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Liverpool set sights on Man United, Chelsea look out-of-sorts and the Premier League talking points

Elsewhere, Paul Lambert begins his crusade to keep Stoke City up, while Man City aim to bounce back.

Sadio Mane celebrates his goal against Man City.
Sadio Mane celebrates his goal against Man City.
Image: Peter Byrne

Updated at 21.00

1. Chelsea’s striker search veers in an odd direction

IT’S BEEN A strange few days at Chelsea Football Club.

The current Premier League champions began the week being linked with a late move for Manchester United-bound Alexis Sanchez. From there, however, the calibre of player they were reportedly pursuing took a sharp nosedive.

First, fans of the London club had to come to terms with the prospect of Andy Carroll joining their ranks. Then, when the West Ham striker’s ankle injury scuppered a potential January transfer, speculation surfaced that 36-year-old Stoke City back-up striker Peter Crouch could be a target.

Antonio Conte could certainly do with adding to his striking department and January is a notoriously difficult time to buy, but surely there are better alternatives available. The Italian will have to do without Alvaro Morata and Pedro for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off against Brighton as both were suspended during the FA Cup tie against Norwich City in midweek.

Chelsea — fourth in the table and level on points with Liverpool — have drawn their last five matches in all competitions so a win is overdue, while the Seagulls could do with avoiding defeat as they’re just three points clear of the drop zone.

2. Lambert needs to hit the ground running

So Stoke have finally got their man. Or, more precisely, the name that was fourth choice on their wishlist. After efforts to bring Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill to the club all failed, the Potters eventually settled on Paul Lambert to take the job on a permanent basis.

The Scot was at Old Trafford to see his new team go down 3-0 to Manchester United on Monday night — as Stephen Ireland made his first league start in almost three years — but Saturday’s home game against Huddersfield Town will officially be Lambert’s first in charge.

He must be praying for a ‘new manager bounce’ at the Bet365 as third-from-bottom Stoke are the first team in Europe’s top five leagues to concede 50 goals this season. The Terriers have enjoyed a respectable return to the top flight so far, sitting 14th at the moment, but they are without a win in their last five.

3. Competition for places about to hot up at United

The imminent arrival of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United could have a knock-on effect for some of the club’s other attacking talents. Yes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is moving in the opposite direction so it’s effectively one-in, one-out, but the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will be looking over their shoulders with the Chilean expected to start regularly.

Jose Mourinho may also choose to use the ex-Arsenal, Barcelona and Udinese man in a more central forward role in place of Romelu Lukaku. We were told Zlatan Ibrahimovic had made a miraculous recovery from his serious knee injury but it hasn’t actually worked out that way, and Sanchez’s presence will put additional pressure on his new team-mate to rediscover his early season goalscoring form.

The Red Devils travel to Turf Moor to face Burnley on the back of three straight wins. Sean Dyche’s Clarets, meanwhile, are winless during that period but they did hold United to a 2-2 draw on St Stephen’s Day.

4. Man City look to get back to winning ways

Pep Guardiola’s 30-game unbeaten run in the league was finally brought to an end in thrilling fashion last Sunday. The Catalan coach didn’t appear to be too disappointed after Liverpool had handed his team a 4-3 defeat at Anfield, and why would he — Man City still hold a 12-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

Saturday evening offers the runaway leaders the chance to put that loss behind them when Newcastle visit the Etihad Stadium. The Magpies are in decent form — coming into the game on the back of two wins and two draws — and it was in fact City who handed them their most recent defeat over the Christmas period.

The influential David Silva missed the reverse fixture due to the premature birth of his son. He was an unused substitute in the Liverpool game but is expected to make a welcome return here.

5. Reds are in a good place right now

Liverpool’s breath-taking win over Man City made it six wins in-a-row and 19 unbeaten for Jurgen Klopp’s side. There were no signs that Philippe Coutinho’s big-money move to Barcelona has left them lacking creativity as the remaining members of the Fab Four — Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Robert Firmino — all scored exquisite goals at Anfield.

The Reds now trail second-placed Man United by just three points and they will be expected to see off rock-bottom Swansea City on Monday night. £75 million man Virgil van Dijk has recovered from the hamstring problem that saw him sidelined last time out, but fellow centre-halves Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan are doubtful along with Salah.

Since taking the Swans job in late December, Portuguese manger Carlos Carvalhal has won one, lost one and drawn one in the league, and they past Championship leaders Wolves in their FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday.

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):

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Ben Blake

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