Feature

Ten key questions for Matchweek 16

By Alex Keble 9 Dec 2023
NEW Keble lead

Alex Keble looks at the main talking points for each of the weekend's fixtures

Related Articles
Guardiola: Aston Villa are title contenders
Ten Hag named November 2023 Barclays Manager of the Month
Spurs must forget defeat and stick to beliefs

Alex Keble looks at the main talking points for each of this weekend's matches. 

Can Liverpool build away momentum despite early start?

Liverpool’s relatively straightforward 2-0 victory over a newly stubborn Sheffield United on Chris Wilder’s return was hugely significant.

It broke their four-match winless run on the road in the Premier League to give Jurgen Klopp his first away win since a 3-1 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers in mid-September. In all competitions, Liverpool had won only one of their last six away matches before Wednesday.

The challenge is to build upon that at Selhurst Park, where Liverpool ought to find extra motivation following Manchester City’s dropped points against Aston Villa in midweek.

The title race is on and Liverpool, already four points ahead of Pep Guardiola’s side and with a 100 per cent record at Anfield, need only to solve their away form to put themselves in a commanding position.

Well, that and sort out their early kick-off defects. Klopp has regularly complained about being put in the Saturday 12:30 slot, and little wonder considering Liverpool have won only one of their seven away matches at that time, drawing three and losing, in a record stretching back to the start of last season.

Title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Liverpool LIV 26 +38 60
2 Man City MCI 26 +33 59
3 Arsenal ARS 26 +39 58
View More

Indeed, home and away, among the kick-off times Liverpool have played at least 10 Premier League matches under Klopp, the 12:30 Saturday fixture has their lowest points-per-match average of 1.76.

Liverpool supporters should be relieved, then, that Crystal Palace are next up. Palace are winless in their last 12 meetings with Liverpool, drawing two and losing 10. Roy Hodgson has also lost each of his last eight league matches against his former team.

Palace are also four matches without a win, falling 2-0 at home to AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday. Liverpool should be capable of building some momentum towards Christmas.

Can Brighton win first back-to-back since September?

It has been an erratic season so far for Brighton & Hove Albion, whose European exploits, coupled with Roberto De Zerbi’s tendency to rotate his starting XI, have left them a little difficult to read – and more than a little inconsistent.

Their 2-1 victory over Brentford on Wednesday was their first home win in the Premier League since a 3-1 victory against Bournemouth on September 24 which, incidentally, was the last time Brighton managed back-to-back victories in the competition.

Clearly, the challenge for De Zerbi is to get Brighton back in their groove, and the visit of Burnley represents a huge opportunity to do just that.

Vincent Kompany’s side have become only the eighth team in Premier League history to accrue seven or fewer points in the first 15 matches. The other seven all went down.

Indeed Burnley’s only league points this season have been against Luton Town, Sheff Utd, and Nottingham Forest. The 33 goals they have conceded are the second-most in the division, while Brighton have scored 98 goals in 48 matches in all competitions in 2023.

Hinshelwood nets Brighton's winner v Brentford
Can Man Utd prove Chelsea performance is no one-off?

Erik ten Hag has been praising his team’s performances for weeks now, even while the rest of us were still wondering what exactly Manchester United have been trying to achieve this season. In the 2-1 victory over Chelsea, we finally got a glimpse.

United pressed high and hard, won the ball in dangerous areas, and attacked at breakneck speed. They accumulated an Expected Goals (xG) of 4.07, the second-most of any side in a Premier League game this season.

But triumphing in an all-action, end-to-end match against Chelsea might simply reflect the chaos of the opposition, rather than signal a new dawn, and so United need to back it up with another strong showing against Bournemouth.

The Cherries are perhaps the perfect opponents for Man Utd at this juncture. Granted, Andoni Iraola’s side are in superb form, winning three of their last four Premier League matches, but their high press and free-flowing attacking football should pull the hosts into another frenetic encounter that suits Ten Hag.

Bournemouth are second in the Premier League for attempted take-ons, with 342, and successful take-ons, with 160. They are also second for attempted take-ons played against them, with 309. This is only ahead of Man Utd’s 307.

That openness, on both sides, means we should see the Chelsea performance emulated whether intentional or not – and for better or worse.

Will Wilder get a new-manager bounce?

The home match against Liverpool was something of a free hit for bottom club Sheff Utd, but the defensive organisation they showed will provide some optimism to supporters.

The Blades reduced Liverpool to 1.8 xG, the joint-fifth lowest they have recorded in the Premier League this season.

The real work starts on Saturday - and Wilder knows that he needs a new-manager bounce to take effect if he is to somehow haul Sheff Utd out of the bottom three. A home game against an injury-hit Brentford is about as inviting as they come.

Brentford have lost three of their last four and will be without Bryan Mbeumo, adding to a growing injury crisis that has undermined their recent progress under Thomas Frank.

It gives Sheff Utd the opportunity to hold a bit more possession than usual, take the game to the visitors, and remind everyone inside Bramall Lane of what Wilder football can look like - fluid and tactically dextrous.

Sheff Utd’s next five matches include matches at Chelsea, Villa, and Man City, plus a home tie against Luton on Boxing Day.

Wilder surely needs six points from those two home matches.

Will Molineux visit be the end for Cooper?

