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5 talking points ahead of this weekend's Premier League action

Why Jose Mourinho is easily irritated by a trip to Newcastle and reasons for Liverpool to be wary.

Updated at 8.30am

Could Chelsea possibly come unstuck against Newcastle?

JOSE MOURINHO DOESN’T like making the trip to St James’ Park. He’s done it four times in the league and he’s still to win. Still, many will discount the stat immediately and for good reason. His current Chelsea crop are riding high in the top-flight and it will take an unexpected force to knock them off their stride. But, other teams would revel in such a record against a revered managerial figure and Alan Pardew and his players need only to look back at last season’s fixture for motivation.

That day, the Magpies racked up a 2-0 win, having wanted it more. Afterwards, Mourinho spoke of how his players had played in ‘a comfortable zone’ and were much too passive despite bossing possession and having copious amounts of space. His side waltzed into the clash on the back of six successive victories but were too relaxed and suffered the consequences. Post-match, Mourinho said he was angry, that he couldn’t understand why the players would offer up such a disinterested performance.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Newcastle United v Chelsea - St James' Park Mourinho cut a frustrated figure during last season's clash with Newcastle on Tyneside. Source: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Given the lunch-time kick-off and the extra day’s rest Newcastle have had (they played away to Burnley on Tuesday, Chelsea at home to Tottenham on Wednesday), the likelihood of a surprise here increases. Pardew’s side have lost once in their last six and have kept the same amount of clean sheets as their opponents.

Can Liverpool make it three in a row for the first time this season?

Ominously, Brendan Rodgers has suggested Liverpool have turned a corner following their 3-1 win over Leicester midweek. Certainly there’s a renewed sense of optimism that usually comes with winning two straight games. But a decent result against the league’s worst club perhaps says more about how much they’ve struggled since the campaign begun.

And they’ve had huge problems at Anfield. From their seven league games at home, they’ve won three and scored just seven times. But they do face a side who have taken three points from their last four games and suffered a hammering at home to Manchester City midweek. Sunderland have the third-worst defence currently (not helped by the 8-0 thumping against Southampton) and the third-worst attack. So, what’s saving them? Draws. 8 of their 14 league games have ended in stalemate.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group B - Ludogorets v Liverpool - Liverpool Training - Melwood Training Ground Rodgers can afford to smile again after improved results. Source: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/Press Association Images

They exhausted themselves with that fine performance against Chelsea and having suffered through a real beating midweek, it’s hard to see if they’ll have the energy to compete for 90 minutes with Liverpool. Then again, a lack of pace and energy has been Rodgers’ side’s biggest problem and Sunderland will hope it crops up again on Saturday.

QPR’s home comforts can provide some respite

If the Premier League table was based only on home results, QPR would be safe in the surrounds of the top-ten. They’ve scored more goals on home soil than Liverpool and Newcastle and the same amount as Arsenal. They’ve lost just twice there from seven games. So, they’ll be thrilled to get back there after a tame midweek loss to Swansea.

Facing Burnley this weekend though, they can expect a battle. Sean Dyche’s promoted side are enjoying a purple patch. From their current tally of 12 points, 8 have come from the last four games. They can also be buoyed by their recent away trip to Stoke where a brace from Danny Ings secured an impressive win.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Queens Park Rangers v Aston Villa - Loftus Road Charlie Austin has hit some excellent form for QPR but should he have an off-day this weekend, the Londoners will likely struggle. Source: John Walton/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Though they managed a miserable one shot on target in that loss to the Swans, QPR are a wildly different proposition in front of their own fans. A collection of their most recent performances on home soil paint a picture of a team with a dodgy defence but a spirited sense of unity and plenty of pluck. They’ve scored at least two in their last five home games (but they have also leaked nine). In Charlie Austin, they have a more consistent version of Danny Ings.

Should Austin and Ings both have off days, it will be interesting to see what these teams can offer.

Old enemies reunite at St. Mary’s

Ronald Koeman was assistant to Louis van Gaal at Barcelona between 1998 and 2000. A year later, the former took over at Ajax and won the double in 2002 and another Eredivise title in 2004. But his time in Amsterdam was overshadowed by a falling-out with Van Gaal, who arrived as the club’s technical director in 2003.

Soccer - Friendly - Wageningen v Barcelona Van Gaal, far left, sitting in a star-studded Barcelona dugout in 1999 alongside his coaching staff. Ronald Koeman is fourth from the right. Source: Jon Buckle/EMPICS Sport

The stormy relationship has since become a non-existent one and though there will be a cordial handshake between the pair before Monday’s clash gets underway, there certainly won’t be a glass of wine shared between them afterwards.

Koeman didn’t fall under the weight of Van Gaal’s personality. Others may have been swayed by his experience and ego but Koeman didn’t. He was determined to make his own way in management and fuel his philosophy and identity as a coach.

After quitting Ajax himself, he appeared to lose his way but still claimed another Dutch league crown with PSV and a Copa del Rey with Valencia. At Feyenoord, success eluded him but he enjoyed a solid time there before arriving at Southampton.

His clear ideals and approach is what set him apart from other candidates and the team’s start to the campaign was superb, disregarding the summer transfer activity. The Saints are in the top-four on merit though the inevitable slide has started. Manchester City have have picked them off and both United and West Ham can do likewise this weekend.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Stoke City - Old Trafford Source: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Van Gaal’s side are flying, results-wise. The 3-0 win over Hull was a rare complete performance but standards dropped again against Stoke, where they really should’ve been pegged back. The club’s away form has been very poor – the victory over Arsenal is their only one on the road this season.

However, like the Chelsea result, Van Gaal loves nothing more than getting his ego massaged. His self-confidence is only increasing as United are slowly recovering and finding their feet again. He’ll enjoy nothing better than getting his revenge on Koeman. He’s waited a long time to do so.

Nigel Pearson’s under pressure and needs a result

From their last 9 matches, Leicester have managed just two points. But as much as many are all-too-easily yelling ‘Crisis’, one win will get them out of the drop-zone. The biggest issue for their fans though is that there’s not much in the way of inspiration.

The 5-3 victory over Manchester United happened on 21st September and the club is in danger of having their season defined by that game. They’ve failed to win since and it’s worth considering that on that fateful day, they scored five goals in just over an hour. In the two and a half months since, they’ve scored…five times.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Crystal Palace v Leicester City - Selhurst Park Nigel Pearson's 'spat' with a Leicester fan midweek shows the strain he's under. Source: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/Press Association Images

How Nigel Pearson must deeply look back with disdain on those that got away. There was the 2-2 draw against Burnley – Ross Wallace scoring a 96th-minute equaliser for The Clarets and a disappointing scoreless draw at home to Sunderland. But he should be concerned with one thing particularly.

In the relegation dogfight, staying in games for as long as possible is critical. For Leicester, they’ve conceded more than two goals on nine occasions. QPR and Palace offer up something similar but, in Palace’s case, at least they’ve scored plenty.

Pearson’s ‘spat’ with a fan on Tuesday is understandable. He’s got the club back to the top-flight and it was always going to be a huge challenge to remain there. He could do without cheap shots from the stands. But, he’s an intelligent guy and knows how the Premier League works. He’s aware that the longer the poor form continues, the more his sacking becomes largely inevitable.

Originally published on 5 December

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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