By the time they kick off against West Ham on Saturday, Liverpool will have had a 10-day break since their Champions League romp in Porto, the unexpectedly long gap between games giving rise to the opportunity for a training camp in Spain. The Reds go into the weekend on a real high after the 5-0 win in Portugal, although they haven’t won at Anfield in six weeks since beating Manchester City (a statistic somewhat qualified by them only having two home games since then). If they can put that right on Saturday, Jurgen Klopp’s side will go second overnight, while a sizeable win could keep them in that position once the weekend is finished. That’s if they can shake off the inconsistency that has dogged their season; West Ham rolled over in the previous meeting of these teams in November but they are made of sterner stuff now than the limp outfit which threw in the towel that evening. They have a Jekyll and Hyde nature too, though, losing meekly to Brighton and comfortably disposing of Watford in their two previous games.
Manchester United and Chelsea both drew against Spanish opposition in the Champions League ahead of their face-off at Old Trafford on Sunday, but the reactions to their respective results were quite contrasting. United were woefully pedestrian against Sevilla and yet again had David de Gea to thank for bailing them out, whereas a Willian-inspired Chelsea were unlucky not to beat La Liga pace-setters Barcelona. Those displays could count for nothing on Sunday, though, as Jose Mourinho is the master of the one-off masterplan, as he demonstrated in this fixture last season when he let United off the leash and they won 2-0. If they slip up this weekend, however, their place in the top four suddenly looks rather vulnerable, especially if other teams around them were to win beforehand.
Having done superbly in drawing away to Juventus, Tottenham then slipped up by allowing Rochdale to score a stoppage-time equaliser in a feisty FA Cup tie last week. Which Spurs will turn up at Selhurst Park on Sunday lunchtime for the meeting with Crystal Palace? If it’s the version that made light work of Manchester United and Arsenal at Wembley in the last month, they could run riot. Palace will hope to pounce upon any flatness in Tottenham, especially with the Eagles winless in four and sliding back into the relegation mire just as they seemed to be pulling clear of it. The loss of Wilfried Zaha could make life very difficult for them in the coming weeks and they will not want to go down meekly against their capital rivals.
Watford and Everton pits 11th against 9th, but neither side can feel safe from the drop even with two-thirds of the season played. The Hornets thrashed Chelsea in their previous home game but were then put in their place by West Ham a week later, indicating that they still have a lot to do to say that the corner has been turned. Everton seemed to be out of danger after an excellent pre-Christmas run, but some poor results in the opening weeks of 2018 checked their momentum. When these sides last met, Marco Silva was Watford’s manager and had made a strong enough start to the campaign to be hotly linked with the Everton job. Instead, Saturday evening sees Javi Gracia taking on Sam Allardyce, with Silva now unemployed.
The troubled taxi-theft trip to Barcelona, an FA Cup exit and a seven-point gap to overcome if they’re to get out of the relegation zone – it’s fair to say that life is not easy for West Brom right now. They had seemed to be on the right track after beating Liverpool in the cup a month ago, but little has gone right since for Alan Pardew, who still has only one league win since taking charge in November. The Baggies host Huddersfield on Saturday and it’s a game they cannot afford not to win. The sliver of hope for Albion is that their opponents are one of the poorest away teams in the top flight, even though their last league outing saw them thump Bournemouth 4-1. A draw would not be a bad result for Huddersfield; West Brom need the three points if they’re to avoid getting cut adrift in the scrap for survival.
The Baggies will be six points adrift at the bottom by the time they kick off if Stoke avoid defeat at Leicester in the Saturday lunchtime game. The Potters have been hit and miss since Paul Lambert took charge last month, although they’ll had had two weeks off ahead of this weekend’s clash, so they could be refreshed for the all-important survival charge. Leicester were in action last week, advancing to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and only a torrid run over the coming weeks would see them dragged into trouble. A win on Saturday would more or less kill off any lingering fears of a nervy finish to the season; how Stoke must wish they could say the same.
Just as their season was in danger of unravelling, a series of good results in February have seen Brighton looking up the table and with an FA Cup quarter-final to anticipate. So tight is the bottom half, though, that a couple of bad results drags them right to the precipice of the relegation zone, so Chris Hughton knows that the next three months will be a slog. The Seagulls are currently two places and one point ahead of Saturday’s opponents Swansea, who had been motoring excellent under Carlos Carvalhal but looked very ordinary in the cup at Sheffield Wednesday last week. Victory for either side at the Amex Stadium would create a healthy buffer between them and the bottom three – for now.
Newcastle fans were a pretty joyless bunch until their shock win against Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, one which might yet change the course of their season. On Saturday they make the long trip south to Bournemouth, who had been flying until an unexpected thrashing at Huddersfield in their last outing. A win for the Geordies would take them above their opponents and, depending on results elsewhere, potentially into the top 10, a scenario that seemed unlikely as recently as the start of this month.
Southampton dropped back into the relegation zone after losing to Liverpool two weeks ago, but victory at West Brom last weekend put them into a very winnable FA Cup quarter-final, a chink of light in what has been a difficult season for the Saints. They are eyeing a third straight away win in all competitions this Saturday when they travel to Burnley, who have stalled in recent weeks and are in danger of making their superb start to the season count for nothing. The draw against Manchester City aside, it’s been a pretty bleak start to 2018 for the Clarets.
Liverpool will go second with a win on Saturday. With Arsenal on Carabao Cup final duty, at least one of Manchester United and Chelsea dropping points on Sunday and Tottenham not playing until that day, this weekend represents a glorious opportunity for the Reds to steal a march on their fellow Champions League chasers. It’s one that cannot, cannot be let go to waste, especially after the sublime display in Porto last week.