No sooner has one tricky away test been overcome for Liverpool than another looms large, with the Reds travelling to Brighton on Saturday. This will be the first meeting of the teams since the Merseysiders won 6-1 in an FA Cup clash in 2012, but the Seagulls have made massive progress since then and possess a very good home record in their first Premier League campaign. However, failing to beat Crystal Palace on their own patch was disappointing and while they have for the most part defended excellently this season, they haven’t come up against any player in such scintillating form as Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian is bound to start at the Amex Stadium, having begun on the bench at Stoke before coming on to add two more goals to his burgeoning tally. At their best, Liverpool could win this comfortably, but Brighton have faced both Manchester clubs already and gave both of them very stiff tests before ultimately losing narrowly. Any win for the Reds would constitute a fine result.
Arsenal still have a 100% home record going into December, but they face their toughest Emirates test of the season so far when Manchester United visit on Saturday evening. The Gunners have won the last two editions of this fixture, though, and have been quite impressive since Halloween, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil playing to a level that many would expect. The absence through injury of Alexandre Lacazette is a blow for Arsenal, however. United, meanwhile, continue to just about keep Manchester City in their sights and came away from a tricky fixture at Watford with all three points. Even with Romelu Lukaku’s goals drying up, Ashley Young has emerged as an unlikely prolific source, while the likes of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard are also in impressive form. Recent clashes between these two clubs have been largely forgettable, but Saturday’s meeting promises to be a very entertaining affair.
Third from bottom and on the back of a 4-0 thumping by a struggling Everton side, the last thing West Ham need now is a trip to face rampant leaders Manchester City, but that is what awaits David Moyes and his troops on Sunday. City have won 12 league games on the bounce, but they were very close to seeing that sequence ended by Southampton in midweek and have stumbled over the line in their three most recent matches. Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta return to a stadium they know well from their City days and both could be in for a rather busy evening against Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and the like. If the home side were to score six, they would reach 50 goals after just 15 league games.
Tottenham’s slump in form has seen them fall to seventh and leave them in danger of dropping well behind in the chase for a Champions League place. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have another tough fixture this Saturday as they face Watford at Vicarage Road hoping to end a run of three straight away defeats in the league. The Spurs manager lambasted his side for their showing against Leicester on Tuesday, although they would have been victorious had they not squandered some straightforward chances. Watford might have shipped four against Manchester United in midweek but, in coming from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 in the closing minutes, they showed a determination that will have pleased Marco Silva. The Hornets have already downed Arsenal on their own patch this season and they seem to be facing Spurs at an ideal time. A Watford win would see them draw level on points with their opponents.
Rafael Benitez was far from adored at Chelsea during his short stint at the club in 2013, but he has the fervent backing of the fans from current employers Newcastle, who visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime having claimed just one point from five games. They did well just to get that point, coming from two down to draw at West Brom on Tuesday, a resurrection act that could instil some much-needed confidence ahead of their clash with the champions. Chelsea made hard work of seeing off beleaguered Swansea on their own patch on Wednesday and Antonio Conte, who may or may not be on the touchline after his indiscretion in midweek, will demand a more clinical performance. Any slip-up by the Blues could see them being overtaken by Arsenal and possibly Liverpool, but they have been in decent form lately and should be too strong for a ropey Newcastle outfit.
A few hours after being named as Everton’s new manager, Sam Allardyce was in the stands at Goodison Park to see his side end a worrying losing streak in style by thrashing West Ham. The experienced boss will make his Toffees touchline bow on Saturday when they host Huddersfield, who were hit for five by Arsenal in midweek and haven’t scored on their travels since the opening day of the season. One man who’ll certainly be counting down the hours until kick-off is Wayne Rooney, scorer of a hat-trick on Wednesday and revelling in the glory of that outrageous strike from inside his own half. Huddersfield would have loved for this fixture to have fallen a week or two ago, but with Everton suddenly looking upwards after a good few days, they might be in for more away day punishment this weekend.
Allardyce won’t be the only manager starting a new gig on Saturday. Another ex-West Ham and Crystal Palace boss is again in employment as Alan Pardew takes charge of West Brom for the first time. In a delicious twist of fate, his first assignment is to beat Palace, a club he served with distinction as a player and took to an FA Cup final as manager. The Baggies have played positively of late after a long period of struggle under Tony Pulis, but relinquished winning positions against Tottenham and Newcastle and haven’t won in the league since 19 August. Palace manager Roy Hodgson is also up against his former club, having done a fine job at The Hawthorns prior to his stint as England boss, and the Eagles have gradually improved under his watch. They picked up a first away point of the season at Brighton in midweek and might fancy their chances of following it up with a rare win on their travels. This could be an absorbing clash, given the managers and circumstances involved.
Two in-form teams meet at the King Power Stadium on Saturday when Leicester welcome Burnley in what promises to be an entertaining encounter. The Foxes have been going well since Claude Puel took charge and Tuesday’s win over Tottenham was their best result of the season, seeing them climb into the top half. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are showing glimpses of the form which saw them propel Leicester to that unforgettable title triumph two seasons ago and they could ask plenty of questions of Burnley’s sturdy defence. Sean Dyche’s men make the trip to the Midlands in the heady heights of sixth and could potentially be level on points with Arsenal in fourth at the final whistle. They also boast an excellent away record this season, the midweek win at Bournemouth their fourth in seven trips since August.
Stoke were understandably seething at referee Martin Atkinson after Wednesday’s defeat to Liverpool, but the 0-3 defeat leaves them perilously close to the bottom three as they play host to Swansea on Saturday. They made life uncomfortable for the Reds in that game, so perhaps they are not as impotent as their position of 16th would indicate. Plus, they face a Swansea side who look like they would miss a multitude of open goals, so toothless are they up front right now. One of the guilty parties is Wilfried Bony, who scored twice for Stoke in this fixture last season, while Renato Sanches has become GIF material after his inexplicable pass to an advertising board at Chelsea in midweek. Defeat for either team would be very hard to take, while a draw would not do a whole lot of good for either.
There’s an intriguing south coast derby on Sunday lunchtime as Bournemouth welcome Southampton to the Vitality Stadium. The Cherries lifted themselves clear of the relegation zone during a good November, although a couple of poor results have seen them drop back to that nervous region of lower mid-table. They were given the runaround by Burnley in midweek and they come up against a Saints side which destroyed Everton and was bang unlucky to lose at Manchester City. Charlie Austin will likely come back into the team, having scored twice against the Toffees but begun on the bench at the Etihad, and he would relish finding the net against Southampton’s neighbours. By contrast, Shane Long would just love to get the ball over the line against any opposition right now.
The day before that derby, Liverpool face a tough test of their own on the south coast. Victory at Brighton won’t be easily achieved, but it is essential if they are to keep pace with their in-form rivals for a top four finish. However, with Salah in the form of his life, the Reds have the ammunition to add the Amex Stadium to the list of stadia where they have recorded a Premier League victory.