Premier League talking points: Liverpool rotation, Everton’s FA Cup hangover and basement battle
We look ahead to another busy weekend of Premier League action
The Premier League returns this weekend with a number of entertaining clashes in the offing.
League leaders Liverpool travel to Tottenham Hotspur, who are still reeling from the loss of the injured Harry Kane, while Manchester City visit Aston Villa.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal take on bogeyteam Crystal Palace and Manchester United will hope to arrest their poor run of form with a win over struggling Norwich City.
Elsewhere, Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton host an improving Brighton & Hove Albion.
Here’s ten things to look forward to.
1. Moyes looking to maintain winning start
David Moyes has won both of his first matches at West Ham United since replacing Manuel Pellegrini at the turn of the year. The Hammers boss thrashed Bournemouth 4-0 on New Year’s Day and followed this up with a 2-0 win at Gillingham in the FA Cup third round.
The former Everton and Manchester United manager is yet to settle on a formation – fielding a back four in the league and a back three in the cup – but his side are yet to concede a goal ahead of their trip to Bramall Lane on Friday evening. Felipe Anderson’s advanced role alongside or just behind striker Sebastien Haller has been a prominent feature in the first two games of Moyes’ second stint at West Ham and the partnership could cause Sheffield United problems.
2. Newcastle’s ranks reinforced by returning players
Newcastle United have lost their last three league games but welcome back a number of players from their extensive injury list. The Magpies had to play over half an hour with 10 men as four players went off injured in their 3-0 loss to Leicester City on New Year’s Day, but Jetro Williams has returned to fitness alongside fellow defenders Paul Dummett and Ciaran Clark.
Newcastle’s forward line is also reinforced by the returning Miguel Almiron, Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll. However, many key personnel still remain sidelined, with Jonjo Shelvey, Javier Manquillo and Fabian Schar out – though club captain Jamaal Lascelles and summer signing Allan Saint-Maximin are nearing fitness.
3. Liverpool bid for 38 matches unbeaten but face an old enemy
A routine 2-0 victory over Sheffield United on 2 January took Liverpool’s run to 37 games without a loss, so a win or a draw with Tottenham Hotpsur will mean the Reds will have reached 38 games – the number of league games played in a season – without loss.
However, the league leaders face an old enemy as they travel to Jose Mourinho’s Spurs for Saturday’s evening kick-off. The Portuguese manager has faced Liverpool more than any other club in his career and he has won 12, drawn nine and lost seven of his 28 games against the Reds so far.
4. Arteta aims to reverse Arsenal’s poor recent record against Palace
Mikel Arteta has now led Arsenal for four games – with two wins, one draw and a loss – and the Spaniard faces another tough test as his side travel to Selhurst Park for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off. The Gunners have not beaten Palace since January 2018, drawing two matches 2-2 and losing one 3-2 since then.
The match earlier this season is remembered for club captain Granit Xhaka’s angry interaction with the fans while being substituted off after Arsenal squandered a two goal lead. The Gunners’ third round FA Cup win over Leeds United on Monday evening was far from convincing and Arsenal will need a better performance if they are to beat their London rivals for the first time in four attempts.
5. Injury-struck United could return to form
Manchester United were outclassed by Manchester City in the first-leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final and the Red Devils are now without a win in three matches. Injuries to key midfielders Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay have taken their toll and £80m summer signing Harry Maguire is the latest player unavailable to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after tearing a hip muscle against Wolves in the FA Cup. However, a home fixture against bottom-of-the-league Norwich City presents a perfect opportunity for United to find some form. The Canaries are without a league win in eight matches and have shipped a league-high 41 goals this season – to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s potential delight.
6. Minamino may make league debut
January signing Takumi Minamino may make his league debut for Liverpool after featuring in their FA Cup victory last Sunday. The 24-year-old’s arrival on Merseyside is timely, as the Reds’ midfield and forward line is stretched after injuries to Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita, James Milner and Fabinho. Minamino looked bright in a rotated Liverpool lineup which beat Everton 1-0 thanks to Curtis Jones’ stunner and the Japan international is likely to take a seat on the bench for Saturday evening’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur.
7. 18th take on 19th in vital fixture at the bottom of the table
Sunday’s early televised game is a six-pointer as out-of-form Bournemouth host Nigel Pearson’s resurgent Watford. The Hornets have won three and drawn one of their last four games and their form has improved drastically since the former Leicester City boss became their third manager of the season in early December.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth find themselves in 18th place – one point above Watford – and without a win in four matches. Both sides have been badly depleted by injuries this season and the outcome of this match could prove vital in the race to avoid relegation.
8. Southampton aim to avoid another mauling by the Foxes
Southampton travel to the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon to face second-place Leicester City. The reverse fixture in October ended 9-0 as the Foxes equalled the highest Premier League win in history. Ayoze Perez and Jamie Vardy both scored hat-tricks as the Saints were routed at St Mary’s following Ryan Bertrand’s red card. Brendan Rodgers’ side have gone from strength to strength this campaign and have established themselves in the Champions League places.
However, the Foxes will likely face a tougher test against Southampton this time round, as the Saints have overcome a poor start to the season to win five of their last eight league games.
9. Ancelotti’s Toffees must bounce back from FA Cup defeat
Everton host Brighton needing to bounce back from a humiliating defeat to a second-string Liverpool side in the FA Cup. Manager Carlo Ancelotti fielded a full-strength team but his side were sunk thanks to a moment of magic by 18-year-old Reds midfielder Curtis Jones.
The reverse fixture at the Amex in October ended disastrously for the Toffees as an 80th minute penalty and a 94th minute own-goal saw the Seagulls win 3-2. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was among the goals for Everton that day and the 22-year-old has netted three times in four games since Ancelotti took charge – the Englishman could make the difference on Saturday afternoon.
10. Champions may dominate weakened Aston Villa
Aston Villa beat Burnley 2-1 on New Year’s Day but the victory was tarnished by their first choice striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton being stretchered off with injuries. Dean Smith later confirmed that both players will miss the rest of the season with anterior cruciate ligament injuries, joining key man John McGinn on the sidelines. As such, a depleted Villa could suffer a heavy defeat if Manchester City are able to replicate their masterful first-half performance from the 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg. Forwards Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were both rested for the derby and could put Villa to the sword in Sunday’s 4:30pm game.