With a full three rounds in the Premier League coming up in the next ten days, I look ahead to a potentially crucial run early on in the title race.Here are a look at the Premier League fixtures played between Friday 24th November and Sunday 3rd December.
Manchester City (1st)
Fixtures: Huddersfield (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (h)
The league leaders have arguably the easiest run of games of the top six, kicking off with a visit to the John Smith’s Stadium to face newly-promoted Huddersfield. The Terriers have just been thrashed 4-0 at Bournemouth and will be licking their wounds this week before Pep’s men arrive. Next on the schedule for the Cityzens is a midweek game against Southampton, who have scored just nine goals this season, at the Etihad on Wednesday night. Finally, they welcome West Ham for what will be David Moyes’ fourth game in charge.
How Will They Fare? On paper, all of these games have a very winnable look to them and City will be feeling confident of staying at the top of the table. Two wins out of three could see them become the fastest team ever to reach forty points in the Premier League and a full nine points will likely see them extend their lead atop the table.
Key Man: Despite the obvious choices of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, I’m going to go with Vincent Kompany. The City skipper returned at the weekend after a long injury layoff and, with John Stones out for a good month or two, the pressure is on Kompany to lead his team and stay fit throughout. City will always score goals- if they keep conceding so few, they’ll win the league with no problems from here.
Manchester United (2nd)
Fixtures: Brighton (h), Watford (a), Arsenal (a)
This could be a deceptively difficult week for Manchester United. They start with what should nonetheless be an easy game against Brighton at Old Trafford, despite the Seagull’s great start to life in the top flight. However, the trip to face Marco Silva’s Watford will be anything but three easy points. The Hornets have already claimed a scalp from Arsenal this season, drew with Liverpool and very nearly knicked something from Chelsea. Mourinho’s side wrap up the run of fixtures with a big game away to Arsenal- more on that later.
How Will They Fare? A bold prediction, I know, but I don’t see United still being just eight points behind City once these games are over. Brighton at home sounds easy enough but is the kind of game United struggled in last season, while Watford beat United at Vicarage Road in Mourinho’s first campaign. Arsenal were superb last weekend to beat Tottenham at the Emirates and if they can repeat that performance United will do well to get a point, which I suspect will be the manager’s goal.
Key Man: Paul Pogba, just back from injury, transformed United in their 4-1 home win over Newcastle on Saturday. Whether or not you believe he’s living up to his price tag is irrelevant; you can’t deny he knows how to play. If Pogba is truly back to his brilliant best then, along with fellow returnee Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he could potentially reignite United’s title challenge- but I wouldn’t bet on them catching City any time soon.
Fixtures: Liverpool (a), Swansea (h), Newcastle (h)
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, fresh from thrashing West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, have a mixed sort of week. They start with a huge game against Liverpool away, and Klopp’s men have a brilliant record against the top six sides even considering recent humiliations at the hands of Manchester City and Spurs. However, things are looking up from there with consecutive home ties against Swansea and Newcastle United in two games that Blues fans would expect to be winning.
How Will They Fare? While the Liverpool game may appear too close to call, Chelsea are far more defensively solid than the Reds and, as a result, I can see them getting at least a point at Anfield. Even if they don’t manage it, consolation can be found in the fact that you would back the London side to get two wins from their next two games.
Key Man: Alvaro Morata is well and truly back and, with eight league goals already this season, is embarrassing those who allowed him to leave the now-struggling Real Madrid. Morata would almost certainly be a better option right now for the Champions League holders than Karim Benzema. And Chelsea’s next three fixtures are the sort that I expect the Spaniard to enjoy.
Tottenham Hotspur (4th)
Fixtures: West Brom (h), Leicester (a), Watford (a)
It’s been a solid season so far for Spurs but these are by no means easy games. First up are West Bromwich Albion, who travel to Wembley for their first game since sacking Tony Pulis on Monday. Leicester could provide a similar challenge at the King Power Stadium, before a tricky-looking visit to high-flying Watford.
How Will They Fare? Very well, I would imagine- but it’s worth noting that Pochettino’s men have just lost the North London Derby and it will be interesting to see how they respond to that disappointment. ‘New Manager Syndrome’ will be something to watch out for in the home tie against West Brom, which evokes memories of home draws with Burnley and Swansea earlier in the season. And we’ve already talked about the Hornets, who are no pushovers. That said, I would probably put money on ‘the Harry Kane team’ coming out of this chain of matches three for three.
Key Man: I would have to go with Christian Eriksen, who’s managed four goals and three assists so far this season. Harry Kane is Spurs’ talisman, sure, but without the Dane they’re not the same team. If he can take these games by the scruff of the neck and keep on producing, I back him to be the deciding factor for Spurs for both next week and the rest of the campaign.
Fixtures: Chelsea (h), Stoke (a), Brighton (a)
Liverpool face possibly the toughest week of any team in the top six here but are in perfect shape for it after a comfortable 3-0 home win over Southampton. Facing Chelsea is never easy (unless you play for Roma), but Klopp’s men will be confident of getting a result after beating the Blues at Stamford Bridge last season. Stoke away isn’t the horror-fixture it once was, but it will be a Wednesday night and I’d put good money on it being cold, wet and windy, before they finish the week at Brighton.
How Will They Fare? I think Liverpool will beat Cheslea. I’m regularly wrong about these things but I expect them to turn up on Saturday and get a good result- it would be vintage Liverpool. It’s not all good news for their fans, though, because a 1-1 draw in either of the next two games would also be vintage Liverpool. I could easily be proved wrong on the day on all three counts- But I would be surprised if they lose to Chelsea and equally surprised if they beat both Stoke and Brighton.
Key Man: Mohamed Salah, the prodigious Egyptian Winger signed from Roma in the summer, has settled in remarkably well. In fact, he’s already become Liverpool’s biggest goal threat. If he can keep up this prolific form, not only will he be crucial to their success this season but he could have one eye on the Golden Boot.
Fixtures: Burnley (a), Huddersfield (h), Manchester United (h)
While I said above that Liverpool have the hardest week of the top six, Arsenal don’t exactly have it made either. Hanging on to 6th place by the skin of their teeth (just +3 goal difference), they will be leapfrogged by Burnley if they lose at Turf Moor at the weekend- a problem they can’t really afford right now. Then they face David Wagner’s Huddersfield, who we can’t forget have already beaten Manchester United this season. Speaking of the Red Devils, they visit the Emirates to finish the week as we head into December in what could be the biggest clash of the entire ten days.
How Will They Fare? Well, you can never tell with Arsenal. They could get nine points from nine here or they could get three but it probably won’t be somewhere inbetween. Burnley are a formidable outfit this season, having lost just once in six games this campaign to last year’s top eight (a three-nil walkover from Manchester City at the Etihad), and they’ll have their eye on a surprisingly attainable top-six spot*. Huddersfield, with respect to them, appear to be the easiest game of the three for Arsenal and you wouldn’t bet against the Gunners there. But the Manchester United game could prove tricky, especially if Mourinho comes with a play-to-draw mentality.
Key Man: Mesut Ozil was, to everyone’s surprise, excellent in the North London Derby. He caused Tottenham all sorts of problems without respite and will be looking to replicate that standard of performance against Manchester United in particular- if he can do that, Wenger’s side are in with a great chance of a result.
*Can you imagine Burnley in the Europa league? That would be amazing. Make it happen, Sean.