Premier League: Five things to look out for this weekend from Liverpool’s title test to Claudio Ranieri’s lambs

Kishan Vaghela, Kieran Jackson
The Independent

Mourinho’s doggedness the next big test for title-chasing Liverpool

Liverpool grasped the lead at the top of the Premier League table last weekend as Manchester City succumbed to their first defeat, but Jurgen Klopp’s side now face the ultimate test of their creativity when hosting Manchester United in the North-West derby on Sunday.

There’ll be no surprises in how Jose Mourinho’s side are expected to line-up at Anfield: deep, narrow and difficult to break down.

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Over the past two seasons, United have executed that game plan to perfection, resulting in two bland goalless stalemates. This time around though, with the spine of Klopp’s team flourishing, Liverpool may finally be able to find the edge, especially given how frail David De Gea’s defence have looked this season.

That being said, stranger things have happened. United have a habit of revelling away from home on the big occasions, no matter what form they are in. Their last-minute win at Juventus alone tells you to write them off at your peril.

City’s bounce-back won’t be a walk in the park

Given the uncharacteristic nature of City’s insipid play in the final third against Chelsea, particularly in the second-half, it will be interesting to see how Pep Guardiola’s team respond against an Everton team who will be no pushovers.

Marco Silva’s side rescued a point against Watford on Monday night, emphasising the fierce team spirit the Portuguese has instilled at Goodison Park. They were unlucky to not come away from Anfield with a point, and the Toffees, alongside Manchester United and Huddersfield Town, were the only teams to take points off Manchester City at home last season.

Nonetheless, City can head back to the summit of the league for at least 24 hours with a win and will be heavy favourites at the Etihad where they have scored an astonishing 41 goals already this season in all competitions.

Gunners finally look to end nightmare on the south-coast

Unai Emery has already addressed several on-field issues at Arsenal this season, which has seen the Gunners go on a 23-game unbeaten run, but the next challenge arrives this weekend as the Spaniard looks to address the Gunners’ woeful form at St Mary’s.

Since Southampton’s promotion to the Premier League in 2012, Arsenal have won just one of their six league fixtures on the South coast, which came in a virtual dead rubber in May last year. Meanwhile, the Saints recorded 2-0 and 4-0 victories over the Gunners in 2015, and only a late Olivier Giroud header prevented them from snatching all three points last year.

New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl believes he saw enough from his side in their defeat to Cardiff to improve upon and the Leipzig manager will hope history works in their favour again this weekend.

Claudio Ranieri has been frustrated by his start at Fulham (Getty)
Claudio Ranieri has been frustrated by his start at Fulham (Getty)

Will Claudio’s lambs come home to roost?

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri described the first half of his side’s 4-1 defeat to Manchester United last weekend as “eleven lambs vs eleven wolves”.

His side could be in for more of the same and another potential mismatch by welcoming free-scoring West Ham who have netted three goals in each of their last three games, while the Cottagers have conceded seven in the same period.

Ranieri will hope that his observations at Old Trafford will draw the desired reaction from his side, with Fulham having won just one of their last 13 Premier League matches in a run which has seen them drop and remain rooted to the bottom of the table. Nevertheless, they will go into the game with some confidence having taken four points from their last two home fixtures.

Fulham could rise to 18th with a victory over the Hammers, but against Pellegrini’s free-scoring side another clean sheet may well remain elusive.

Marco Silva has improved Everton this season (Getty)
Marco Silva has improved Everton this season (Getty)

Wolves and Bournemouth looking to recapture early season form

Both Wolves and Bournemouth sit in the mid-table cluster that has begun to emerge over the last few weeks, with position seven and thirteen separated by just three points.

The sides began the season in tremendous form, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side holding champions Manchester City in just the third game of the season, while Eddie Howe’s men climbed as high as sixth after suffering just two defeats in the opening 10 games.

However, both teams have flatlined recently as the physical demands of their styles seems to have taken its toll. A tough fixture list has also contributed to a mellowing of spirits after a better-than-expected start to the season.

A win for either side could spark another run of good form, but with just one point separating the pair before kick-off, the more immediate carrot for both sides will be the opportunity to try and draw away from the mid-table pack and put pressure on sixth-placed Manchester United. ​

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