January has truly been a month of two halves for Liverpool. Late winners against Burnley and Everton in the opening week of 2018 preceded that epic victory over Manchester City, but the dismal defeats to Swansea and West Brom have undone the value of those previous wins. The Reds have a lot to prove, then, as they visit the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday night to face Huddersfield, whose recent form is even worse than Liverpool’s. Jurgen Klopp got the better of his long-time friend David Wagner earlier in the season at Anfield, but Huddersfield tend to be a different animal on their own patch, where they famously beat Manchester United earlier in the season. Plus, this is exactly the type of fixture that Liverpool have messed up so many times in the past, and not just under Klopp.
Liverpool’s January started brightly before tailing off, whereas Arsenal’s month took the opposite trajectory. The seemingly imminent signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be a real fillip for Gunners fans reeling from the loss of Alexis Sanchez and while the Gabonese striker certainly won’t be involved in the Tuesday night visit to Swansea, Arsene Wenger’s team go to Wales in good form. The Swans have been rejuvenated since the turn of the year as well, though, with Carlos Carvalhal making a discernible early impact on a team that looked primed for relegation only a month ago. Can Swansea follow up last week’s win over Liverpool by downing another top six outfit or will Arsenal maintain their push for a Champions League position?
David Moyes and Roy Hodgson continue to be associated with ghastly failures at Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, but both managers have breathed new life into the ailing seasons of West Ham and Crystal Palace. The capital clubs face off at London Stadium on Tuesday, with a win likely to push either of these teams into the top half of the table. That seemed a distant dream when the teams last met three months ago, when Hodgson was only getting going on the Palace revival and Slaven Bilic was still in charge at West Ham. It promises to be an intriguing derby in east London.
Tottenham go into Wednesday night’s crunch clash with Manchester United on the back of two sobering draws at Southampton and Newport, so questions are understandably being asked of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who could potentially be five points off the top four by the time the game at Wembley kicks off. The national stadium has been a happy hunting ground for United, victorious on each of their last six visits to the venue and yet to concede a goal in 2018. Their festive stumble seems a long time ago now and there seems a sense of destiny that Sanchez, on his league debut for the club following his move from Arsenal, will inflict further frustration on Spurs.
West Brom’s delight at knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup may well be tempered somewhat by what lies in wait on Wednesday night, namely a visit to Manchester City. The Premier League leaders comfortably took care of Cardiff in the cup at the weekend, although the loss of Leroy Sane to some overly robust tackling will be a blow to Pep Guardiola’s side, who are already without Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the season. The Baggies were stuck in reverse for most of the campaign but seem to have turned the corner in January, and even a narrow defeat at the Etihad would probably still convince their fans that they are moving in the right direction.
It’s hard to put the finger on Chelsea at the minute – horribly blunt and one-dimensional in some games, devastating and clinical in others. In truth, we learned very little about the champions in Sunday’s FA Cup stroll against Newcastle, although two goals for Michy Batshuayi should give him a much-needed confidence boost. They will also have Alvaro Morata back for Wednesday’s game against Bournemouth, who have picked up some good results recently but are still just a couple of setbacks away from being pulled to the brink of the relegation zone. Stamford Bridge will see two inconsistent teams doing battle in midweek.
Everton remain ninth in the table despite a dip in form over the last month, although recent performances have led to some disenchantment about the job that Sam Allardyce is doing at Goodison Park. By contrast, Claude Puel has dispelled the army of doubters that predicted doom for him at Leicester, their mid-season surge to seventh having begun with a win against the Toffees just before Halloween. Craig Shakespeare, the Frenchman’s predecessor in the Foxes dugout, will be helping Allardyce to plot the downfall of his former club as the ex-England manager’s assistant, although the form book indicates an away win.
Southampton and Brighton both find themselves in the bottom five after a poor run of league form, but both recorded morale-boosting FA Cup wins at the weekend ahead of the south coast derby at St Mary’s on Wednesday. The Saints are likely to give a debut to striker Guido Carrillo, who joined from Monaco recently and will hope to have the same impact as Manolo Gabbiadini did upon joining Southampton a year ago. A home win would take Mauricio Pellegrino’s side above Brighton in the table and the Seagulls’ away form has been far from encouraging, with just two league wins on the road so far.
Stoke and Watford have both changed their managers in the opening month of 2018, with contrasting results in the first games for Paul Lambert and Javi Gracia in their current jobs. The Potters beat Huddersfield last time out to give the Scot a winning start and hoist themselves out of the relegation zone, whereas Gracia’s Hornets crashed out of the FA Cup at Southampton, after which some players and supporters exchanged angry words. So tight is the bottom half of the table that Stoke lie seven places behind Wednesday’s opponents, but a win would bring them level on points with Watford.
Newcastle’s familiar fourth round FA Cup exit means that they once again have nothing to anticipate except another nervous battle to beat the drop. The surprisingly sparse band of Geordies who travelled to the cup defeat by Chelsea made their feelings about owner Mike Ashley clearly known, so the atmosphere around St James’ Park is not good ahead of Wednesday night’s visit of Burnley. However, the Clarets are in a rut after their exceptional first half of the season, so both teams will feel they are facing each other at a good time. The greater need for victory, though, is definitely Newcastle’s.
Liverpool fans will recall how the 2016/17 season could have been so much better had it not been for a dreadful run of unexpectedly poor results in January. The same pattern is being played out again and the post-Coutinho hangover will be felt even more acutely if they fail to take all three points from Huddersfield on Tuesday. This is not a time for Klopp to do niceties with his buddy Wagner.