8) Rampant Wolves could still do with tightening up

Nuno Espirito Santo gave his overworked players a rare day off on Thursday after beating West Ham in their 28th match of the season, and they should have rested easily given a run of form that has lifted them up to fifth place in 10 unbeaten matches. There is much that is pleasing in Wolves’ game: they have goal threats from all manner of sources – the largely marginalised Patrick Cutrone grabbing one on Wednesday – but their defence still needs tightening. The clean sheet against West Ham, due in no small part to Rui Patricio’s excellence in goal, was only their fourth of the season in the league and they should deliver another one on Sunday at Brighton. Graham Potter’s side are coming off a tricky run of fixtures in which decent performances went unawares until Thursday’s excellent win at Arsenal. That Wolves rearguard will be tested again at the Amex. TD

 

9) Grealish and Maddison vie for Southgate’s affections

Gareth Southgate best have an early dinner on Sunday and get himself to Villa Park by 2pm. Because he evidently needs to have closer looks at Jack Grealish and James Maddison, neither of whom have had as much England action as they deserve. Grealish, of course, has not had any at all yet, which is mystifying because he is brilliant and there is no other English player quite like him. Maddison, another gem, is probably the closest but not as dynamic. Leicester’s advantage, though, is that they are not quite as reliant on Maddison as Villa are on Grealish. The home team will need their captain to be near his best if they are to prevent Leicester from racking up an eighth league win in a row. Southgate needs to pay attention. PD

  • Aston Villa v Leicester (2pm, Sunday)

10) Norwich need points as well as principles

Last season Norwich and Sheffield United were by some distance the best teams in the Championship. Both believed in a way of doing things, stuck by it and were rewarded richly. They have stuck to their principles in the top flight too, to the extent that aesthetically they would both slot into the top 10 of Premier League sides a neutral would pay to watch. The problem for Norwich is that they are nowhere near the top half in any other sense; Chris Wilder’s team, a project longer in the making than the Canaries side that was promoted just two seasons into Daniel Farke’s tenure, seem unlikely to be troubled by a relegation fight and have so far been more effective at both ends of the pitch, notably at the back, than their old second-tier rivals. Last season’s iteration of this fixture was an entertaining 2-2 draw; something similar could be predicted this time with reasonable confidence but the sense if that Norwich need to win if they are to stay within touch of the Blades and, at the same time, boost their survival cause. Nick Ames

  • Norwich v Sheffield United (2pm, Sunday)

 

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