Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Barry Glendenning, Paul Doyle and Will Unwin
·8-min read

1) A pressing engagement for Manchester United

Atlético Madrid sat deep hoping to hit Chelsea on the break in midweek but got little or no change out of a well-drilled side that made it difficult for the Spanish league leaders to muster much in the way of counterattacks with their ferocious intensity whenever they lost the ball. While Manchester United are unlikely to be as compliant as Atlético when they visit Stamford Bridge, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his coaching staff will need to figure out a way of … er, countering Thomas Tuchel’s fabled counter-press or risk spending far more time than they would like playing on the back foot even when they have the ball. BG

• Chelsea v Manchester United, Sunday 4.30pm (all times GMT)

2) City need to get rotation balance right

Many months ago, few could have imagined that a home clash with West Ham would be Manchester City’s trickiest test for a couple of months. Pep Guardiola’s side have cruised to 19 victories in a row, conceding just six goals. The Hammers have lost once in the league since 21 December and Jesse Lingard’s arrival has made a top-four finish look plausible rather than a pipe dream. City will surely win the league but now they are having to travel for their Champions League ties, even if it was a stroll in Budapest this week, things will become more complicated for Guardiola as he will need to rotate his fantastic squad to keep things fresher for the more important games. He made five changes against Gladbach and no one noticed. Whether this level of rotation can be successfully maintained remains to be seen and underestimating West Ham with too much tinkering would be a perilous move for a man in search of perfection. WU

• Manchester City v West Ham, Saturday 12.30pm

3) League starts in the same team for Bale and Alli?

The usual suspects rode to Tottenham’s rescue when they underwhelmed against Burnley at Turf Moor in October. Son Heung-min nodded home his side’s first effort on target after 76 minutes as he got his head to a Harry Kane flick from a corner. Tanguy Ndombele and Lucas Moura made up the rest of Tottenham’s front four in that particularly dour encounter, but Gareth Bale and Dele Alli have both made compelling recent cases for starting berths in a team that could do with men of their talents to help unlock an often obdurate and well-organised defence. Only time will tell if either or both have done enough to sufficiently weasel their way back into José Mourinho’s good books and earn starts together in the same Premier League team for the very first time. BG

• Tottenham v Burnley, Sunday 2pm

Related: Spurs' Eric Dier denies José Mourinho's claim that he's struggling for confidence

4) No shortage of contenders to fill Maddison’s boots

It is a testament to his coaching and the flexibility of the squad he has assembled at Leicester City, that the likely absence through injury of a player as influential as James Maddison ought not trouble Brendan Rodgers unduly before Arsenal’s visit on Sunday. Though potential stand-ins Dennis Praet and Ayoze Pérez are also sidelined, Rodgers still has no shortage of options. Youri Tielemans moved forward to take up the cudgels last week, the in-form Harvey Barnes would almost certainly revel in the role, while Turkish wide man Cengiz Under is another option. . BG

• Leicester v Arsenal, Sunday 12pm

5) Jota returning at right time for Reds

Sheffield United’s only remaining realistic ambition for this season is to move off the ignominious 11-point mark to banish comparison with Derby County’s class of 2007-08. Liverpool, meanwhile, are fighting for a place in the top four and, with that in mind, were pleased to welcome Diogo Jota back to full training this week. The Portuguese is unlikely to be ready to go straight into the starting lineup at Bramall Lane but if he is fit enough to be used as a substitute he could at least offer the zest and unpredictability that Liverpool’s attack has lacked since he got injured in an otherwise pointless Champions League game in December. PD

• Sheffield United v Liverpool, Sunday 7.15pm

6) Palace need to build on confidence to secure status

Crystal Palace enjoyed a strange occurrence at Brighton on Monday, as two of their strikers scored in the same match, not to mention that both were fantastic finishes. With Wilfried Zaha’s hamstring keeping him out of action and Palace needing to build momentum without their talisman, it might be time for Christian Benteke and Jean-Philippe Mateta to team up in a game where Palace can expect to have more than 25% possession, a stat they achieved at the Amex. The Belgian was paired with compatriot Michy Batshuayi against Burnley to dispiriting consequence, but with confidence buoyed by a derby victory and the quality of goals something to gloat about, it could be time to unleash a pairing once more in attempt to beat a relegation-threatened Fulham in order to reach 35 points and almost certain safety for Roy Hodgson. WU

