This Sunday, St Mary’s hosts the fixture that has been mockingly referred to as Liverpool against Liverpool reserves. The latter title is unlikely to sit well with Southampton supporters who, for the last four seasons, have seen at least one of their players swap the south coast for the north-west. This weekend’s clash sees Virgil van Dijk return to face his former club only six weeks after becoming the world’s most expensive defender and he has had an up-and-down start to his Liverpool career. He is likely to be beside another ex-Saint in Dejan Lovren, who for once might not be the recipient of the harshest taunts in this fixture, but Adam Lallana is unlikely to feature against his alma mater after a difficult week for the England international. The Reds’ 3-0 win in the reverse fixture in November was Jurgen Klopp’s first over Southampton in five Premier League meetings and it’s likely that he’ll need another if Liverpool are to remain in third place by the end of matchday 27.
Arsenal’s recent away form has been wretched but Wembley has been a happy hunting ground for them of late, having won (if you count penalty shoot-outs) on each of their last nine visits to the national stadium. Even with three of those being FA Cup finals, none of those are likely to mean as much as a win on Saturday would against Tottenham, who could pull seven points clear of their bitter rivals this weekend. Spurs would go up to third overnight with victory, while a draw would see them climb above Chelsea into fourth for a couple of days at least. They got the better of Arsenal in the last Wembley meeting of these clubs, the 1991 FA Cup semi-final when Paul Gascoigne scored that rocket of a free-kick. Who will be the headline maker in the latest instalment of the North London derby?
Riyad Mahrez might get his wish of being at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but he won’t be in Manchester City’s squad after his attempts at forcing a move from Leicester on transfer deadline day fell asunder. It was in this fixture just over two years ago that the Algerian gave an inspired performance in a 3-1 Foxes win which went a long way towards their famous title triumph, but now it is Manchester City who could take a step closer to the Premier League crown. Pep Guardiola’s men haven’t won any of their last three away games in the league, but haven’t dropped a point on home turf in almost six months and have finally had a full week off after two months of playing at least twice a week. That should see their batteries recharged and maybe Raheem Sterling’s shooting radar will readjust to a more accurate reading.
Rafael Benitez once went a full season without a home league defeat during his Liverpool days, but his Newcastle side have not won a league game at St James’ Park in almost four months. That does not bode well for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday, with Jose Mourinho’s men quickly putting their defeat to Spurs behind them by strolling past Huddersfield last week. The Geordies have found goals difficult to come by and aren’t likely to get much charity from a defence whose only concessions in 2018 were both in the Tottenham defeat. Manchester United swatted Newcastle aside at Old Trafford in November and a repeat is quite possible this weekend.
Following heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, there is a mood of crisis around Chelsea at the moment, but West Brom supporters would insist that their west London counterparts don’t know the meaning of the C-word. If Chelsea are unhappy about being in fourth position, how must the Baggies feel about being four points adrift at the bottom with only a third of the season remaining? It’s quite possible that Antonio Conte’s team will be outside the top four by the time this game kicks off on Monday night, so he may well feel a level of pressure that he has yet to experience in his time at Stamford Bridge. West Brom are capable of upsetting big-name teams, as Liverpool discovered a fortnight ago, while Daniel Sturridge would love to open his Baggies scoring account against his former club. For one team at least, the feeling of crisis will deepen by 10pm on Monday.
Sam Allardyce memorably kept Crystal Palace in the Premier League last season, but he still has work to do if he is to prevent Everton from dropping right into the relegation mix over the coming weeks. He branded their performance at Arsenal last week as “crap” and it was difficult to disagree, although the air of goodwill which greeted his early games at Goodison Park has given way to impatience with results and his agricultural style of play. Palace might be four places and four points worse off than the Toffees, but there is no mood of discontent around their side at the moment and they know that they have the pace in their team to torment Everton. Who knows how well they could be doing if Christian Benteke ever decides to resemble a Premier League striker again?
West Ham made waves during the week with the signing of free agent Patrice Evra, last seen launching a karate kick at a Marseille supporter following a Europa League tie in the autumn. The veteran French defender has his detractors in England, although manager David Moyes is clearly not one of them, having already worked with Evra at Manchester United. On Saturday, the Hammers take on a Watford side who will be buoyant after they thrashed Chelsea earlier in the week, with Gerard Deulofeu leading the champions a merry dance. Can the Hornets now kick on after that outstanding performance or will West Ham return to winning ways following their defeat at Brighton last week?
If the 2018 manager of the year award for the calendar year was being handed out today, it would surely go to Carlos Carvalhal, who has completely transformed a seemingly shipwrecked Swansea side since Christmas. If beating Liverpool and Arsenal wasn’t enough, the Swans then put eight past Notts County in an FA Cup replay in midweek and they could well fancy a prolonged run in that competition. This Saturday, their attention will be firmly set on pulling clear of the relegation places in the Premier League, having finally climbed out of the drop zone last week. Burnley have yet to win a game in 2018, but their draw with Manchester City last week should give them confidence to push on after their mid-season slump. It could be a decent clash at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
Defeat at Bournemouth last week pushed Stoke back into the relegation zone and halted the momentum that had been starting to build since Paul Lambert took charge. The Potters are back on home soil this weekend as they take on Brighton, who had been in a worrying tailspin until downing West Ham a week ago. The Seagulls are still only three points clear of the drop zone, though, and could do with putting a run together to ease themselves out of danger. At least they have a striker in form in Glenn Murray, whose scoring run of late has belatedly given Brighton a reliable source of goals to go along with their admirable build-up play.
At the start of January, you’d have had long odds on Huddersfield being 10 places below Bournemouth by the time the teams met at the John Smith’s Stadium this weekend, but such is the state of play as two teams in wildly contrasting form lock horns. Huddersfield are winless in eight league matches and have dropped from a splendid mid-table position to 19th, while the Cherries have taken the scalps of Arsenal and Chelsea during a magnificent run that has seen them go from 18th to ninth since Christmas. David Wagner will be fervently hoping that Sunday is a day when the form book is tossed firmly out the nearest window.
Form is something that Southampton had not shown over the winter, but they are now unbeaten in five matches in all competitions and will be on a high after ending a 12-match winless streak in the league last week. Liverpool’s trip to St Mary’s could be coming at a bad time, then, although their two previous visits to the south coast in December both resulted in four-goal wins. Maybe the coastal air suits the Merseysiders…