W2W4 previews the weekend’s Premier League fixtures and highlights five key storylines.
Will Manchester City be able to cope with Tottenham?
Back in October, Tottenham Hotspur gave us an insight into what was to come for Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side headed to White Hart Lane having won 10 of their previous 11 matches but Spurs deservedly inflicted a first loss on their opponents’ new manager. Since then, consistency has evaded City and they have fallen to fifth in the Premier League table and 10 points off leaders Chelsea.
The team’s patchy form highlights a squad which should not be this flawed considering the towers of money at their disposal for recruitment. Guardiola has borne the brunt of the criticism, because it was presumed that his track record of winning would seamlessly translate. But while he has been culpable for some of their problems, sometimes the tools are to blame as well as the workman. Pablo Zabaleta, for example, is not Philipp Lahm.
What City cannot afford is a repeat of meekness shown at Everton when they host Spurs on Saturday evening. Just like at Leicester in December, City conceded four versus Everton, with their defence at sixes and sevens. And the trouble for Guardiola is that when Tottenham are good, they are very good. Mauricio Pochettino’s players were sensational in their last outing, putting four past West Bromwich Albion. Spurs suffocated West Brom, were ferocious in their 50-50s and razor sharp to every loose ball. In fact, Pochettino’s team played how Guardiola might envisage City performing when he gets in the right personnel. While the Catalan might no longer see City as part of the title race, a win for Tottenham would put them within four points of Chelsea for 24 hours at least.
How many goals will Liverpool score against Swansea?
If you’ve conceded the most goals in the league so far this season what you probably don’t want is a visit to the division’s top scorers. Poor Swansea City. The Welsh club have shipped a quite remarkable 49 goals in 21 matches in 2016-17. Liverpool, on the other hand, have thumped in 49 at the right end. After suffering a 4-0 loss to Arsenal last weekend, Saturday lunchtime’s match at Anfield is soon to be followed by trips to Man City and Chelsea. To be honest, it would have been understandable if Clement had delayed taking the job until after this sequence. As for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, a failure to hold onto leads in their previous two games sees them third rather than second and three points off the table-toppers. A routine return to winning ways is the dish of the day for Klopp, what with Chelsea next up in the league on Jan. 31.
Could Leicester really let Claudio Ranieri go?
Premier League champions Leicester City are in a relegation battle. The current heirs to their throne, Chelsea, taught Leicester a tough lesson last weekend, winning 3-0 at the King Power Stadium to leave the Foxes five points above the bottom three. Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri was typically charming in his assessment of his own future in the wake of a 10th loss of the campaign (already seven more than they suffered in 2015-16): “I’m good here, even though in football one day you are in the stars and the next day in the dust, so never say never.” After what he did last season, they couldn’t really sack him, could they? At least Ranieri is catching Southampton at a good time. Four consecutive losses have seen the Saints slide to just three points above Leicester, so they are not out of the woods just yet either.
Can Sam Allardyce save Crystal Palace?
Losing 3-0 at former club West Ham United would have stung new Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce. He did, at least, get one over his ex-side Bolton in the FA Cup during midweek to notch his first victory since taking the job at Selhurst Park. Allardyce has said that his players are struggling for confidence, something their weekend opponents, Everton, likely won’t be lacking. Ronald Koeman’s men should be on cloud nine after an enthralling 4-0 win over Man City. Considering the jump in quality between the top six and the rest of the teams, seventh looks like Everton’s to lose. How Palace compete against the visitors, meanwhile, will give further indication of whether Allardyce’s record of having never been relegated from the top flight is likely to stay intact.
Can Eddie Howe sort out Bournemouth’s defensive woes?
Bournemouth are a seemingly comfortable 11th in the table and have an in vogue young English manager in charge in Eddie Howe. But all is not rosy. Howe certainly did a great job last season by keeping Bournemouth in the Premier League, but in spite of their survival by five points the alarm bells were ringing ahead of this term. The Cherries conceded 67 goals, the joint-most in the division with Norwich who did go down. Although Bournemouth’s defence is ranked the fifth leakiest this time around, Howe’s team have let in three goals in five of their past six fixtures in all competitions. The most recent of those calamities was against a Hull City side which hadn’t won in the league since Nov. 6. Howe, 39, faces the next test of his coaching ability.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.