1) Hornets unlikely to sting weary Reds
With Trent Alexander-Arnold injured, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané still physically and emotionally recuperating from Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying playoff in Dakar – complete with extra time, penalties and laser beams – various South Americans making late returns from distant internationals and the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final to come on Tuesday, there could hardly be a better time for a plucky underdog to turn up at Anfield. But even allowing for the massive advantages the division’s leading clubs hold over the upstarts, Watford’s record at their grounds is abysmal: in all competitions since 1990 the Hornets have played away at Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United a combined 38 times, equivalent to one full top-flight season (albeit one with a particularly savage fixture list). In this notional season they have earned a total of six points, with 34 defeats and a single victory, at Anfield under Graham Taylor in 1999. SB
2) Will England display lift Maguire?
Harry Maguire made headlines during the international break, but not for the excellent pass that helped to create England’s second goal against Ivory Coast or his solid all-round performance. Gareth Southgate was unusually strident after that match in calling the Wembley booing of the centre-back a “joke”, and Maguire’s creditable display will not harm his confidence. Playing for Manchester United seems to be a different matter, though, and perhaps one of the issues is that his club teammates often lack the quality of movement Ollie Watkins displayed in receiving the aforementioned pass for England, before setting up Raheem Sterling to score at the second attempt. Maguire may be happy to see that his old teammate Jamie Vardy will be missing due to a knee injury: Vardy has the sort of pace that can expose Maguire when turned, but the defender’s form for the national side shows what he is capable of as part of a well-coached and cohesive team. LM
3) A less chaotic Leeds featuring Phillips
After late smash-and-grabs against Norwich and Wolves in the run-up to the international break, Leeds fans have had two weeks to calm down and will be hoping for a considerably less stressful encounter when Southampton visit Elland Road. A combination of Covid, injuries and suspension meant Stuart Dallas and Dan James were the only two Leeds first-team regulars away on international duty. That will have given Jesse Marsch welcome time to work with most of the side he plans to send out to face visitors who have lost four consecutive matches in all competitions. Coincidentally, Leeds played Southampton immediately after the October international break and lost 1-0 at St Mary’s. Out of the physio room and on the bench against Wolves, Kalvin Phillips has announced his intention to sign a contract extension amid interest from Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa. The defensive midfielder is likely to make his first appearance since early December. BG
4) Nørgaard to give Kanté a lesson?
Finally Chelsea get a chance to watch someone who is genuinely exceptional at tackling and intercepting: while N’Golo Kanté, their famed interrupter, is ranked a sorry 110th on interceptions and a miserable 72nd for tackles this season, Christian Nørgaard has been the league’s most effective midfield enforcer, ranking first for tackles, first for successful tackles, second for successful pressing actions and second (or fourth, depending whose statistics you’re looking at) for interceptions. Brentford’s opponents do tend to have the ball a lot more than Chelsea, giving him more opportunities to exhibit his ball-winning skills, but still. The referee Chris Kavanagh takes charge of his seventh Brentford game, of which they have won 29% (those two wins are the last two he has officiated, including last season’s Championship play-off final). Chelsea, meanwhile, have won a statistically unlikely 91% of the 11 Blues games he has overseen. SB
5) Spurs continue top-four charge
Tottenham picked West Ham apart in their previous Premier League match, a result that conveniently looks to have knocked the Hammers out of top-four contention. Harry Kane pulled the strings that day, form he carried into a match-winning performance for England against Switzerland, and if the forward can continue to dovetail with Son Heung-min as effectively as he has been recently, Champions League qualification is entirely achievable for fifth-placed Spurs. Arsenal currently occupy fourth – three points ahead of Antonio Conte’s men with a match in hand – but are faced with a tougher run-in that includes trips to Chelsea, West Ham and Spurs, and a home game against Manchester United. A Contefied Tottenham appear to have every chance of overhauling their north London rivals. Barring disasters Newcastle already look safe, and perhaps Eddie Howe’s biggest headache – aside from those persistent questions about human rights in Saudi Arabia – is how to fit Joe Willock, Jonjo Shelvey, Joelinton and Bruno Guimarães into the same side. LM
6) Long to get overdue call against City
Turf Moor will host a meeting of teams with their minds on bigger occasions to come. City host Liverpool next weekend and Atlético Madrid in between while Burnley are about to start the key week of their season, featuring games against Everton and Norwich. Given those fixtures, and the fact they have lost their last nine matches against Manchester City by an aggregate score of 32-1, it is unlikely Sean Dyche will risk any player’s fitness for this one. This means Ben Mee will likely miss out and Kevin Long, who has spent 1,710 Premier League minutes on the bench this season and not a single one on the pitch, making his first senior appearance of any sort since last February. Back then, Long signed a new contract, started against Fulham and merrily declared “the manager here likes me”. SB
7) A return to two up front for Villa?
