Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Premier League

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1) Aguerd providing Hammers steel

The pressure on David Moyes has eased before West Ham host Chelsea. The east London side remain in relegation peril but recent performances have been more encouraging. Last month’s victory over Everton featured Jarrod Bowen at his driving best and last weekend’s gutsy draw with Newcastle saw West Ham return to the qualities that once made them so effective under Moyes. There were players running for the cause and the defence stood firm. Nayef Aguerd is beginning to look like a very smart buy. The Morocco centre-back missed the start of the season after suffering an ankle injury during a pre-season friendly but he has been excellent since returning to fitness. Aguerd was impressive during Morocco’s run to the World Cup semi-final and has been very good for West Ham lately. Most impressive was his brilliant tackle to deny Callum Wilson after the Newcastle striker went through on goal. Moyes will want more of the same against Chelsea. Jacob Steinberg

2) Gunners face test of title mettle

It may not have been their first loss of the season, but Arsenal’s misstep at Everton presents them with an unfamiliar psychological challenge. While their only other league defeat – the 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford in September – could be rationalised as a setback against direct rivals at a ground where they have often struggled, they will be bitterly disappointed to have fallen into Sean Dyche’s earthworm-infested trap. While one surprise defeat might seem like a bump in the road, two on the bounce would threaten a burst tyre. Unbeaten in the league since October, a run which has included impressive wins against Manchester City and Liverpool, Brentford will offer a stern test of endurance, even if they last beat Arsenal away in 1938. Will Magee

Mikel Arteta puts an arm round Oleksandr Zinchenko after the defeat to Everton.
Mikel Arteta puts an arm round Oleksandr Zinchenko after the defeat to Everton. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/Reuters

3) Vieira looks to fire up engine room

Patrick Vieira knows a thing or two about midfield play. The question for Crystal Palace is how effective their January transfer business can be in injecting some dynamism in the middle of the park. There is a Conor Gallagher-shaped hole in the Eagles’ midfield after his impressive loan stay last season, while James McArthur is a long-term injury absentee. Could Albert Sambi Lokonga, on loan from Arsenal, provide the same kind of spark as Gallagher? Can the talented 20-year-old Naouirou Ahamada make a meaningful impact? Last weekend three sides directly below them – Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Wolves – all won while Palace narrowly succumbed at Manchester United. This would be a handy time to register three points, then, although Brighton will welcome back the World Cup-winning midfielder Alexis Mac Allister at Selhurst Park after suspension. Vieira is sure to be asked about Wilfried Zaha’s troublesome hamstring yet again, and the talented winger’s importance to Palace’s season is indeed considerable. But Vieira, a World Cup winner himself, knows that his side must toughen up in central midfield if they are to start progressing up the table. Luke McLaughlin

4) Pressing concerns continue for Leeds

If Patrick Bamford had regained fitness a little earlier in the season, would Jesse Marsch have been sacked? And would Leeds still be in relegation trouble as they prepare to meet Manchester United for the second time in five days? Managers are often fond of the adage “you’re only as good as your strikers”, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Without Bamford, Leeds missed hatfuls of chances and were prone to losing possession and conceding at the other end. Once ahead, opponents became very good at adopting low blocks and keeping a team who did not supply sufficient dangerous crosses at bay. With gifted wide players in the mould of Wilfried Gnonto, Georginio Rutter, Luis Sinisterra, Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison all in the squad, and Bamford now around to polish off their deliveries, Marsch’s successor can easily tweak that defect. But do Leeds really need to press quite so frantically? Is it possible that this squad might be better suited to a more considered approach, maybe even featuring a back three? For a time Marcelo Bielsa turned Leeds into a gloriously exhilarating side but, ultimately, his tactics proved unsustainable. Surely Bielsa’s overarching pressing philosophy does not necessarily need to become Leeds’s eternal template. Louise Taylor

‘It’s unacceptable’: Erik ten Hag slams players after slow start against Leeds – video

5) Guardiola rallies City after seismic week

Pep Guardiola will have reached for his best firefighting act this week to douse any concerns his players had when Monday’s seismic news broke of the Premier League’s copious charges against Manchester City for alleged financial wrongdoing. The champions deny all counts yet the manager has to work with human beings who cannot help but ponder what the long-term future might be for the club and thus their own. The short-term, though, is Aston Villa’s visit and the need to shove all extraneous issues aside and focus on a title defence that had a latest hiccup in last Sunday’s loss at Tottenham. This came after Arsenal had gone down the previous day – to Everton – so was a glaring opportunity missed for Guardiola and his men. The first proof of how they might respond to his counselling will be known by 6.30pm on Sunday. Jamie Jackson

