By Ryan Moran
- Three points separate the top two sides with City’s goal difference superior.
- Guus Hiddink hopes to extend Chelsea’s unbeaten run to nine with the visit of Manchester United.
- Arsenal aim for first win in five games, away at Bournemouth.
Manchester, UK- Manchester City host Leicester in Saturday’s early kick off that sees first against second, with three points between them. Guus Hiddink welcomes Manchester United to Stamford Bridge, targeting a ninth game unbeaten since his return to the Blues.
Manchester City vs Leicester City
In a fixture that pits the top two sides in the league, Manchester City are the side under the spotlight. When you compare the value of the squads, there is no comparison. Such is the dramatic rise of Leicester City and their previously underrated players there is talk of the Foxes as potential champions.
In Jamie Vardy they possess a diamond in the rough whose return to form, after injury, took Liverpool by storm in midweek. An adventurous half volley that beat Simon Mignolet showed the striker only needs half a chance, if that, to find the net.
The Citizens have two strikers with an eye for goal to match Vardy, Sergio Aguero and youngster Kelechi Iheanacho. The latter has adapted to senior football seamlessly, scoring his first senior hat trick in the FA Cup fourth round against Aston Villa
A stalemate at the King Power ensued in late December, a game City would feel they lost two points rather than gaining one. A resolute Foxes stood firm that evening to claim a point but with a much smaller contingent of fans getting behind them inside the Etihad Stadium.
If the hosts were to defeat Leicester in the early kick off, the Citizens would climb to the peak of the Premier League table at the Foxes’ expense. Defeat could see Manuel Pellegrini’s side drop as low as fourth come Sunday evening, with Arsenal playing Bournemouth that day.
Chelsea vs Manchester United
A lack of chances and poor form lead to a poor stalemate between two sides packed with match winners in late December. Since then Chelsea have changed their manager and have gone unbeaten in eight games since a 3-1 win over Sunderland.
United’s former glory appears to be returning with consecutive 3-0 victories, over Derby County and Stoke City respectively. Louis Van Gaal continues to blood his younger players into the squad, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Jesse Lingard combining for United’s opening goal against Stoke. Wayne Rooney leads the return to form as the striker continues to score regularly, something the captain has struggled to achieve this season.
Similar to Rooney, Diego Costa is going through a tough spell of late, making the right runs without the desired quality to finish the moves. The Spaniard stole the ball off the toes of teammate Oscar and missed with the goal gaping against Championship side MK Dons last weekend, one example of the striker’s struggles in front of goal. Costa was unable to find a winner in midweek against Watford either, the signs are there, just not the goals his performances deserve.
With every win the Blues continue their steady rise up the table, and three points would hinder United’s Champion’s League hopes. The Red Devils are five points away from fourth placed Arsenal, another loss could see that deficit increase to eight points with defeat.
AFC Bournemouth vs Arsenal
Ex-Arsenal striker Benik Afobe lines up against his former club for the first time since leaving for Wolves last year. The England Under 21 international has had the desired effect on the South Coast with three goals from four games. Afobe’s third goal in a Bournemouth shirt gave his side the three points against out of form Crystal Palace.
The Gunners endured a frustrating midweek as they were held by Southampton. A goalless draw allowed their North London rivals Tottenham to leapfrog them into third in the table. Injuries have hindered their title hopes but even with Alexis Sanchez’s return three points was no guarantee at the Emirates.
When the sides met earlier this season, Arsenal triumphed 2-0 with Gabriel Paulista and Mesut Ozil finding the net that day. Arsene Wenger’s side have struggled of late having not won in their last four league games, drawing three and losing one. Having beaten Chelsea and United already this season, Bournemouth aren’t a side to be taken lightly with Arsenal needing to be at their best to overcome Eddie Howe’s side on their own turf.
