W2W4 previews the weekend’s Premier League fixtures and highlights five key storylines.
How will Manchester City and Arsenal cope with key absences?
Arsenal losing 2-1 at Everton on Tuesday was not a huge surprise and nor was the overreaction to their relinquishing of a lead. Perspective is required, for this was the first time Arsenal had been defeated in the Premier League since the opening weekend of the season. Everton were out of form, sure, but Arsene Wenger usually struggles against counterpart Ronald Koeman, whose side had shown earlier in the campaign that they had this type of combative performance in them. What matters now is how the Gunners respond in their match at Manchester City on Sunday, when they will again be without the injured Shkodran Mustafi. The centre-back’s three-week absence has already been felt at Everton, with his distribution from the back vital to Arsenal’s game plan.
Anything but a return to winning ways for Manchester City at home to Watford on Wednesday was unthinkable. Pep Guardiola’s men duly triumphed 2-0 to lift some of the pressure that had mounted on their manager who sets such sky-high standards. Arsenal, though, will provide a sterner test than Watford, with the Gunners’ movement and counterattacking capable of causing similar damage to the City backline which conceded four at Leicester. With Chelsea boasting a six-point lead at the top and threatening to run away with the title, a draw would not suit either side at the Etihad on Sunday. Guardiola remains without integral striker Sergio Aguero and their most in-form central midfielder Fernandinho through suspension, which could ultimately prove decisive.
Are Manchester United finally finding their groove under Jose Mourinho?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late winner for Manchester United at Crystal Palace on Wednesday was essential as it ensured Jose Mourinho’s men did not take a step back after their well-earned victory over Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday. You could tell how much their 2-1 triumph over Palace meant to United by the way Mourinho embraced his players after the final whistle. United have lacked momentum this season, but there’s a sense they might finally be on to something. Paul Pogba’s improving form continues to impress while the team’s rediscovery of their shooting boots has been essential in turning draws into back-to-back wins. Now for a trip to Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening, a side a place below United in the table and capable of an upset if Matt Phillips and Salomon Rondon sparkle.
Are Alan Pardew’s days in charge of Crystal Palace numbered?
When you’re teetering above the relegation zone and under increasing pressure, the last thing you need is a meeting with a team on a 10-match winning run. That, however, is the case for Crystal Palace and Alan Pardew as they host an imposing Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime. Pardew’s thumbs-up toward the directors’ box following a 3-0 win against Southampton earlier this month seemed premature at the time — there was still a long way to go for him to ensure his job appears secure. Since then, Palace have conceded three in a draw at Hull and lost late to United. There is an imbalance in their approach that Pardew must address. To have the fifth-highest goals scored column (28) but be 16th in the table screams trouble, and Chelsea are exactly the sort of side capable of exploiting that fragility.
Are Leicester in danger of getting relegated this season?
Last weekend’s enthralling 4-2 win against Manchester City aside, Leicester’s only other Premier League victories have been against the following teams: Swansea, Burnley and Crystal Palace — all at home. This makes for pretty grim reading for manager Claudio Ranieri. Should they lose at Stoke on Saturday, the Premier League champions could find themselves a point above the bottom three. It is not inconceivable that Leicester could go down just a season after their improbable glory. What could save them is that there are, on paper, at least three worse teams than them in the division. But resting on others’ inadequacies simply isn’t enough in such a competitive division. Ranieri desperately needs his side to show just even a fraction of last season’s spirit to ensure his tenure doesn’t have a bitter finish.
Can Everton nullify Liverpool’s Adam Lallana?
While the Merseyside derby comes after the weekend on Monday, we couldn’t exactly ignore it, could we? Liverpool go into the game at Goodison Park having restored some order with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Middlesbrough, with Simon Mignolet brought back into the side after goalkeeper Loris Karius came in for scrutiny. It proved to be a relatively quiet 90 minutes for Mignolet, although that is unlikely to be the case against Everton’s Romelu Lukaku. Koeman’s men rediscovered some of their fight to comeback against Arsenal seemingly just in time for what is usually a spiky affair against Liverpool. The Reds’ success at the Riverside was their first in the league since Philippe Coutinho’s injury, with Adam Lallana stepping up in the Brazilian’s absence to score twice. After just 14 top-flight appearances, Lallana has already surpassed his best goals tally in the Premier League for Liverpool, which will doubtless be music to Jurgen Klopp’s ears.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.