The second of January sees the bulk of the gameweek’s Premier League matches sandwiched like festive turkey between New Year’s Day and the clash of Liverpool vs Manchester City on Thursday.
Wednesday’s games might not have the novelty of the first or the marquee fixture of the third, but it still has plenty of interest.
We’ve taken a look at the key details in four of these matches to tell you all you need to know about them.
Newcastle vs Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could make it four wins in a row as Manchester United manager as he travels to St James’ Park. That’s not something that they’ve done in almost a year in the league. The last time United strung that many wins together was a run of five in February and March which, coincidentally, began after a defeat at St James’ Park.
Any look at how United have fared under their new manager needs to be heavily tempered by the strength of opposition. A ‘new manager bounce’ is a well-documented occurrence, and it can look even bouncier if Cardiff and Huddersfield are the first teams out of the box.
A strong showing against Bournemouth is a promising sign, but the Cherries have suffered from injuries to key players in the last couple of months, and have suffered defensively because of it.
Not that Newcastle will be expected to pose much of a threat. They only won once in their seven December matches, against bottom of the league Huddersfield. Rafael Benitez has said that it would take a ‘miracle’ for Newcastle to avoid relegation this season. That might be being a little hyperbolic, but he’s not far off.
Chelsea vs Southampton
To say that Chelsea have stalled in recent weeks might be overdoing it (a little like Rafa and his ‘miracle’), but it wouldn’t be far off accurate. Although they’ve won four of their last five league games, including a win against Manchester City, they haven’t been convincing.
In fact, each of their most recent three wins — against Brighton, Watford, and Crystal Palace — have been by a single goal. And, amidst that, they lost to Leicester.
Meanwhile, Ralph Hasenhuttl will be wishing for the type of new manager bounce that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had at Manchester United. A debut home win against Arsenal seemed promising, but after five games he’s lost three, to Cardiff and West Ham as well as being torn apart at times against City.
Over the course of Chelsea’s ‘difficult stretch’, they’ve had the second-best expected goals difference in the league, showing that, despite the tight results, they’ve been deserved winners.
Over the course of Hasenhuttl’s reign, Southampton have had a negative expected goals difference.
Make of those two facts what you will.
Bournemouth vs Watford
After the first two months of the season, this match looked like it would be the fight for sixth (or seventh) place. The Cherries and the Hornets had both been riding high, but a big factor of this was the strength of opponents they were facing.
In the last eight matches, Bournemouth have faced five of the top six; in the first eight of the season they faced just one.
Both are in an incredibly packed midtable, with seventh to 13th separated by just four points. Both teams have season-long expected goals differences of between +1 and +2 — they’re better than a league average team, but not hugely so.
Injuries could be what tips it. Watford have a squad with a full bill of health, while Eddie Howe’s team are missing
Huddersfield vs Burnley
It might be early to say that this is a make-or-break game, but if Huddersfield lose it, the gap they will have to climb might feel insurmountable. Currently bottom of the league and four points away from safety, a loss to Burnley would be more than just dropped points at home.
Losing to Burnley would mean that the gap to safety jumps from five points to eight, and would be a strong indication that the Terriers are weaker than their fellow relegation rivals.
David Wagner’s side are arguably unlucky to be so far adrift of the rest of the pack at this stage.
Their two main strikers, Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre, have a combined 5.65 expected goals from open play, but have scored none. They’re number one and two respectively in the Premier League for the highest expected goals value without finding the back of the net.
Burnley, meanwhile, have been dreadful all year but hit form at a bad time for Huddersfield, convincingly beating West Ham to round off 2018. Sean Dyche’s men have so rarely put in a single good performance in the league this season, will they be able to pull off two in a row?
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