Either the Citizens or the Foxes will drop points as the sides meet this weekend, which gives both Tottenham and Arsenal an opportunity to cut the deficit to the top with victory. The Cherries are currently seven points clear of relegation but are far from safe in an unpredictable Premier League campaign.
Tottenham vs Watford
Watford’s tough week of fixtures continue as they travel to face in form Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have won three consecutive games prior to the Hornet’s visit. The away side’s stalemate against Chelsea extended their unbeaten run to two games, losing four consecutive games before that.
Son Heung-min scored a late winner at Vicarage Road to beat 10-man Watford earlier this season. Nathan Ake was sent off for a high foot on Erik Lamela as Tottenham played with a numerical advantage for half an hour.
Quique Sanchez Flores’ side are overachieving in their first season in the top flight with a defeat for Spurs having more effect than a defeat for Watford. With Champion’s League the target for Daniel Levy only victories can ensure that fate, a win over the Hornets potentially moving them up to second in the table.
Liverpool vs Sunderland
Christian Benteke earned Liverpool three points the last time these two sides met in the last round of fixtures in 2015. Ex-Liverpool striker Fabio Borini went close to scoring against his former side in that game and will hope to find the net at Anfield.
The Black Cats are four points from safety after a narrow defeat to Manchester City in midweek. The Reds lost to league leaders Leicester as Vardy proved the difference at the King Power Stadium. That defeat added to a run of one win in their previous five games, relegation threatened Sunderland picked up more points in the same period.
Jan Kirchhoff produced a better display than on his debut with Lamine Kone also providing much needed steel in the back four. The Ivorian missed a chance to put his side level against City but provided many positives for Sam Allardyce in a tough season so far.
Sunderland need to turn those half chances into goals to retain their Premier League status, starting at Anfield. Liverpool’s inconsistency has all but denied the Reds Champion’s League form this season, victory over Sunderland could kick start a run of results for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Stoke vs Everton
The Britannia Stadium hosts a mid-table encounter oozing quality from both sides. The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic have shown glimmers of the quality that saw both players in the ranks at Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively. Gerard Deulofeu is also a Barcelona product plying his trade for Everton in the Premier League.
Alongside Ross Barkley and John Stones, Deulofeu plays in an Everton side that should be doing better than their league position suggests. Romelu Lukaku leads the line for the Toffees but like the majority have failed to string two wins together consistently.
Both sides have recorded one win in their last five league games but remain in contention for a possible high finish. Defensively both sides have struggled recently, Stoke conceding six goals in their last two games while Everton fail to hold onto a lead, John Terry grabbing a late equaliser for Chelsea just one example.
The result will have little effect for both sides with a mid-table finish the average for both sides. Everton’s success is likely to come from their participation in the FA Cup while silverware for Stoke will have to wait until next season.
Southampton vs West Ham United
Southampton have hit a defensive purple patch of late, four games without conceding. In total it has been six hours and 14 minutes since Alexander Tettey beat Maarten Stekelenburg, the last time the Saints conceded a goal. Their visitors at St Mary’s have only lost once in their last 10 games, a 2-1 loss to Newcastle.
West Ham’s climb up the table has seen a gap created below them, with a five-point deficit separating the Saints from the Hammers. The return of Dimitri Payet has aided their resurgence but nonetheless have earned the right to be one point adrift of Manchester United.
Emmanuel Emenike has now been granted international clearance and therefore is likely to make his debut on the South coast for the visitors. Charlie Austin couldn’t add to his debut goal away at Arsenal but will hope to be back on the scoresheet on Saturday.
With Chelsea playing United, a victory could see the visitors into fifth place come Sunday evening. Defeat allows Southampton to cut the deficit to two points.
Completing the round of fixtures:
Aston Villa vs Norwich
Newcastle vs West Bromwich Albion
Swansea City vs Crystal Palace
A top of the table clash takes place as the Citizens host Leicester City on Saturday 6th February while Chelsea lock horns with the Red Devils of Manchester on Sunday 7th February.
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