Premier League week 18 preview: Liverpool in need of Vitality Stadium victory

Premier League Preview Liverpool

After hitting 12 goals in their first two matches in December, Liverpool only managed one in their next two, both of which ended in damaging draws at Anfield. This Sunday the Reds are on the road to Bournemouth, where they fell to a disastrous 4-3 defeat just over a year ago despite twice leading by two goals. Then, as now, the Cherries are hovering dangerously close to the drop zone, but they have a habit of producing excellent performances against the top teams in the Premier League. They might have been beaten at Old Trafford on Wednesday, but Bournemouth would have been good value for a point if they had managed to claim one. You’d like to think that Liverpool’s dam could burst and they’ll take it out on Eddie Howe’s team, but the likelihood is that the Merseysiders will be under immense pressure to take three points on Sunday evening, with their other top four rivals all playing earlier in the weekend.

One of those, Tottenham, has the unenviable mission of trying to do what 16 other Premier League clubs haven’t this season – stop Manchester City from winning. The runaway leaders haven’t dropped a single point in almost four months and, after a brief succession of close-fought wins, they cut loose at Swansea in midweek. Even a draw on Saturday evening would see City reach 50 points with less than half of the season played, although this might be one of their tougher tests this campaign. Spurs have hit their stride again after a patchy November, climbing back into the top four after a pair of Wembley wins in the last week. They are good enough to ask serious questions of Pep Guardiola’s side, but so far any question put to the leaders has been answered emphatically.

Having frustrated Liverpool to the brink of torture on Wednesday, can West Brom do the same to Manchester United at The Hawthorns this Sunday? You would think that another tight, rigid defensive setup will be the order of the day for Alan Pardew, whose team kept a superbly disciplined shape at Anfield and sporadically looked dangerous on the break. They are still without a league win since August, but they would settle for a point against a United side who unconvincingly returned to winning ways in midweek. Jose Mourinho’s men could find themselves a massive 14 points off top spot by the time this game kicks off and they have come under fire from supporters who were served up two feeble displays at Old Trafford in the past seven days. More will be expected of United against a team stuck in 17th position.

Failure to win any of their last three league games has seen Arsenal drop to seventh and lose ground in the pursuit of Champions League football. They could hardly have hand-picked a better fixture this Saturday, though, as they welcome struggling Newcastle to the Emirates. The Gunners lost their 100% home record a fortnight ago against Manchester United, but it would be a major surprise if Newcastle prove to be trickier opposition. The Geordies have collected only one point from the last 24 on offer, the sparsity of their squad being laid bare as the hectic winter programme set in. There is every chance that Rafael Benitez’s side could find themselves in the relegation zone by the weekend’s conclusion.

Antonio Conte was forced to concede that Chelsea’s title defence was over after last week’s defeat at West Ham, but the champions resembled the slick, devastating side of last season in the midweek win at Huddersfield. They’re back on home turf this Saturday to take on Southampton, who were jeered off the pitch by their own fans after the 1-4 hammering at home to Leicester. Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino publicly called his players’ commitment into question, not entirely untruthfully but it’s a move that could drain the spirit from the squad. They have a decent track record at Stamford Bridge, but they would need a far improved performance to even take a point from Chelsea this weekend.

Leicester closed to within five points of the Champions League places after that comprehensive win at St Mary’s and they go in search of a fifth straight win on Saturday when they host Crystal Palace. A Foxes squad which was underachieving under Craig Shakespeare has shown the form of champions since Claude Puel took charge in late October, with Riyad Mahrez playing to a level reminiscent of that unforgettable 2015/16 season. Palace briefly climbed out of the relegation zone after Tuesday’s dramatic win against Watford and only goal difference pushed them back into the bottom three on Wednesday. Their improvement under Roy Hodgson is notable but they have a tough mission this Saturday at the King Power Stadium.

Can Burnley realistically start dreaming of the Champions League? It’s nearly the midpoint of the season and they’re only outside the top four on goal difference, which would suggest that they have every right to aim high. On Saturday they travel to take on a Brighton side who have lost four of their last five to slide into a relegation battle. It doesn’t get any easier for Chris Hughton’s Seagulls this weekend as they hope to halt the momentum of Burnley, whose away record this season is one of the best in the division. Brighton conceded five against Liverpool in their last game at the Amex Stadium; a repeat here in unlikely but they would gladly accept a goalless draw just to put the brakes on their current descent.

Stuck on 12 points after 13 games of the season, Everton have collected 10 more in the four matches they’ve played since Sam Allardyce took charge. The former England manager is having quite an impact at Goodison Park and on Monday night the Toffees are at home to bottom club Swansea. Everton picked up their first away win of the season at Newcastle in midweek and will be confident of a third home victory on the bounce against the Swans, with Gylfi Sigurdsson potentially adding to his former club’s plight. Swansea were taught a footballing lesson by Manchester City on Tuesday and it isn’t getting a whole lot easier for them anytime soon.

Despite picking up four points from their fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal, West Ham still find themselves second from bottom as they make the trip to Stoke this Saturday. The Hammers have certainly looked a more assured, disciplined outfit since David Moyes took charge last month and they won’t be fearful of a Stoke side who would find themselves behind West Ham in the table were they to lose at the bet365 Stadium this weekend. Marko Arnautovic hasn’t set the world alight since joining the Hammers last summer, but his form has improved of late and he could irk Potters fans all the more were he to score against them here.

Like Burnley have done, Watford took plenty of observers by surprise with their marvellous start to the season. However, while the Clarets are still in the top four mix, Marco Silva’s Hornets have dropped back into mid-table after collecting just one point from their last four matches. They could do with getting the winning feeling back at home to Huddersfield on Saturday, especially with the Terriers’ woeful away record. David Wagner’s men are still in a satisfactory 12th position, but the entire bottom half is peering nervously over their shoulders and they were thoroughly outclassed at home to Chelsea in midweek. Can they so much as score a goal on the road, having not done so since the opening day of the season?

Liverpool haven’t had problems scoring on their travels, but they still look ripe for the picking defensively, as Bournemouth know quite well from last season’s madcap fixture at the Vitality Stadium. The ‘Fab Four’ misfired against West Brom on Wednesday; can they rediscover their form on the south coast this weekend?