Rejuvenated Red Devils surprisingly lead the way
As we enter the second half of the English Premier League campaign, it is Manchester United who find themselves as the somewhat surprise front-runners.
For United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it a far cry from only a few months ago, when his job came under intense scrutiny after a poor start to the season and Champions League elimination.
However, after a 13-game unbeaten run the rejuvenated Red Devils are top of the table at the halfway stage for the first time since the former glory days under iconic manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
United will remain at the summit past this weekend with attention switching to the FA Cup, with the exception of the previously postponed fixture between Aston Villa and Newcastle tomorrow.
A full fixture list returns in midweek with a host of intriguing encounters at both ends of the table.
Crystal Palace v West Ham United
Ahead of hosting in-form West Ham, the Eagles have added to their ranks with the signing of striker Jean-Philippe Mateta.
The Frenchman, has initially joined the Eagles on an 18-month loan deal from German side Mainz, with an option to make the move permanent. Palace fans will be hoping the forward can add some much needed firepower having struggled for goals this season.
Winger-turned-striker Wilfried Zaha leads the way with eight goals this season, with fellow strikers Christian Benteke netting three times, Jordan Ayew just once and on-loan Michy Batshuayi yet to open his account.
The Hammers head across London on the back of a five-game unbeaten run, including three successive wins to leave them just outside the top six.
Inconsistent Palace sit in thirteenth place and come into the match off the back of a 4-0 defeat away to Manchester City last time out.
Newcastle United v Leeds United
Ahead of hosting Leeds, Newcastle were due to travel to Aston Villa with manager Steve Bruce under intense pressure.
Prior to Saturday’s trip to Villa, a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal stretched Newcastle’s winless run to seven games, including three successive defeats. Bruce’s position at the helm has become more questionable by the day, with a strong contingent of Geordies demanding his departure.
Defeat to Villa could spell the end of his time in Tyneside, even before the visit of Leeds in midweek.
Leeds will be aiming to make amends after back-to-back defeats with inconsistency blighting much of their season to date. However, Marcelo Bielsa’s men still remain in twelfth place, 11 points clear of the drop zone.
Southampton v Arsenal
Just two points one position separate the sides ahead of their encounter at St Mary’s.
Ninth-place Saints and tenth-placed Arsenal are also due to meet in the FA Cup tomorrow in a preview to Tuesday’s league clash.
Despite heading into this clash on the back of a 2-0 defeat by high-flying Leicester, Southampton have enjoyed a promising first half to the campaign with a win against the Gunners possibly enough to propel them into the top six.
After a slow start, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have found some rhythm and find themselves on the back of five-game unbeaten run including the convincing 3-0 win over Newcastle last time out.
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
Man City will be going in search of a seventh straight league win and keep the pressure on their city rivals when they travel to struggling West Brom.
Pep Guardiola’s men have looked back to their very best over the past couple of weeks, scoring seven goals without conceding in their past three games to ignite their title challenge. They sit just two points behind neighbours United with a game in hand.
West Brom would have gained confidence from an impressive derby-day victory away to Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday; however, a disappointing 2-1 defeat at home to West Ham on Tuesday brought them back down to earth.
New manager Sam Allardyce will be well aware of the need of stringing victories together to give themselves hope of climbing out of the drop zone. The Baggies are second from bottom and six points adrift of seventeenth-placed Brighton.
Burnley v Aston Villa
Burnley will welcome Aston Villa to Turf Moor buoyed by their 1-0 victory away to defending champions Liverpool yesterday.
Sean Dyche’s claimed a shock victory with Ashley Barnes’s 83rd-minute penalty enough to secure all three points and inflict a first defeat on Liverpool on Anfield in 69 matches. More importantly the result lifted them one place into sixteenth and seven points clear of the relegation zone.
They will be confident on building on that momentum against a Villa side, who before facing Newcastle tomorrow, have suffered back-to-back defeats amid a three-game winless run.
Chelsea v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Both teams who will be eager for a victory ahead of meeting at Stamford Bridge.
A 2-0 defeat away to Leicester on Tuesday saw Blues manager Frank Lampard’s position once again come under scrutiny. Having been given the funds to assemble an expensive squad in the summer, Chelsea are failing to meet expectations, sitting in eighth place, 11 points adrift of the summit.
Reports suggest defeat by Wolves could spell the end of his tenure, with owner Roman Abramovich notoriously quick to ring the managerial changes when he sees fit.
Out-of-sorts Wolves, who are winless in six matches could be the ideal tonic for Lampard; however, he will remain wary of the threat of Nuno Espírito Santo’s side, who on their day are capable of beating anyone in the league.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Fulham
A crucial encounter a the bottom of the table in which Brighton could put further daylight between themselves and visiting Fulham.
Graham Potter’s Seagulls secured a first win in nine, beating Leeds 1-0 away from home last time out to crucially put themselves five points above Wednesday’s visitors in the final relegation spot.
Fulham looked to have built some momentum in recent weeks with five successive draws given them hope of climbing out of the bottom three.
However, back-to-back defeats, albeit to Man United and Chelsea, coupled with Brighton’s timely victory, has seen that gap to safety widen once more with a need for three points on the South Coast now holding greater significance.
Everton v Leicester City
Another intriguing encounter, this time at the right end of the table will see Leicester City go in search of a fourth straight win to keep the pressure on the league’s top two.
The third-placed Foxes travel to Merseyside just two points adrift of Man United having strung together a six-match unbeaten run. However, their last defeat came at the hands of Wednesday’s hosts, with Everton securing a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture back in mid-December.
The Toffees are on a seven-match unbeaten run of their own, including a 2-1 win away to Wolves last time out.
That was, however, at the beginning of the month, with two matches being postponed in weeks that followed. Manager Carlo Ancelotti will be wary of rustiness ahead of what is a tough fixture.
Manchester United v Sheffield United
Man United will be confident of extending their 13-game unbeaten run and cementing their place at the top of the standings when they welcome struggling Sheffield United to Old Trafford.
Led by the resurgent Paul Pogba in recent weeks, the Red Devils have laid down a serious marker to their rivals that has got fans dreaming of a record 21st Premier League title.
On paper, a visit from basement boys Sheffield United would appear a routine win, with Chris Wilder’s side picking up only one win from their 19 matches so far.
That victory came just under two weeks ago to lift the spirits of Blades players and fans; however, since then they suffered a reality check in the form of a 3-1 defeat at home to Tottenham. They remain rooted to the foot of the table, 12 points adrift of safety.
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
What Is happening with Liverpool!?
Since thumping Crystal Palace 7-0 late in December, their title defence has taken a turn for the worse, remaining winless in five matches and culminating in a shock defeat at home to Burnley yesterday.
Despite their woes, Jürgen Klopp’s men are still in fourth. But they are six points adrift of the leaders ahead of a daunting trip to North London.
In contrast, fifth-placed Spurs are in a positive run of form with Sunday’s victory over Sheffield United extending their unbeaten run to four games in the league.
Liverpool narrowly won the reverse fixture in mid-December and no doubt Tottenham manager José Mourinho would love nothing more than to exact revenge and heap more misery on the visitors.