A chance for Bournemouth at Anfield, Burnley and Spurs battle for European slots and Fernandes can seize big derby stage
Liverpool’s James Milner back in action, Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United celebrates scoring against Watford and Leicester City’s Ricardo Pereira. Photograph: Getty Images and Jim Powell/Guardian
1) Bournemouth in the belly of a wounded beast
Given their 22-point lead at the top of the table, no one at Liverpool is likely to be concerned by three recent defeats in four games across three different competitions. Of course, while a win against Bournemouth would help steady the ship and halt the onset of anything approaching mild jitters, Eddie Howe’s men will head to Anfield to face hosts recently derobed of what had previously resembled a cloak of invincibility. With Fabinho in poor form and Jordan Henderson still sidelined with injury, Liverpool look uncharacteristically vulnerable in midfield and are crying out for on-field leadership. While it ought to come in the form of James Milner, who returned from injury during their midweek FA Cup defeat at the hands of Chelsea, Bournemouth will still fancy their chances. There is never a good time for a relegation-threatened team to venture into the belly of the beast that is the champions-elect, but if you had to pick your moment, now seems a better one than any other. Barry Glendenning
- Liverpool v Bournemouth (Saturday, 12.30pm – all times GMT)
2) West Ham to stay on the front foot?
Well used to playing in a soulless, concrete, enormo-bowl largely ill-suited for footballing purpose, West Ham ought to feel right at home at the Emirates when they ramp up their efforts to drag themselves away from the relegation zone. In victory against Southampton last week, David Moyes opted to partner two up front in Michail Antonio and Sébastien Haller, an uncharacteristically bold move that paid dividends with both strikers scoring and Antonio, in particular, causing Southampton’s defence no end of problems. Away from home, Moyes could be forgiven for reverting to a more cautious approach, but the prospect of facing Arsenal is not as daunting as it used to be, the Emirates is anything but a cauldron and with Mikel Arteta’s team often error-prone in defence, opting for a front-foot approach once again could yield handsome rewards for West Ham’s manager. BG
- Arsenal v West Ham (Saturday, 3pm)
3) Will Fernandes cause United to be more attacking in derby?
United’s recent home results in the Manchester derby neatly demonstrate the shifting local balance of power. In their last 10 meetings with City at Old Trafford, United have lost seven times, winning twice and just once in the league, back in 2015. They have had much more joy at the Etihad Stadium, including a league win built on sharp counter attacks and stoic defence last December. The challenge on Sunday is to be more proactive, something that has not come easily in the eight years since City overcame their own psychological block with the 6-1 rout that began their purple patch. Bruno Fernandes, who has injected confidence and creativity since his arrival, could make the difference. The Portuguese playmaker is not afraid to lead the attacking charge, and was a constant menace against Everton. Fernandes’s bravado may help United come out of their shell and take on a City side who have won six out of their last seven away games – a run that began at Old Trafford, in the League Cup semi-final. Niall McVeigh
- Manchester United v Manchester City (Sunday, 4.30pm)
4) Can Everton improve against the leading sides?
Chelsea are the highest-placed team that Everton have beaten this season, and one of only three sides in the top half of the table against whom they have so far prevailed. On the plus side, they still have plenty of chances to improve this record: Southampton, who are due at Stamford Bridge on 18 April, are the only team currently in the bottom half that they are due to play between early February and the start of May. This is the third game of a particularly testing run (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester, Tottenham) from which they have so far taken one point. The 3-1 win over Chelsea at Goodison Park three months ago was the first match under Duncan Ferguson’s emotionally-charged, ballboy-bothering temporary charge, and achieved with only 30% of possession. This is Chelsea’s fifth home fixture in three weeks; their next is due on 12 April. Simon Burnton
- Chelsea v Everton (Sunday, 2pm)
5) Europa League places at stake at Turf Moor?
