THE BIG MATCH
Chelsea v Manchester City
SATURDAY, 5.30pm, BT SPORT
MANCHESTER City deserve the plaudits for having dropped just four points in 15 games this season but Pep Guardiola’s men have needed to be that relentless to stay top of the table.
Liverpool remain just two points behind and, until a fortnight ago, Chelsea were also hanging on to their coattails.
But things have gone a little bit awry for Maurizio Sarri’s men with consecutive away defeats at Tottenham and Wolves leaving them ten points behind tomorrow’s opponents.
The much-lauded ‘Sarri-ball’ which for a while had threatened to sweep all before them has suddenly lost its cutting edge, despite the Blues racking up 70 per cent possession at Molineux.
Eden Hazard, who started the season with ten goals in ten games for club and country, has not scored one in his subsequent 11, with fitness issues and the never-ending spectre of a move to Spain disrupting his flow. While that may be out of Sarri’s hands, the N’Golo Kante issue is entirely of his own making.
Sarri is asking the man widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, having been at the centre of Leicester and Chelsea’s title triumphs of 2016 and 2017 and France’s World Cup winners, to play a more attacking role because he prefers Jorginho to have the holding responsibilities.
Even in Jorginho’s absence, Kante remained on the right at Molineux with Cesc Fabregas playing the deep-lying role when surely Kante could have prevented the Blues’ second-half collapse from his more familiar position. Contrast that with the way another of Leicester’s champions is flourishing at City, Riyad Mahrez setting up the first and scoring the second in the 2-1 win over Watford on Tuesday.
The Algerian has clearly bought into City’s relentlessness, saying: ‘Anyone in the top four can still win the league. Nothing is done and we need to keep working hard for each other and try to win every game.’
Bournemouth v Liverpool
SATURDAY, 12.30pm, SKY SPORTS
Jurgen Klopp’s side are finding a way at the moment. They were fortunate against Everton and needed to come from behind at Burnley in midweek, but it is six points out of six for a side who don’t know when they are beaten. Bournemouth’s record against the big guns is not good but at least they ended a four-game losing run by defeating Huddersfield 2-1 when Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser set up a goal for each other, and they certainly carry the attacking threat to ensure another difficult afternoon for Liverpool.
■ 7 — Goals Liverpool scored without reply in last season’s meetings
Arsenal v Huddersfield
Terriers boss David Wagner accused his defenders of giving Bournemouth ‘presents’ at Dean Court, while the Gunners backline also indulged in the season of goodwill during their 2-2 draw at Manchester United. It is a sign of their progress under Unai Emery that such a result could be seen as a disappointment but the sight of Laurent Koscielny fit again after seven months out will be welcome, even for a team that has now gone 20 league and cup games without tasting defeat.
■ 5-3 — The score when Huddersfield last won at Arsenal in 1954
Burnley v Brighton
Jurgen Klopp may not have been keen on their tackling but Clarets boss Sean Dyche praised the way his side got on the front foot in midweek and for playing with ‘no fear’. With Burnley still on nine points and joint bottom of the table, that will need to continue against a Brighton side on a high after beating bitter rivals Crystal Palace 3-1, despite playing for an hour with ten men. Glenn Murray may be available for the trip to Turf Moor despite injuring his shoulder on Tuesday.
■ 5 — Times Glenn Murray has got the opener in league games this season
Cardiff v Southampton
New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl takes charge for the first time since being named Saints boss, having watched Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat at Tottenham from the stands. He will have seen the scale of his task as his side were outclassed before Charlie Austin’s stoppage-time goal put a gloss on the scoreline. Funnily enough that was identical to Cardiff’s experience on Tuesday when Josh Murphy got the consolation. Both would probably have preferred to save their goal for tomorrow.
■ 48 — Per cent win ratio for Ralph Hasenhuttl at RB Leipzig
Manchester United v Fulham
Jose Mourinho expects Anthony Martial to be fit despite limping off against Arsenal and one would presume the United manager will be equally pleased to see Claudio Ranieri, having worn the Italian’s initials on a polo shirt after the title-winning manager was sacked by Leicester. Fulham are still bottom despite a 1-1 draw with the Foxes on Tuesday but such is the malaise around Old Trafford at the moment you wouldn’t want to put your mortgage on a United victory.
■ 3 — Premier League draws in a row for Manchester United
West Ham v Crystal Palace
It’s been a weird week for Palace, Roy Hodgson being bestowed the freedom of Croydon, their training ground failing an environmental health inspection because of a serious mouse problem and losing 3-1 to their biggest rivals. It’s been even weirder for West Ham, who won twice and scored three goals both times. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are starting to click. Marko Arnautovic’s hamstring injury will keep him out until the new year but West Ham no longer look like a one-trick pony.
■ 3 — Penalties in a row saved by West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski
Leicester v Tottenham
SATURDAY, 7.45pm, BT SPORT
Claude Puel praised Leicester’s ‘fantastic mentality’ after James Maddison earned a point at Fulham to take their Premier League unbeaten run to six. This has the makings of a cracker for the Saturday night prime-time slot with Spurs having put the disappointment of losing to Arsenal behind them by coasting past Southampton.
■ 5-4 — Win for Spurs in their last meeting at the end of last term
Newcastle v Wolves
SUNDAY, 4pm, SKY SPORTS
Newcastle fans disillusioned with the ownership of Mike Ashley had planned a boycott of this game but that has been called off as they believe the club is on the verge of a takeover. That would be like all their Christmases coming at once, something Wolves fans must feel under the ownership of Fosun, with the midweek 2-1 win over Chelsea probably the best result so far of their mostly impressive return to the top flight.
■ 15 — League games without a goal for Diogo Jota before he grabbed Wolves’ winner on Wednesday
ONE TO WATCH
MORGAN GIBBS-WHITE (Wolves): Maurizio Sarri last week said Callum Hudson-Odoi was not ready for the Premier League. So what will the Chelsea boss have made of fellow 18-year-old Gibbs-White — who, like Hudson-Odoi, helped England U17s win the World Cup last year — turning Wednesday’s match at Wolves on its head in the hosts’ 2-1 victory? Playing the No.10 role in Ruben Neves’ absence, Gibbs-White (above) took the game by the scruff of the neck with Wolves trailing 1-0, riding a Cesc Fabregas challenge and driving forward to set up Raul Jimenez’s equaliser. Local boy Gibbs-White lapped up the adulation of the Molineux crowd after becoming the youngest player to produce a Premier League assist since 1999. If you’re good enough…
Everton v Watford
MONDAY, 8pm, SKY SPORTS
Marco Silva comes up against his former club for the first time since taking charge at Goodison Park with his side looking to bounce back from a week of missed opportunities — the last-gasp 1-0 defeat at Anfield and a home draw against Newcastle — despite a seventh goal of the season for another Watford old boy, Richarlison. They go into the game sixth in the table but still only three points ahead of a Hornets team who gave Manchester City a scare in the closing stages on Tuesday night.
■ 76 — Per cent possession for Everton in their midweek draw