• Crystal Palace v Fulham, Sunday 12pm

Related: Takeover silence and mounting debts: how did it come to this for Derby? | Ed Aarons

7) Neither team to settle for a draw at Hawthorns

If West Brom are to mount a sensational escape from the relegation zone, they probably need to win more than half of their 13 remaining matches, starting with this one. If Graham Potter’s side are to stay above the Baggies – and, even more pertinently, Fulham - then they need to become more clinical. A repeat of the 1-1 draw that these sides played out in October will soothe the nerves of neither. Whichever team shows more focus in front of goal is likely to take three points. PD

• West Brom v Brighton, Saturday 3pm

8) Villa need to find plan B without Grealish

Leeds were beautiful when winning 3-0 at Villa Park in October – and that was without the inspirational Kalvin Phillips, who will also be absent on Saturday. It was also before Raphinha found his feet in the Premier League, emerging as one of the most exciting attackers in the league. If Villa are to avenge that defeat, they will have to subdue the Brazilian and match Leeds’ dynamism and movement. And they will have to do so without Jack Grealish unless their talisman makes a surprise return from injury. Villa’s attacking players failed to compensate for Grealish’s absence last week against Leicester so manager Dean Smith will be demanding better performances, especially from players such as John McGinn and Ross Barkley. PD

Leeds v Aston Villa, Saturday 5.30pm

Without Jack Grealish (centre), Ross Barkley (left) and John McGinn (right) need to step up.
Without Jack Grealish (centre), Ross Barkley (left) and John McGinn (right) need to step up. Photograph: Getty Images

9) Newcastle must cut out errors to avoid relegation battle

The last four league meetings between Newcastle and teams have ended 1-1 and no one would be surprised if this finished the same way. Both teams should certainly aim for much more. Wolves have rediscovered form, taking 10 points from the last 12 available, and Newcastle are there for the taking, low on confidence and luck. Callum Wilson and Fabian Schär are injured, and a run of 12 defeats from their last 16 matches – coinciding with Fulham’s upsurge – has increased the prospect of a third relegation under Mike Ashley. Newcastle actually played with impressive ambition and competence for a long while at Old Trafford last week but were ultimately undone by mistakes at key moments. They need to cut them out. PD

• Newcastle v Wolves, Saturday 8pm

Related: Carlo Ancelotti keen to extend contract and lead Everton into new stadium

10) Saints’ winless streak to go marching on?

Southampton need a win and need one badly. Despite arresting an alarming run of defeats with their draw against Chelsea last weekend, they quickly returned to losing ways against Leeds United. The surrender upon going a goal down did not go unnoticed by their manager, who accused his players of “giving up” against a team that would never countenance a similar hoisting of the white flag. Heads should probably roll, but Ralph Hasenhüttl has handed Premier League starts to 22 different players since his side last won a top-flight game and only Alex McCarthy, Ryan Bertrand, James Ward-Prowse Jan Bednarek and Danny Ings have started five or more of those seven. While all available evidence suggests Everton should pile more misery on Hasenhüttl’s side, his best hope of masterminding victory may lie in Everton having one of their increasingly infrequent off days. BG

• Everton v Southampton, Monday 8pm

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Man City

25

35

59

2

Man Utd

25

21

49

3

Leicester

25

17

49

4

West Ham

25

10

45

5

Chelsea

25

16

43

6

Liverpool

25

11

40

7

Everton

24

4

40

8

Aston Villa

23

11

36

9

Tottenham Hotspur

24

10

36

10

Leeds

25

0

35

11

Arsenal

25

5

34

12

Wolverhampton

25

-6

33

13

Crystal Palace

25

-14

32

14

Southampton

25

-12

30

15

Burnley

25

-12

28

16

Brighton

25

-6

26

17

Newcastle

25

-17

25

18

Fulham

25

-11

22

19

West Brom

25

-36

14

20

Sheff Utd

25

-26

11