Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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1

City’s chance to taste top spot

The good news for Manchester City is that Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Arsenal last Sunday and their early kick-off on Saturday means Pep Guardiola’s side have the chance to go top of the Premier League for the first time since September, for a couple of hours at least. The bad news for Liverpool and the other title contenders is that City look back to their best, with everyone fit and firing. City have 11 victories and one draw from their last 12 matches in all competitions. Sean Dyche and Everton, who arrive at the Etihad in the relegation zone, could be in for a torrid 90 minutes. Jamie Jackson



2

Which Fulham will turn up?

Fulham’s form has dipped again. They are winless in the Premier League since stunning Arsenal on New Year’s Eve and they suffered the deflation of exiting both cups last month. Semi-final heartbreak against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup was a blow and when fans turned their noses up at high ticket prices for the FA Cup tie against Newcastle it gave the impression of a club in danger of losing its way. However, Fulham are still capable of playing intelligent, attractive football under Marco Silva. They blew a 2-0 lead against Burnley last week, their game management letting them down, but there is a chance of improvement against Bournemouth. It remains difficult to know which Fulham will turn up. Jacob Steinberg


Armando Broja will be looking to make his mark for the Cottagers. Photograph: Ryan Browne/Shutterstock

3

Burnley braced for Liverpool backlash

The Liverpool performance at Arsenal will have troubled Jürgen Klopp more than a result that tilted the title race marginally in Manchester City’s favour. There can be no repeat at home to a Burnley side languishing second from bottom and with two away wins to their name all season. To that end, the availability of Darwin Núñez should strengthen Liverpool’s confidence in producing an immediate response. Criticism of Klopp’s decision to bench Núñez at the Emirates was odd considering the striker had hobbled away from Anfield four days earlier with his foot in a protective boot. His absence from the starting lineup in both of Liverpool’s two Premier League defeats this season, however, underlines the importance of the unpredictable yet relentless striker. Burnley will be braced for a backlash. Andy Hunter



4

Luton seeking heady heights of 15th

Luton have lost one of their past six and are out of the relegation zone, which is a remarkable achievement. They welcome the league’s bottom side on Saturday; a win would lift them to 23 points with 15 games remaining to secure another 17 for the traditional survival benchmark of 40. If everything goes their way, Rob Edwards’s side could even stand 15th at the end of the weekend, which would be a glorious boost to morale going into a tough run of games. This is a tight-knit group of players who are in great form but their next four games are against Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City (in the FA Cup) and Aston Villa, meaning a victory is vital to keep their heads above water. In what will be a tumultuous end to the season, with other clubs waiting on points deductions, beating rivals at home will be crucial and Luton know it. Will Unwin



5

Will Son and Richarlison stay in sync?

Everybody knows how highly Ange Postecoglou rates Son Heung-min. The Tottenham manager never misses the opportunity to eulogise the player he appointed as his captain and is delighted to have him back after the Asian Cup; Son reported to the training ground on Thursday after South Korea’s shock semi-final defeat against Jordan. Will Postecoglou start him in Saturday’s home game against Brighton? The better question with regard to Son’s return is whether he can pick up where he left off with Richarlison. The latter felt his season – and Spurs career – turn when Postecoglou started him in the No 9 role against Newcastle in December, moving Son back out to the left wing. It was the prompt for Richarlison to embark on a run of nine goals in 10 matches. Son, who was in fine form for Spurs before his departure for the Asian Cup, had helped to ignite Richarlison’s purple patch by setting up the first of his two goals against Newcastle. David Hytner



6

Hwang returns to bolster Wolves

As the saying goes, one person’s loss is another person’s gain. For Hwang Hee-chan, there is the personal disappointment of South Korea’s shock exit at the Asian Cup to stomach but Wolves will welcome the forward back with open arms. Hwang returned to England on Wednesday and reported for training with his Wolves teammates on Thursday. If things were not going well already – Wolves are six points off sixth-placed Manchester United after victory at Chelsea – the return of Hwang, who has scored 10 league goals already this campaign, will only enhance the reinvigorated attack. Matheus Cunha, who scored a hat-trick last time out, Pedro Neto and Pablo Sarabia and an in-form Wolves side, managed by an impressive leader in Gary O’Neil, have another chance to bare their teeth against Brentford. Ben Fisher

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7

Forest’s Sels out to prove a point

The Matz Sels derby will take place on Saturday evening, a fixture few anticipated they would ever witness. The Belgian spent two seasons at Newcastle, the second out on loan at Anderlecht, but managed a mere nine appearances in their promotion season from the Championship in 2016-17 as he failed to convince Rafa Benítez he was better than the former Forest goalkeeper Karl Darlow. Since leaving St James’ Park, Sels has been a steady performer at Strasbourg but decided a crack at the Premier League was too good to turn down. Amid the chaos of the Forest goalkeeping department, Sels was immediately installed as No 1 against Bournemouth and looked steady enough compared to the underwhelming Matt Turner and Odysseas Vlachodimos. It might just help that his home debut will come against a team who did not think he was capable of being first choice. A little extra incentive goes a long way in football. WU


Matz Sels will be hoping to keep out his former employers. Photograph: MI News/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

8

Can West Ham fill creativity gap?

West Ham are struggling without Lucas Paquetá. They have not won since 28 December and their attacking output has dried up while the Brazilian has been out with a calf injury. They miss Paquetá’s skill and eye for a pass but David Moyes needs to find a way of coping without his key attacker. He still has Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus, two forwards who have already hurt Arsenal this season. He could make more use of Maxwel Cornet and Michail Antonio has a chance of returning from a knee injury when Arsenal visit the London Stadium. All is not lost, even with Paquetá expected to be out for at least another week. JS



9

Crucial game for Villa in top-four race

Even if results do not go their way on Saturday, the fact Aston Villa are quietly hoping Manchester City and Liverpool slip up is a sign of the company Unai Emery’s side are keeping. This time last year Villa were mid-table, an unbeaten January in the league pushing them clear of relegation trouble. For all of the murmurings about Villa being title contenders approaching the new year, the reality is securing a Champions League spot would represent an extraordinary achievement in itself. Which is why Villa’s match at home to Manchester United feels significant. Victory would open up an 11-point gap to United, a healthy buffer even with 14 games to play. Defeat and United, one of their biggest rivals for a top-four berth, will be five points behind them. BF


Ollie Watkins gets on the scoresheet against Sheffield United. Photograph: Alex Dodd/CameraSport/Getty Images

10

Hodgson and Pochettino face off

The top two meet at Selhurst Park on Monday night, though not in terms of league position but rather in the bookmakers’ odds on the next Premier League manager to get the boot. It is not a particularly nice race to be in and one win will not solve all the problems facing Roy Hodgson (first) or Mauricio Pochettino (second). Despite the rumour mill’s constant churn as Palace seek a suitable replacement for Hodgson, Palace are unbeaten in their past three home fixtures, winning two, while Chelsea have lost five of their past six away. Michael Olise’s absence will make things harder for Palace but there is still some hope that their manager could make a statement with victory and allow Pochettino to move into top spot in the sack race. WU


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