Life after Philippe Coutinho begins in earnest for Liverpool on Sunday evening and the task could hardly be tougher, with the Reds welcoming league leaders Manchester City to Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s men have a formidable record in this fixture, with City beaten on their last four visits to L4 and without a victory in this part of Merseyside since 2003. However, the 5-0 thumping they administered to Liverpool showed just how different a proposition they are now, even though they needed to come from behind to win both of their recent cup ties. Sunday’s fixture pits the two best players of the Premier League season thus far, Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne, against each other, while others on either side will have points to prove – Sadio Mane after his red card at the Etihad Stadium in September, and Raheem Sterling, the ex-Liverpool man who is having the best season of his career. Considering the attacking talent on both teams, this could be one of the games of the season.
Stoke begin life without Mark Hughes with a thankless trip to face Manchester United on Monday night. The Potters are in desperate need of a pick-me-up after falling into the relegation zone and exiting the FA Cup against fourth tier Coventry in the first week of 2018, but they take on a United team who seem to have put their poor spell over Christmas behind them. The teams played out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw earlier in the season, but that was when Stoke had a confidence about them which has long since disappeared. Their flimsy defence could be in for a tough night contending with Romelu Lukaku and the in-form Jesse Lingard.
Chelsea have the chance to go back into second place on Saturday when they host Leicester in a clash of the two most recent Premier League champions. Both of these sides have a busy month ahead after they were taken to replays by lower league opposition in the FA Cup, while Blues boss Antonio Conte has rarely been far from the headlines after his very public tiff with Jose Mourinho. Leicester’s impressive end to 2017 has dried up of late, with the Foxes winless over the festive period and fortunate not to lose at Fleetwood in the cup last week. The sight of title-winning midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater in Chelsea colours is bound to rankle with the travelling supporters, although Jamie Vardy might give the Blues’ defence plenty to think about if he’s in the mood.
Liverpool fans could find themselves in the rare position of wanting Everton to do well on Saturday, with their Merseyside neighbours taking on Tottenham at Wembley. Spurs would go above the Reds and into fourth if they win by four goals or more, something that is always a possibility with Harry Kane in their side. Plus, Everton have begun to leak goals of late, conceding two in each of their last three matches after collecting several clean sheets in Sam Allardyce’s first few games in charge. The Toffees are likely to give a debut to new signing Cenk Tosun, the striker who was instrumental in firing Besiktas into the last 16 of the Champions League. Could the Turkey international begin life in English football by upstaging Kane?
Arsenal remain in the hunt for a top four finish, but were they to drop points at Bournemouth on Sunday and the teams ahead of them capitalise on any such slips, that task will begin to look like a tall order. These two played out a frantic 3-3 draw in this fixture a year ago, a night when the Cherries blew a three-goal lead. This weekend’s game could be similarly high-scoring if the teams continue to defend like they have been doing of late, with both involved in goalfests over the Christmas and New Year period. If Arsenal turn up, they should win this one, but that could well be the biggest ‘if’ in the Premier League. To borrow a phrase from ex-Gunner Paul Merson, Arsene Wenger’s side can be likened to a bag of Revels.
Crystal Palace and Burnley are free to concentrate entirely on league affairs for the rest of the season after both were eliminated from the FA Cup last weekend, although their objectives are rather different. For all the Eagles’ improvement under Roy Hodgson, they remain just two points clear of the drop zone and had been sinking right back into trouble until their 2-1 win at Southampton at the tail end of the festive period. Burnley have lost touch with the top six in recent weeks, but with seventh quite possibly being enough to secure a spot in Europe, Sean Dyche’s men stand every chance of earning a rare crack at continental football next season if they can prevent their current tailspin from becoming a crash landing into mid-table.
Carlos Carvalhal can be content with his first three games in charge of Swansea, winning at Watford, earning an FA Cup replay against Championship pace-setters Wolves and putting it up to Tottenham before succumbing to defeat. The honeymoon period for the ex-Sheffield Wednesday boss ends this Saturday, though, with the Swans travelling to a Newcastle side with a poor home record and a relegation battle with which to contend. The Geordies ended 2017 dismally but two wins since the New Year have raised their spirits and they will see this as one of the more winnable games of the season. However, they have a tendency to fall flat in fixtures like this where they are under pressure to take the initiative and the full offering of points.
Watford and Southampton will get to know each other fairly well over the next two to three weeks, with the first of a potential trio of meetings taking place at Vicarage Road on Saturday. The teams were paired with one another in the FA Cup draw earlier in the week and both will have seen their third round wins in that competition as welcome relief from their Premier League struggles. Watford’s dreadful form over the last couple of months has seen them dragged to the fringes of a relegation battle and if their position of 10th seems comfortable, 17th-placed Southampton are a prime example of how a seemingly serene mid-table placing can soon give way to being firmly in the coalface of the drop zone.
West Ham’s last two games were both away draws, but the verdict on both could hardly have been more different. After a wonderfully disciplined performance to frustrate Tottenham at Wembley, David Moyes’ side were then lucky not to get dumped out of the FA Cup by Shrewsbury last weekend. A similarly insipid display on Saturday would likely see them well beaten by Huddersfield, who have made it beyond the halfway point of their first Premier League game in a very satisfactory mid-table position. Of course, a couple of bad results could see them hurtle towards the bottom three, but the Terriers’ fine home record is giving them a very strong chance of staying in the division.
It might only have been against Exeter, but the 2-0 victory in the south-west last week was a significant one for West Brom, who had not won a match in any competition for more than four months. It will take more than a routine win against a League Two outfit to show that the Baggies can put together a run that would hoist them out of the relegation zone and this weekend’s home fixture against Brighton will be seen as one from which they need three points. The Seagulls have given a good account of themselves in recent games, though, and go to The Hawthorns off the back of a deserved win over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.
Following a hectic festive schedule, Liverpool will have had a nine-day rest by the time they kick off against Manchester City on Sunday, whereas their opponents have played twice in the meantime. Those are the sort of advantages which the Reds will need to exploit to their fullest if they are to become the first English club to record a victory over City since last April. Stand by for a cracker at Anfield.