Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Can Leicester keep momentum going, what a weekend that lies ahead for David Ospina

Leicester City will hope to maintain their fine form this weekend against Watford. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Leicester City will hope to maintain their fine form this weekend against Watford. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

 

1) Ospina in at the deep end for Arsenal

David Ospina has already contributed to an Arsenal victory at White Hart Lane this season - in the Capital One Cup, back in September - but one week after that win the goalkeeper’s standing among Arsenal fans collapsed. A couple of goofs in the Champions League defeat by Olympiakos triggered derision for the Colombian and, most of all, for Arsene Wenger, who was accused of complacency for deploying his second-choice keeper in such a high-stakes game. Ospina may be an experienced and highly talented international goalkeeper but he is no Petr Cech. Wenger insisted that the criticism was unfair but Ospina’s outings for Arsenal since then have been restricted, partially because of injury, to a pair of FA Cup games.

Now a calf injury to Cech means Ospina will make his first league appearance of the season in what is the biggest north London derby in a generation. The form of Arsenal’s outfield players suggests that their goalkeeper is going to have to rise to the occasion. PD

2) Leicester to build on midweek bonus at Watford

Wednesday’s wondrous Premier League results amounted to a rousing pep talk for Leicester, who could hardly have imagined on Tuesday that a point against West Bromwich Albion would increase their advantage over the chasing mob. They will go to Vicarage Road confident that if they reproduce the performance that they did in midweek, then they can win away to a Watford team that is admirably solid but has already lost at home this season to teams seemingly worse than Leicester, including Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United. For a while it looked like Odion Ighalo was going to challenge Jamie Vardy for this season’s Premier League golden boot, but the Nigerian has been off the boil in recent weeks, finishing rashly and failing to find the net in his last six matches. If Andy King continues to deputise well for N’Golo Kante, Leicester should still have at least a three point lead at the top of the table after this weekend. PD

3) Villa to target City?s soft centre

It’s well established now that Manchester City have been awful against the better teams in the Premier League this season. Their three league defeats in a row - against Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool - attest to this. One clear theme runs through those losses: a lack of energy in midfield when the chips are down. City are a team that play in moments, and when those moments are good, they can be so slick as to get the better of any opponent. But those moments can be too easily suppressed. City’s most regular central midfielders, Yaya Toure, Fernando and Fernandinho, average 30 years of age between them. Fabian Delph was bought last summer to add much-needed zeal but injuries have limited his impact. The team’s dynamism comes further forward from their more spritely players. So while hardly anyone will be giving Aston Villa a chance of an away victory, Remi Garde will know that his best chance of getting anything from the game will come from putting numbers in midfield and telling them to hunt down possession in packs, as Jurgen Klopp’s team did so effectively on Wednesday night. Garde’s first game in charge was against City. The score? Nil-nil. Villa’s squad may have given up the ghost long ago, but if they are to add to the damage already done to City’s title hopes, it’ll likely begin in the Etihad centre-circle. GB

4) Pulis to keep the handbrake off against United

No one could ever accuse Tony Pulis of being freewheeling but in sticking with the attacking trio of Stephane Sessegnon, Saido Berahino and Salomon Rondon at Leicester City it felt like the much-maligned West Bromwich Albion manager was being about as carefree as he dares to be. In two games the Baggies have bagged five goals. Are the shackles off for good? Only time will tell, but for the visit of Manchester United they should be. The rapid movement and trickery of Sessegnon and Berahino could be key if West Brom are going to exploit the space in behind what could be a central defensive partnership lacking pace, fitness or experience depending on who Louis van Gaal cobbles together this week. And then there’s the menacing and burly presence of Rondon who, fresh from bullying Robert Huth, would be only too keen to get his teeth into any underpowered backline. Either way, by starting three attackers with differing qualities together, West Brom no longer look like the one-dimensional team they have done at times this season. Van Gaal’s resurgent side will have to stay alert if they are to keep the pressure on Manchester City. GB

