1) Will candid Conte repeat Chelsea trick?
Antonio Conte returns to the Etihad, a stadium that helped announce him to English football. Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat of Manchester City in December 2016 came midway through the 13-match winning run that seized control of that title race. Like Conte, Pep Guardiola was in his first Premier League season, and his team had no answer to Chelsea’s vigour and power. More than five years on and Guardiola is master of all he surveys, part of the furniture, commanding a bespoke, multifunctional squad. Conte has gained a reputation for blowing up and blowing out when all is not to his satisfaction. His Sky Italia interview this week was explicit in its opinion of Tottenham’s January transfer window. Conte taking on Guardiola in a battle between two of the game’s finest coaches should be an enticing prospect, but the Italian does not appear to believe his squad is capable of making it a contest. JB
2) Arsenal out to avenge sorry opener
The visit of Brentford to the Etihad gives Arsenal a chance to show how much things have changed since the opening day of the season, when Mikel Arteta apologised to fans following a 2-0 defeat. The side that Arteta picks on Saturday will be very different to the one that played back in August, not least because Bernd Leno is no longer first-choice goalkeeper, Callum Chambers has been sold and Pablo Marí and Folarin Balogun have left on loan. Aside from the quality that has been added since, Arsenal seem to have developed a grittiness that has served them well in recent weeks. With Brentford no longer as buoyant, this is a prime opportunity for Arsenal to take a step closer to Champions League qualification, a possibility that seemed far-fetched a few months ago. PD
3) Will Chelsea let crown slip at Palace?
Back from Abu Dhabi, Chelsea’s fans will doubtless celebrate their team’s new status as world champions, but questions remain over the two goalscorers against Palmeiras, Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz.. Lukaku’s header exhibited a quality of finishing that has been lacking since his return to England. Havertz, so calm with his deciding penalty, continues to be a man for the big occasion while inconsistent during the lower tariff assignments. Mason Mount will be missing with an ankle injury sustained at the Club World Cup so Thomas Tuchel needs more from Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic in a forward line packed with talent but short on magic. Palace, without a league win in 2022, may still be dangerous opponents, even if they have lost their last three matches to Chelsea, conceding 11 goals and scoring just one. JB
4) Gerrard seeks Villa midfield spark
Steven Gerrard has lost more matches than he has won as Aston Villa manager. There were redeeming qualities in the defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but nothing to admire in last week’s awful performance at Newcastle. The centre-backs performed competently but their attackers were hardly involved, principally because Villa’s midfield allowed Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton to run the show. That is damning of John McGinn and Douglas Luiz and helps explain why Gerrard was so keen to sign Brighton’s Yves Bissouma in January. Reinforcements will have to wait, so Gerrard needs to find another way to make his team consistently solid and dangerous. There should be a big improvement this weekend, especially as Watford at home is about as good a fixture as a team can get in the Premier League. PD
5) Allan and Van de Beek can rescue Everton
What does Allan really make of life at Everton? Rather than playing in sun-drenched Naples and competing near the top of Serie A, he finds himself on wintry Merseyside, teetering on the edge of a relegation scrap. The Carlo Ancelotti signing was asked to sit and protect the back four under the now departed Rafael Benítez, with few opportunities to attack. He is playing under his third Everton manager in Frank Lampard. The arrival of Donny van de Beek may be just the tonic. Allan has been far from consistent this season, like the rest of the team, but the pair impressed in midfield during last weekend’s 3-0 dismissal of Leeds. Newcastle sit just a point behind 16th-placed Everton and Southampton have lost once in 10 matches. Lampard and his men need a result at St Mary’s; Allan and Van de Beek achieving midfield harmony may go a long way to determining their fortunes. LM
6) Time for Howe to unleash Guimarães?
Eddie Howe’s attempt to guide Newcastle to a fourth victory in a row has been complicated by injury to Kieran Trippier and possibly also to Javier Manquillo. The manager will be forced to change a winning lineup at least a little but the most interesting alteration may be voluntary: Bruno Guimarães has yet to start since joining in January. Newcastle’s other midfielders have responded to his arrival by improving their own performances but this weekend could be the ideal time to start the Portuguese as the visitors to West Ham attempt to subdue Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. PD
7) James can show Rangnick what he’s missing
At Elland Road, Daniel James takes on the club that sold him in August a couple of weeks after he had played his part in Manchester United’s 5-1 destruction of Leeds on the season’s opening weekend. James’s two goals against Aston Villa in last week’s 3-3 draw were reminders what an effective player he can be. Manchester United received £25m for him but, despite their raft of attacking talent, appear to lack a player of his pace on the counter, even if Anthony Elanga has started to fulfil that role. James may not have the star quality of those who remain at Old Trafford but he is prepared to follow his manager’s instructions to the letter. Ralf Rangnick, bequeathed a group of soloists, might have found good use for a Welshman willing to give everything for the collective. JB
8) Klopp can count on squad against Canaries
With Liverpool facing two league matches in four days on the back of a gruelling Champions League encounter at San Siro, Jürgen Klopp is likely to showcase his new squad depth. Klopp has hailed Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané as “forces of nature” and said they have recovered quickly from the Africa Cup of Nations exertions but Salah, in particular, looked tired against Internazionale, even if he scored his customary goal. To preserve his African stars for even bigger matches ahead, Klopp could afford to give Salah and Mané a rest this weekend, even if Diogo Jota is unavailable and the game against Norwich is no gimme. PD
9) Burnley need more than draws
Before last weekend’s 2-0 victory at Watford and Tuesday’s defeat by Manchester United, Brighton recorded three consecutive 1-1 draws in the Premier League. Burnley have drawn their past three. No one can match Brighton’s appetite for a draw; they have 12 this season, compared with 11 for Southampton, Crystal Palace and – that’s right – Burnley. A point isn’t really good enough for Sean Dyche and the Clarets. They sit bottom, seven points behind 17th-placed Newcastle and still with one league victory to their name. On the plus side, Wout Weghorst’s link-up play has been a positive since his transfer-window arrival, and Dyche expects the Dutchman to feature against Brighton despite picking up an injury last weekend. Burnley are unbeaten in their past five league visits to Brighton. Four of those were draws and eight of the past 12 league meetings have ended level. The smart money is on more of the same. LM
10) Rodgers should look to Lage for lift
There was an inevitability to West Ham’s late equaliser at Leicester. A set piece and injury time make a likely combination for the Foxes to concede from and Craig Dawson’s shirt sleeve delivered, such has become the soft underbelly of Brendan Rodgers’ defence. That Rodgers is no disciple of Giovanni Trapattoni-style catenaccio is no secret, the question is whether his problems organising a defence are down to his idealism or to incompetence. Pressure is beginning to grow on an Ulsterman who was very recently linked with vacancies at Tottenham and Manchester United. A keen note-taker during matches, perhaps his perpetual journey of self-improvement might take in watching the practices of Bruno Lage, his opposite number on Sunday. Wolves, who don’t score many and yet don’t concede many, are in the type of position Leicester would have expected to be before the season. JB