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Crucial month for European hopefuls

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Evasive action: Arsenal's Takehiro Tomiyasu, right, challenges Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium in London, England on Saturday January 1, 2022. (Photograph by Matt Dunham/AP)

The Premier League returns after the FA Cup weekend after quite a few surprises were registered in the third round of the oldest domestic cup competition in the world.

The Fantasy landscape heats up as well, as the bigger teams look forward to the European races. In the midst of the Africa Cup of Nations this month, several key assets will be out doing the business for their national teams. For example, a viable replacement for the ever-present Mohamed Salah this month could be the budget option of Jarrod Bowen.

Under scrutiny: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, left, has the full attention of Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger, as they battle for the ball during the English Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in London on Sunday, January 2, 2022. (Photograph by Matt Dunham/AP)

Today

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace

4pm

Brighton are one of the surprise packages of the season, losing just one of their last five matches. They have scored at least twice in their last three, winning two of those games.

Crystal Palace are proving to be a tough nut to crack this term under Patrick Vieira, yet they have drawn eight of their 19 games. Striker Odsonne Edouard has directly impacted five goals in his last four appearances with two goals and three assists to his credit.

A result-changing goal has been scored in the 90th minute of the last three encounters between these sides. Meanwhile, the Eagles are unbeaten in their last five battles with the Seagulls, winning two and drawing three.

Prediction: 2-2

Saturday

Manchester City v Chelsea

8.30am

Manchester City have won their last 11 Premier League games, including a testy 2-1 away win over European chasers Arsenal. They also cruised past Swindon Town 4-1 in the FA Cup last Friday.

Chelsea smashed through London rivals Tottenham 3-0 on aggregate to reach the Carabao Cup final on Wednesday.

City winger Raheem Sterling has scored 49 career league goals at the Etihad Stadium, looking to become just the second player to reach the half-century of goals at the venue, after Sergio Aguero scored a total of 106. This is just the second Premier League meeting where the sides are one-two in the table.

Prediction: 2-1

Burnley v Leicester City

11am

Burnley fell 3-1 away to Leeds United, and suffered three losses in their last five. They continue their struggles in front of goal, scoring just 16, the third-fewest in the division.

Leicester smashed Watford 4-1 in the FA Cup last Saturday, and recorded an impressive 1-0 home win over Liverpool just after the New Year.

These sides played to a thrilling 2-2 draw on their previous encounter last September, with Maxwel Cornet scoring a fantastic volley on his Premier League debut.

Prediction: 2-2

Newcastle United v Watford

11am

Newcastle were embarrassingly knocked out of the FA Cup at home by League Two team Cambridge United 1-0. The Magpies have won just one of their last five and remain two points from safety.

Watford are one of two sides along with Norwich to have lost their last five. The Hornets have scored just four times in those games, conceding twelve.

This relegation six-pointer could decide whether the ‘richest club in the world’ can work on their timeline towards success.

Prediction: 1-2

Norwich City v Everton

11am

Norwich, on pace to become the most-relegated team in Premier League history (6), are winless in their last eight PL games, losing five straight. The Canaries are also on pace to score the fewest goals in a single season (16). Records for the wrong reason in East Anglia.

Everton have not fared much better than their hosts, winning just one of five. They also survived a dogged effort from Championship strugglers Hull to beat them 3-2 in the FA Cup.

The Toffees shutout their hosts on the previous visit, with Michael Keane heading home from a Lucas Digne corner.

Prediction: 0-2

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Southampton

11am

Wolves have proven that they are no pushovers this term under new boss Bruno Lage. They are the second-best defensive team in the division, despite scoring the second-fewest goals. They dominated Manchester United and took a deserved 1-0 win away from Old Trafford two weeks ago.

Southampton were pushed all the way by Swansea in South Wales at the weekend in the FA Cup, winning 3-2. Recently, they took four points from West Ham (away win 3-2) and Tottenham (1-1 home draw) to move up to 11th.

This is one of the tightest and more entertaining matchups currently in the top-flight. At least two total goals have been scored in four of their last five meetings.

Prediction: 2-2

Aston Villa v Manchester United

1.30pm

Aston Villa have adapted really well to life under Steven Gerrard, winning seven of eleven league games. In fact, three of their four defeats came to the title challengers.

