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Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

There are some huge games in the Premier League this weekend, including a title race showdown between Arsenal and Liverpool in North London. Ahead of the action, we look at six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend.

The importance of Pau Torres

Aston Villa’s push for Champions League football suffered a setback in midweek, as the club’s long unbeaten run at Villa Park came to an end. Unai Emery’s side lost 3-1 to a Newcastle team who have struggled on the road this season, with his side’s defending leaving a lot to be desired.

Pau Torres’ continued absence has coincided with a dip in form for Villa. The Spanish centre-back was viewed as a coup when arriving from Villarreal in the summer and has formed an excellent understanding with Ezri Konsa at centre-back.

With Torres in the starting side, Villa have played 16 games this season, winning 12 (75%) and losing just twice. In his absence from the start, Villa have won just once from six games (16.67%) and lost three times.

Torres’ carry in possession and left-footed balance has been integral to Villa’s success this season. The sooner he returns, the better for Emery and his team.

Goals drying up for Brighton?

Brighton produced their worst performance of the Roberto De Zerbi era after being thrashed 4-0 at Luton in midweek. The Seagulls’ head coach continues to be linked with positions at Barcelona and Liverpool, though results will need to improve if the Italian is to remain on the radar of top clubs.

Brighton have one win from seven Premier League games and have failed to score in three consecutive fixtures. The goals have dried up for the Seagulls, ahead of facing rivals Crystal Palace this weekend.

 

The absences of Kaoru Mitoma, Simon Adingra, Ansu Fati, Julio Enciso and Solly March have reduced Brighton’s creative spark, though wastefulness has also been a factor. No team has had a greater underperformance in terms of Expected Goals (Zero goals from an xG of 4.54) since January 1.

Evan Ferguson has failed to score in eight Premier League games, while Joao Pedro – for all the plaudits he has received of late – has only three open-play goals in the league this season.

Defensive strength can keep Everton afloat

Everton dropped into the relegation places in midweek, as Luton’s big win over Brighton saw the Hatters leapfrog Sean Dyche’s side. The Toffees are mired in trouble after their 10-point deduction for Profit and Sustainability breaches, with an initial four-game winning run after those sanctions followed by a winless run.

Everton are without a win in five games, following consecutive losses to Spurs, Man City and Wolves with goalless draws against Aston Villa and Fulham. Those back-to-back clean sheets have continued a strong defensive record this season, however, with only the top three having conceded fewer goals than Everton this season.

No goalkeeper has more clean sheets than Jordan Pickford (8) and given the lack of goals in the squad, the Toffees need to keep things tight at the back to survive this season.

Hojlund finding his feet at Old Trafford

Rasmus Hojlund could hardly have been handed a bigger baptism of fire at Manchester United this season. Signed in a £72m deal after just one season and nine goals in a top-level European league, the pressure was on the summer signing with no senior centre-forward of reliability at Old Trafford.

Hojlund made an impression during the Champions League group stage, though struggled to open his account in the league. His first goal in the Premier League arrived on his 15th appearance, though it’s been a noticeable upturn since.

A goal at Wolves in midweek, bundled over the line from close range, made it three consecutive Premier League appearances with a goal for Hojlund, who also netted in the FA Cup win at Newport Country.

He has six goal involvements in his last five appearances and has shown signs of an encouraging understanding with Marcus Rashford. After watching his team toil in front of goal all season, Ten Hag will be delighted with the shoots of growth from his striker.

Arsenal face nemesis in red-hot form

Arsenal fans are sick of the sight of Diogo Jota.

The forward has been a regular thorn in the Gunners’ side in recent seasons and will hope to extend his prolific record at the Emirates this weekend.

Jota has scored five goals in his five previous appearances at Arsenal for Liverpool in all competitions, while he has eight goals in 14 career appearances against the North Londoners. The Portugal international arrives at Arsenal this weekend in fine form, having scored five times in five games to lead Liverpool’s attack in the absence of Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool visit Arsenal top of the Premier League table, boasting a five-point advantage over the third-placed Gunners. Having won at Arsenal in the FA Cup third round last month, another victory at the Emirates would be huge, both psychologically and numerically, for the Reds’ title hopes.

Brentford a bogey team for the champions?

Manchester City swept almost all before them during the club’s treble-winning season last term, but Brentford proved problematic for Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side.

The Bees became only the fifth team to do a league double against Guardiola’s City team and the only side to achieve the feat last season, beating the treble winners 2-1 at the Etihad and 1-0 on home soil.

The latter of those wins came in a final-day dead rubber with City confirmed as champions, though Guardiola is well aware of the threat that Brentford – and particularly Ivan Toney – pose his side.

 

“He’s an exceptional player,” Guardiola said on Toney at his pre-match press conference.

“Not just long balls, set pieces, penalties he is a guarantee, with free-kicks. For many things. They can link with him. He’s an extraordinary player. Happy he is back. Hopefully, that period is forgotten for him and his life and his family. Exceptional players are always more than welcome in the Premier League.”

Read – Five Premier League youngsters who have seized their chance this season

See more – Premier League: Five things we learned from Matchday 22

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