Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend


Clockwise from top left: Southampton defenders Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard, Michail Antonio, Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and Marcus Rashford. Composite: AFP/Getty/EPA/Reuters/Shutterstock

Manchester United’s away form gives them edge at Anfield, Phil Foden keeps improving and the Black Country derby returns

 The Guardian- Nick Ames, Barry Glendenning and Simon Burnton

1) Rashford and United are stronger on the road

The team with the league’s best home record (seven wins and a draw) host the team with the league’s best away record (also seven wins and a draw) at Anfield on Sunday. It is hard to work out why Liverpool, who have been so good at home (and in recent years, magnificent everywhere), suddenly look relatively humdrum away, or why Manchester United, who in recent years have been humdrum everywhere, should suddenly be magnificent away. The impact of venue on the performances of certain individuals is more puzzling still. Before this season Marcus Rashford had scored 27 home goals and 17 away; last season there were 12 at home and five away. Yet in nine starting appearances at Old Trafford he has scored once and not claimed an assist, while he has six goals and five assists in eight away games. In this time, most of his appearances at centre-forward have been at home. No doubt Liverpool have a dedicated performance dichotomy analyst beavering away at precisely this issue; we will have to wait to see what bespoke Rashford-neutering tweak they come up with. SB

  • Liverpool v Manchester United, Sunday 4.30pm

2) Black Country derby returns after nine-year gap

The Black Country derby may not be of huge interest to the wider footballing public, but it’s an exceedingly big deal to supporters of Wolves and West Brom, who meet for the first time in almost nine years on Saturday. The absence of fans will hugely detract from what would otherwise be a frighteningly intense Molineux occasion and with both teams struggling for form, quality seems unlikely to be at a premium. West Brom are in dire need of all three points if they are to kick-start a push for survival that has thus far shown few signs of materialising under Sam Allardyce. As commendable as their draw at Anfield may have been, the Baggies have generally produced their best performances against leading sides this season. Finding goals hard to come by as they slide down the table, Wolves no longer resemble a team in that category. BG

  • Wolves v West Brom, Saturday 12.30pm

3) Saints owe much of improvement to steely defence

Though Southampton laid some ghosts to rest in winning 2-1 at the King Power Stadium just over a year ago, it will be a while before they play Leicester without last season’s 0-9 shellacking cropping up. Their improvement since then is as obvious as it is remarkable, but their current defensive solidity is particularly astonishing. The last team to score more than once against Southampton in the league was Manchester United in November. The Saints have conceded just twice in their last five games – most recently in the 16th minute of their home game against Manchester City on 19 December, 344 minutes ago. No team has more than their eight clean sheets this season – one away from their entire tally from last season. Away from home they are surprisingly reliant on set pieces: they have scored six times from open play, and six times from restarts, including a penalty. SB

  • Leicester v Southampton, Saturday 8pm

4) Werner hoping to play central role against Fulham

It was, of course, only Morecambe, but Timo Werner will hope his FA Cup tap-in holds rather more significance than that. It put to bed a 12-game goal drought for the £47.5m signing that had brought questions – touched on last month by the player himself – about his adaptation to the intensity of the Premier League. That goal came from his favoured centre-forward position and he might hope for a third consecutive run-out in that role, rather than out wide, against a compact and well-drilled Fulham. Werner has struggled to expose teams with his speed and directness, largely because his own possession-based side face so many teams that are fixated primarily on sitting deep. Perhaps the way to ease him back into form is to keep fielding him closer to goal, as Arsenal have attempted with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, although Fulham’s sturdy back three will take no prisoners with their physicality.. NA

  • Fulham v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm


5) Porous Leeds buoyed by Brighton’s injury list

Managed by single-minded, commendably principled men with very fixed ideas of how the game of football should be played, two of the Premier League’s more aesthetically pleasing sides meet at Elland Road. Ongoing toothlessness up front and a chronic inability to defend set pieces has Brighton near the foot of the table, but they might have fancied their chances against a Leeds team that has conceded more goals than every other team in the division except West Brom. That is, if they weren’t missing Tariq Lamptey, Aaron Connolly, Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana and Alireza Jahanbakhsh through injury . Marcelo Bielsa must plan without his most influential player, Kalvin Phillips, who is suspended and will miss an intriguing contest that may be diminished by the absence of so many key personnel. BG

