Premier League week 24 preview: Leaders conquered – now can Liverpool beat basement boys?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

Liverpool’s performance in ending Manchester City’s marathon unbeaten streak last Sunday drew plenty of acclaim, despite the late concession of two goals to prompt a needlessly uncomfortable finish to proceedings at Anfield. Having conquered the Premier League’s runaway leaders, can the Reds pick up the same result against its basement club Swansea on Monday night? It was a year ago this weekend that the Swans went to Liverpool and won, inflicting the Merseysiders’ first home defeat in almost 12 months. Of course, the last meeting of these teams was as recently as Boxing Day, when the Reds were emphatic 5-0 winners, and while Swansea have shown signs of recovery since the appointment of Carlos Carvalhal, this is a match that Liverpool must win in their pursuit of Champions League football next season. If you fancy a little bit of online betting this weekend, then you can get some excellent odds on Salah to score first in a 3-0 win for Liverpool.

How will Manchester City react to having their pants pulled down at Anfield last week? The leaders still have 12 points of a cushion from the chasing pack as they welcome Newcastle to the Etihad on Saturday evening. In contrast to Liverpool’s cavalier approach against City, the Geordies were negative in the extreme in the reverse of this fixture at the end of December. Pep Guardiola will recall how City’s fortunes nosedived last season after a lengthy unbeaten run came to an end, so was Sunday the start of a rocky period which reignites the title race or will Newcastle feel the brunt of a Manchester City team scorned?

Ever since they let a two-goal lead slip at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, Burnley’s form has tailed off notably, their superb first half to the season beginning to fade into the distance. On Saturday they host Manchester United at Turf Moor, with the visitors getting back into form after a poor run of results at the end of 2017. Victory for United would temporarily pull the gap to Manchester City back to nine points, which is by no means an insurmountable bridge with almost four months of the season still to go. The more realistic battle for Jose Mourinho, though, is to make sure that his team doesn’t fall into what’s becoming an almighty scrap for a top four finish, but they seem to be over their uneasy patch and still lay claim to second position.

Chelsea fans must have been sick at the sight of goals galore at Anfield last weekend, considering the champions’ current struggles in the opposition penalty area. It’s a growing problem that they’ll be under pressure to resolve when they travel to Brighton on Saturday lunchtime, although the Seagulls go into this weekend’s clash with troubles of their own after last week’s defeat at West Brom saw them drop to 16th and within three points of the relegation zone. Such is the nature of the bottom half that a Brighton victory would haul them up to 11th; could they continue Chelsea’s difficult start to 2018?

If the Blues are having a tough time of it since New Year’s Day, Arsenal are in freefall ahead of their all-London clash at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday. It was in the reverse fixture at the end of December that the Gunners last recorded a victory, five matches since them yielding just three draws and two sobering defeats. They have lost a lot of ground on the top four over the last month and unless they make a fast start against the Eagles, the air around the Emirates will turn mutinous. Palace are the form team ahead of this game and, with the pressure off, things could play into their hands.

Tottenham are well placed to finish ahead of their bitterest rivals for a second successive season, even though they remain just outside the Champions League positions that have become the club’s minimum target. They would climb into the top four with a two-goal victory or greater on Sunday against Southampton, who are without a win in 10 matches but should have had that run ended at Watford last week, only to be duped by a blatant handballed goal. Considering their current position just outside the drop zone, the task of shackling Harry Kane, Son Heung-min et al is one that the Saints could really have done without this weekend.

After an initial bounce under Sam Allardyce to haul them clear of the relegation zone, Everton’s form has tailed off since Christmas to the extent that they are in real danger of being dragged into the thick of the dogfight once more. Their struggles in front of goal have prompted the signings of Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, with Allardyce again flexing his muscles in the January transfer market. On Saturday the Toffees host West Brom, who last week won their first Premier League match in almost five months. Alan Pardew’s men remain second from bottom, but the win over Brighton has reignited hope of going on a run that will take them out of the relegation zone. Plus, all the pressure will be on Everton to end their winless streak, and on their last visit to Merseyside, the Baggies held firm to claim a draw at Anfield.

Stoke fans didn’t exactly seem jubilant at the appointment of Paul Lambert on Monday, but the Scot’s track record is better than many are willing to acknowledge. It was around this time last year that he masterminded a famous FA Cup win at Anfield for Wolves, so he has no shortage of nous about him. Lambert’s first game in charge of the Potters is at home to Huddersfield, who were hockeyed on their own patch by West Ham last week and remain a bundle of inconsistency. The Stoke faithful will view this as one of their more winnable games left this season, so anything less than three points on Saturday could see Lambert quickly realising the scale of the job that awaits him over the coming months.

Watford’s Boxing Day win over Leicester is the only one they’ve managed from their previous 10 Premier League games and Marco Silva’s men were very fortunate to get a point from last week’s clash with Southampton, Abdoulaye Doucoure scoring a last-gasp equaliser with his hand. They travel to take on the Foxes this Saturday with the 2016 champions getting back on track after a December blip. Indeed, a home win could see Leicester move up to seventh, a position that seemed distant in the early weeks of the season. Watford had occupied those heady climes during the autumn, but now their main focus is on not getting dragged into a populous relegation battle.

They might have needed extra time in a replay to eventually overcome League One Shrewsbury in the FA Cup, but West Ham’s league form has been very impressive and if they can beat Bournemouth at London Stadium on Saturday, they are likely to move into the top half. That would be quite a testament to how well David Moyes has done in less than two months in charge of the Hammers. Bournemouth are just two places and one point adrift of their opponents, although their Jekyll and Hyde nature was in evidence this week with a splendid win over Arsenal preceding an FA Cup drubbing by Wigan. These teams served up quite a clash on Boxing Day, a 3-3 draw in which the south coast club scored a hugely controversial stoppage time equaliser. It’s probably asking a lot for this weekend’s clash to be as eventful.

Liverpool’s first Monday night match of the season could be a high-stakes one if their other top four rivals all record victories at the weekend. It’s unlikely to be as straightforward as their last clash with Swansea just under a month ago, but a performance similar to what they showed against Manchester City would surely be enough to see them win a fifth successive Premier League victory.


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