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Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend – The Guardian

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https://amp.theguardian.com/football/2021/feb/19/premier-league-10-things-to-look-out-for-this-weekend

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Ten things to look out for this weekend

Liverpool and Everton have defensive issues, Leicester must be more ruthless and West Ham can deepen José Mourinho’s woes

1) Merseyside managers face derby defensive dilemmas

Without a win at Anfield in 22 years, an Everton side blowing hot more often than cold will fancy their chances of chalking one up against a Liverpool side who had lost three consecutive league matches before sparking back into life in the Champions League against RB Leipzig. While Dominic Calvert-Lewin is struggling to be fit, Yerry Mina will definitely miss out after hobbling off against Manchester City in midweek. Ben Godfrey or Mason Holgate could fill in at centre-back, but Liverpool’s shortcomings in that particular area have long been a source of greater concern. Should Fabinho win his battle to be fit, one suspects Ozan Kabak has already done enough in his first two games to merit a start alongside the Brazilian. That would allow Jordan Henderson to move back into his rightful place in midfield, where he has been sorely missed by the champions. BG

2) Raphinha to make difference for Leeds again

It is probably fair to say that Leeds are the league’s most consistently watchable side, just as it is also probably fair to say that their hosts on Friday evening, Wolves, are the league’s most consistently unwatchable side. Given their recent improvement, Nuno Espírito Santo might fancy his team to nick a result because while Marcelo Bielsa’s attacking principles are laudable, his players haven’t always been good enough to back them up. But there are signs that this is changing. Raphinha, who made his Leeds debut in Wolves’ 1-0 win at Elland Road in October, has stepped up a level in the last few weeks. The Brazilian winger’s class and thrust has given the team a new dimension. Stopping Leeds is a trickier proposition now he is a regular in the side. DH

Can Raphinha continue his good run of form? Photograph: Simon Davies/ProSports/Shutterstock

3) Ødegaard may be long-term solution for Gunners

Mikel Arteta believes his loanee Martin Ødegaard has the potential to be one of the best in the world in his midfield position. His time at Real Madrid never really amounted to much but he showed more than enough quality at Real Sociedad to show he can be a top-class player. The Norwegian playmaker has already shown glimpses of his talents in England, suggesting he could be the man to link Arsenal’s midfield and attack. It is fantastic for Arsenal to have attracted the midfielder to the club but he is one of two on loan from Real Madrid. If the club have any ambition they need to tie down permanent deals for the likes of Ødegaard and Dani Ceballos, rather than risk others swooping. Manchester City will provide their sternest test for a while and will offer a great chance for Ødegaard to show what he can do against the very best in the Premier League. WU

4) Saints and Blues show how quickly things change

When Southampton went top of the Premier League in early November, Ralph Hasenhüttl told his players “to believe anything is possible”. Few of them would have believed it was possible that a little over three months later, they would be hoping to end a club-record run of six consecutive defeats, including a 9-0 shellacking at Manchester United. Things can change very quickly indeed in football, as Chelsea have discovered since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel to replace Frank Lampard. With his team unbeaten in six and looking for their fourth consecutive league win against middling top-flight opposition, the German has even seen Timo Werner end a lengthy goal drought in timely fashion. While Hasenhüttl says he trusts his players to extricate themselves from their current pickle, they may struggle to do so against a Chelsea side already bearing the unmistakable hallmark of their new manager. BG

5) To take his side forward, Solskjær must be bold

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has done a decent job at Manchester United, taking the team from sixth to second and changing the mood of the entire club in the process. But though the packed fixture list means he will continue rotating his players, he needs to make some bold decisions if United are to make the step from pretenders to contenders. David de Gea has been costing his manager games for two years now, so Dean Henderson should keep his place; in central defence, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf are good but not good enough, and neither may ever play as well as Axel Tuanzebe did at PSG. Very few games require two of Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic in midfield, and it is not worth putting Marcus Rashford on the right to accommodate Anthony Martial on the left when you have Mason Greenwood available. A home game with Newcastle is as safe an environment for experimentation as Solskjær is likely to get. DH

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6) Clarets win would all but ensure survival

There is realistically only one relegation place left undecided, with West Brom and Sheffield United looking doomed. Burnley have climbed out of the bottom three, but their squad is the weakest they have had in recent years and suffering from a chronic lack of goals. A win at home against West Brom, however, would take them to 30 points and close to securing safety. Sam Allardyce’s side are there to be beaten but it will require Burnley to be at their aggressive best, as they showed at Crystal Palace last week where they ruffled opponents low on confidence from the start. West Brom have the league’s worst defence in the league, while Burnley have the second least potent attack – only Sheffield United have scored less. Three goals at Selhurst Park last weekend should give them the necessary belief against a porous backline. WU

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7) Hammers to land final blow on Mourinho?

West Ham and Tottenham are both brimful of exciting attacking talent, and managed by middle-aged men traditionally inclined towards extreme caution in important games. As the home side, it is beholden upon West Ham to take the game to their opponents, whose manager will be only too happy to let them have the ball and hope to catch them on the break. It is a plan that may backfire on Spurs again, as David Moyes seems willing to give the fine team he has assembled a far freer rein than any of his previous sides. Spurs go into this game on the back of four defeats in five league games, amid a torrent of speculation regarding bust-ups, lost dressing-rooms and unsettled superstars. West Ham have the momentum, while Daniel Levy’s vanity project in hiring José Mourinho looks to be coming to an all-too-predictable and hugely comical end. BG

8) Leicester must develop ruthless mentality

For a side sitting in third place, Leicester’s league form has been relatively inconsistent – so far this season they have failed to win more than three games in a row. It is hard not to look at some of the games they’ve lost – West Ham, Villa, Fulham and Leeds, all at home – along with last season’s collapse, and wonder whether as a collective, they have the mentality of title chasers. Last weekend’s win against Liverpool offers them their latest chance to compile a telling run, and the way they rode out tricky periods before viciously punishing an ailing opponent bodes well. But in Villa they will find a rare opponent that can match them in midfield, and for whom Ollie Watkins has scored four in his past six. This could well be the game of the weekend. DH

Ollie Watkins will be a threat for Aston Villa against Leicester in what could be the game of the weekend. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/AFP/Getty Images

9) Blades players hope to avoid wrath of Wilder

The last and least of four consecutive Premier League games being broadcast live on Saturday, Fulham’s match against Sheffield United is unlikely to trouble the ratings but could conceivably turn out to be a decent game. Despite their lowly positions, both sides are capable of playing good football and it is only Fulham’s chronic inability to convert more of their draws – 10 and counting – into wins that has them stuck in the relegation zone after their truly atrocious start. While Sheffield United’s goose looks well and truly cooked, victory will be the very least Chris Wilder demands in the wake of a defeat at West Ham that left him enraged. For Fulham, the prospect of reducing the daylight between themselves and Newcastle will be all the motivation they need. BG

10) Injury-hit Palace could be rocked by Brighton

Brighton are a coherent, balanced side and have some really good players, so it is surprising that they spent so long so close to the bottom of the table. In recent weeks they’ve redressed the imbalance between performances and results, winning three and drawing three of their past six league games – a run that will probably keep them clear of relegation trouble – but they still scored only four times in the process. Palace, meanwhile, have only won once since thrashing West Brom at the start of December and are suffering badly with injuries. Of course, footballing lore informs us that in derbies, form is irrelevant. But even without the famously febrile Amex crowd, it’s hard to see a Palace squad missing Wilfried Zaha and many others get a result if Brighton are at it. DH

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