Manchester United have looked far more defensively sound under Ralf Rangnick, conceding one goal or fewer in his first eight games.

These sides just met at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, where United edged Villa 1-0 despite the visitors dominating for large spells on Monday night. United can become the first top-flight side to reach 300 PL away wins with victory.

Prediction: 1-2

Sunday

Liverpool v Brentford

10am

Liverpool have stuttered recently in their chase to reclaim the Premier League title, dropping points in three of the last five games. They cruised past Shrewsbury 4-1 in the FA Cup and earned a 2-2 away draw with Chelsea.

Brentford gained an important 2-1 home win over Aston Villa last time out and beat Port Vale 4-1 away in the Cup.

These teams played to a thrilling 3-3 draw in the reverse game in September. The Reds have struggled recently at home against promoted sides, dropping points in their last two matches.

Prediction: 2-0

West Ham United v Leeds United

10am

West Ham shutout bottom side Norwich 2-0 on Wednesday to temporarily move up to fourth, their third straight league win.

Leeds smashed Burnley 3-1 last time out, moving eight points clear of the drop zone halfway through their season. They did fall to these same opponents 2-0 at the London Stadium last weekend in the FA Cup.

Hammers manager David Moyes has the best record against the Yorkshire side among managers to have taken charge of at least five meetings. The Scotsman has won six of his seven meetings with Leeds.

Prediction: 1-1

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal

12.30pm

Spurs went back to their previous selves in their 3-0 aggregate defeat to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semifinals. They just about got past Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road on New Year’s Day, their last league match.

Arsenal are on a roll right now, winning four of their last five. Despite losing 2-1 at home to Manchester City, the Gunners are looking like strong contenders to reach the Champions League. They were, however, embarrassed 1-0 by Nottingham Forest in the West Midlands on Sunday in the FA Cup.

This North London derby has so much riding on it in the European push and Spurs have won the last two home meetings.

Prediction: 2-2

Tuesday

Burnley v Watford

3.30pm

Burnley are still in the survival fight, but they cannot find wins with just one so far in the league. The Clarets remain two points from safety, with two games in hand on their main rivals.

Watford are in similar form to their hosts, and would have visited Newcastle in a week of opportunity. Should they win both these games, they would push six points clear and level in points with Leeds a place above them.

These sides, who are now two of the favourites to go down, have met eight times. Burnley have won five, including a 1-0 success last season at Turf Moor.

Prediction: 2-1

Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea

4pm

Brighton are another to watch for the Europa League places, having lost just once in their last six games in all competitions.

Chelsea can just about hold on to title hopes, despite drawing four of their last five matches. The West London side easily took apart Tottenham 3-0 on aggregate en route to the Carabao Cup Final.

These sides met at the end of December at Stamford Bridge, with the Seagulls snatching a 1-1 draw thanks to a Danny Welbeck equaliser. The Blues must win to remain in the title hunt, with City possibly pulling 13 points clear at the end of this double gameweek.

Prediction: 1-2

Wednesday

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur

3.30pm

Leicester are making slow improvements under Brendan Rodgers, after a terrible start to the season. They pulled off an impressive 1-0 home win over Liverpool last time out, and before that, they put on an entertaining performance in a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City.

Spurs, who prepare for the North London derby three days prior, are still unbeaten in five league matches, despite folding to a 3-0 aggregate loss to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup.

A very equal battle here, with the Whites edging the Foxes through 40 meetings. Spurs have 13 wins to the East Midlands club’s 12, most recently the thrilling 4-2 win on the final day of last season at the King Power Stadium.

Prediction: 2-2

Brentford v Manchester United

4pm

Brentford face the trickiest coming week of all the bottom teams, visiting Liverpool and hosting United. They come into the toughest pair of matches all season off the back of a dominant 4-1 win over Port Vale, and the 2-1 win over Aston Villa the previous weekend.

United were very lucky to escape with a 1-0 home win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Monday, and visit the same opponents on Saturday. A challenging run for German interim boss Rangnick, and he must win these trips to the West Midlands and West London.

Prediction: 1-2

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Published January 14, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated January 14, 2022 at 7:51 am)

Crucial month for European hopefuls

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