Premier League week 20 preview: Reds must return to winning ways at Anfield

Premier League Preview Liverpool

At the midway point of the season, Liverpool are on course to meet their pre-season objective of a top-four finish. By the time they kick off against Swansea on Boxing Day, they could be nudged out of that leading quartet, with the match being the day’s late fixture. Reds fans won’t need or want reminding of what happened on the Swans’ last visit to Anfield, a 3-2 away win in the early weeks of Paul Clement’s reign. That tenure ended last week, with Swansea under the caretaker management of Leon Britton as they seek to remove themselves from bottom of the table. Liverpool’s place in the top four owes largely to their away form, with their last three Anfield assignments in the league all ending in draws. There are some home fixtures where the Reds can consider such results as one point gained. This most certainly isn’t one of them.

Newcastle can be glad that they returned to winning ways at West Ham on Saturday, because next on the horizon is the challenge they have been dreading for many weeks now – the visit of a rampant Manchester City side. The leaders made it 17 league wins on the bounce in routine fashion against Bournemouth at the weekend and the Geordies are among just two Premier League clubs they haven’t beaten this term, primarily because they haven’t yet played one another. St James’ Park has not been a source of happiness for Newcastle fans of late and that doesn’t look too likely to change on Wednesday night. In the battle of the Spanish managers, Pep will likeliest be celebrating victory over Rafa.

Often famed for scoring decisive stoppage-time goals, Manchester United have had that fate inflicted upon them in their last two games, Leicester landing a killer blow to deprive Jose Mourinho’s men of two points. The gap to Manchester City is now 13 points, which even with half of the season remaining looks irretrievable. The Red Devils host Burnley on Boxing Day, with the visitors reeling from the lesson that Tottenham taught them at the weekend. That result was the first hint all season that perhaps the Clarets are in a bit of a false position, although they can still be more than happy to occupy seventh at the midway point of the campaign. Plus, they claimed a point on their last visit to Old Trafford and they make the short journey at a time when United could be there for the taking.

Tottenham had the perfect Christmas, emphatically defeating Burnley while seeing all their Champions League-chasing rivals slip up. They have the perfect opportunity to hoist themselves into the top four at least for a few hours as they’re involved in the lunchtime Boxing Day fixture at home to Southampton, who are winless in six and will be without Charlie Austin after he hobbled off with a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield. Harry Kane could set a Premier League record for most goals in a calendar year, although with Spurs not playing again until 2nd January, this is his final chance to set that particular piece of history. Still, judging by what he showed at Turf Moor on Saturday, he might just pull it off, especially against a Saints side whose confidence is rocking.

Rather surprisingly for this time of year, Arsenal are currently in the middle of a six-day gap between fixtures, as their meeting with Crystal Palace was switched to Thursday night. It was at Selhurst Park last season that the Gunners put in one of their worst performances of the Arsene Wenger era, the 3-0 defeat leading to fans questioning the players’ suitability to wear the shirt. Similar sentiments would have been echoed at the Emirates Stadium at 0-2 against Liverpool last Friday before that logic-defying five-minute comeback, but Arsenal’s performance laid bare the deficiencies they continue to have defensively. Palace would have been disappointed not to beat Swansea at the weekend, but they relish games like this and it wouldn’t be any great surprise if they were to get one over on the Gunners again.

Chelsea’s inconsistent nature came to the fore again at Everton on Saturday, a goalless draw leaving the champions rooted in third place. They are doing enough to keep their noses in front of the tightly-bunched chasing pack beneath them, but victory will certainly be required at home to Brighton on Boxing Day. The Seagulls got an overdue win against Watford at the weekend, one which their performance fully deserved. They have troubled the Premier League’s big boys at times during the season and could make life very difficult for Chelsea, although the Blues will probably do enough to claim the points.

Both West Brom and Everton have changed managers this season, with sharply contrasting fortunes. The Toffees have improved enormously since Sam Allardyce took charge, unbeaten in the month that has elapsed since his appointment. The Baggies are still searching for their first victory under Alan Pardew, though, and have slipped into the relegation zone in recent weeks, with no discernible signs of an imminent change of luck. The honeymoon period is over for the ex-Charlton boss and if West Brom fail to end their four-month winless run over the Christmas and New Year period, then it really is time to worry.

The mid-season malaise has well and truly set in at Watford, whose form has completely disappeared since manager Marco Silva was linked with the Everton job in mid-November. At least they managed to keep all 11 players on the pitch at Brighton on Saturday, an achievement of sorts for the Hornets, but another defeat has seen them drop away from the European places and peer a little nervously over their shoulders at the bottom half of the table. Tuesday’s opponents Leicester continue to progress nicely under Claude Puel and they quickly put the surprise defeat to Crystal Palace behind them with that last-gasp draw against Manchester United. The Foxes have the firepower and creativity to extend Watford’s misery.

Bournemouth find themselves back in the relegation zone after a couple of 4-0 defeats, although those came against Liverpool and Manchester City and the Cherries didn’t play especially badly in either game. They could do with getting a result on Boxing Day, though, when they host West Ham, who are just ahead of them in the table. The Hammers’ recent revival ended in rather sobering fashion on Saturday when Newcastle turned them over at the London Stadium and the goodwill that had been extended to David Moyes would diminish greatly if they were to suffer defeat on the south coast. For both clubs, this clash has a must-not-lose feel to it.

Huddersfield put together two fine results on their travels in the last fortnight, answering criticism of their away form and moving into a very respectable mid-table position as a consequence. They are back on home turf for the Boxing Day visit of Stoke, who had been in freefall until Saturday’s victory over West Brom. Will that just be temporary respite for Mark Hughes or can it spark an upturn in form to bring them away from the dangerous territory they had begun to occupy? Both teams will see this as a good chance to add another victory to their respective tallies.

Liverpool’s last home win in the league was all of five and a half weeks ago, a 3-0 victory over Southampton. They have picked up just three points in as many home matches since then, but that tally will need to come in one fell swoop against Swansea if they are to keep their noses ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal.