Premier League week 21 preview: Can Liverpool end 2017 on a high?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

After beating Southampton 3-0 in November, Liverpool had to wait five and a half weeks before their next Premier League home victory. On Saturday, they have the chance to register a second Anfield win in five days when Leicester make the trip to Merseyside. The teams have met twice this season, both times at the King Power Stadium and each team with a win apiece. Liverpool’s destruction of Swansea gave Jurgen Klopp the luxury of subbing off Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah with a quarter of the match remaining while giving more game time to Adam Lallana and Dominic Solanke. Even though Leicester haven’t won any of their last four matches, they are bound to give the inconsistent Reds defence a far sterner test than anything Swansea could muster, with Riyad Mahrez in particular continuing to excel for the Foxes. Also, Claude Puel has previous in getting results at Anfield, having overseen a win and a draw for Southampton at the venue last season.

Puel’s former club would crave either of those results at Old Trafford on Saturday, with Manchester United hosting Southampton in the evening kick-off. The Saints were heavily beaten by Tottenham on Boxing Day, even though the 5-2 scoreline owed a lot to the profligate nature of Mauricio Pellegrino’s side, as they certainly tested the Spurs rearguard. Southampton are sliding, though, and now lie just two points above the relegation zone. However, they might feel that this fixture is coming at an ideal time, with United still reeling from the derby defeat earlier this month. Jose Mourinho’s men might have come from two goals down to draw with Burnley in midweek, but the performance was very patchy, in keeping with most of their recent displays. Anything less than a win here and, far from challenging Manchester City, they could be sucked into a battle for third or fourth place.

Victory for Manchester City on Sunday would make it 19 in a row, a half-season of matches without dropping a single point. The leaders hold a seismic 15-point lead at the summit, although their 1-0 win at Newcastle in midweek was one of their least convincing performances of the season. This weekend they travel to Crystal Palace, who gave a decent account of themselves against Arsenal but ended up with nothing to show for it. They have a very quick turnaround for their meeting with the champions, with little over 60 hours of downtime from Thursday night’s game. The Eagles were battered by City earlier in the season, but in front of the ever-vocal Selhurst Park crowd they could well let the runaway leaders know that they will be in for a stiff test.

Arsenal overcame a tricky trip to Palace earlier in the week to come away with all three points, thanks chiefly to a quickfire Alexis Sanchez double. They’re on the road again on Sunday, making the trip to West Brom, who haven’t won since the second weekend of the season. Alan Pardew has certainly not enjoyed the ‘new manager bounce’ since taking over at The Hawthorns and the lack of real quality in their squad is beginning to show. They might have beaten Arsenal in this fixture last season but it would be a real surprise if the Baggies were to bring an end to their dismally long winless streak in the final Premier League match of 2017.

Everton remain unbeaten under Sam Allardyce a month into his tenure and have turned the accrual of clean sheets into an art form, although a sharper attack than West Brom’s may well have buried both of those assertions on Boxing Day. Still, the ex-England boss can feel that his pragmatic approach is justified, given the Toffees’ new-found resilience. Their back four could be in for another busy afternoon on Saturday when they travel to Bournemouth, who score plenty but concede a hell of a lot too. They snuck a draw with West Ham in midweek but can count themselves very fortunate to have done so, with two outrageous refereeing mistakes falling in their favour. Expect the Cherries to dominate possession but be vulnerable to an Everton sucker punch.

Chelsea haven’t set the world alight this season but nor have they hit any of the sort of rocky spells to have dogged their fellow top four contenders. Their 2-0 win at home to Brighton on Boxing Day typified their campaign – professional but at times uninspiring. They’re at Stamford Bridge again this weekend, hosting a Stoke side who have stopped an almighty rot by claiming four points from their two festive fixtures. Both of those were games where they had expected to get results, though, so it’s difficult to judge whether Mark Hughes’ men have really turned the corner. Should they deny maximum points to the champions on Saturday, they can feel that progress is definitely being made.

Newcastle drew criticism for their approach in the narrow defeat to Manchester City in midweek, taking deep defending to a near-unprecedented level. Indeed, when they belatedly showed the desire to get at the leaders, they weren’t far off snatching an equaliser. They will surely be more adventurous in their next outing at St James’ Park, which is this Saturday’s clash with Brighton. It’s a match which sees Chris Hughton return to the venue he once called home and memories of his unjust sacking in 2010 still rankle. The Geordies’ recent record on their own patch is dreadful and were that to continue here, the fans would start to become very edgy once more.

Watford ended a run of seven winless games by coming from behind to beat Leicester on Boxing Day, while the spate of suspensions which had stockpiled over Christmas has now almost fully cleared. Marco Silva’s men seem well placed to add another home victory this weekend as they take on Swansea, who were eviscerated by Liverpool last Tuesday. On that display, it’s easy to see why the Swans are rock bottom of the table, with the squad seriously lacking in quality. Carlos Carvalhal, sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, has taken on quite a challenging task with Swansea, although the impending January transfer window at least gives him the opportunity to strengthen the squad before their current mess becomes unfixable.

It had looked as if Huddersfield were sliding into the thick of a relegation battle about a month ago, but some good results of late have helped them to remain in a very satisfactory mid-table position. They play host to Burnley on Saturday, with the Clarets losing a bit of ground on the other top four chasers over the festive period. They were moments away from a famous victory at Old Trafford in midweek and a similar level of performance should yield all three point at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield have, with a couple of exceptions, been very good on their own patch, though, and they have what seems a favourable run of fixtures over the next month or so, setting them up to perhaps have safety all but secured before long.

Liverpool play twice before nearest rivals Tottenham take to the field again, so Saturday’s match against Leicester begins a weekend of opportunity for the Reds to lay down a real marker in the race for Champions League football in 2018/19. This calendar year began disastrously for Klopp and his team, but they have a good chance of ending it on a high.

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