There is no let-up in the busy schedule for Premier League clubs. After a weekend of FA Cup action, the top flight makes a return with a full set of midweek fixtures.
Sides at the top and bottom of the division will be looking to strengthen their positions as we approach the latter stages of the season. There are important points to be won, so expect plenty of drama on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Manchester United vs Burnley
Burnley, off the back of one unsuccessful trip to Manchester, now face the daunting prospect of a visit to Old Trafford. Sean Dyche’s beleaguered side were hammered 5-0 by Manchester City in the FA Cup on Saturday and will be hoping for a different kind of scoreline on Tuesday evening.
The positive for the Clarets is that they remain in strong form in the Premier League. Burnley have not lost since the defeat to Everton on Boxing Day, winning three of their last four and earning a respectable point at Watford in their last outing.
United, though, will be a very different test. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now guided his side to eight successive wins in all competitions, the most recent of which was the 3-1 win at Arsenal on Friday night.
United are not invulnerable: they still concede goals despite their remarkable revival under Solskjaer. And Burnley, on their day, remain accomplished at spoiling games. It will be interesting to see how Dyche approaches this one.
Newcastle vs Manchester City
Manchester City will close the gap on Liverpool – who play a day later – to just a point if they win at Newcastle on Tuesday night.
Everything suggests that Pep Guardiola’s side will have little trouble disposing of a team fighting hard to avoid the drop, although Newcastle might have been buoyed by their convincing 3-0 win over Cardiff in their last league game at St James’.
The Magpies have a poor record at home: just three wins from 12. But, under the lights at an atmospheric St James’, perhaps they can pull off an upset. Most of City’s dropped points this season have come on the road. And Newcastle, for all their woes this season, still boast the best defensive record in the bottom half of the division.
With Rafa Benitez at the helm, a shock result cannot be ruled out. Liverpool fans will certainly be hoping their former boss does them a favour.
Bournemouth vs Chelsea
For the first time, serious questions are being asked of Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri. The Italian made an excellent start after arriving at Stamford Bridge from Napoli, but form has tailed off in recent weeks.
The manner in which his side lost at Arsenal in their last league game was concerning, and Chelsea will need a response when they travel to the south coast on Wednesday.
Bournemouth returned to form with a 2-0 win over West Ham in their last outing and will have benefited from an extended break having already been knocked out of the FA Cup. They are strong at the Vitality Stadium, too: only five teams – City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and United – have collected more points at home this season.
Gonzalo Higuain is in line to make his Premier League debut after joining the Blues from AC Milan.
Southampton vs Crystal Palace
A win for either side in this meeting would help relieve some pressure. Both Southampton and Crystal Palace are level on 22 points – in 14th and 15th respectively – just three points above the relegation zone.
With Cardiff facing a difficult challenge away at Arsenal, this is an opportunity for one of these clubs to put some distance between themselves and the bottom three.
Southampton, though still inconsistent, have improved under new boss Ralph Hasenhuttl. They are unbeaten in three league games – including a draw against Chelsea and wins over Leicester and Everton – and have slowly picked up at St Mary’s, where their form had previously been dismal.
Palace, though, are better away than at home. And Roy Hodgson’s side will have been lifted by victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup. This is an intriguing contest that could help propel one of these sides away from the relegation dogfight.
Liverpool vs Leicester
Leicester’s inconsistency in recent weeks has seen pressure build on manager Claude Puel. The Foxes have lost three in a row in all competitions, and fans have complained that the Frenchman’s style of football is bland and uninteresting.
It should not be forgotten, though, that Leicester only last month went to Stamford Bridge and won. They beat Manchester City on Boxing Day, too, so Liverpool should not expect an easy victory on Wednesday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, given their imperious record at Anfield, will be strong favourites. But they will have to work for the victory against an accomplished side, albeit one lacking confidence.
Tottenham vs Watford
This is an important game for Spurs after a disappointing week: Mauricio Pochettino’s side were knocked out of both the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup in the space of a few days.
Attention now turns back to the league, where Tottenham will be hopeful of keeping the pressure on Manchester City and Liverpool. They will be wary, too, of the chasing pack: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are not too far away.
Tottenham, on Wednesday night, face a Watford side who, so far this season, have been the best of the rest. Javi Gracia’s side sit seventh and are enjoying a five-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Tottenham have already lost four games at Wembley in the Premier League this season, and that will encourage this organised and disciplined Watford team.
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