Burnley are about the last opponents an attack as depleted and blunted as Tottenham’s would wish to play at the moment. Sean Dyche’s side have conceded only twice in their past six games, four of which have been won and none lost. How positive José Mourinho will be in response to Spurs’ latest calamitous setback, the FA Cup exit to Norwich, will be one point of intrigue in a match that might be seen as a tussle for the Europa League places. Mourinho has more attacking riches than he makes out but Burnley’s parsimony at the back is complemented by their having the more in-form options going forward, with Chris Wood, Dwight McNeil, Matej Vydra Jay Rodriguez all posing a threat of late. In this context, a draw would be a decent result for Spurs but it would be unlikely to lift the angst in N17. Tom Davies
- Burnley v Tottenham (Saturday, 5.30pm)
6) Djenepo hoping to find solace in sport after family tragedy
All eyes will be on Danny Ings this week, with the striker set to return to the Saints starting XI after an injury saw him fit only for the bench in last week’s defeat at West Ham. With both Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong sidelined for Saturday’s game with Newcastle, this is great news for Ralph Hasenhüttl – Ings has contributed 12 of Southampton’s last 25 league goals – but the return of another forward, Moussa Djenepo will be just as welcome. The 21-year-old returned to Mali last month for his mother’s funeral, and has understandably now come back to England with a heavy heart. “We are all helping him to get back to the Moussa we know because he was always the most positive guy in the squad,” Hasenhüttl said this week. Sport can often be a positive outlet for grief, as Billy Sharp so eloquently explained this week regarding the death of his son in 2011, and here’s hoping that Djenepo can find some peace when he crosses the white line on Saturday. Michael Butler
- Southampton v Newcastle (Saturday, 3pm)
7) A close match, and goals, at Bramall Lane
It is now two and a half years since the Norwich coach was delayed by traffic on its way to Bramall Lane, the Canaries won 1-0 and Chris Wilder raged in impotent fury: “There might be a bit of traffic at a football stadium when about 28,000 are turning up. Do a little bit of homework and possibly set off 10 minutes earlier.” That incident, followed by the sides’ battle for promotion last season and the general closeness of their recent matches – this year brings the 10th anniversary of the last game between them to have a winning margin of more than a single goal – has created a rivalry that continues to bubble however much Wilder now plays it down, insisting that he was just being “a grumpy old git” when riled in 2017. Expect better punctuality from the Canaries this weekend. In other news, Sheffield United have scored precisely two goals in each of their last four games against Norwich; the Canaries have scored precisely one goal in four of their last five games against the Blades; there have been only three goalless draws in 72 previous meetings, the most recent more than 20 years and 22 meetings ago. SB
- Sheffield United v Norwich (Saturday, 3pm)
8) The start of a horror-run of fixtures for ailing Brighton
Brighton have taken only five points from the past 24 available, in a run of eight games where they faced four of the five teams currently beneath them in the table and only Chelsea and Sheffield United from inside the top half. While Leicester’s success in making it to the FA Cup quarter-finals mean their game against Brighton on 22 March is likely to be postponed, Graham Potter’s side must face three of the top six (Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Wolves), Arsenal and their relegation rivals Norwich in their next six games. It is a comparatively daunting run of fixtures that begins at Molineux on Saturday, before a trip to the Emirates seven days later is followed by a two-week break. Getting points on the board before that hiatus looks imperative for Brighton and they can take heart from the four points they took from the reverse fixtures in early December. At home against Wolves they should have been out of sight by half-time in a match that finished up a 2-2 draw and Potter is likely to hark back to that stirring performance as he seeks to motivate his team this weekend. BG
- Wolves v Brighton (Saturday, 3pm)
9) Pereyra or Welbeck must step up for Watford
Watford sprung the surprise of the season by thrashing Liverpool last week and will look to continue that momentum against a Crystal Palace side that are all but safe. The Liverpool match was only the 10th this season in which Watford have been able to start their first-choice front three of Gerard Deulofeu, Troy Deeney and Ismaïla Sarr – the 18 points they have won in those games, which include two meetings with Liverpool as well as fixtures against Manchester United, Leicester, Tottenham and Wolves, suggest that with the trio fit they could get 68 over a full season, enough for Europa League qualification in 18 of the last 20 seasons and a Champions League place in seven of them. As it is they find themselves 17th and Deulofeu’s knee ligament injury means they will not all feature again this season, so the pressure is on his replacement – either the frequently ineffective Roberto Pereyra or the often injured Danny Welbeck – to raise the team to a similar standard. Only two teams have faced the full Deulofeu-Deeney-Sarr front three and not conceded, and Palace, in the goalless draw at Vicarage Road in December, are one of them. SB
- Crystal Palace v Watford (Saturday, 3pm)
10) How much respect should Smith show Leicester?
The swagger Leicester showed in swatting aside Aston Villa 4-1 in December has rarely been seen since – with Villa among the teams to prosper from its absence in the Carabao Cup semi-finals – so this rematch offers a perfect opportunity for the Foxes to reassert their top-four credentials. Brendan Rodgers saw the midweek FA Cup win over Birmingham as a springboard for a revival. “It was important to get back to our game,” the Leicester manager said. “These players have been absolutely incredible through the course of this season – and their honesty will get them back to their level.” Villa in theory are comfortably beatable opponents, and travel to the King Power Stadium on the back of four straight defeats. The last of those was the creditable 2-1 loss to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final, which gives Dean Smith something of a tactical dilemma: keep with the four at the back to which he switched for Wembley, or revert to three central defenders? How much respect will he want to show a team who after all have vied with City for second place for much of this campaign? TD
- Leicester v Aston Villa (Monday, 8pm)