Source: Victoria Jones
1. Gunners back at Wembley for derby day
THIS WEEKEND’S ROUND of games start with a bang as Tottenham host Arsenal at Wembley Stadium at lunch-time Saturday.
The Gunners trail their North London rivals by four points heading into the clash and it is four years since they have beaten Spurs away from home in the league.
It’s the first time the clubs have met at Wembley since 4 April, 1993. That day, a second-half header from Tony Adams was enough to send Arsenal through to the FA Cup final.
Arsene Wenger will be pleased with how quickly new signings Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have settled into the team and he will have to decide whether to leave summer arrival Alexandre Lacazette on the bench once again.
Opposite number Mauricio Pochettino may unleash his latest acquisition at some point too. Brazilian winger Lucas Moura joined from Paris Saint-Germain for £25 million at the end of the window and could make his bow here.
2. Mahrez goes AWOL after failed move
Riyad Mahrez was reportedly desperate to make a January switch from Leicester City to Manchester City, but it never materialised for the former PFA Player of the Year. The Algerian attacker has clearly not taken the setback well as he failed to attend training all this week — finally showing his face on Friday morning.
City boss Pep Guardiola was quoted as saying he would like to see Mahrez feature when the sides face off on Saturday evening, but Claude Puel has confirmed that he is set to sit out a third consecutive game.
The runaway league leaders saw their sizable advantage cut to 13 points after they were held 1-1 by Burnley last weekend. Eighth-placed Leicester recorded the same result at home to Swansea City that day, and this will be their third time to face City this season after defeats in the league (2-0) and the Carabao Cup quarter-final (on penalties).
3. Mourinho and Benitez reacquainted
On Sunday afternoon, Newcastle United host Jose Mourinho and his team at St James’ Park.
They might be second in the league, but Man United title’s aspirations are all but dead at this stage of the season. That said, claiming runners-up spot behind their city rivals would represent the club’s best highest finish of the post-Alex Ferguson era.
United bounced back from the defeat to Spurs with a routine 2-0 win over Huddersfield last time out — with new signing Alexis Sanchez getting off from the penalty spot. The Magpies, meanwhile, find themselves in a very different situation. Winless in their last five league matches, Rafael Benitez’s men are just a single point outside the drop zone.
4. Van Dijk returns to St Mary’s
Several players have made big-money switches from Southampton to Liverpool in recent years, as it is often joked that the former have become a bit of a feeder club for the latter.
The most recent man to trade the South Coast for Merseyside is Virgil van Dijk, who joined the Reds for a whopping £75m last month.
Source: Peter Byrne
Dutch defender Van Dijk will be back at his old stomping ground on Sunday when St Mary’s hosts a Premier League encounter between the sides. The Dutchman returned to the starting XI for the 2-2 draw with Spurs after being left out against Huddersfield, and he should retain his place at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
But Jurgen Klopp has suggested that the Dutchman might receive a frosty reception from Southampton fans, whose team are unbeaten in their past six league outings.
5. Is Conte a dead man walking?
It seems abundantly obvious that Chelsea Football Club and Antonio Conte will part ways sooner rather than later. Having won the Premier League title in his first season, the Italian has endured a turbulent second year in London and his frustrations with the club’s dealings behind the scenes have been well-documented.
Monday night’s humbling 4-1 loss to Watford leaves the Blues fourth — 19 points off Manchester City — and you get the sense that he would be happy enough to receive his marching orders, and a huge pay-off, from owner Roman Abramovich.
Conte will be doing extremely well to see out the the campaign but he remains in the job ahead of the upcoming game at home to West Brom on Monday.
The Baggies are in all sort of trouble themselves right now as the expected new manager bounce never happened when Alan Pardew took over in November, meaning they sit at the foot of the table.
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