W2W4 previews the weekend’s Premier League action and highlights five key storylines.
Will this Liverpool vs. Manchester United clash live up to the hype?
With a bit of luck, there won’t be quite as much fevered buildup to this game between Manchester United and Liverpool as there was for the game at Anfield earlier in the season. That was a powerfully tedious affair, as if the football gods said “if you’re going to hype it up, we’re going to be obtuse and make it as boring as possible.” In reality of course, that spectacle broadly came about because an out-of-form Manchester United sensibly tried to stymie a Liverpool side that had scored 13 goals in their previous four games. This time though, both teams look in good shape, as United are unbeaten since October and currently riding a six-game winning streak in the league, while Liverpool remain second in the table and continue to play fine football.
Jurgen Klopp is a manager much less likely to opt for pragmatism in an away game, plus, he should have Philippe Coutinho at his disposal again. United, unlike last time, have at least four attackers in fine form, with even Anthony Martial seeming to awaken from his early-season struggles. Mourinho suddenly has an embarrassment of riches and has a task selecting five from Martial, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to play ahead of Michael Carrick. This time, this most heated of clashes could live up to the hype. Well, hopefully …
Will Tottenham continue their good run against a bogey team?
West Brom are a minor bogey team for Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have only beaten the Baggies once in their last seven encounters, and the game earlier this season ended in a draw, when Tottenham should have been fizzing after their wonderful performance against Manchester City. And, of course, the game before that was the draw that sent the back end of last season into a tailspin, dashing their remote hopes of pipping Leicester City to the title. You’d forgive the Tottenham players in the team for having mild PTSD at the sight of West Brom rolling into town again. However, if they do manage to beat the Baggies, in reasonable form themselves, and claim their sixth league win in a row, this might be a further sign that this talented Tottenham team is maturing nicely.
How will West Ham cope without Dimitri Payet?
West Ham have only themselves to blame, really. Managing to keep hold of Dimitri Payet looked like the best bit of business they did last summer, but now the Frenchman has decided he wants out. Even that can be seen as a gaffe. An almost entirely bungled transfer window resulted in a slew of signings that not only didn’t strengthen their team, but arguably actively weakened it, and selling Payet when his stock was highest would at least have brought in a hefty transfer fee. But this is where they find themselves, a team whose terrible form and dreadful signings have ultimately driven Payet away. In truth, this season Payet hasn’t been the player he was last term, but he’s still their most creative outlet and the man they need to create chances for Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio. One wonders how they will do without him now.
Paul Clement could start with a win over Arsenal
Paul Clement’s tenure at Swansea thus far has been slightly fragmented. He was initially in the stands but descended to the touchline for their dramatic win over Crystal Palace, and the FA Cup was a distraction from the main task of avoiding relegation. Saturday’s visit of Arsenal will be the first league game he’s been completely in control of. Clement was an interesting choice for Swansea, because for all his experience and reputation as an assistant, his only spell in a top job ended early at Derby County. This isn’t to say he won’t be successful, and to be fair, there wasn’t exactly a throng of experienced, proven candidates available to them, so he was probably worth a punt. Swansea have caused problems for Arsenal in the past, having beaten them in four of the five seasons since their promotion to the Premier League. Another win would do their survival chances plenty of good.
How will Chelsea react to their first defeat in months?
When Lionel Messi occasionally misplaces a pass, it’s common for commentators to say something along the lines of “He is human after all!” It was tempting to think similarly when Chelsea’s winning run came to an end against Tottenham last week — so good have the Blues been in the last few months. The test now is how they play from this point on. Did Pochettino expose a fundamental weakness in Antonio Conte’s system that everyone else will now copy, or did Chelsea simply have an off day at White Hart Lane, a place where many teams have and will continue to come unstuck? Leicester might not be the ideal candidates to test this theory, but they have shown some signs of recovery, taking four points and conceding no goals in their last two games. This will certainly be a more interesting contest than it looked a few weeks ago.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.