Premier League week 12 preview: Potential return against former club for Liverpool’s ex-Saints

Premier League Preview Liverpool

Liverpool might not have had a match this week due to the international break, but there was still plenty going on at the club with manager Jurgen Klopp briefly hospitalised, Sadio Mane returning from international duty with a recurrence of a hamstring problem that thankfully seems to have abated and Adam Lallana potentially returning to first team action on Saturday. It is Mane and Lallana’s former club who visit Anfield, Southampton hoping to go a third consecutive season without losing at the home of the Reds. The respective scoring records of these teams prior to the internationals were rather stark, with Liverpool hitting 10 in three matches and the Saints drawing a now-familiar blank in losing at home to Burnley. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side tend not to concede too many, though, so perhaps this won’t be a scoring spree for the Merseysiders – not if Virgil van Dijk, the man who has been tipped for several months to follow the same path trodden by Mane, Lallana, Dejan Lovren and long-term injury absentee Nathaniel Clyne, gets his way.

The standout Premier League match of the weekend is also the first, with Arsenal and Tottenham locking horns on Saturday lunchtime. The Gunners fell to a fourth defeat of the season last time out, but going down 3-1 to a rampant Manchester City side did not prompt the usual outpouring of venom that accompanies Arsenal defeats. A repeat result here, though, would hurt the natives severely, all the more so with arch-rivals Spurs on an upward curve and with the bragging rights from being the top-placed team in north London last season. The home fans at the Emirates will be praying that Christian Eriksen does not have a repeat of his scintillating performance from midweek when his hat-trick inspired Denmark to a 5-1 thrashing of Ireland in the World Cup play-offs.

Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table could be extended to 11 points if they register a 10th league win in succession on Saturday against Leicester. Pep Guardiola’s men have made light work of almost every challenge presented to them this season, but they were utterly humiliated at the King Power Stadium on their previous visit nearly a year ago and their opponents have shown an upturn in form since Claude Puel took the reins last month. The expectation will be that the leaders hoover up another three points, but the improving Foxes could give them enough of a test so that City sneak this by the odd goal. Should that come to pass, it would be a feather in Guardiola’s cap as it would show that his side can edge tight games as well as blowing teams away in the manner to which we have become accustomed in recent week.

In contrast to their city rivals’ impeccable form, Manchester United have stuttered of late, losing two of their last three league games and returning to the pedestrian, one-dimensional football that has tormented fans at Old Trafford in the last couple of years. On Saturday evening, they host Newcastle in a match that pits Jose Mourinho against Rafael Benitez, two managers who had plenty of memorable duels during the 2000s. After scoring in each of his first seven league outings for United, Romelu Lukaku is without a goal in four matches, although a goal against the Magpies is likely to trigger another glut, given his habit of peaks and troughs. It’s been a decent start to the season for Newcastle, but they’d surely consider any points from this game as a bonus.

Chelsea have been hit and miss this season but there is a distinct possibility that they could go second in the table for a while on Saturday should they win at West Brom. Antonio Conte’s men secured a morale-boosting and perfectly-timed victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago and they come up against a team in crisis, with many at The Hawthorns lamenting the agricultural style of Tony Pulis. It’s a formula that has worked for years for the manager, but with his team winless since August, he may be forced into a change of tack quite soon to stop West Brom’s worrying slide. A draw would be a good outcome for them here; it’s in subsequent games that victories will be needed.

Liverpool’s demolition job on West Ham at the start of the month saw the Hammers part company with Slaven Bilic and they wasted little time in installing David Moyes as his replacement. It’s not an appointment that has appeased the restless east London faithful and the Scot’s reputation has plummeted since his peak years at Everton. His first game in charge sees them cross the city to take on a Watford side who made a flying start to the campaign but have stalled in the last month. Marco Silva made it clear in recent days that he has no intention of taking Moyes’ former job as Everton boss, news that will have been welcomed by Hornets supporters. Watford might be many people’s favourites here, but with their form tailing off and West Ham potentially feeling the benefits of ‘new manager bounce’, this could certainly go either way.

While the Hammers were quick to hire Moyes, Everton remain without a permanent manager nearly a month after dispensing with Ronald Koeman. On Saturday they go to Crystal Palace, another club to have experienced a change in management since the season started. The Eagles remain four points adrift at the bottom of the table, but they have shown signs of progress under Roy Hodgson and were unlucky not to take points off Tottenham two weeks ago. Everton, meanwhile, go into this game on the back of an incredible win over Watford, coming from two goals down in the final 25 minutes to take the points with a stoppage time penalty. Another win at Selhurst Park would suddenly elevate them to mid-table and strengthen David Unsworth’s case for getting the manager’s job on a full-time basis, should he wish to make that substantial leap.

The man who has most strongly been linked with the managerial vacancy at Goodison Park is Sean Dyche, whose stock could hardly be higher given the formidable job he’s doing at Burnley this season. Among many people’s relegation candidates back in August, the Clarets have already amassed 19 points, the same as Liverpool and Arsenal, and briefly occupied a European position earlier this month. Take out the established top six and Burnley are the highest-placed team in the Premier League at the month. In stark contrast, Swansea lie second from bottom and have been insipid so far this season. The horrendous home defeat to Brighton last time out piled the pressure on Paul Clement, but several players must carry out some heavy self-examination as to why they are performing nowhere near their capabilities. The one hope to which Swansea fans will cling is that they have only lost one out of five away matches so far, while just eight of Burnley’s 19 points have come in their home games.

After Burnley, the Premier League’s biggest overachievers thus far are Brighton, who lie in eighth after three wins from their last four. Considering that the aforementioned Dyche and Silva have been linked with the Everton job, you’d wonder why Chris Hughton’s name isn’t in the frame. Let’s just say Brighton fans will be quite happy that it isn’t, with the affable, understated Irishman taking the club to heights that seemed unimaginable not that long ago. On Monday night, they host a Stoke side who had a similar experience in their debut Premier League season almost a decade ago, but have stagnated in the last couple of years under Mark Hughes. The Welshman will take heart, though, from how his side twice came from behind to draw with Leicester in their last outing.

It still seems scarcely believable that Bournemouth v Huddersfield is a Premier League fixture, but that’s exactly what will be played out at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday. What’s more, both teams go into this one on the back of impressive victories. In Bournemouth’s case, the win at Newcastle was badly needed given their slow start to the campaign, although two recent away victories and a battling display against Chelsea suggest that Eddie Howe’s side could be turning a corner. Huddersfield’s defeat of West Brom was their fourth win of the season, a fine return after just 11 matches for the Terriers. Away points have been hard to come by, though, and they will need plenty more of them to stay in this division. They might see Saturday as a good chance of getting at least one.

Liverpool’s season thus far has changed momentum upon the international breaks, with a good August giving way to a bleak September before an upturn in the latter part of October. Klopp will fervently hope that the latest pause in the club calendar does not prove another turning point for the Reds, especially with national teams not reconvening until the end of March. A home match against an impotent Southampton side should be the ideal fixture to pick up where they left off at the London Stadium two weeks ago…but how many times have we down this particular road before with Liverpool?

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