Premier League preview: What will and wont happen this weekendFourFourTwos look-ahead to the action as Liverpool and Everton contest the Merseyside derby, while Arsenal lock horns with Manchester City
Liverpool vs Everton (Sat, 12:30pm)
The big talking point: It's the Merseyside Derby, of course. Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 12 games against Everton and Jurgen Klopp could theoretically become their first manager to win his first three derby games. Ronald Koeman will bring a team in good form to Anfield, though, with the hope of bucking a recent trend for capitulation in this fixture; Everton have melted under the lights of this occasion far too many times in recent years.
What will happen: Truthfully, it's hard to say. The international break has wielded its scythe and a host of players will be missing: Adam Lallana and Seamus Coleman are out, Ramiro Funes Mori limped out of Argentina's loss to Bolivia and is reportedly gone for the season, and Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho will battle long flights and jet lag to be fit. Expect a fast, desperate game, but one likely lacking in structure and continuity.
What won't happen: An Everton win. History is semi-relevant, of course, but the loss of Coleman changes the entire nature of the visitors' right side and the injury doubt over Morgan Schneiderlin potentially weakens a resolute central midfield which has been the basis for the Toffees' late-season revival.
Burnley vs Tottenham (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: Tottenham's forward situation. Harry Kane remains injured obviously, but over the course of the international break Vincent Janssen contracted a virus and Son Heung-min had to travel several light years (OK, ish) with South Korea. Burnley are an obdurate force at Turf Moor and, at the time of writing, it looks as if Spurs will be heading north looking rather blunt.
What will happen: Long spells of stale football. Burnley have shown a tendency this season to pick up points without controlling possession; Sean Dyche has built a side who are comfortable collapsing behind the ball and surprisingly efficient in their forays forward. Without an orthodox forward, Spurs will likely struggle to pick apart the rigid defensive banks and so, against a team who are unbeaten in front of their fans in six Premier League games, this will likely prove a difficult afternoon. No Kane, no recognised replacement and, again, no Danny Rose: that's a lot of missing thrust.
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What won't happen: Something exciting. The script for this game writes itself: long periods of stale domination from the visitors and a dearth of penetrative football. It'll be slow, it'll be tight, and there won't be many goals.
Chelsea vs Crystal Palace (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: Actually, this is more interesting than it might have been a few weeks ago. Chelsea may have disappeared over the horizon and left the chasers squabbling in the distance, but Palace are both greatly improved and still in trouble. Under Sam Allardyce, they have scored just four goals in their last three games, but crucially haven't conceded once and have taken a maximum nine points. You don't need an enigma machine to crack that code: they prioritise high-percentage, low-risk football and it'll be fascinating (well, vaguely interesting) to see that new resilience tested at Stamford Bridge.
What will happen: A Diego Costa goal and Diego Costa landmark. If the striker does score in this game, he will have reached 50 goals in 81 Premier League appearances. The only players to have done that in fewer games are Andy Cole (65), Alan Shearer (66), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Fernando Torres (72). Fine company indeed.
What won't happen: Any Devon Loch moments. Chelsea are tripping up here: Palace might be improved, but nobody in the league has managed to close the spaces which now routinely appear at Stamford Bridge. Allardyce will instruct his players to sit deep and operate exclusively on the counter-attack, but their opponents have spent the entire season cutting ruthlessly through low blocks.
Hull vs West Ham (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: West Ham's injury list. Slaven Bilic will be without Michail Antonio, Winston Reid, Pedro Obiang and potentially also Mark Noble for the game at the KCOM Stadium – essentially the core of a team which is already underperforming. The Hammers aren't going to be relegated this season, but have now lost three straight games (Chelsea, Bournemouth and Leicester) and are already exhibiting signs of late-season flippancy. It likely won't cost them anything other than a few league places and several million pounds in prize money, but - with the exception of Watford and the doomed Sunderland - the sides around them all look more engaged.
What will happen: Hull to seize their opportunity. West Ham arrive in Yorkshire on Saturday and Middlesbrough will follow three days later: needless to say, they are both must-wins. Although Marco Silva hasn't managed to drag his side away from the relegation zone, it should be noted that he is still yet to lose a home game - and Hull haven't been defeated at the KCOM since the Boxing Day loss to Manchester City. Silva is free to include Oumar Niasse (who was ineligible to play against Everton), Michael Dawson should also return from injury, and they seem set to collect three points against a team who are anybody's for the taking at the moment.
What won't happen: Job security for Slaven Bilic. The Croatian has cut a distant figure in recent press conferences and, with rumours in the press linking Roberto Mancini to his job, the summer die seems to be cast already. Whether that has created a substitute teacher situation within the West Ham squad is hard to know for sure, but it's tempting to correlate recent performances with that growing vaguery.
Leicester vs Stoke (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: Let's not pretend otherwise: this is practically a dead rubber. Stoke now look to be out of European contention and Leicester's upsurge has likely taken relegation off the table.
What will happen: Maybe the weather will be nice? Perhaps the groundsmen will have cut a fun pattern into the King Power pitch? Whatever, this is the Match of the Day game which will send you to bed.
What won't happen: A mascot fight. It doesn't really happen anymore, does it? This is not a game to stir any passion, and so even in that ludicrious world of unsettling perma-smiles and forced enthusiam there's unlikely to be much drama. Game's gone...
Man United vs West Brom (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: Manchester United's top-four chances. Strangely, Jose Mourinho's pursuit of a Champions League place continues to be presented as some sort of battle against the odds - something the club hope to achieve, but don't expect to. Odd, given the resources which have been ploughed into this season. Still, they've recently – finally – heaved themselves out of sixth place and, with Arsenal listing and two games in hand on Liverpool, this winnable game comes at an opportune moment.
