Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Barry Glendenning and Paul Doyle
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Clockwise from top left: Arsenal players dejected at Crystal Palace, Sunderland’s Lamine Koné clears his lines, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard celebrates, and Hull’s Marco Silva on the touchline.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Composite: Reuters/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Clockwise from top left: Arsenal players dejected at Crystal Palace, Sunderland’s Lamine Koné clears his lines, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard celebrates, and Hull’s Marco Silva on the touchline. Composite: Reuters/AFP/Getty Images

1) Hazard’s purple patch faces test with Mourinho reunion

At the end of a week in which Eden Hazard has been shortlisted for the player of the year award, what sweeter way to confirm his rehabilitation than by inspiring Chelsea to a win at José Mourinho’s new home? The league leaders are likely to need Hazard to remain on form for this Sunday afternoon fixture because Diego Costa has looked jaded in recent weeks and the champions-elect’s defence has been vulnerable, with their only two clean sheets in their last 11 matches both coming in the FA Cup (against Wolves and, yes, Manchester United). As he attempts to complicate his old team’s title push, Mourinho is likely to send out what he considers to be a strong lineup despite United’s Europa League engagement. That will probably mean United led again by his new Belgian flame, Marouane Fellaini, the sort of player with whom Mourinho feels more comfortable. PD

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2) Impressive Cook can catch eye against swashbuckling Spurs

While Joshua King has been grabbing the headlines for Bournemouth with his goalscoring exploits, the quietly assured performances of Steve Cook seem to have gone curiously unnoticed by the wider public. The 25-year-old central defender was this week linked with a summer move to Everton, albeit as a Plan B in the event of Ronald Koeman failing to lure Michael Keane from Burnley. He has come a long way since the time six years ago when he was broke, fed-up and on the verge of dropping out of the professional game. In terms of stats for Premier League appearances (32), goals scored (two), shot accuracy (42%), chances cleared (three), average pass accuracy (82%), average pass length (23m), duels won (62%), average defensive actions (13), total defensive errors (three) and discipline (five yellow cards), only Laurent Koscielny, Jan Vertonghen and Gary Cahill are rated more highly as central defenders. It is surely only a matter of time before Cook breaks into the England team. Against swashbuckling, free-scoring Spurs at White Hart Lane, he is likely to be given every opportunity to show that he is even more impressive in the flesh than he looks on a spreadsheet. BG

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<span class="element-image__caption">Steve Cook dispossesses Philippe Coutinho during Bournemouth’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Anfield last week.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA</span>
Steve Cook dispossesses Philippe Coutinho during Bournemouth’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Anfield last week. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

3) Will Wenger’s men be up for the fight in Middlesbrough?

When Tony Adams announced at his introductory press conference as Granada manager this week that his masterplan for saving the club from relegation was to give his new players a kick up the arse, it was impossible not to wonder whether he was the right man for the job. His approach seemed a tad simplistic, after all, and one hoped that he had more up his admittedly dapper sleeve than a right good bollocking. One could not help wondering whether there was a job to which Adams was better suited – such as manager of Arsenal, who during their latest defeat failed to meet the most basic requirement of a professional football team, with their inspirational captain, Theo Walcott, confessing after Monday’s spanking by Crystal Palace that the opposition “wanted it more”. So here, in case Arsène Wenger decides the time is not yet right to mention it, is some important information for Arsenal’s players: lowly Middlesbrough are going to want victory quite a lot on Monday evening so if you’re not up for a fight, best to stay at home and stroke those gnarly beards and tattoos. PD

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4) Klopp’s charges must stop making easy tasks seems so difficult

Liverpool have never got an away league win against a team managed by Tony Pulis and if they are to alter that fact at the Hawthorns this weekend, then they must defend well from set-pieces. That is something they have still not been able to do consistently. As far back as January 2016 Klopp said his defenders had a psychological weakness at set-pieces, suggesting they had fallen into a vicious circle whereby they had lost confidence in their ability to perform an essentially straightforward task. “I was a below-average player but when I was dealing with set-plays it was not that difficult – but now it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Klopp back then. Fifteen months later red men still can’t jump. Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Craig Dawson must be licking their lips in anticipation of Sunday’s clash, especially as Liverpool’s ability to play their way past them at the other end will be weakened by the absences of Sadio Mané, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. Liverpool cannot count on West Brom being in holiday mode this weekend, especially in light of past encounters between Klopp and Pulis. PD

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<span class="element-image__caption">Jürgen Klopp’s youthful Liverpool starting XI struggled at Stoke last weekend before substitutions helped them to the win.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters</span>
Jürgen Klopp’s youthful Liverpool starting XI struggled at Stoke last weekend before substitutions helped them to the win. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