  • Leeds v Brighton, Saturday 3pm

6) Blades face Spurs in a match of high stakes

Do Sheffield United have a chance against Tottenham? If José Mourinho’s side go a goal up then yes, maybe. Spurs have not won any of their last four away league games and badly need to start inflicting greater damage on opponents if they are to stay among the title contenders. The league table would suggest the Blades are ripe for a hiding, but it would be wise to remember when Spurs were blown apart at Bramall Lane back in July, a performance that epitomised the verve and energy the hosts showed last season. There were passages of play against Newcastle that suggested Chris Wilder’s men are getting that back and it would be unwise to discount the surge in confidence that Tuesday’s long-awaited win will have given them. Sunday feels like a high-stakes afternoon, given Tottenham’s need to convince and the desperation United must feel to build on what momentum they now have. NA

  • Sheffield United v Tottenham, Sunday 2.05pm

7) Foden taking centre stage at improving City

With two goals and an assist, Phil Foden has contributed to as many goals in City’s last two league games as in the rest of their season combined, while also scoring in the FA Cup last weekend. Three of his four most impressive passing success percentages this season have come in his last three appearances. When he said after scoring the winner against Brighton on Wednesday that “I have never enjoyed my football as much as I am now”, it will have surprised nobody, and Pep Guardiola also reported that “when you see his face he is happy at training sessions and playing games”. He has already played 75% of the minutes he was given in the Premier League last season and it is starting to look like Guardiola’s assertion in July 2019 that Foden was “the most, most, most talented player I have ever seen in my career as a manager” might not have been wild hyperbole. City have now played 16 games; after half of those they were 13th, a pointbehind Palace in the table. Now they are 10 places and 10 points above them, and with a game in hand to boot. SB

  • Manchester City v Crystal Palace, Sunday 7.15pm

8) Antonio all the sharper for FA Cup run-out

Following the sale of Sébastien Haller to Ajax, West Ham will be completely reliant on the superior, industrious Michail Antonio to lead their line until such time as they can replace their recently-departed sullen striker. Antonio returned from a hamstring injury on Monday night, huffing and puffing his way around the Edgeley Park swamp to little great effect as West Ham advanced to the FA Cup fourth round at the expense of Stockport. The importance of Antonio getting almost the full 90 gruelling minutes into his legs cannot be overstated. We can expect to see a much more fit and firing version of the striker when he lines up for his first league outing in six weeks. BG

  • West Ham v Burnley, Saturday 3pm


9) Newcastle must find cup spirit in trip to Arsenal

The most damning conclusion about Newcastle’s defeat to Sheffield United is that it was no shock. The Magpies have long been exactly the team you want to face when on a horrible run and they turned in the kind of no-show that leaves you wondering where the next point is coming from. Their last six games have actually yielded two, including a gutsy draw with Liverpool, but they look like a team on the slide and need to halt that suspicion when they visit the Emirates on Monday. Part of the frustration around the reverse at Bramall Lane was that, three days previously, Newcastle played well and could have won at Arsenal in the FA Cup. They need to channel that spirit on their return to north London. Newcastle are a team that wait for things to happen to them and, while that will occasionally earn them a creditable result, they need to start shaping events themselves to avoid a relegation battle. NA

  • Arsenal v Newcastle, Monday 8pm GMT

10) Liverpool favourites but United look better side

Since the end of October, Manchester United have won 12 more points than Liverpool (playing one game more), a long enough period for us to say with some certainty they are currently a better side. Despite that, the bookmakers think Liverpool are significantly more likely to win the league (though still not as likely as Manchester City). Presumably, the sustained excellence of Jürgen Klopp’s side over the last two full seasons continues to outweigh more recent evidence. Inevitably this match will either change that opinion or reinforce it. Regardless, United currently enjoy a level of superiority over their bitter rivals they last achieved more than five years ago, during a run across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campagins that included a 3-1 win over Liverpool. SB



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