Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend


1) Manchester United must be braver at start of games

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has taken significant stick from laymen convinced their footballing expertise trumps his, but even they must concede that Manchester United are better now than at any stage in the Post-Fergie Wilderness YearsTM. Though it’s hard to envisage United winning the title, they must attack games as if they intend to, and should they fail, it will not be because they were too cautious. Solskjær’s side are too ruthful in attack and defence, but can offset these weaknesses by dominating opponents in midfield. Before their midweek win with Wolves, the Norwegian said “we need to go after them and get after that ball,” but it was not until the final quarter of the game, when Paul Pogba moved further forward, that United did that. They got away with it against Wolves, just, but to achieve the improbable this season, they must be braver from the outset in every game. DH

Manchester United v Aston Villa, Friday 8pm (all times GMT)

‘You can’t fake your way into this team’: Solskjær praises Manchester United mentality – video

2) Coleman has earned New Year’s Day start

Back in 2009, Seámus Coleman joined Everton for a fee of just £60,000. After surgery on a career-threatening infected blister, his first appearance at Goodison came in December of that year, when he was named man of the match in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham. For the last decade, Coleman has been one of the Premier League’s best right-backs, and was made Everton club captain last year. Injury and a lack of form mean minutes have become scarcer for the Irishman, particularly with the emergence of both Mason Holgate and recent recruit Ben Godfrey. Coleman hasn’t started a league match since 7 November, but has been predictably dependable off the bench over the Christmas period. Carlo Ancelotti could turn to Coleman against West Ham, who are not blessed with pace going forward, as Everton chase a fifth consecutive league win – something they have not achieved since April 2014. MB

Everton v West Ham, Friday 5.30pm

3) Will Mourinho take a cue from Solskjær?

After Spurs sat back at Wolves and wound up conceding yet another late goal, José Mourinho accepted full culpability for their negativity, noting that only a criminal would restrict Son Heung-min and Harry Kane to counters and set pieces. Not really. He blamed his players, claiming they had disobeyed his commands. Whatever the truth of the matter – and given Mourinho’s history, it’s fair to be suspicious – the way his team go about things makes no sense. Sitting back on a lead might work when you’ve got Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Claude Makélélé, but when you’re relying on Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Serge Aurier and pals? Ahem. Spurs’ strength is in attack, and just a few days ago Mourinho’s successor at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, showed exactly how to play against Leeds: press hard, pull Bielsa’s man-to-man system about the pitch, and flood forward at every transition. Is Mourinho flexible enough to do the same? DH

Tottenham v Leeds, Saturday 12.30pm

4) Allardyce aims to do another job on Arsenal

Following West Brom’s superb draw at Anfield, Sam Allardyce was asked to identify the key factor behind it. “Really good organisation,” he responded. He’s right, but if you think he looked besotted with himself then, imagine if he can put one over on Arsenal, who he frequently troubled as Bolton manager. He and Arsène Wenger were frequently characterised as opposites, but the reality is more nuanced – Wenger’s best teams mixed it, and Allardyce innovated tactically while giving the Premier League Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha. He will take particular joy if he can outfox Mikel Arteta, who was given a job Allardyce could never get despite doing none of the things the Englishman has done. Allardyce’s problem at West Brom is a squad that fails to aim beyond defending deep and hoping for a set piece. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with. DH

West Brom v Arsenal, Saturday 8pm

5) Cultured Cancelo can be key figure on the right

Following the postponement of their trip to Everton, Manchester City may be the fresher of the sides after Chelsea endured a tough 1-1 draw against Aston Villa. One City player who will have enjoyed the brief rest is João Cancelo. The Portuguese international has already made 23 appearances this season for club and country, swapping flanks most weeks as Pep Guardiola makes the most of his utility, while inadvertently impacting his form. At left-back, Cancelo looks composed and competent, although that is not always enough at the biggest clubs. A right-back by trade, he will be finally looking to oust Kyle Walker as the first choice in that position, aided by his teammate’s penchant for mistakes and enforced absence. Against Newcastle, Cancelo was arguably man of the match in his preferred role. Being permitted the opportunity to consistently play in his natural position would allow him to prove the remaining doubters wrong. WU