What will happen: Zlatan Ibrahimovic will serve the final game of his suspension. While an inconvenience, Ibrahimovic's absence might prove useful in the long term for Mourinho, who has had to juggle his attacking pieces and rely on players who were previously lost in the iconic Swede's giant eclipse.
What won't happen: Manchester United outworking their opponents. Yes, a Tony Pulis team is coming to Old Trafford and that presents an excuse to unleash a whole range of pejorative platitudes about red-faced everyman footballers, but this is actually a hidden problem for United: they've been outrun in all but three of their 27 Premier League games this season, which is the worst record in the division. We need smarter minds to determine what that actually means, but it doesn't sound good.
Watford vs Sunderland (Sat, 3pm)
The big talking point: Watford's ennui versus Sunderland's limp death rattle. Deep down, both these teams know that their seasons are over. Watford are playing like a side who feel that their work is done for the year and Sunderland, though they might not admit it publicly, surely know now that there's no Moyesian miracle in their future.
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What will happen: Worsening statistics. By the time this game kicks off, Sunderland will have spent 210 of the last 230 days in the relegation zone – and 138 of those have been as the last-placed side. It's damning, but also very sad: this is a price being paid for years of feeble recruitment, mismanagement, and inertia. If and when Sunderland make it back to this level, please may it be less of a joyless struggle.
What won't happen: Unchanged teams. Only Sunderland (31) have used more players than Watford this season (30 - tied with Crystal Palace) this season and, in a minor way, that's quite descriptive. Moyes has trudged through the season without ever really hitting upon a definitive direction, which partly explains how weak his side's struggle has been. Watford, meanwhile, have suffered a downturn in form (and maybe attitude) at almost precisely the same time as last year. Walter Mazzarri has a lot of talent at his disposal but, as Quique Sanchez Flores discovered, the lack of a central identity at Vicarage Road comes with hidden costs.
Southampton vs Bournemouth (Sat, 5.30pm)
The big talking point: Is this a true derby? Portsmouth and Southampton fans will likely tell you "no", while Bournemouth supporters - having spent so long in both clubs' shadows - likely enjoy disrupting that status quo. Eddie Howe has overseen a quick burst of nerve-settling wins and Claude Puel's team, though only having won twice since late January (Watford and Sunderland), did enough work earlier in the season to be comfortable in mid-table. An afternoon for more circumspect wonderings, then?
What will happen: History to be made. Bournemouth remain vulnerable at the back, but they've left their long, ponderous phases of possession behind them and are now playing like a side stung into urgency by the threat of relegation. They have never won an away game at either St Mary's or The Dell (D4, L8), but with over half of their opponents' likely starting lineup having being involved in (and drained by) the rigours of the international break, this is as good a chance as any to break that duck.
What won't happen: Manolo Gabbiadini featuring. The Italian forward limped off at White Hart Lane with a tweaked groin two weeks ago and that'll prove to be the Premier League's loss as well as Southampton's. With him, Puel's team have a novel dose of craft which can be fascinating to watch; without, they're likely to return to their tenuous "Is Shane Long really a forward?" approach and prove much less of a threat to that fragile Bournemouth backline.
Swansea vs Middlesbrough (Sun, 1.30pm)
The big talking point: What are Swansea under Paul Clement? Until the loss at Bournemouth, life was good in South Wales. Clement had overseen a quick, obvious improvement which was reflected in wins over Liverpool, Leicester, Southampton and Burnley. But suddenly: doubts. The loss to Hull was more irritating than concerning, but the latest defeat - an insipid 2-0 surrender at Dean Court - was both their worst performance of 2017 and also a result which has brought relegation back into play. So what has this been: a sustainable progression or a short-term bounce?
What will happen: The sky will turn black with footballs. Swansea are at their best when they simplify the game and move the ball quickly into crossing positions. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the main creative threat, of course, but Tom Carroll, Luciano Narsingh, and the fit-again Martin Olsson are all capable of loading those cannons for the towering Fernando Llorente.
What won't happen: The beginning of a Middlesbrough revival. Supposedly, Aitor Karanka stepped aside for the greater good and was not actually dismissed by Steve Gibson. Noble and well-intentioned, perhaps, but probably too late to provoke any real improvement. Boro were spirited but predictably blunt in defeat to a very uninspired Manchester United, and that may well have quelled whatever enthusiasm Steve Agnew's promotion created. They remain relatively impressive defensively and certainly have the tools to nullify Swansea's pass-pass-cross approach, but their perilous position should force them out of that holding pattern and, regrettably, into danger. Swansea are becoming a law of averages team and, given Boro's reticence in front of goal, the three points here will likely be decided by a single, well-timed ball onto Llorente's forehead. When that cross arrives, expect the Spaniard to bury it.
Arsenal vs Man City (Sun, 4pm)
The big talking point: Something, something Arsene Wenger. Will he stay? Will he go? Does anybody have any enthusiasm for this conversation anymore? Something to consider, though: A Manchester City win this Sunday (paired with certain results elsewhere) could leave Arsenal five points away from the Champions League places, a staggering 12 behind Tottenham, and Wenger in a very lonely place at full-time.
What will happen: It depends. Arsenal's defeat at The Hawthorns was the nadir of their season – not because West Brom are an inferior side, but owing to the nature of the goals conceded and how accepting Wenger's players were of the loss. If that's the new normal and everything written about the club's dressing room is true, City will cut through their backline with relative ease. If, on the other hand, there's a reaction and some of the internal ambiguity has cleared, this could be a game to change the mood.
What won't happen: A stalemate. It won't quite be the same as Manchester City against Liverpool a week ago, but neither team is really equipped to grind out results: City still can't defend and struggle with transitioning the ball into midfield, and Arsenal have kept just two clean sheets in the Premier League since the beginning of 2017.