5) Origi’s discipline may suit Liverpool on visit to Palace

It was December 1997 when Liverpool last beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a league game. They don’t have Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Oyvind Leonhardsen on hand this time to score the goals required to earn a 3-0 away win, but after racing past Manchester City by the same scoreline at Anfield on Wednesday they should feel confident that a similarly high-energy performance would be good enough to end a near two-decade wait for a victory there. Liverpool haven’t won three league games in a row all term. Klopp’s biggest immediate challenge is to find consistency in his side at the business end of the season. One of the notable things against City at Anfield was Divock Origi’s discipline in leading the line. Daniel Sturridge is undoubtedly the club’s most talented forward but, as evidenced in Liverpool’s defeat by City at Wembley, he is prone to dropping deep and searching for the ball when it is not coming his way, thus filling the space that Liverpool’s creators like to operate in. Origi stayed high up the pitch and ensured there was a gap between City’s defence and midfield, a gap that James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana utilised brilliantly to do serious damage to City’s title hopes. It may be that, even if Sturridge is fit enough to start at Palace, Origi is handed the central attacking role. GB

6) West Ham to stick with three centre-backs at Goodison

West Ham haven’t won against Everton in 18 games, so a visit to Goodison Park could hardly be a better test of their credentials as they move ever closer to the Champions League places. They usually come away from Merseyside empty-handed. Well, they used to until they beat Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield in August. Slaven Bilic’s best hope of upsetting his former employers and staking a legitimate claim for Champions League football may lie in playing three centre-backs for the second match running. It was a tactic that worked perfectly in nullifying the movement and threat of Spurs at Upton Park and also utilised the athleticism of Michail Antonio at right wing-back. With Romelu Lukaku enjoying another hot streak West Ham would be well advised to double up on him. There may be renewed optimism at Everton since Farhad Moshiri’s investment but Roberto Martinez’s side are still yet to convince in front of their own fans regularly in the league. If West Ham win the physical battle and stay patient, as they have done so well on many occasions this term, the creeping anxiety that has inhibited Everton at times could lead to a twitchy moment or two that West Ham are well served to exploit. GB

7) Shot-shy Saints take on Sunderland’s leaky defence

Southampton have scored only one league goal more than Sunderland this season and their chances of adding to their tally this weekend have been lengthened by injuries to Shane Long and Charlie Austin. Those absences probably mean that Graziano Pelle, who is without a league goal since November, and Sadio Mane, who is without one for even longer, will start. Meanwhile, it has been over three months since Sunderland kept a clean sheet. Chances are, at least one sorry streak will end at St Mary’s on Saturday. But Southampton’s superior defence suggests that the visitors are unlikely to return home with the three points they crave. PD

8) Norwich hope to haul Swansea back into trouble

Following their unexpected but deserved win at the Emirates, Swansea now have a prime opportunity to put further distance between themselves and Norwich, who slipped into the relegation zone as a result of an unfortunate defeat to Chelsea. And consistently inept defending throughout the season. And consistently ropey finishing. That’s a flat cocktail, to be sure, and Norwich need to find missing ingredients quick smart if they are to pull Swansea back into the relegation mix. Steven Naismith missed the defeat to Chelsea but is expected to make the trip to Wales; he will need to bring his shooting boots if Norwich are to return with their first win since he joined them in January. PD

9) Time for Newcastle to find some cohesion

Bournemouth generally play with a cohesion and energy that Newcastle seldom show. What is more, the January purchase of Benik Afobe and the return from injury of Max Gradel have given them the sharpness up front that Newcastle lack. On the evidence of the season so far, then, Eddie Howe’s team are logically above Steve McClaren’s rabble and are likely to stay there. The thing is, there is quality somewhere in that there rabble, and Newcastle have managed to win their last two matches at home, amid dismal away performances. But the hosts will have to play to their potential if they are to avoid a costly defeat this weekend. PD

10) Pato to break his duck against Stoke?

The excellence of Jack Butland has ensured that despite the extended absence of the imperious Ryan Shawcross - and the fact that Stoke have scored fewer league goals this season than Norwich - Mark Hughes’ side are still in with an unlikely chance of a top four finish. Maybe even Chelsea are, too. But this weekend Guus Hiddink may have his mind on the second leg of this season’s Champions League competition, with the visit of Paris Saint-Germain looming. That need to overturn the deficit from the first leg could persuade the manager to omit Diego Costa, among others, helping Butland and a depleted Stoke defence keep another clean sheet. Or perhaps this is Alexandre Pato’s time to shine? PD

Guardian services

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