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Premier League preview: Eight talking points ahead of the weekend’s action

Each week we preview the Premier League’s weekend action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.

There are huge fixtures at both ends of the division this weekend, with Tottenham travelling to Chelsea and Manchester United facing West Ham as the race for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification heats up.

 

Watford and Norwich go head-to-head in a Premier League six-pointer down at the bottom, whilst Newcastle will be searching for a much-needed win when they travel to face a Leeds side who have pulled clear of danger.

Here are eight talking points ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action.

Can Norwich continue their climb?

Norwich moved off the bottom of the Premier League after beating struggling Everton last weekend, climbing above Burnley and Newcastle and within just a point of safety.

The Canaries have been in the bottom three since the Premier League’s opening weekend, but know a win on Friday evening will move them clear of the relegation places.

Norwich travel to face 17th-place Watford, a fixture that both sides will be targeting maximum points from as they bid to survive this season.

Dean Smith’s side ended a run of six games without a goal last time out and will hope to keep that momentum going against the Hornets, with the performance of Adam Idah offering encouragement.

The 20-year-old scored his first Premier League goal against Everton and caused problems throughout for the Toffees, the Republic of Ireland international perhaps a fine foil as Norwich look to relieve the pressure on Teemu Pukki.

Digne’s instant Everton return

Lucas Digne is set to have mixed feelings this weekend as he returns to Everton for the first time, a little more than a week after leaving the Toffees to sign for Aston Villa.

Digne was a fans’ favourite at Everton, but departed following a fall-out with Rafael Benitez. In a remarkable turn of events, Benitez followed the full-back out of the exit door just days later and there will be sections of the Everton fanbase who will have wished that particular decision came sooner.

Vitaliy Mykolenko – a Benitez signing and Digne’s replacement – struggled on debut last weekend and Everton will want to see more from the Ukraine international following their slide towards the relegation places.

There could be a regretful sentiment from the Everton board this weekend should Digne impress in opposition colours, with the 28-year-old producing a strong performance on his first Villa appearance last weekend and a player who has added real creative quality to Steven Gerrard’s ranks.

Leeds looking upwards after recent wins

Marcelo Bielsa deserves credit for the way he has handled Leeds’ absences this season, placing his faith in youth when clubs with considerably more resources have chosen alternative methods to navigate the fixture list.

Having so far failed to replicate the performances that delivered a top-half finish last season, things are looking rosier for Leeds after back-to-back league wins that have moved Bielsa’s side nine points clear of the bottom three.

The return to form of Jack Harrison – who scored a hat-trick at West Ham last weekend – and the continued creative brilliance of Raphinha has seen Leeds look somewhere closer to last season’s swashbuckling best and a home clash at Newcastle can continue that momentum.

Eddie Howe’s side have won just once this season and were thrashed 5-2 on their last visit to Elland Road. Despite reinforcements arriving this January, the Magpies are yet to show an upturn that can lead to Premier League survival.

Broja making case for Chelsea return

FIFA’s decision to implement tighter laws regarding the loan system means club’s like Chelsea will soon need to make decisive decisions on their emerging talent.

No longer will sides be permitted to hoard budding stars and loan them out far and wide in the hope a select few can make it, with the west Londoners – who currently have 21 players out on loan – among the chief culprits for starlet stockpiling in recent years.

Amongst the club’s current loan brigade is Armando Broja, who has made a positive impression during his loan spell at Southampton this season. The 20-year-old is the youngest player to have scored 5+ goals in the Premier League this season and is the Saints’ leading scorer in all competitions, outperforming £15m summer signing Adam Armstrong.

Broja has all the ingredients to be a top-class number nine if he continues his current trajectory. Tall and imposing but with the pace to stretch defences, he has handled the rigours of Premier League football and shown he can score goals when service is provided.

