Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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Two cerebral coaches meet at the Emirates, shaky Spurs head to Vicarage Road and can United really end Liverpool’s unbeaten season?

Nick Ames, Simon Burnton and Barry Glendenning –  The Guardian

Clockwise from top left: Chris Wilder, Teemu Pukki, Steve Bruce, Dean Smith, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Sean Dyche, Darren Randolph, Gedson Fernandes, Danny Ings and Roy Hodgson. Composite: Getty Images, Reuters, PA

1) A tough debut for Fernandes at Watford?

Gedson Fernandes started only three league games in 2019 – and was substituted at half-time in one of those – and though he is richly talented there is no guarantee he will enjoy more success at Spurs than his largely underwhelming compatriots Ricardo Rocha, Pedro Mendes (he of the disallowed goal from the halfway line at Old Trafford), Helder Postiga and José Dominguez, the entertaining if only occasionally effective winger who was a light in the darkness of the Gerry Francis-Christian Gross era. Fernandes’ fitness levels are unknown but there are easier debuts than against an in-form Watford side that have discovered their collective mettle. The former Tottenham midfielder Étienne Capoue is providing many of the qualities José Mourinho could use from the base of midfield. In their next four league games, Spurs play three of the current bottom four in Watford, Norwich and Aston Villa, an excellent opportunity to address the rocky form that has meant they won one and lost three of their last five league matches. But on current form, and with Harry Kane injured, there seems little to choose between these sides. SB

  • Watford v Tottenham, Saturday 12.30pm (all times GMT)

2) An Emirates battle forged on the training pitch

Chris Wilder brings Sheffield United to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since September 2008 – when they lost 6-0 – and he has a confirmed admirer in his opposite number, Mikel Arteta. “What I like about a manager is when I see a real team that fights for every single ball with their attitude and behaviour,” Arteta said on Wednesday. “It’s very clear what he’s trying to do, so I have big admiration for him.” Clarity and effective messaging have been a hallmark of Arteta’s early attempts to knock Arsenal into shape, so Saturday’s fixture should provide an interesting test, particularly because Arteta is having to improvise given an unfriendly injury list and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s suspension. Wilder and company will smell an upset, if that is really what an away win would be, and an absorbing battle awaits between two coaches who cherish every second spent out on the training ground. NA

  • Arsenal v Sheffield United, Saturday 3pm

3) Manchester United to spoil another unbeaten run?

Five points behind Chelsea in the race for fourth, and with every possibility the gap will have increased to eight by Sunday, Manchester United will arrive at Anfield with every incentive to win … something no visiting team has managed in the Premier League in 51 attempts. As unlikely as it seems that one of the most underwhelming Manchester United sides in recent memory might end this unbeaten run, the club does have form in the field of putting a stop to the gallop of unbeaten sides. It was United who finally made Arsenal’s title-winning team look “vincible” again, with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford in October 2004. Ole Gunnar Solskjær didn’t feature that day, but he may remember that Arsenal went on to drop nine points from the next 15 matches. While a similar slump from Liverpool seems even more unlikely than a Manchester United win on Sunday, United fans won’t be the only ones praying their manager can mastermind what would constitute a shock victory for his side. BG

  • Liverpool v Manchester United, Sunday 4.30pm

4) Palace aim for another happy Etihad away day

Roy Hodgson is happy enough to be reminded of the stunning 3-2 win they contrived at Manchester City last season. “We won there and it seems a lifetime away,” he said. “But we did win there once, which was nice, and we still dine out on that every now and then.” On Saturday they will hope for some new material over which to break bread and, even though City have clicked into something approaching their best form, it does not feel impossible. Palace remain injury-plagued but they have a knack of niggling a result out when the chips appear to be down; it is worth noting that in their nine league matches since losing to Liverpool in November, they have lost only once. They will have to break City’s rhythm, much as they succeeded in knocking Arsenal off their stride last weekend, but they are masters of staying in games. Another satisfying dinner is not out of the question. NA

 

