Can anyone catch City?
The English Premier League is back with the fierce top-four race heating up as the business end of the season draws near. The situation with the coronavirus seems to be under control, although the majority of teams have rescheduled matches still to play.
The Fantasy League landscape continues to fluctuate after all players are scheduled to return from the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations, which featured Liverpool stars Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah in the final. Mané and Senegal won the competition in a shoot-out over Egypt, but it is Salah who would have brought more joy to Anfield this week by appearing as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 defeat of Leicester yesterday, to retain hope of overhauling leaders Manchester City.
Other players to watch include Southampton striker Armando Broja and Crystal Palace star Conor Gallagher, who is on loan from Chelsea.
Manchester United v Southampton
A horrible week for Manchester United. First, last Friday, eliminated by Middlesbrough on penalties in the FA Cup. Then dropping points via their 1-1 away draw with bottom side Burnley in midweek. Things are quickly unravelling at Old Trafford.
Southampton came from behind twice to earn an impressive 3-2 away win over Tottenham. Before that, the Saints needed extra time to squeeze past Coventry 2-1 at home in the FA Cup.
Southampton have won only twice at Old Trafford in Premier League history, and were demolished 9-0 on their last visit towards the end of last season. Regardless of this history, the visiting side must believe they stand a chance against the struggling Red Devils.
Brentford v Crystal Palace
Brentford have now lost five straight in the league, also being eliminated by Everton 4-1 in the FA Cup. Things have gone downhill really quickly for Thomas Frank’s men. One positive, though, is the signing of Frank’s fellow Dane, Christian Eriksen.
Crystal Palace could only salvage a 1-1 away league draw with Norwich City on Wednesday, after cruising to a 2-0 home win over Hartlepool in the FA Cup. The Eagles have won just twice in their last twelve Premier League games.
This London derby, with west hosting south, features two sides on the lowest form in the division. These teams played to a goalless draw on their only previous Premier League meeting at Selhurst Park.
Everton v Leeds United
Everton, after sacking Rafael Benítez, lost 3-1 to Newcastle United at St James’ Park. They did, however, eliminate Brentford from the FA Cup via their comprehensive 4-1 home win three days earlier.
Leeds have been in a mixed bag of form since Christmas, winning two of their five games in this period. They did, however, suffer a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to relegation-scrapping Newcastle.
An historic rival between Premier League royalty, these sides have met on 27 occasions. Both sides have won eight matchups, while 11 have ended in draws. Their most recent meeting was a 2-2 stalemate at Elland Road last August.
Watford v Brighton & Hove Albion
Watford sacked manager Claudio Ranieri having won just two of his 14 Premier League games, replacing him with veteran manager Roy Hodgson. The former England manager has taken charge of two league games, a goalless draw away to Burnley and their 1-0 away defeat to West Ham United.
Brighton continue to mix it with the big boys, drawing twice 1-1 with Chelsea as well as their 1-1 away stalemate with Leicester on January 23. They sit ninth, despite 12 draws in their past 17 games.
The Seagulls walked away from their last visit to Vicarage Road with a 3-0 victory, their third in seven meetings against the Hornets.
Norwich City v Manchester City
Norwich have given themselves hopes of survival after going unbeaten in their last three, including wins over fellow scrappers Everton and Watford, scoring at least twice in both those games. Before this run, they had scored just twice in their previous 18 games. The Canaries sit just one point inside the drop zone, after their latest 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace.
Manchester City temporarily increased their gap on top of the division to 12 with their 2-0 home win over Brentford on Wednesday. They also stumbled over Sky Bet Championship leaders Fulham 4-1 in the Cup.
This has been a tricky stamping ground for Pep Guardiola and the Sky Blues, who fell to a shock 3-2 defeat on their last visit to East Anglia.
Burnley v Liverpool
Burnley ground out an impressive 1-1 home draw with Manchester United in midweek, their eleventh of the campaign. This boosted their thoughts of survival, as the Clarets sit bottom on 14 points, yet have at least two games in hand on their rivals.
Liverpool stayed in touch with Man City after a 2-0 win at home to Leicester yesterday, Diogo Jota reminding of his worth with both goals.
An incredible feat was completed when the Lancashire side stunned the Reds 1-0 at Anfield in January 2021, their sixth straight league defeat at home. Surely, despite hosting this time around, they expect anything other than revenge from Jürgen Klopp’s men.
Newcastle United v Aston Villa
Newcastle earned a vital 3-1 victory over Everton to move out of the relegation places, yet by only one point. The January additions of Bruno Guimaraes and Chris Wood add some spice to a rather quality-stricken squad.
Aston Villa have fared well under Steven Gerrard, despite dropping a two-goal lead in their 3-3 home draw with Leeds in midweek. The West Midlands side added Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne to assist with their outside push for European football next season.
Historically, these teams have met 49 times, with the Magpies winning double the Villans (22-11). However, this weekend’s visitors look perfectly equipped for just a third Premier League victory at St James’ Park.
Tottenham Hotspur v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Spurs lost their first Premier League game under Antonio Conte in midweek, a 3-2 home defeat by Southampton. They were ahead twice in this matchup, the second time they have dropped points in such a position under the Italian manager.
Before losing at home to Arsenal yesterday, Wolves have won four of their previous five, including three in a row. This run includes away victories over fellow European hopefuls Brighton and Manchester United. They also boast the second-best defensive record in the division.
The performance will be key for the North London side in this match-up, where they have won eight of 15 meetings. Regardless of this dominance, Wolves have won three times at White Hart Lane.
Leicester City v West Ham United
Leicester were embarrassed on the road by Championship promotion chasers Nottingham Forest 4-1 in the FA Cup. The mood will not have improved around the King Power Stadium after a 2-0 defeat by Liverpool yesterday.
West Ham edged Watford 1-0 at home on Tuesday, following up their dramatic 2-1 away Cup victory over non-League Kidderminster Harriers.
The Foxes know their season is virtually over in terms of competing for anything, yet the Hammers are still in the Europa League as well as FA Cup. A victory is essential for their European qualification through the Premier League.
Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion
Manchester United are under immense pressure after being eliminated at home by Middlesbrough on penalties in their last realistic trophy chase, the FA Cup. They also drew 1-1 at Burnley to dent their top-four hopes.
Brighton, this being their second game of the round, can still mathematically qualify for Europe, but must turn some of their 12 draws into victories. If they do so by 50 per cent — six draws, six wins — in their last 16 games, they can push for a Europa League spot.
United have been historically quite fortunate in this match-up, grabbing three of their past five wins over the Seagulls by one goal.