With Chelsea not exactly boasting a wealth of convincing forward options, he could be handed a role in Thomas Tuchel’s squad next season – should he be prepared to compromise guaranteed minutes for a chance to make it at Stamford Bridge.

Ronaldo reaction an unwanted distraction

The post-match talk that followed Manchester United’s win at Brentford was the reaction from Cristiano Ronaldo to his substitution at the Bees, the forward less than impressed following his early withdrawal.

Ralf Rangnick was pictured in talks with the Portugal captain in a bid to explain his decision and the talk surrounding Ronaldo’s influence has once again surfaced.

United face a huge game with West Ham this weekend and will need to perform significantly better than in the win over Brentford to secure the right result, having been cut apart in a concerning first-half performance against Thomas Frank’s side.

The race for Champions League football looks set to go down to the wire and the Red Devils can not allow their focus to be distracted during the run-in.

Ronaldo has been around long enough to know substitutions – particularly those of a 36-year-old who had endured a frustrating evening – are a part of the game and his reaction has only served to fan the flames around rumours of dressing room unrest.

Partey red leaves Arteta short – again

Thomas Partey’s desire to feature in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semi-final with Liverpool on Thursday evening was commendable, having only touched down from AFCON duty earlier in the day following Ghana’s early exit.

The midfielder’s subsequent two yellow cards in quick succession following his introduction off the bench, however, was not.

Partey’s red card was needless and continued Arsenal’s run of picking up senseless sendings off, with the Gunners having now had 14 red cards since Arteta’s appointment as manager – almost double the amount of the next-highest Premier League team in Southampton (8).

Partey joins Granit Xhaka in being suspended this weekend and leaves the North Londoners short in midfield once more, with Albert Sambi Lokonga once again expected to share a large amount of the defensive responsibility amid a lack of credible alternatives.

AFCON has shown Liverpool need more

The depth of Liverpool’s forward options was debated before a ball had been kicked this season, but the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane this month has heightened calls for reinforcements at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp named Kaide Gordon in his starting side for the Carabao Cup win over Arsenal on Thursday evening and whilst the 17-year-old boasts huge promise it is an indication of the lack of alternatives in the Liverpool squad.

Gordon has been backed for a huge future and could prove a long-term solution for Liverpool, but the teenager needs time to develop.

Gordon’s selection perhaps also pointed towards the end of Takumi Minamino’s time with the club, with the Japan international having failed to justify the excitement that greeted his arrival from Red Bull Salzburg.

Minamino has looked an awkward fit either wide, centrally or deeper in midfield in Klopp’s system and his failure to earn a start in the absence of Salah, Mane and Divock Origi is an indication of his standing in the club’s plans.

Liverpool have been linked with the likes of Luis Diaz, Jarrod Bowen and Raphinha as the club consider additions to their front three and another attacking signing – whether this month or in the summer – should be the focus as the Reds look to compete with Manchester City.

Conte to bring the best from ‘important’ Bergwijn?

Steven Bergwijn’s future appeared to be away from Tottenham with the winger having been linked with an exit this month, Ajax having already seen an offer rejected by the North London side.

Bergwijn has started just three league fixtures this season, but came off the bench to rescue Spurs in midweek as he scored a stoppage-time brace in the dramatic 3-2 win at Leicester.

Antonio Conte was full of praise for the 25-year-old following the win and labelled the Netherlands international as an ‘important’ part of his plans, with his match-winning salvo perhaps the kickstart his career with the club needed.

Tottenham travel to face Chelsea this weekend and were beaten convincingly over two legs in the recent Carabao Cup semi-final between the sides, Conte in need of an alternative plan as he bids to secure a result at his former side.

Bergwijn’s speed and threat could prove crucial to Spurs’ hopes this weekend against a Chelsea side who have looked vulnerable down the flanks in the absence of Reece James and Ben Chilwell.

Read – Hits and Misses: Premier League loan signings 2021/22

Read Also – Rating the impact of every Everton manager of the Farhad Moshiri era

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