5) Hammers hope for happy travels and to fit in Koné scouting trip

Having given themselves some much-needed breathing space with last weekend’s win over Swansea City, West Ham get the opportunity to hammer another nail into Sunderland’s coffin when they visit the Stadium of Light. The trip will also give them ample opportunity to run the rule over Lamine Koné, a defender they have tried and failed to buy in each of the past two transfer windows. After playing a pivotal role in last season’s Great Escape, the Ivory Coast international incurred the wrath of Sunderland fans by railroading the club into offering him a new five-year contract before a ball had been kicked this season. Their mood has not improved since, as the amount of energy he expended signing it seems to have left him weak in the tackle and blessed with the positional sense of a drunk pedestrian trying to lurch across a busy three-lane dual carriageway. His decline has been startling and may well be temporary, but having been at fault for two of the goals Sunderland conceded against Manchester United last weekend, another poor performance this weekend could result in West Ham’s interest ending very abruptly. BG

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6) High-flying Eagles suddenly have top half in sights

What an opportunity this is for Palace to allay their relegation fears by climbing into the top half of the table, a development that looked highly unlikely a couple of months ago. Sam Allardyce’s side have found solidity and sharpness and won five of their last six matches. By contrast, Leicester’s winning streak under Craig Shakespeare has fizzled out and they are unlikely to be at full power this weekend as they preserve their energies for Tuesday’s attempt to launch a Champions League comeback against Atlético Madrid. Victory for the visitors would send Palace above Leicester in the table, restoring the order that briefly prevailed way back in another era at the start of the season, when Shakespeare was Allardyce’s subordinate at England. PD

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<span class="element-image__caption">Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace side have won five of their last six matches.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters</span>
Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace side have won five of their last six matches. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

7) Stoke’s dismal run can offer Silva service in form of away boost

Unbeatable at home since the arrival of Marco Silva in January, Hull have notched up only one point from a possible 18 on the road since his appointment. It is a statistic that is beginning to beggar belief, even when taking into account the usual factors – unfamiliar surroundings and a partisan crowd – that make life more difficult for teams playing on somebody else’s manor. But still, eh? Home and away, all of Hull’s matches are played on a soft green rectangle with a goal at each end in a state of affairs that makes it difficult to reconcile their appalling sequence of away results with their comparatively excellent performances at Fortress KCom. After all, it’s not as if many Premier League grounds are white-hot cauldrons of hostility these days. With Stoke’s players having lost four in a row and Hull desperate to avoid the drop, one suspects this could be the match in which Silva ends a weird hoodoo. If it isn’t, they still have three home matches left to save themselves. BG

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8) Gabbiadini returns and Guardiola could learn from Puel

Manchester City would be higher up the table this season if they were managed by Claude Puel rather than Pep Guardiola. They might not have enjoyed such spectacular peaks and, in the long run, Puel might not be able to deliver as much glory as Guardiola may yet do, but they would have played with a fair amount of style, all the same, while being a darn sight more sensible than Guardiola’s quixotic capering. If City fail to achieve their minimum target – reaching next season’s Champions League – it will be because, despite the Catalan’s best coaching efforts, some City players remain unable to do what the manager persists in asking them to do. Southampton gave City a scare at the Etihad last October and can be expected to do so again this weekend, especially as Manolo Gabbiadini is fit to lead City’s defence on a merry dance while Maya Yoshida makes light(ish) of Virgil van Dijk’s absence for Saints. PD

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<span class="element-image__caption">Manolo Gabbiadini had six goals from five appearances for Southampton before he sustained a groin injury.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images</span>
Manolo Gabbiadini had six goals from five appearances for Southampton before he sustained a groin injury. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

9) Swansea’s psychological drama could prove undoing at Watford

In the aftermath of his side’s defeat at the hands of West Ham last weekend, a visibly frustrated Paul Clement suggested the Swansea cause had not been helped by the fact his players were paralysed by anxiety and fear. Identifying the problem is easier than solving it though and after a turbulent season, the club’s hierarchy has had all week to question the wisdom of their decision to part company with full-time club psychologist Dr Ian Mitchell during Francesco Guidolin’s reign. Earlier this week, Clement dismissed the idea of getting in a shrink to help his players through the closing stages of the season, saying: “We have links with sports psychologists but to me that is not the answer.” Should Swansea’s Vicarage Road experience turn into the London Stadium revisited, he might soon change his tune. BG

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10) Lethal Lukaku can keep Clarets frustrated on the road

Burnley won’t be concerned about their inability to win away from home if results at Turf Moor keep them up, but are running out of opportunities to secure that elusive first win on the road. They look unlikely to secure it at Goodison Park, where Everton have won seven league matches in a row and kept five clean sheets along the way. More than 80% of Everton’s wins at home this season have been by more than one goal and will fancy their chances of filling their boots here. Burnley look safe but cannot yet afford complacency and left-back Stephen Ward has assured fans the players will be “on our mettle”. In the corresponding fixture at Turf Moor in October, Sam Vokes and Scott Arfield scored the goals in a 2-1 win for a Clarets side missing several key players. With Romelu Lukaku threatening to wreak havoc in that game, Dyche brought on James Tarkowski to provide a shield for under-pressure and tiring centre-halves Ben Mee and Michael Keane. With Everton’s striker in such lethal form, it will be interesting to see if he starts the 24-year-old this time around. BG

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