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'The two most exciting sides' set to meet and more Premier League talking points

Man City take on Liverpool in this weekend’s standout clash.

1. The Premier League’s ‘most exciting sides’ set to meet

Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League - Etihad Stadium Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah compete for the ball. Source: Martin Rickett

MANCHESTER CITY FACE Liverpool this weekend in a clash that former Reds striker Michael Owen has described as a meeting between “the two most exciting sides in the division”.

Anyone who measures excitement by the amount of goals a team scores can hardly argue with Owen’s assessment — having found the net 64 and 50 times respectively, City and Liverpool are the two highest-scoring teams in the top flight currently.

The fact that Pep Guardiola’s side are 15 points clear of nearest rivals United has caused most critics to believe that the Premier League title race is already effectively over.

This prevailing feeling that City will be champions come May has taken a degree of tension out of even some of this season’s biggest games, which can actually benefit these matches’ entertainment value — Arsenal in particular have been involved in some wonderful, free-flowing contests, such as their 3-1 defeat to Man United as well as recent 3-3 and 2-2 draws with Liverpool and Chelsea.

Given that Champions League qualification is no longer as significant a financial boost as it once was on account of the Premier League’s increased riches provided by the increasingly generous TV money on offer, the sense of the top-level teams shedding any pretence towards cautiousness and simply going for it seems more apparent than ever.

This Sunday’s game at Anfield, like the last meeting between the sides in which City won 5-0, is likely to be no exception. It also appears to be a rare instance of City being in danger of losing for the first time in the league this season — Liverpool are one of the few sides in the Premier League whose depth of talent is comparable to the table toppers.

2. Racism allegations overshadow Chelsea clash

Chelsea v Arsenal - Carabao Cup - Semi Final - First Leg - Stamford Bridge A file photo of Stamford Bridge. Source: Adam Davy

Chelsea could go as high as second this weekend if they beat Leicester City and Man United fail to overcome Stoke on Monday.

No matter what happens on the pitch, however, it is likely to be overshadowed by the allegations of racism directed at two former youth team coaches, Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams, made by three youngsters formerly on the books at the club.

If the claims made in Daniel Taylor’s extensive report in The Guardian are proven to be valid, it is further evidence of the shocking negligence that has clearly existed within English football at underage level for quite some time.

Chelsea said they are taking the claims “extremely seriously” and added in a statement: ”We are absolutely determined to do the right thing, to fully support those affected, assist the authorities and support their investigations.”

3. Can Everton’s new £27 million signing have the desired impact against Tottenham?

(SP)TURKEY-ISTANBUL-SOCCER-TURKISH SUPER LEAGUE-BESIKTAS VS GALATASARAY Cenk Tosun recently joined Everton from Besiktas. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

It has been no secret that Everton have not had a top-class striker at their disposal since Romelu Lukaku’s departure in the summer.

In Lukaku’s absence, the Toffees have managed just 25 league goals since the start of the season — of all the sides in the top ten, only Burnley have found the net less frequently.

However, they may have found the answer to their problems with the £27 million January signing of Cenk Tosun, the Turkish international who could make his debut in Saturday’s evening kick-off away to Tottenham.

“This lad looks like he is strong mentally and has a good pedigree,” said boss Sam Allardyce, after the deal was confirmed.

Tosun’s stats back up Allardyce’s assertion. He scored 41 goals in 96 appearances overall for Besiktas, including 20 as they won the Super Lig last season.

He has also helped the Turkish team get to the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League, scoring four goals in the process.

Of course, there is a big burden of expectation on him to fill Lukaku’s shoes and he would not be the first expensive foreign import to fail to get to grips with the Premier League, but the 26-year-old’s past record, which includes eight goals in 25 appearances at international level, suggests he is well capable of passing this considerable forthcoming test.

4. Who will be in the Stoke dugout at Old Trafford on Monday?

Quique Sanchez Flores File Photo Quique Sánchez Flores has been heavily linked with the Stoke job. Source: Paul Harding

Assuming he gets the job as the latest reports indicate he will, Quique Sánchez Flores potentially faces a baptism of fire as Stoke’s new manager.

A run of five defeats in seven Premier League games has left the club in the relegation zone and played a big part in prompting the powers that be to sack Mark Hughes, ending the Welshman’s four-and-a-half-year stint in charge.

The Potters’ board had hoped to have a permanent man in the dugout ahead of Monday’s game, but the ongoing uncertainty over the current Espanyol boss’ future means a caretaker might lead the visitors out at Old Trafford.

Whatever the identity of the man in charge, he has a big task on his hands. After three successive ninth-place finishes under Hughes, the club have suffered a dramatic dip in form this season.

The departure in the summer of experienced players such as Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters appears to have been felt, with the club no longer the dependable mid-table outfit they once were.

With Man United likely in need of a win to remain in second and keep Chelsea third, it is expected to get worse before it gets better for the embattled Staffordshire-based side.

5. The end of the January window can’t come soon enough for Arsene Wenger

Nottingham Forest v Arsenal - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - City Ground Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Source: Mike Egerton

Arsenal’s form this season and particularly in recent weeks has been poor by their standards.

If they fail to beat Bournemouth in Sunday’s early game, it will be the first time since 1995 — the year they finished 12th — that the Gunners have failed to win their first four games at the start of the calendar year.

They are currently five points off fourth-placed Liverpool and can scarcely afford many more setbacks, as they bid to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification through the traditional route alive.

There is no doubt that the uncertainty surrounding the future of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez has not helped matters.

This situation could, of course, continue to linger if the players don’t go anywhere in January, yet still neglect to commit their future to the club.

However, either way, the end of this month will at least lessen the intensity of the speculation until the climax of the current campaign.

Ideally though, if Arsenal can resolve these issues in January, even if it means selling two of their best players, it might ultimately be the most beneficial outcome for all concerned.

Premier League fixtures (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)

Saturday

Chelsea v Leicester
Crystal Palace v Burnley
Huddersfield Town v West Ham
Newcastle United v Swansea City
Watford v Southampton
West Brom v Brighton
Tottenham v Everton (17.30)

Sunday

Bournemouth v Arsenal (13.30)
Liverpool v Man City (16.00)

Monday

Man United v Stoke (20.00)

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

Man City and Man Utd not in Alexis Sanchez bidding war, Wenger claims>

Everton in talks to sign ‘goalscoring threat’ Theo Walcott>

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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