6) Dyche eyes another scalp in derby

Having beaten Liverpool at Anfield under Carlo Ancelotti two years ago, ending a run of more than a decade without a victory in the Merseyside derby, Everton fell back into bad habits under Frank Lampard. They are now without a win in three against their old rivals, though they did manage to eke out a goalless draw at Goodison Park in September. Liverpool are in a truly horrible slump, however, having scored twice in their past five games in all competitions – both goals coming from Harvey Elliott – and conceded eight, leaving Jürgen Klopp to cut an increasingly resentful figure. The odds still favour the hosts on Monday, but good luck to all those in the post-match press conference if Klopp’s side, like Arsenal last weekend, succumb to the grinding might of Dycheismo. WM

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Harvey Elliott of Liverpool
Harvey Elliott will look to add to his goals tally.
Photograph: David Klein/Reuters

7) Howe makes landmark return

Newcastle’s defensive record this season is remarkable. Eddie Howe is preparing for an emotional return to his former employers at Bournemouth with his hard-pressing side having conceded only 12 times in 21 Premier League matches, five fewer than the leaders, Arsenal. The two next-stingiest defences are Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s, who have both conceded 21. With his team chasing Champions League qualification and also readying themselves for a Carabao Cup final against Manchester United, the trip to the south coast should be a moment for Howe to pause and reflect. It is 14 years since the first of his two appointments at Bournemouth; he stayed in the role for eight years the second time, and made his name. Aged only 45 he has been around the block a few times, too, with a spell at Burnley also on his CV. Howe’s sabbatical before taking the Newcastle job has proved particularly significant: learning from Diego Simeone at Atlético Madrid is one of the key reasons Newcastle have become so streetwise, and so difficult to score against. Howe has also had cash to invest, which doesn’t hurt. They are odds on to win and three points will draw them level with third-placed Manchester United. But if the match does correspond to the form book, Howe will take no pleasure in deepening Bournemouth’s relegation fears. LM

Eddie Howe with new signing Anthony Gordon.
Eddie Howe with new signing Anthony Gordon. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

8) Tetê offers Rodgers food for thought

Last year Brendan Rodgers wrote a foreword for a book about nutrition in football, so it is no surprise he has been impressed by how seriously Tetê has approached his Premier League challenge. The 22-year-old Brazilian, a January arrival, has brought a personal entourage of nutritionists and strength coaches with him to the east Midlands to keep him in peak condition. “You have the tools at the club but to really maximise your career it’s about doing everything you can,” Rodgers said. The Portuguese full-back Ricardo Pereira, who is close to returning from an achilles injury, has been translating for Tetê at training while Rodgers has also dipped into his Spanish to help get his messages across. Tetê enjoyed a dream debut in the victory at Aston Villa last week and Rodgers will be hoping for more of the same when Tottenham visit on Saturday. Ben Fisher

9) Saints to give Jones his marching orders?

Given that he arrived only in November, it’s easy to decry calls for Nathan Jones’s exit as just the latest example of the Premier League’s culture of short-termism. While his appointment felt like it was made with one eye on the future – the club hierarchy were keen to stress they had monitored his excellent work at Luton for years – the fact remains that he was brought in with the immediate short-term objective of avoiding relegation, which is becoming more difficult to meet with each passing week. Jones tends to wear his heart on his sleeve but his latest press conference, in which he cited his Luton side’s expected goals in defence of his managerial credentials, was never likely to go down well with Southampton fans sceptical of his ability to keep them up. A game against Wolves at home feels like a must-win but not only are the visitors much-improved under Julen Lopetegui, they have beaten Southampton four times on the spin. WM

10) Cairney can help cut through Forest

Tom Cairney is hard to judge. The Fulham midfielder has shone in the Championship but has never quite established himself in the Premier League. He scored the goal that got Fulham promoted in 2018 but was not a regular during the following campaign. The problem has always been whether he is quick enough to thrive at the highest level. Teams like Fulham cannot carry anyone and it is telling that Marco Silva has preferred to use Cairney as an impact player this season. That harder edge is why Fulham are sitting in eighth place before hosting Nottingham Forest, though it was good to see Cairney have a good game when Silva’s side beat Sunderland in the FA Cup on Wednesday. Perhaps it was simply because he was playing against a Championship side and had more time and space on the ball. But it was also a reminder that Cairney has a part to play at Fulham. He remains a lovely player to watch and his creativity could come in use against Forest. After all, Fulham are goalless in their previous three league outings. JS

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