By Niall Clarke
- Five questions on our minds ahead of round 21 of the Premier League season
- Predictions for all 10 of the weekend’s games.
The Premier League is back after a break due to the FA Cup third round. Here are five burning questions for match-week 21.
How will Chelsea respond to defeat?
A Chelsea loss has been as rare as a diamond lately. In fact it was 13 games in a row the Blues won since their last defeat before Tottenham were finally able to end the streak. The last defeat spawned a change in system as Antonio Conte elected to switch to a 3-5-3 formation that kicked off their incredible run. How will the Italian respond this time?
A loss at White Hart Lane is not an awful result by any means. Spurs are one of the best teams in the league and are notoriously difficult to beat, so will it be more of the same? Or will Conte switch things up again for the trip to Leicester?
This fixture did not exactly go to plan for Chelsea last season. In fact the 2-1 defeat spelled the end of Jose Mourinho’s second reign at the helm. That was against a high flying Foxes though, this time it is roles reversed as Chelsea chase the title and Leicester are the struggling champions.
The Blues can take solace in the fact that they will be top no matter what happens here, but the defeat at Spurs has allowed the chasing pack to close the gap. Will the gap be closed further after the weekend is over?
Will Manchester United vs Liverpool live up to the hype this time around?
Manchester United vs Liverpool is considered one of the greatest rivalries in world football. It extends generations between the two most successful sides in the history of the English game, and with the added spice of Jurgen Klopp vs Jose Mourinho it promises to be a cracking game right?
One word to describe the reverse fixture is disappointment. It was expected to be one of the most intense and exciting games of the season but ended up being a 0-0 draw in which not much happened. The difference is this time though that Manchester United are playing much better and have an on-going win streak of six straight games. It is a run of form that has put the Red Devils back into the title discussion, a conversation that very much involves Liverpool.
The Reds sit in second, five points behind leaders Chelsea, but their form is not great at present. A few unexpected draws have seen them fall behind the Blues in recent weeks, but a win over their arch rivals will serve as a huge boost to their title hopes.
All fans will hope that the second meeting will be better than the first, not that it is difficult to do. With both sides overall in better form and United likely to play more openly, this should have goals and have a big say on who wins the title and finishes inside the top four.
Will the Spurs go marching on?
Tottenham have turned the year in spectacular form. They have won five matches in a row, including a 2-0 win against Chelsea to end their record equalling streak of 13 straight victories. Spurs kick off the weekend’s action with a home game against eighth placed West Brom on Saturday.
The Baggies themselves have had a good season and could finish in the European places if their continue in this vein. They are very difficult to break down and defeat, as all Tony Pulis sides are, and they are a real threat from set pieces where most of their goals have come from.
Spurs have the best defence in the league however, with their 14 goals conceded being the lowest in the Premier League this season. Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping his side can continue to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea and extend their winning run to six straight matches.
They will be made to work for it by a well organised West Brom side, but many will expect the Spurs to keep marching on in their bid for a first Premier League title.
What success will the new managers at the bottom of the Premier League have?
In recent weeks, three of the Premier League’s bottom four have looked for new guidance under a new boss in order to try keep their status in the top flight alive. Crystal Palace were the first to bite by appointing Sam Allardyce as their new leader with Swansea looking to Paul Clement to guide them to safety. Meanwhile, Hull followed suit by looking abroad for a new direction by appointing former Sporting Lisbon coach Marco Silva.
The Swans actually managed to claim a huge win over Palace in their last outing, winning 2-1 at Selhurst Park to move within a point of the Eagles and safety. The Welsh club will do well to match that success when they welcome Arsenal to the Liberty Stadium. These are not the matches in which Clement will be judged on, but a point or three will go a very long way to his sides confidence and survival chances.
Palace are away to West Ham at the same time. The Hammers have struggled in their move to the London stadium and were soundly beaten by Manchester City in the FA Cup third round. That and the unrest with Dimitri Payet will give the Eagles confidence as they look to move clear of their rivals.
Hull sit bottom of the table but that could chance when they face Bournemouth on Saturday. It could be argued that this is the best chance of three points in regards to the bottom four. The match will certainly be interesting as Hull look to win their first Premier League match under Silva.
Sunderland host Stoke in the other game involving the bottom four clubs.
What else is happening?
Burnley look to continue their fantastic home form when they host Southampton at Turf Moor on Saturday. The Clarets will leapfrog the Saints with another home victory.
Watford and Middlesbrough remain dangerously close to the relegation battle, and these two sides will look to move clear of danger when they meet at 3PM on Saturday.
Super Sunday kicks off with Manchester City’s trip to Everton. This is a difficult test for Pep Guardiola and his side who look to keep in touch with the league leaders.
Tottenham 2-0 West Brom
Burnley 2-1 Southampton
Hull 1-1 Bournemouth
Sunderland 2-2 Stoke
Swansea 1-3 Arsenal
Watford 2-1 Middlesbrough
West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace
Leicester 0-2 Chelsea
Everton 1-1 Man City
Man United 1-1 Liverpool
The Premier League continues 14th-15th January.
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