Chelsea v Manchester City, Sunday 4.30pm

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6) Sheffield United need new way forward

It is too simplistic to put Sheffield United’s season down to one factor, but a lack of firepower seems an obvious place to start. When Sheffield United spent £23.5m on Rhian Brewster in the summer, most agreed that it was decent business but a lack of opportunities has left the former Liverpool striker bereft of confidence. Their opponents on Saturday, Crystal Palace, invested a similar sum into Eberechi Eze, who has revitalised an attack that was previously too dependent upon Wilfried Zaha. If Palace have got things right, Sheffield United can ill-afford another poor transfer window in January, with the Blades linked with Jesse Lingard (on loan) and free agent Daniel Sturridge. Both seem shrewd, low-risk gambles, and gamble is what Chris Wilder must do, especially if they remain without a win after the visit to Palace. An ominous January fixture list includes games against Spurs and both Manchester clubs. MB

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United, Saturday 3pm

7) Flying Barnes can help Foxes fix forward flaws

Brendan Rodgers is rotating his Leicester players in this crammed period, in the knowledge worse is to come once the Europa League returns in February. Although this is Leicester’s strongest squad of the Premier League era, there are some flaws that need to be addressed. Jamie Vardy was benched for the trip to Crystal Palace, only to be called upon after 65 minutes as it was clear the Foxes were blunted without him. Kelechi Iheanacho rarely gets a run out nowadays and looks all at sea in the lone striking role. A January signing to supplement Vardy would be ideal but if a suitable candidate cannot be found, it could be time to give Harvey Barnes a chance to prove himself down the middle. With five league goals already this season, the winger has the pace and skill to get in behind defences and he should have learned a thing or two from Vardy over the years. WU

Newcastle v Leicester, Sunday 2.15pm

8) Potter feels the pressure before Wolves visit

One home league win in 2020 for Brighton isn’t pretty reading for Graham Potter, who has admitted before the visit of Wolves that the current situation is “the most challenging time of my career.” With Tariq Lamptey out, Danny Welbeck a doubt and Adam Lallana “touch and go” for Saturday’s match, Potter has some gaping holes in his XI and there is even talk of Glenn Murray returning early from his loan at Watford to save the day. Wolves will arrive on the south coast with something to prove following their late defeat at Old Trafford and although this season has been relatively disappointing, a win at Brighton could put them back into the top half. Nuno Espírito Santo desperately needs somebody to fill the boots of Raúl Jiménez – free agent Diego Costa has been linked – so this could be a crucial opportunity for Fábio Silva to impress before the window opens. MB

Brighton v Wolves, Saturday 5.30pm

9) Will takeover spark further Burnley bounce?

Burnley have won three out of their last four home games, helping them move clear of the bottom three. Victory over Fulham would put the Clarets on 19 points from 16 games, an impressive feat for a side who picked up only two draws in their opening seven fixtures. Now that the club’s takeover has been completed, there is reason for optimism at Turf Moor. Their success has been built on a solid defence, something that is unlikely to be tinkered with despite expected January investment. What has held Sean Dyche’s men back is a thin squad, their bench populated by youngsters unlikely to make more experienced colleagues fear for their places. If Dyche can bring in the characters he desires, especially with three more points in his back pocket, then it could be the end of Burnley looking over their shoulder and a bright new era. WU

Burnley v Fulham, Sunday 12pm

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10) Liverpool look vulnerable and must fend off Ings

Things didn’t work out for Danny Ings at Liverpool, but at Southampton he has proved himself to be exactly the player he looked at Burnley: an all-round centre-forward with intelligence, composure and touch. Marking him is a tough night for even the best defenders, and while Fabinho may fall into that bracket, whoever partners him at St Mary’s will not. Liverpool remain the best team in the league but their invulnerability cloak has gone. Just this week, West Brom and Newcastle have shown that teams who are well-organised have a chance against them. Southampton bring all of that and more, and though their more attacking nature will offer Liverpool more space, the champions are now under a bit of pressure. If they are not at their best, things might get difficult for Jürgen Klopp’s side. DH

Southampton v Liverpool, Monday 8pm

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