‛Norwegian Messi’ in line for Arsenal debut
Advantage Manchester City.
The 5-0 thrashing of West Brom away from home on Tuesday, coupled with their neighbours’ shock home defeat by basement boys Sheffield United a day later, has left the blue half of Manchester with every reason to be smiling.
A seventh straight league victory took Pep Guardiola’s side to the top of the table where they hold a one-point advantage with a game in hand over their bitter rivals heading into this weekend’s fixtures.
Ominously for the rest of the league’s title challengers, City appear to be getting into their full stride, scoring an incredible 18 goals and conceding only once in this winning run.
They will aiming to succeed where Man United failed tomorrow and overcome the Blades. With the form City are in, no one will be betting against the leaders.
Everton v Newcastle United
Everton will be aiming to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches after the 1-1 draw with fellow high-flyers Leicester last time out.
Victory for the Toffees, seventh in the standings, would not only see them possibly climb as high as fourth but would also pour even more pressure on to under-fire Newcastle manager Steve Bruce.
A 2-1 defeat by Leeds United stretched Newcastle’s winless run to eight games, including four successive losses. Bruce’s position at the helm has become more questionable by the day, with a strong contingent of Geordies demanding his departure.
To compound matters, Newcastle have failed to leave Goodison Park with three points from their previous eight trips to Merseyside.
Crystal Palace v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Two teams that have endured underwhelming campaigns to date meet at Selhurst Park with both desperate for a victory.
Despite finding themselves clear of the relegation zone, Palace fans have become restless after a number of dire performances in recent months, including a 3-2 defeat by West Ham on Tuesday, a second successive loss.
Eagles fans will be hoping for a much needed spark from new signing Jean-Philippe Mateta, with the French striker in line for his debut.
One the same points as tomorrow’s hosts, out-of-sorts Wolves remain winless in seven matches, but Nuno Espírito Santo’s side did claim a hard-fought point away to Chelsea in a goalless draw last time out.
Recent head-to-heads also favour the visitors, with Palace failing to beat Wolves in their previous three meetings.
Manchester City v Sheffield United
Is there anyone capable of stopping Manchester City at the moment?
The table-toppers have certainly looked unstoppable in recent weeks and will be confident of securing an eighth successive victory when they host Sheffield United at the Etihad Stadium.
However, Pep Guardiola need only take heed to the visitors’ last result, a shock 2-1 victory away to City’s neighbours, to be aware of the surprise results this season has been capable of throwing up.
That impressive win, just a second this season, may just give Chris Wilder’s side a crumb of renewed optimism about pulling off what would be the greatest of Premier League escapes. They now find themselves ten points adrift of safety with 18 games remaining.
However, even with the greatest optimism, I would not bank on that deficit being reduced this weekend.
West Bromwich Albion v Fulham
A standout encounter of the weekend pits relegation candidates against one another where victory could prove pivotal to retaining their Premier League status.
Three points will be more of an immediate concern to the hosts who sit second-from-bottom, two points below Fulham, a place above them, and seven adrift of safety.
New manager Sam Allardyce will be keen to halt the Baggies’ run of back-to-back defeats in recent weeks as they aim to bounce back from a 5-0 thrashing by Man City last time out.
Fulham picked up a point in a stalemate away to Brighton in midweek, their sixth draw in eight matches. Victory could be enough to reduce the deficit to the Seagulls to just two points, a huge incentive for Scott Parker’s side.
Arsenal v Manchester United
Man United will be desperate to make amends for the shock defeat by Sheffield United and reignite their title challenge.
However, in rejuvenated Arsenal they face a stern test at the Emirates Stadium. After a sluggish start to the season, Mikel Arteta’s side have turned the corner and find themselves on a six-game unbeaten run, including a 3-1 victory away to Southampton in midweek.
In the wake of Mesut Özil’s departure to Fenerbahçe, the Gunners have filled the void in midfield with the loan signing of exciting talent Martin Odegaard, who has arrived on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season.
Once dubbed the “Norwegian Messi” having burst on to the scene as a 15-year-old with Stromsgodset, the 22-year-old will be aiming to further fulfil his undoubted potential in the Premier League, having played a starring role on loan at Real Sociedad in La Liga last season.
Southampton v Aston Villa
A tough encounter to pick a winner pits tenth-placed Aston Villa against Southampton, who sit just a place behind tomorrow’s visitors, with the sides on level points.
The Saints will be aiming to bounce back from successive defeats, including Tuesday’s loss at home to Arsenal, in which they led after just three minutes before being pegged back.
Villa will also be out to make amends, having twice led in their 3-2 defeat away to Burnley last time out. Dean Smith’s side were 2-1 ahead with 20 minutes remaining at Turf Moor, before the home side fought back with two goals in the space of three minutes to snatch victory.
One good omen for the Saints is that they haven’t been beaten by Villa in the league in their past eight meetings.
Chelsea v Burnley
New Blues boss Thomas Tuchel will be aiming to seal his first victory since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.
The German manager, who replaced the sacked Frank Lampard this week, was denied the perfect start to his tenure as Chelsea were held to a goalless draw by Wolves in midweek.
He will be keen for an improvement, particularly going forward, against a Burnley side, who on paper at least would not be normally considered a daunting fixture.
However, Sean Dyche’s much improved side arrive in West London on the back of successive victories, following up a shock 1-0 win away to Liverpool with a 3-2 success over Aston Villa, in which they twice came from behind to take all three points.
Leicester City v Leeds United
Leicester will be aiming to extend their unbeaten run to eight matches and keep the pressure on the league’s top two.
The third-placed Foxes travel welcome Leeds to the King Power Stadium in fine form, winning three of their previous four matches to remain just two points adrift of leaders Man City.
Meanwhile, unpredictable Leeds, in twelfth place, will be out to make it back-to-back victories after securing a 2-1 success away to struggling Newcastle last time out.
To do so, they will have to halt a sequence of not registering a win in the league against Leicester in their previous four attempts. The Foxes are also unbeaten at home in their past three matches.
West Ham United v Liverpool
Liverpool will be aiming to make it back-to-back victories in the capital when they face in-form West Ham.
The defending champions halted a five-game winless sequence with a timely 3-1 victory away to Tottenham yesterday to propel back into the top four.
While, the Reds may have eyes on the leaders, from whom they sit four points adrift, they will have to be wary the threat of the Hammers, who themselves are just one place and two points below them.
David Moyes’s side made four wins on the spin with a 3-2 victory away to Palace in midweek and will no doubt be confident of extending their unbeaten run to seven matches on Sunday.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur
Home has not proved a happy place for Brighton, who have gone 14 games without securing victory at the Amex Stadium.
That sequence was maintained with a forgettable goalless draw with Fulham on Wednesday, with Graham Potter’s side spurning a golden opportunity to move seven points clear of the opposition in the final relegation spot.
They face a tough task in facing Tottenham, who themselves will aiming to make up for the disappointing defeat by Liverpool, which ended their four-game unbeaten run.
The visitors, who ran out narrow 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture back in November, may be without talisman Harry Kane, who was forced off at half-time in the defeat by Liverpool with an ankle injury, having sustained a number of robust challenges.