THE BIG MATCH
Liverpool v Bournemouth
BOURNEMOUTH could be poised for a significant role in the title race. Eddie Howe’s Cherries get the chance to put a further dent in Liverpool’s hopes at Anfield tomorrow and then host new leaders Manchester City at the Vitality Stadium next month.
The question is, which side will visit Anfield? The one which destroyed Chelsea 4-0, inflicting the Blues’ biggest defeat since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, or the one which won just two of 14 league and cup games between November and January?
Usually a win or two begins a fine Bournemouth run but the momentum built up by victories over West Ham and Chelsea came to a shuddering halt at Cardiff.
The absence of injured duo Callum Wilson, with 12 goals for club and country this term, and magnificent summer signing David Brooks threw Howe’s plans into disarray in Wales and the pair are set to miss out again at Anfield, where the hosts get the chance to reclaim top spot.
City moved above them on goal difference in midweek and, after back-to-back draws, serious questions are now being asked about the Reds’ title credentials.
Jurgen Klopp’s exchange of words with Manuel Pellegrini at the London Stadium also served to validate suggestions the pressure of winning a first league title in 29 years is getting to Liverpool. And it could be one they let get away that worsens their week. Dominic Solanke never got a sniff at Anfield after an ill-judged move from Chelsea in 2017 but is ready to rebuild his career and made his debut at Cardiff last weekend.
Another man the Reds allowed to leave is Nathaniel Clyne, who can’t play under the terms of his loan deal, but is surely a right-back Klopp could use right now.
James Milner has his detractors but the 33-year-old — who won two league titles with City — has experience that should be crucial to the Reds’ run-in. The ever-lively Ryan Fraser could be a handful for him tomorrow.
Fulham v Manchester United
SATURDAY, 12.30PM, SKY SPORTS
Manchester United were 11 points off the top four when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge in December but will break into the Champions League places, at least temporarily, if they win at Craven Cottage. ‘They blocked, they put their body on the line,’ the Norwegian said of United’s seventh league win in eight under him at Leicester. After coming back from 2-0 down to beat Brighton 4-2 in their last home game, Fulham reverted to type as the 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace left them seven points from safety with 13 games left.
Crystal Palace v West Ham
On-loan Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi came on for the last eight minutes of Palace’s win over Fulham and could make his first start tomorrow. That victory was achieved without the suspended Wilfried Zaha who misses out again tomorrow after accepting a charge of improper conduct for sarcastically applauding referee Andre Marriner. The Hammers hope Marko Arnautovic, who sat out Monday’s draw with Liverpool, to be fit after a foot injury.
ONE TO WATCH
AARON WAN-BISSAKA (CRYSTAL PALACE): Gareth Southgate is a fan. Pep Guardiola, too, if reports are to be believed. Roy Hodgson thought the young full-back might be a robot, so consistent were his performances.
Academy product Wan-Bissaka, 21, made the breakthrough last season and has become a fixture in the team this term, starting 24 of 25 league games and keeping long-serving Joel Ward sidelined.
His form has led to talk of an England call-up from Southgate and speculation Chelsea or Guardiola’s Manchester City could pounce in the summer.
Last Saturday Palace beat Fulham and Hodgson said: ‘He actually made a mistake in the 94th minute and I was relieved because I was starting to think he might be a robot.’
Huddersfield v Arsenal
Huddersfield’s signing from Charlton, Karlan Grant, will be hoping to prove his worth for the Terriers, the £2million acquisition having shown flashes of his talent after coming on as a substitute in the 5-0 defeat at Chelsea. Arsenal, who did not register a single shot in the second half of their 3-1 loss at Manchester City last weekend, hope Shkodran Mustafi will be fit despite being forced off late in the game at the Etihad Stadium.
Southampton v Cardiff
This is a huge match in the race to stay up, not least after Bobby Reid’s brace for the Bluebirds in Cardiff’s emotionally charged 2-0 victory over Bournemouth, during which Emiliano Sala was honoured. It leaves the Bluebirds just two points behind Saints, who were denied victory at Burnley last Saturday by Ashley Barnes’ stoppage-time equaliser, although they have become much harder to beat since manager Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge.
Watford v Everton
Everton boss Marco Silva goes back to the club where he made a blistering start last season before it all turned sour after a move was first mooted to his present employers. The Toffees’ form means Silva is under real pressure to keep his job at Goodison Park, while Javi Gracia has prospered as his replacement at Vicarage Road. Indeed, Watford are a point above their illustrious visitors going into a game Silva can ill afford to lose.
Brighton v Burnley
SATURDAY, 5.30PM, BT SPORT
Burnley remain just two points above the drop zone despite having gone six games unbeaten after Barnes’ last-gasp spot-kick against Southampton. ‘Our levels are rising all the time now,’ said boss Sean Dyche. The Seagulls are three points better off but are without a win in five top-flight games and a Clarets victory in front of the television cameras would push Chris Hughton’s men towards the mire.
Tottenham v Leicester
SUNDAY, 1.30PM, SKY SPORTS
After the disappointment of Carabao and FA Cup elimination, Tottenham have pushed themselves back into the title picture with late wins over Watford and Newcastle at Wembley. Indeed, late goals have become something of a recurring theme for Mauricio Pochettino’s side in recent months. Leicester save their best performances for the best opponents and were unlucky not to back up their draw at Liverpool in their narrow home defeat to Manchester United.
Manchester City v Chelsea
SUNDAY, 4PM, SKY SPORTS
The Blues were dreadful at Bournemouth, in a 4-0 defeat, but bounced back to win 5-0, albeit against rock-bottom Huddersfield in a game notable for the way new boy Gonzalo Higuain and Eden Hazard linked up successfully. Whether their Sarri-ball can hurt the new league leaders is another thing, however, and despite Higuain’s double, it is Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus who are the scorers in form.
Wolves v Newcastle
MONDAY, 8PM, SKY SPORTS
As well as having record-signing Miguel Almiron available for the first time after the Paraguayan striker had his work permit accepted, Newcastle could have a triple fitness boost with Paul Dummett, Mo Diame and Ki Sung-yueng all potentially ready for the trip to Molineux, although Jonjo Shelvey is unlikely to make it in time. Wolves are in a rich vein of form having won their last three Premier League games, as well as seeing off Liverpool and Shrewsbury in the FA Cup.