After a big midweek of Premier League action, this weekend brings us several derbies that will have a major bearing on the top six places. Nick Miller takes you through it.
Who will play up front for Liverpool?
After a tricky couple of games in which they looked flat and devoid of the spark that put them on top of the Premier League, Liverpool showed their true excellence in blanking Watford 5-0 on Wednesday. What seemed to please Jurgen Klopp was the game wasn’t a one-sided thrashing, rather Liverpool were tested in all aspects by a Watford side that has been largely excellent this season.
A sound victory in the Merseyside derby would provide more evidence that Liverpool have emerged from their funk, but it will be interesting to see who Klopp picks up front on Sunday, assuming Roberto Firmino won’t play.
Divock Origi was a surprise selection against Watford but vindicated the decision with a goal, and of course he got the (admittedly fortunate) winner in the corresponding fixture earlier this season, so he should start. But might Klopp even rest the red-hot Sadio Mane or the slightly struggling Mohamed Salah, both men potentially in need of a break? This is where having a squad with genuine options really pays off.
– Miller: Premier League predictions — City to win title? United for top four?
What can Tottenham do to halt their slump?
Besides the actual results, what’s arguably been most concerning for Tottenham over these last two games is how disjointed and tired they have looked. Their decision-making has been foggy, feet and minds just half a second too slow, they haven’t been decisive enough. Oddly losing 2-1 at Burnley was probably more forgivable than the subsequent 2-0 defeat at Chelsea: Sean Dyche’s side have rediscovered some form, but the trip to Stamford Bridge should really have been a chance to take advantage of an opponent in disarray, to swipe through the chaos and claim a big three points.
As it was, they lost and must now be looking slightly nervously over their shoulders, five points ahead of Manchester United in fifth and just four in front of this weekend’s opponents Arsenal. Suddenly this game has gone from a local squabble that ultimately wouldn’t have that much impact on the league table to a crucial clash in maintaining Tottenham’s place in the top four. It wasn’t too long ago that people were discussing them as potential title challengers. That’s gone, but now the task is to avoid becoming virtual also-rans.
But how? Making sure Kieran Trippier double-checks where he’s sending his backpasses would be a start. But maybe a return to the midfield diamond that has served them well at various points this season would be handy, with Son Heung-Min partnering Harry Kane up front and Christian Eriksen just behind them.
Ultimately though, tactical tweaks can only solve so much. Pochettino’s biggest task is wringing every last bit of energy from the weary brains and bodies of his players.
– Ogden: Pochettino in danger of repeating Moyes’ mistake
Who will play in goal for Chelsea?
Despite declaring that a fine of a week’s wages drew a line under the matter, Maurizio Sarri bowed to the demands of giving the appearance of authority by dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga for the win over Tottenham. Afterward, he insisted that Arrizabalaga was still his No. 1 keeper, but would it be fair on Willy Caballero, who did nothing wrong as he stood helpless at Wembley nor against Spurs, to simply drop him after one game?
But more important than fairness, Sarri must decide who is best to keep goal for the rest of the season. Although Arrizabalaga cost north of £70 million, he hasn’t performed like the most expensive goalie of all time should. Might this actually be a convenient opportunity for Sarri to drop an under-performing player, despite his public backing of the Spaniard?
– Ames: Chelsea, Kepa get Sarri’s message loud and clear
What can Brendan Rodgers achieve in his Leicester bow?
Brendan Rodgers is not a popular man among the Celtic support, having jumped ship as they headed for a third domestic treble in a row. A more careful consideration of that sentence might lead you to wonder why banners accusing him of treachery were held aloft in Scotland this week, but it was notable how quickly Rodgers jumped at the opportunity to trade almost guaranteed trophies in Glasgow for, realistically, a top-half finish in the Premier League.
Perhaps the challenge is not in aiming for trophies, but rather seeing what impact he can have on the fine collection of young players Leicester have. James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes: these talents were in danger of stagnating under Claude Puel, so the hope is that Rodgers can galvanise them into achieving their potential.
Watford away is probably the ideal first game for Rodgers, because he will face the team Leicester are competing against, the side that for most of the season have been the “best of the rest.” If he can get results straight away, we might understand more why he was so keen on the Leicester job.
Brighton badly need a victory
The team in the worst form at the moment isn’t at the bottom of the table: in fact, they’re not even in the bottom three. Yet. Brighton haven’t won a Premier League game in 2019, losing to Fulham, Burnley and Leicester along the way, and from a position of relative comfort as 2018 came to a close, they’re now just two points clear of the relegation zone.
Alarm bells should already be ringing, but they’ll be deafening if they lose to, or even fail to beat Huddersfield, this weekend. Despite their cathartic victory over Wolves on Tuesday and coach Jan Siewert’s optimism that they can still survive, Huddersfield will still almost certainly go down, and as the worst team in the division.
This is a game Brighton absolutely, positively, most definitely have to win. Otherwise, with sides like Southampton and Cardiff collecting points here and there, they will only be heading one way.