Come 7pm on Wednesday, Liverpool fans will be quite eager to view the starting line-up chosen by Jurgen Klopp for the Reds’ fixture at Stoke. The German raised plenty of eyebrows on Saturday when he omitted Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino from the team that began the 1-1 draw against Chelsea and it was a selection that backfired, with Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ineffective against the champions. You would expect the Senegal and Brazil strikers respectively to be restored for Wednesday’s trip to the Potteries, where they will face a Stoke side reeling from a last-gasp defeat at Crystal Palace at the weekend. Both teams possess attacking threats which could make way against their respective opposition, with Mohamed Salah capable of single-handedly ripping defences apart and Peter Crouch more than able to pounce on Liverpool’s glaring set piece deficiencies. Can the Reds’ attacking talents fire them to a third consecutive win at this ground or will their defensive misgivings consign them to further disappointment in their bid for a top-four finish?
On Tuesday night, Manchester United face a tricky test away to Watford, who would move into the top six overnight if they can repeat last season’s memorable win in this fixture at Vicarage Road. United rode their luck to overcome Brighton at home on Saturday and a similarly tepid performance against the Hornets could see them drop points on the road for the fourth Premier League game in succession. Watford are coping just fine with the speculation over Marco Silva’s future, with the in-demand boss guiding them to two wins since the international break despite being heavily linked with the vacancy at Everton. Jose Mourinho’s men can ill afford any more slip-ups in their pursuit of Manchester City, but they will not find it at all easy to win on their trip to Hertfordshire.
Tottenham were being touted as possible title contenders earlier in the season, but poor results over the last month have seen them slip out of the top four. On Tuesday they face a tricky trip to Leicester, who have improved steadily since Claude Puel took over at the King Power Stadium. Spurs have given two of their poorest performances of the season in their recent games against Arsenal and West Brom, the latter a particularly disappointing draw at Wembley against a team lingering just outside the drop zone. If the Londoners continue to be as ineffective and slack as they were in their last couple of games, Leicester have the ammunition to further dent their Champions League ambitions.
If Tottenham have had a bad November, Newcastle’s has been disastrous. The Geordies take a four-game losing streak to West Brom on Tuesday and they were inept in their 0-3 home reverse to Watford on Saturday. Also, they come up against a Baggies side who will take plenty of heart from the aforementioned draw against Spurs, stopping the rot that had set in under Tony Pulis before his sacking. If the home side were to win by two goals or more at The Hawthorns, they would move above Newcastle in the table, thus sucking Rafael Benitez’s men firmly into a relegation battle that had seemed distant prior to Halloween.
The Amex Stadium hosts an intriguing grudge match on Tuesday when rivals Brighton and Crystal Palace lock horns in the Premier League for the first time. The Seagulls might have lost to Manchester United at the weekend, but their gallant, attack-minded performance drew praise from Mourinho and almost everyone who watched the game. There was honour for Brighton in that defeat, but there would be none if they were to lose at home to a Palace side who remain bottom despite a late win over Stoke which has given them renewed hope of climbing out of the relegation zone. The Eagles have been playing alright since Roy Hodgson took charge and a win here would really be a fillip for their season. Plus, with the games coming thick and fast in December, opportunity knocks for Palace to dig themselves out of their current hole.
Moving to Wednesday night’s games, Manchester City could make it 12 league wins in a row at home to a Southampton side who gave their best display of the season in hammering Everton at the weekend. If City had been growing complacent in absorbing the widespread praise being thrust in their direction, Sunday’s hard-fought win at Huddersfield ought to have sharpened their focus. It was one of their poorer displays this campaign, but that they dug sufficiently deep to maintain their imperious winning run showed that they won’t be reeled in too easily by the chasing pack. Southampton’s defence are in for their hardest test of the season so far at the Etihad, although at least their much-maligned attack belatedly struck gold against Everton, even allowing for the Toffees’ frailties. Still, City would be well advised to keep close tabs on Charlie Austin, who showed on Sunday that he is a bona fide penalty box poacher.
Having asked such tough questions of the league leaders, can Huddersfield do the same against an Arsenal side in their best run of form this season? Just as Manchester City did against the Terriers, Arsene Wenger’s men struck late against Burnley to turn a frustrating draw into a hugely satisfying win. The Gunners have won all six of their home games in the league thus far and will be heavily fancied to preserve that record on Wednesday. By contrast, Huddersfield have collected just one point from their last five away fixtures, which doesn’t augur well for their trip to the Emirates. Which Terriers side will turn up – the one which almost put the brakes on the City juggernaut or the one which was humiliated by Bournemouth two weeks ago?
Like Arsenal, Chelsea have also shown good form during November and a home game against Swansea seems like the perfect assignment to keep that going. The Blues might have needed a late goal to rescue a point at Anfield, but that will provide a psychological lift and they looked dangerous at times in that 1-1 draw. Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, amongst others, could go to town on a Swansea side who could be bottom of the table by the time this match kicks off. Paul Clement’s men arrested a prolonged losing streak against Bournemouth on Saturday, but they remain winless since beating Huddersfield in September. They could be in for a tough night at Stamford Bridge.
‘Crisitunity’ might be a word that Homer Simpson made up in response to Lisa’s declaration that the German word for crisis and opportunity is the same, but it’s a made-up word that perfectly describes the meeting of Everton and West Ham on Wednesday. Both teams are in crisis, so both will view the Goodison Park fixture as the ideal opportunity to put things right. The Hammers at least managed to take something from their match at home to Leicester at the weekend, whereas Everton crashed to a 4-1 defeat against a far from stellar Southampton side. David Moyes could well inflict further pain on his former club, although were his West Ham team to lose this one, the December outlook would be very unpleasant for the Londoners. Even with only a third of the season gone, this match has a must-win feel about it for both clubs.
Burnley can count themselves very unlucky not to have taken a point against Arsenal, who yet again subjected them to injury time heartbreak at Turf Moor on Sunday. However, Sean Dyche’s men have shown very good powers of recovery already this season, with a tendency to quickly put disappointing results behind them. They also have a magnificent away record which they’ll seek to enhance when they visit a Bournemouth side who have clawed their way out of trouble but were fortunate to draw at struggling Swansea at the weekend. The Cherries could climb into the top half with a win against Eddie Howe’s former club; such a result would help Liverpool’s cause, with Burnley still just a point behind Klopp’s side.
The bet365 Stadium fear factor appears to be a thing of the past and Liverpool should be good enough to collect all three points against a Stoke side who could field several ex-Reds. As evidenced by the failure to hold onto leads against Sevilla and Chelsea, though, Klopp’s team just cannot seem to stop giving their opponents chances, something that will not be lost on Mark Hughes and a certain gangly striker who has proven adept at scoring off the bench this season.