Aston Villa were unimpressive in defeat at the hands of Arsenal in their most recent top-flight fixture, a game in which Danny Ings was dropped to make room for an additional midfielder in Emi Buendía. With the Wolves manager, Bruno Lage, favouring a back three, Ings is likely to return to partner Ollie Watkins up front, where the pair will be tasked with creating spaces in which Philippe Coutinho can work his magic. Watkins and John McGinn both scored on international duty for England and Scotland respectively, while Jacob Ramsey got his name on the scoresheet with a thunderbolt for England Under-21s against Andorra. Despite the mugging they were subjected to in October’s reverse fixture, Villa’s confidence is likely to be high going into this West Midlands derby against a side that have had two weeks to put the trauma of their last-gasp defeat by Leeds behind them. BG
8) Will Lampard’s strong words pay off?
Was Everton’s win against Newcastle the beginning of a meaningful recovery or merely a false dawn? If the 4-0 FA Cup pummelling by Crystal Palace is anything to go by, there is no reason to believe the next few weeks are going to be anything other than unbearably tense for Everton’s supporters. Does Frank Lampard possess the managerial chops to keep them up? Is the squad good enough to avoid relegation? Did he decisively burn his bridges with his already struggling players with the rant about a lack of “bollocks” after the loss to Palace? Defeat at West Ham would be no disgrace but the trip to Burnley three days later is an absolute must-not-lose. The question of whether the players are all ready to pull in the same direction – and ready to fight for Lampard – looks likely to be answered in the coming week. LM
9) Sliding sides collide at the Amex
On paper this could be the worst game of the season, hosted by a Brighton side who have lost their last six games, scoring one and conceding 13, but still aren’t bottom of the form table. Not when this weekend’s opponents, Norwich, have scored four and conceded 17 in their six straight league defeats. So similarly matched are these sides that since mid-January their records each amount to losing those six league games, getting dumped out of the FA Cup, claiming a single 1-1 draw and beating Watford. The Canaries’ rapidly receding survival hopes rest on instant improvement: after Brighton this week and Burnley next, Norwich only face one other side currently in the bottom half of the table, and that is Newcastle. This season they have taken one point so far from games against top-half teams. SB
10) Saka and Zaha fitness may be key
Five months is a long time in football. It was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who opened the scoring when Crystal Palace visited north London in October, a match that ended 2-2 after Palace’s fightback and Alexandre Lacazette’s late equaliser. For all his qualities, Aubameyang’s departure to Barcelona has helped Mikel Arteta to breed the kind of togetherness the Gunners displayed when Patrick Vieira was bossing their midfield. Vieira’s Palace have made a habit of arresting the progress of more illustrious opponents this season – most recently by holding Manchester City to a goalless draw at Selhurst Park – and will go into this match with no fear. Arteta is upbeat on the chances of Bukayo Saka being fit to play after recovering from Covid, while Vieira is hoping for good news on the hamstring injury that kept Wilfried Zaha out of Ivory Coast’s Wembley meeting with England. These late fitness tests look likely to have a significant impact on Monday’s match – and Arteta would dearly love to have Saka available. LM