Sam Allardyce rolled out to plot his greatest escape
One of football’s great escape artists has been tasked with his latest English Premier League relegation rescue mission.
Sam Allardyce is back in the top flight after answering an SOS call from West Bromwich Albion after the club’s sacking of Slaven Bilic.
No stranger to great escapes, having managed seven other Premier League clubs without being relegated, Allardyce has been parachuted into The Hawthorns on an 18-month contract with the clear objective of guiding Albion to safety.
This could yet prove his toughest task yet, with West Brom second from bottom after 13 matches on seven points, three adrift of safety, with their sole league win of the season coming against the only team beneath them, Sheffield United.
The timing of Bilic’s dismissal was surprising given that it came after a commendable 1-1 draw at Manchester City on Tuesday, in which West Brom showed defensive qualities they had lacked for much of the season.
However, with Allardyce’s proven track record of ensuring survival, Albion fans will rightly have renewed optimism of retaining their Premier league status.
Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Liverpool travel to South London having prevailed in a top-of-the-table clash with Tottenham, with Robert Firmino’s last-gasp goal securing a 2-1 victory to guide his side to the summit.
The Eagles are themselves in a good vein of form, unbeaten in three, including a 1-1 draw away to in-form West Ham United on Wednesday in which Palace were forced to play the final 20 minutes with ten men after Christian Benteke’s harsh sending-off for a second booking.
The Belgium striker, who has regained his scoring touch with three goals in as many games, will be gutted to miss the visit of his former side, having scored in victories against them in the past.
Southampton v Manchester City
High-flying Southampton will have no fear in welcoming inconsistent Man City to St Mary’s as they aim to close the gap to the table of the table.
A hard-fought 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Wednesday extended the Saints’ unbeaten run to three matches to leave them sitting in third place, just four points adrift of leaders Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola’s men will be desperate to make amends after being held to a 1-1 draw at home by struggling West Brom, leaving them just inside the top half in ninth.
John Stones could be set to return to the heart of City’s defence in the expected absence of Eric García.
Everton v Arsenal
Having endured a torrid run of form, Everton’s season was reignited in the past week with back-to-back victories.
The Toffees, who had won only one of their previous seven matches ahead of last weekend, followed up an impressive 1-0 victory at home against Chelsea with a dominant 2-0 success away to Leicester to climb to fifth.
In stark contrast, Arsenal’s struggles persist as the pressure continues to mount on manager Mikel Arteta.
A 1-0 defeat at home to struggling Burnley at the weekend was followed up with a 1-1 draw with Southampton extending the Gunners’ winless sequence to six matches — leaving them languishing in fifteenth, just five points clear of the drop zone.
To make matters worse for Arteta, he will be without Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Magalhaes, who were dismissed against Burnley and Southampton respectively.
Heading into this fixture, Everton have not beaten Arsenal in their past two meetings in the league, but they will be confident of halting that run.
Newcastle United v Fulham
Newcastle welcome Fulham on the back of seeing their promising winning sequence halted abruptly in a 5-2 thrashing away to Leeds United in midweek.
The visitors are starting to find their feet in the Premier League and, despite travelling to St James’s Park still in the relegation zone, back-to-back draws — including an encouraging point against Liverpool — leaves Scott Parker’s men just a single point adrift of safety.
Steve Bruce is expected to have to contend with the absences of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and exciting forward Allan Saint-Maximin, both continuing to recover from injury.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Sheffield United
Sixteenth-placed Brighton remain just two points above the drop zone having picked up two victories from their 13 matches.
Graham Potter’s men followed a comprehensive 3-0 defeat away at Leicester at the weekend with a disappointing stalemate against Fulham on Wednesday.
However, a visit from basement boys Sheffield United could prove the perfect tonic.
The Blades find themselves rooted to the foot of the table, having taken only one point from 13 matches, with a 3-0 hammering by Southampton being followed by a narrow 3-2 defeat at home to Manchester United yesterday. Nine of their 12 defeats been by a single goal.
Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City
Both teams will be looking to get back to winning ways as second-placed Tottenham host fourth-placed Leicester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches after a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace on Sunday. However, José Mourinho’s side lost top spot in a dramatic defeat by Liverpool on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Leicester will be disappointed to have followed a comfortable win against Brighton with a 2-0 defeat by resurgent Everton in midweek.
Brendan Rodgers’s side have failed to pick up a victory in their past four visits to Tottenham.
Manchester United v Leeds United
Manchester United continue to close in on the top four ahead of a visit from unpredictable Leeds United.
A draw in the Manchester derby was followed up with a battling 3-2 victory away to Sheffield United yesterday to extend United’s unbeaten league run to six games, leaving them in sixth, just five points adrift of Liverpool.
However, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be wary of his side’s poor run of league form at home, picking up just win at Old Trafford, which came against struggling West Brom.
Leeds will head to Manchester full of confidence on the back of thumping victory over Newcastle United, following back-to-back defeats previously.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men will be aiming to end a three-game winless sequence away to United.
West Bromwich Albion v Aston Villa
Sam Allardyce begins his rein at The Hawthorns with a visit from West Midlands neighbours Aston Villa.
He will take confidence having seen his new side claim an unexpected point in an impressive 1-1 draw away to Man City on Wednesday, with victory on Sunday possibly enough to draw them level on points with seventeenth-placed Burnley.
However, the visitors could prove tough opposition, having beaten rivals Wolves 1-0 despite having only ten men at the weekend, before following that up with a draw against improving Burnley yesterday.
Allardyce’s first needs to turn his attention to the worst-performing defence in the English football pyramid, having already shipped 26 goals from their 13 matches, while scoring only ten in the process.
Burnley v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Burnley have continued their improved form of late, remaining unbeaten in their previous three matches.
The Clarets followed up a 1-0 win away to Arsenal with another point on the road, this time in a goalless draw with Villa, to narrowly remain outside of the drop zone.
Meanwhile, Wolves got back on track after disappointing defeats by Liverpool and Villa, by stunning Chelsea as Pedro Neto's strike in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time snatched the points in a 2-1 win over Chelsea at Molineux on Tuesday.
The visitors will once again look to lively duo of Neto and Daniel Podence to help fill the attacking void left by talisman Raúl Jiménez, with the Mexico striker continuing his recovery from a fractured skull.
Chelsea v West Ham United
Chelsea will be desperate to get back to winning ways and kick-start their previously encouraging campaign.
Frank Lampard’s men had been in fine form before last weekend, amid a nine-match unbeaten run in the league.
However, the Blues found themselves dropping form third to seventh after successive defeats by Everton and Wolves in the space of three days.
Just one place below and a single point adrift, the Hammers have taken four points from their previous two matches, after victory away to Leeds with somewhat of a fortunate draw against Palace.
David Moyes will be looking for attacking intent from his side after rarely threatening the Eagles, who found themselves reduced to ten men with 20 minutes remaining.
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