Liverpool supporters must still be scratching their heads over how they didn’t emerge with three points from the Merseyside derby, but attention quickly turns to the visit of West Brom on Wednesday night for what seems an ideal fixture to get back to winning ways. Jurgen Klopp has come in for plenty of stick for his baffling personnel selections on Sunday and Kopites have every reason to expect Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to be restored to the starting line-up. You’d hope that the withdrawal of Mohamed Salah with a quarter of the derby still to play will leave him more than fresh enough to play from the first whistle against the Baggies, whose winless run in the league is now at 14 games, the most recent of which came against struggling Swansea. Alan Pardew hasn’t yet had the ‘new manager bounce’ that Sam Allardyce is enjoying and, if Liverpool are on their game and their best players are on the field, the ex-Newcastle boss will most likely see his search for a first win at West Brom continue into next weekend’s fixtures.
While the Midlanders haven’t won in 14 games, Manchester City haven’t dropped a single point in that same sequence and the most satisfying of those 14 victories was probably Sunday’s derby triumph at Old Trafford. City’s lead is now 11 points, not insurmountable but certainly imposing, and it’s one that not many expect to become slimmer following Wednesday’s trip to Swansea. That said, the Swans picked up a badly-needed victory at the weekend and they have the rarity of a home game where there is no great pressure on them to win. Wilfried Bony’s career nosedived after he joined Manchester City in 2015, but two goals in his last two games suggest that he is coming into form just in time for the visit of his former club. Still, with City passing all variety of challenges posed to them, it would be quite a surprise if they weren’t to set a new Premier League record of 15 consecutive wins this week.
Manchester United were left battered and bruised by their crosstown rivals on Sunday and they know that they have minimal room for error if they are to haul back a deficit that’s almost as big as the one they overturned on Newcastle in the second half of the 1995/96 season. They welcome Bournemouth to Old Trafford on Wednesday after being beaten at home for the first time in 15 months; coincidentally that was in the derby also. As good as City undoubtedly were, United gave their worst display of the season and their fans will expect a far more polished performance against the Cherries, who had Christian Benteke to thank for not being beaten at Crystal Palace on Saturday. They could be the victims of a United backlash here, although they drew 1-1 at Old Trafford last season in the game where Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings, how should I put this, got to know each other.
Fresh from inflicting a surprise defeat on Chelsea, West Ham are again at home to a big-name London rival on Wednesday night as Arsenal come calling. The Hammers were excellent in all areas of the pitch in that win over the champions and they will be chomping at the bit to get stuck into the Gunners, who were fortunate to escape with a point against Southampton at the weekend. Arsenal won this fixture 5-1 last season and you’d have fancied a repeat of that scoreline if this meeting had come two or three weeks ago, but West Ham have generally looked more assured and energetic since David Moyes came in and they have a chance to move out of the bottom three if they can take anything from this game.
Tottenham hauled themselves right back into top four contention with a resounding 5-1 win over Stoke, capitalising on the slip-ups of the four teams immediately above them in the table, and they’re at Wembley again on Wednesday to face Brighton. Spurs were in danger of seeing their season fall asunder by the time the New Year rolled around but they made a real statement with that drubbing of Stoke, whereas Brighton have hit their first patchy spell of the season at an awkward time, given the volume of fixtures in December. They were decidedly second best against Huddersfield at the weekend, so they could be in for a tough night against the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen.
That win for Huddersfield ended a run of four straight defeats for David Wagner’s men and they will enjoy home comforts again on Tuesday night when champions Chelsea visit the John Smith’s Stadium. The Terriers have already beaten Manchester United on their own turf and were very close to taking points off Manchester City, so they certainly won’t be in awe of the Londoners. This could be a real banana skin for the Blues, whose title defence is effectively over after losing to West Ham on Saturday. Antonio Conte must now admit that their main focus from here on is probably to ensure that they don’t slip out of the Champions League positions. Even a draw would be perceived as a poor result for Chelsea, who continue to blow hot and cold this season.
Two weeks ago, the Premier League team you’d have hand-picked to play against was Everton. Now, that dubious status could well apply to Newcastle, who have lost six of their last seven matches to slide into the thick of a relegation battle. Wednesday’s clash at St James’ Park pits together Rafael Benitez and Allardyce, who have had their run-ins with one another in Premier League seasons of yore. The Geordies are leaking goals at a worrying rate and look shot of confidence, whereas Everton have steadied in the three games since Allardyce took charge. That said, they were darn lucky to get anything from their trip to Anfield on Sunday, as they created absolutely nothing of an attacking nature. On form, though, this has the makings of a fixture in which the Toffees will collect their first away win in the league this season.
Claude Puel finished eighth at Southampton last year and guided them to the League Cup final, but he failed to win over the St Mary’s support. He returns to his old stomping ground on Wednesday with his reputation soaring as in-form Leicester venture to the south coast. Southampton’s main problem under Puel wasn’t so much boring football as a woeful lack of penalty box potency and that’s a problem that hasn’t really gone away under Mauricio Pellegrino. Leicester don’t seem to have too much trouble scoring goals under the Frenchman and the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray have upped their performance levels enormously since Puel took charge of the Foxes. Only Manchester City and Chelsea have more away wins in the league than Leicester, who will be confident of upping that tally to five at St Mary’s.
Crystal Palace are unbeaten in four matches, but three of those have been draws and the most recent of those ought to have been a win, only for Benteke’s ego making up for any deficiencies in his penalty taking. On Tuesday night they are at home to Watford, whose excellent start to the season has given way to a slightly rocky spell of late. Palace have definitely improved under Roy Hodgson performance-wise, but the fact that they remain bottom highlights their need to start racking up victories, especially at Selhurst Park. Also, they face a Hornets side whose best results this season have come in their away fixtures, so home advantage might be negated somewhat for the Eagles.
We’re nearly halfway through the season and Burnley are only two points adrift of the Champions League positions. For a team tipped by many to be touch and go as regards staying in this division, that is quite a testament to the job that Sean Dyche and his players have done since August. They are turning Turf Moor into a fortress again and they will be strong favourites to break the 30-point barrier on Tuesday night when they host Stoke, who are just three points above the relegation zone. Several Potters players were confronted by angry supporters after their hammering by Tottenham at the weekend and a fixture like this was the last thing they needed with confidence so low. It looks like being another tough night at the office for Mark Hughes.
Liverpool will go into their clash with West Brom on Wednesday night knowing whether or not they can move ahead of Chelsea and into third place, with the Blues playing on Tuesday. Any slip-up by the champions means that a win for Liverpool will see the teams swap positions. It was an opportunity that Klopp’s men had on Sunday, but one that they squandered. Should the situation present itself for a second time in four days, the Reds must take full advantage in the form of three points.