Premier League preview: Spurs eye second,Vardy returns and Bilic under pressure
It's another busy week of action in the Premier League with Spurs looking to close in on second spot and Champions Leicester City facing potential title winners Chelsea.
Liverpool travel to Man United as they look to keep pace with Chelsea, while West Ham boss Slaven Bilic is also under major pressure and desperately needs a win against Crytal Palace.
Arsenal face a tricky trip to Swansea while Hull City and Sunderland both have vital home games.
Neil McGlade takes a look at all the games in our special preview.
Leicester City vs Chelsea
King Power Stadium | Saturday, 5.30pm BT SPORT 1
It’s the reigning league champions against the current table-toppers at the King Power tomorrow evening. It would be fair to say this season was always likely to present its challenges for Claudio Ranieri’s side, who stormed their way to a maiden Premier League title in May.
The hosts, though, are boosted by the return of striker Jamie Vardy, who has served his three-game suspension following the red card he received in the game against Stoke last month.
Vardy, 30, was a noticeable absentee in the 2-1 FA Cup win over Everton last weekend that prompted Ranieri to confirm last season’s top scorer had been left out due to a virus.
The Foxes will be without three keys players, with Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Daniel Amartey all on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off in Gabon tomorrow.
Andy King had also complained of feeling under the weather, but he is also expected to be fit for the visit of Antonio Conte’s side. Chelsea will be eager to make amends upon their return to Premier League duty, having lost 2-0 to London rivals Spurs last Wednesday– an outcome which brought their ten-match winning streak to an end.
The Blues’ relentless form continued last weekend with a 4-1 FA Cup third-round triumph over League One side Peterborough.
Defender John Terry made his first start since October in the win over their lower league opponents, but was sent off in the second half for a foul on Lee Angol. A one-game ban means he will be absent
With title challengers Liverpool and Manchester City not in action until Sunday, Conte will hope that his men can rack up the pressure on their rivals with another three points.
Chelsea have had the upper hand this season ahead of the third meeting between the sides, overturning a 2-0 deficit to win 4-2 after extra-time in the third round of the Football League Cup in September.
They also stormed to a 3-0 win in the Premier League a month later.
Alli-inspired Spurs have eyes on second
Tottenham vs West Brom
White Hart Lane | Saturday, 12.30pm SKY SPORTS 1
On the back of their fine 2-0 victory over league leaders Chelsea nine days ago, Tottenham have the chance to leapfrog Liverpool – who play Manchester United on Sunday– into second place in the Barclays Premier League.
Tony Pulis’ West Brom are the visitors to North London and they will arrive in buoyant mood following their recent back-to-back wins over Hull and Southampton.
The hosts will be hoping that England international Dele Alli – recently linked with Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid – continues his scoring spree of late, the 20-year-old having netted seven goals in his last four outings. It was Alli who was on hand to salvage a late point for Spurs when the sides last met in a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns in October.
Burnley vs Southampton
Turf Moor Saturday, 3pm
Burnley manager Sean Dyche may consider handing Joey Barton his second league debut for the Clarets after the 34-year-old impressed in last weekend’s FA Cup stalemate at Sunderland.
The outspoken midfielder recently returned to the club following a turbulent spell in Scotland with Rangers. Southampton, who are just a point better off than their opponents, make the journey to Lancashire on the back of three straight Premier League defeats. Claude Puel’s defence have been far from convincing, having shipped nine goals in this poor run of late.
Hull City vs Bournemouth
KC Stadium, Saturday, 3pm
Bottom-of-the-table Hull are currently three points adrift from safety, but they haven’t won in the Premier League since goals from Robert Snodgrass and Michael Dawson gave the Tigers a 2-1 win over Southampton in November. New boss Marco Silva, however, has made an impressionable start to his tenure on Humberside with a 2-0 win over Swansea in the FA Cup last weekend in what was his first game in charge following the sacking of predecessor Mike Phelan.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, suffered a somewhat surprising 3-0 FA Cup defeat to Millwall five days ago. Manager Eddie Howe, though, is likely to welcome back the likes of first-team regulars Dan Gosling, Callum Wilson and Jack Wilshere.
Watford vs Middlesbrough
Vicarage Road, Saturday, 3pm
Watford have been in free-fall for weeks now with supporters calling for manager Walter Mazzarri to be relieved of his duties.
Defeat to visitors Middlesbrough tomorrow afternoon would see the Teesiders jump above the Hornets on goal difference, and with a number of players being touted with a move away from Hertfordshire during this month’s transfer window, these are unnerving times for the club. Aitor Karanka’s Boro are just four points above the relegation zone and also in need of three points.
Sunderland vs Stoke City
Stadium of Light, Saturday, 3pm
An FA Cup replay with Burnley was the last thing Sunderland boss David Moyes and his players wanted with their current league predicament in mind.
The Black Cats occupy third from bottom in the Premier League, but a win over the Potters at the Stadium of Light could see them move out of the relegation zone, depending on how Crystal Palace fare at West Ham.
Mark Hughes’ Stoke are another side that have been struggling of late with just one win in their last six. A 2-0 defeat to Championship side Wolves in the FA Cup last Saturday will have also left a bitter taste in the mouths of the club’s supporters.
That said, three points in the North East could see Stoke move back into the top half of the table.
Swansea City vs Arsenal
Liberty Stadium, Saturday, 3pm
Swansea are going through somewhat of a transition period, having appointed new manager Paul Clement less than a fortnight ago. It didn’t begin well for the former Bayern Munich assistant, as the Swans exited the FA Cup last weekend following a 2-0 defeat to fellow Premier League strugglers Hull.
Tomorrow afternoon’s visit of Arsenal is likely to provide a stern test, as the Gunners have recovered from last month’s blip in which they suffered back-to-back defeats. Arsene Wenger will expect to leave Wales with all three points.
West Ham United vs Crystal Palace
London Stadium, Saturday, 3pm
Pressure is mounting on West Ham boss Slaven Bilic following last weekend’s crushing 5-0 defeat to Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup. Hammers co-chairman David Sullivan issued a statement on the club’s website in the aftermath, saying: “We know we have to improve quickly and upcoming fixtures against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough now become cup finals.”
Victory in tomorrow’s London derby with Palace would certainly help his plight. The club have struggled since relocating to their new home at the London Stadium, but will fancy their chances of putting things right against Sam Allardyce’s struggling side. Palace have registered just one win in their last 14 Premier League outings and remain just a point above the drop zone.
Everton vs Manchester City
Goodison Park, Sunday, 1.30pm SKY SPORTS 1
Ronald Koeman will hope his players can reproduce a similar performance to the one which earned the Toffees a 1-1 draw at the Etihad in October.
Everton have struggled for consistency this term despite their strong start, but are prone to producing their very best when the chips are down. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City still have title aspirations of their own and have regained some form having encountered defeats to Leicester and league leaders Chelsea last month.
They are likely to strengthen again during the January transfer window, but anything other than a win could see City slip out of the Premier League’s top four.
Manchester United vs Liverpool
Old Trafford, Sunday,4pm SKY SPORTS 1
Manchester United have slowly but surely worked themselves back into the title race in recent weeks, with Jose Mourinho’s side now undefeated in their last 11 Premier League outings.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has rediscovered his mojo in front of goal and will be relishing the visit of the Merseysiders.
Liverpool fans can expect to see wholesale changes to the side which was held to a goalless draw by League Two outfit Plymouth in last Sunday’s FA Cup tie – the likes of Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino having all been rested.
Depending on results from Saturday, Liverpool could find themselves just two points adrift of leaders Chelsea should they emerge with maximum points from Old Trafford.