Widespread media reports suggest that Steve Cooper’s position at Nott'm Forest has been under review as the team slide closer towards the relegation zone. The manner of their 5-0 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday evening certainly cranked the pressure up a notch.

Forest aren’t yet in serious danger, but it seems that Cooper is, if those reports are to be believed. His team have won one of their last 11 Premier League matches, picking up seven points in that time.

Wolves, meanwhile, are undefeated in five matches at Molineux, an impressive run that encompasses victories over Man City and Tottenham Hotspur, plus draws against Villa and Newcastle United.

It’s looking ominous for Forest, especially after Matheus Cunha and Hwang Hee-chan combined yet again for the midweek winner against Burnley.

Hwang has seven goals in his last eight Premier League home games, while Cunha has been involved in a goal in each of his last four, scoring two goals and providing two assists.

Stopping those two is Forest’s main hope of avoiding defeat and perhaps Cooper’s main hope of being at the club at Christmas.

Will Villa enter title race this weekend?

“Definitely,” was Guardiola’s response when asked whether Villa were in the title race.

“The way they are playing… and when you are there and see the physicality, the tempo, the speed, the bench, the organisation from Unai [Emery], the set-pieces, the high pressing, the middle block, how incredible the back four defend, the good 'keeper… absolutely.”

Emery won’t admit it, not yet, but victory against leaders Arsenal at Villa Park on Saturday, which would take Villa to within at least two points of top spot, would surely signal their arrival as outsiders.

The performance against Manchester City on Wednesday evening was one of the best the Premier League has ever seen. Of all the stats we could pick out to prove it, one stands out - Man City’s final shot was in the 11th minute of the match.

But unlike Man City, Arsenal are nearly at full strength and have won each of their last six matches in all competitions, albeit needing a last-minute goal to beat Luton 4-3 in midweek.

That gives Villa fresh hope. If Luton can score three times against Mikel Arteta’s side, then Emery will expect in-form Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins to get the job done.

Will Dyche twist the knife against Chelsea?

Chelsea’s loss at Man Utd means their 17 league defeats in 2023 are more than they accumulated in 2022 and 2021 combined.

They are yet to hold a higher position than 10th in the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino and have won only two of their last seven in the competition.

Any green shoots that had appeared now seem to have been torn out.

Everton have found their feet under Sean Dyche and will have a conservative battle-plan devised to nullify Chelsea’s high press with long balls forward, while the hosts’ physicality isn’t something an increasingly error-prone Blues defence will want to deal with.

There is certainly a possibility that Dyche and Everton will twist the knife with a victory. If that was to happen, it would leave Chelsea closer to the bottom three than the top four.

Can Jimenez maintain record v West Ham?

Out of nowhere, Fulham are scoring freely. They have netted three times in each of their last three Premier League matches and if they were to do the same against West Ham United it would become four in a row for the first time since October 1961.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it has happened, although a return to goalscoring form for Raul Jimenez certainly helps.

Jimenez scored twice in the 5-0 midweek thumping of Sheff Utd. It took the Mexican's tally to three goals in his last four Premier League outings, matching his total from his previous 47.

West Ham will be worried.

Only versus Everton and Southampton, against whom he has scored five times each, has Jimenez registered more goals than the four he has struck against the Hammers, despite having only started five times against them.

The last thing David Moyes needed was a Jimenez brace four days before his team visit Craven Cottage.

Will Kenilworth Road intimidate Man City?

The prospect of Kenilworth Road as a tough place to go was put on hold for a while, but Rob Edwards’ Luton now look ready to take on any and all challengers.

Their first victory, 2-1 against Palace, was preceded by a 1-1 draw with Liverpool and followed by an unlucky 4-3 defeat to Arsenal, two matches that showed Luton’s capacity to score on the counter-attack.

Their feistiness when out of possession and their direct attacks that unsettle Premier League defences are great weapons with which to face a depleted and struggling Man City.

City are winless in four, their worst run since April 2017, and Guardiola has never gone five in a row in his entire managerial career.

They were roundly beaten by Villa, second to every ball and seemingly intimidated by the atmosphere inside Villa Park. It is this, more than anything, that will give hope to supporters inside Kenilworth Road.

But Rodri’s return from suspension is a major boost, while Luton’s defensive style suggests the visitors will hold 70 per cent possession.

Normally, that means suffocating control and victory for the champions, who have won 13 of their last 14 Premier League matches against promoted sides.

Still, there is something in the air. City are wobbling. Luton are confident and have nothing to lose. Stranger things have happened.

Can Newcastle find inspiration from last season’s 6-1?

The last time these two teams met Newcastle were 6-1 winners at St James’ Park in April. So much has changed since then, and yet a repeat score line doesn’t feel out of the question.

Eddie Howe’s side are superb in the transition, winning tackles in central midfield before bursting forward through Anthony Gordon and midfield runner Joelinton.

They blew Man Utd away last weekend playing in that style and, perhaps more importantly, tore Villa to shreds in a 5-1 win on the opening day.

Villa’s high line was badly exposed by those runs – by Howe’s directness – and Ange Postecoglou’s defensive line is very similar to Emery’s.

We know that Spurs always play in the same adventurous, front-foot style. And we know that Newcastle love that kind of space, hence the 2.4 xG amassed against Man Utd and Chelsea in the last fortnight.

That 6-1 in April might not have been a one-off.

Latest Videos

More Videos