Game of the weekend
After a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace in mid-November, Chelsea moved back to within four points of Premier League leaders Manchester City. They have won just one of their subsequent four top-flight encounters, though, and will fall 13 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men if they lose to them this weekend.
The warning signs first appeared in a 0-0 draw with Everton, before Maurizio Sarri’s side were dismantled by Tottenham Hotspur in a 3-1 defeat at Wembley. Last weekend’s 2-0 triumph over Fulham was straightforward enough, but Chelsea then proceeded to surrender the lead and lose 2-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday evening.
City have simply marched on in the meantime, dispatching of Manchester United, West Ham United, Bournemouth and Watford with a minimum of fuss. Pep Guardiola’s charges have now won 13 and drawn two of their 15 encounters in 2018/19, although a dogged Liverpool remain just a couple of points behind the champions.
City’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge last term was a real statement of intent, with the visitors dominating the game from start to finish. Sarri, however, will not be as happy as Antonio Conte to willingly cede possession and play on the counter-attack, so this has the potential to be a thrilling affair between two teams who will press high and look to control the ball.
All eyes on…
Ralph Hasenhuttl was in the stands at Wembley to watch his Southampton side lose 3-1 to Tottenham on Wednesday. The former RB Leipzig manager was appointed as Mark Hughes’ successor just hours earlier, leaving Kelvin Davis to take charge as Saints succumbed to their eighth defeat of the season.
Hasenhuttl looks like an astute appointment by the Southampton hierarchy. The Austrian led Leipzig into the Bundesliga in 2016 and then into the Champions League a year later, as the East Germans finished second in their debut campaign in the top flight. He faces a very different challenge on the south coast of England, with Southampton three points adrift of safety ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash with fellow strugglers Cardiff City.
Man in form
Glenn Murray’s Indian summer has been one of the stories of the season. Only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane have scored more Premier League goals than the 35-year-old, who netted for the eighth time this term in Brighton and Hove Albion’s 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Crystal Palace on Tuesday.
Murray broke the deadlock at the Amex Stadium in the 24th minute, before being forced off with a shoulder injury later in the first half. His replacement, Florin Andone, wasted little time in making his mark against Roy Hodgson’s men, running clear of James Tomkins and firing the ball past Wayne Hennessey to put Brighton 3-0 up just before the interval.
That was Andone’s second goal in as many games following his headed winner against Huddersfield Town last weekend, and the Romanian will be keen to further add to his tally when Brighton travel to Burnley on Saturday.
One to watch
From next season onwards, Premier League games will regularly be shown at 19:45 on a Saturday. Tottenham have already filled that slot once this season – last month’s 3-2 victory over Wolves – and they will again bring the day’s action to a close when they face Leicester City this weekend.
It is easy to see why broadcasters are keen on Saturday evening matches, when they will compete for viewers with the likes of X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. It does, however, feel as though we are slowly creeping towards a schedule in which each top-flight game will have its own unique timeslot, with none taking place concurrently.
Manager under pressure
Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal was not a disastrous result for Manchester United, but it means they are now without a win in four Premier League games. During the November international break Jose Mourinho pledged that his team would be in the top four by the end of the calendar year, but they have since dropped points against Crystal Palace, Southampton and the Gunners, forcing the Portuguese to admit that the Red Devils need “almost a miracle” to qualify for the Champions League this season.
One thing is for sure: Mourinho and United desperately need all three points when Fulham visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
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