5) A must-win basement battle at Carrow Road

After one league win in four months and now eight points from safety, Norwich are in a whole lot of trouble. At least this weekend they get to play Bournemouth, who in their last three league games have played the teams currently 14th, 15th and 17th in the league, losing all three by an aggregate score of 0-9. Eddie Howe’s side are currently the closest thing the Premier League has to a point-dispensing machine. Norwich will have Teemu Pukki available, in whose absence they put in an insipid display at Old Trafford. The Cherries follow this with home games against Brighton and Aston Villa – the worst thing about their form is that they are midway through as kindly a six-match sequence as any side will get this season – and anything but immediate improvement could fatally undermine their survival chances. SB

 

6) Bruce’s welcome selection dilemma

 

Newcastle’s injury crisis is abating, with Matt Ritchie, Jonjo Shelvey, Allan Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles likely to be available for selection when Chelsea pitch up at St James’ Park. Finally off the mark in the Premier League, Miguel Almirón can’t stop scoring, while Joelinton’s confidence is likely to be buoyed by the midweek goal against Rochdale that ended a run of 20 games without a goal. Newcastle fans have every reason to be optimistic before a game against rivals who beat them by the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge in October. Following his seamless reintroduction against Rochdale after a four-month lay-off Matt Ritchie has given Steve Bruce a rare and welcome headache. Chelsea are an entirely different proposition to the League One outfit, however, so whether or not he starts this weekend remains to be seen. BG

  • Newcastle v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm

7) Ings staking claim for England call-up

Two months and 10 days before England next play seems a strange time to be speculating about potential call-ups. With Harry Kane injured, the international prospects of 14-goal Danny Ings are a hot topic again. “I think it’s even more spectacular if you are scoring for a team that’s not a so-called big club; that really proves you can do it,” Ralph Hasenhüttl said this week of Ings. “ I think England has so many good strikers, but at the moment Ingsy is in really, really fantastic shape. If he gets a call-up for England not only will he be happy but also me too.” Ings has scored in 12 of his last 16 league games and nine of his last 11, an astonishing record, and would become the fifth member of this Southampton team to be capped while at the club, another impressive record. SB

8) Strikerless Villa aim to pull Brighton into mire

Aston Villa are about to enter their third consecutive game in all competitions without a recognised striker. They are close to signing the Genk forward Mbwana Samatta to fill the voidand must hope the paperwork is done soon – or more realistically, in time for a seismic clash with Watford on Tuesday. In the meantime they visit Brighton and there can be no moping around. Graham Potter has rightly received plaudits for his reconfiguration of the Seagulls’ style and there is no unrealistic expectation for stellar results at this point. But Villa, for all their dramas, sit only three points behind them and an away win would reel Potter’s side right into the dogfight. It is a case of “the more the merrier” where those in the thick of the survival battle are concerned, and if Villa can dig out a result it would be an enormous boost in troubled times. NA

  • Brighton v Aston Villa, Saturday 3pm

9) Randolph gets another chance at West Ham

In April 2017, Darren Randolph was dropped from the West Ham team after making a series of errors, ending with a costly mistake in the 2-2 draw against Sunderland. “Darren has held his hands up about the goals,” said Slaven Bilic. “The whole world knows when it is the keeper at fault. Of course it was a mistake.” The first match after he lost his place was a home game against Everton. A little under two years later, David Martin’s mistake led to defeat against Sheffield United and the Hammers have hurriedly re-signed Randolph. Though Randolph is presumably destined to return to the bench once Lukas Fabianski recovers from his thigh injury, the circularity here is delicious. SB

10) Ndidi a costly absentee for Leicester

On a run of four consecutive league defeats, Burnley will have their work cut out to arrest the slump on Sunday. Sean Dyche will be able to take solace from the visitors arriving at Turf Moor without midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, who was a conspicuous absentee in their most recent defeat at the hands of Southampton. The Nigerian recently underwent minor knee surgery that is expected to keep him sidelined until the end of February this week, and he will be sorely missed. The stoutness of Leicester’s defence has been widely praised this season but they were noticeably less composed without his reassuring presence in front of them last weekend. Since his arrival Leicester have averaged just under half a point more per game with Ndidi – who has been linked with a move to Arsenal – in their team than without him. It is a statistic unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Dyche and his coaching staff, who will have planned accordingly. BG

 

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