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Seven talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

We’re back after the break for FA Cup action with our Premier League weekend preview. Each week we discuss some of the division’s major talking points.

Friday football a classic six-pointer

Burnley and Luton meet on Friday night in a relegation six-pointer at Turf Moor. The three promoted sides have struggled this season and make up the bottom three ahead of this weekend’s games.

Luton have arguably been the most impressive of the trio and will be confident against a Burnley team with a wretched home record this season. The Clarets have lost nine of their 10 games at home this season, though their sole win did come against fellow promoted outfit Sheffield United on December 2.

Luton have carried a threat from set-pieces this season and that could spell trouble for Burnley. Vincent Kompany’s side have been vulnerable from dead balls, with only Nottingham Forest having conceded more from free-kicks and corners.

Hatters full-back Alfie Doughty has four assists from set-pieces already this season and will be targeting the in-form Elijah Adebayo with his deliveries. The 6ft 4in forward has scored three goals in his last five Premier League appearances for Luton. Only four players have scored more headed goals than Adebayo this season.

Pochettino must back Broja

Mauricio Pochettino was questioned on his decision to leave Armando Broja on the Chelsea bench in midweek, as the Blues were beaten at second-tier Middlesbrough in the EFL Cup semi-finals.

Broja had been a bright spark in the club’s 4-0 win over Preston in the FA Cup last weekend, but Pochettino was cautious with a player who has suffered from injury problems across the last 18 months.

In his absence, Chelsea failed to find the net at Middlesbrough with Cole Palmer, used as an auxiliary centre-forward, missing the Blues’ best chances. With Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku unavailable, Pochettino must back Broja to lead his line and provide Chelsea with a badly needed focal point.

The Albanian scored in the reverse fixture against this weekend’s opponents, Fulham, and needs minutes to find rhythm and form.

Can Fulham cope with Bassey blow?

Fulham will travel to Chelsea this weekend looking to improve on a torrid record against their West London rivals. The Cottagers have not won at Chelsea since 1979, while it’s one win in 23 meetings in the Premier League home and away.

Marco Silva’s side have also struggled on the road in recent fixtures, losing each of their last four away from home. That run has seen Fulham concede 10 goals, while their defence has been depleted ahead of this weekend with Calvin Bassey at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Nigerian was a standout performer in the win over Arsenal last time out, dominating his duels in an impressive defensive display. The veteran Tim Ream is fit to return as a replacement, though the 36-year-old lacks the athleticism which makes Bassey a crucial cog in Silva’s side.

Big hitters back for the champions?

Manchester City travel to face Newcastle on Saturday evening as the Premier League champions look to continue a flawless start to the new year.

The Citizens have won five consecutive games in all competitions and look to be finding form, while the return of the club’s star names looks ominous for their title rivals. Kevin De Bruyne marked his first appearance in five months with an assist off the bench against Huddersfield last weekend, while Erling Haaland is nearing his return after four Premier League games out with a foot issue.

Pep Guardiola’s side are a fearsome prospect with that duo dovetailing in the final third, in addition to the superb recent form of Phil Foden. Newcastle will need to improve on their recent defensive showings to stop the champions, who have lost just one of the last 32 Premier League meetings between the teams.

Eddie Howe’s side, who will miss Joelinton’s bullish presence in midfield after the Brazilian was ruled out for six weeks with a thigh problem, conceded a Premier League-record expected goals (xG) figure against Liverpool last time out.

England forwards meet in contrasting form

Everton and Aston Villa meet in the Premier League this weekend, a clash that will see England forwards Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins go head-to-head.

Two seasons ago, Calvert-Lewin was front of the queue as England’s leading alternative to Harry Kane, a position Watkins now occupies after a prolific run of form for Aston Villa. The latter has been outstanding since Unai Emery’s appointment at Villa Park and has 17 goals and assists in the Premier League this season – more than any other English player.

On current form, Watkins looks a certainty to make the squad for Euro 2024 in the summer, though Calvert-Lewin has tumbled down the pecking order in Gareth Southgate’s plans. The 26-year-old has been ravaged by injury problems across the last two seasons and has looked somewhat short of his best since his return.

Calvert-Lewin has gone nine league games without a goal since netting Everton’s winner against West Ham in October. He has just three Premier League goals from an expected goals (xG) total of 7.07 this season – only Darwin Nunez and Nicolas Jackson have underperformed their xG figures by a greater margin.

What will Spurs signings bring?

Ange Postecoglou can be pleased with the speed at which Spurs have conducted business this winter, bringing in much-needed reinforcements in the opening days of the January transfer window.

Spurs completed the signing of Radu Dragusin from Genoa in a deal worth around £30m this week, with the Romanian brought in to add defensive depth. With Cristian Romero currently sidelined and both Eric Dier and Ashley Phillips allowed to leave, Dragusin could be thrown in from the start as the North Londoners take on Manchester United this weekend.

The 21-year-old impressed after Genoa’s promotion into Serie A this season, ranking second in the division for clearances and leading all defenders for aerial duels won.

Spurs have also snapped up Timo Werner on loan from RB Leipzig. The German underwhelmed during a two-season spell in the Premier League at Chelsea and fell out of favour at Leipzig this season, despite 16 goals in all competitions in 2022/23. However, the 27-year-old offers versatility, speed and work rate, attributes which appear tailor-made for Postecoglou’s plan, particularly in the absence of Son Heung-min.

Will Bayindir take his chance?

Altay Bayindir must have been left wondering what he has to do to earn a chance at Manchester United. The club’s second-choice goalkeeper has watched on as Andre Onana has struggled this season, with the Turkey international failing to make an appearance in any competition across his first six months at Old Trafford.

Erik ten Hag even sought special dispensation from Cameroon to field Onana in the club’s FA Cup third-round clash with Wigan on Monday, a decision which does not reflect favourably on his faith in Bayindir.

However, the 25-year-old will be handed his chance in the coming weeks, as Onana competes at the Africa Cup of Nations. With the pressure perhaps partly alleviated given Onana’s form this season, Bayindir has an almost free hit at establishing himself in the side. A trip to Tottenham represents the first acid test for the summer signing.

Read – Premier League mid-season awards: Best Player, Goal and more!

See more – AFCON 2023: Five players to watch out for

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