W2W4: Van Dijk set for Man City test, Tosun to solve Everton's scoring woes?
After a week break for the FA Cup, the Premier league returns this weeked. Here's what to watch for...
How will Liverpool's new-look defence fare against Man City?
Virgil van Dijk passed his first test at Liverpool with flying colours last week, scoring the winning goal in the Reds' FA Cup tie against Everton. It was a debut to savour for the Dutchman in front of the Anfield crowd, but the visit of Manchester City on Sunday will offer a much more thorough examination of his credentials.
With 64 goals already this season -- 10 more than Manchester United managed in the entirety of the previous campaign -- City's runaway lead at the top of the Premier League has been powered by Pep Guardiola's devastating attacking style. Liverpool will be keenly aware of that fact, having been thrashed 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium in September at the start of a run that saw them pick up just one win in eight matches over all competitions.
Gabriel Jesus scored a brace that afternoon, but in the Brazilian's injury absence much of the burden this weekend will fall on Sergio Aguero, who opened the scoring at the Etihad before Sadio Mane's controversial red card. Although the Argentine is no longer guaranteed a starting spot under Guardiola, 19 goals in 25 matches suggests he remains as potent as ever and the greatest threat to Jurgen Klopp's side avenging September's heavy defeat on Sunday.
While most defenders would have sleepless nights preparing to face Aguero, Van Dijk commands an impressive record against the City striker. In three previous meetings, Aguero hasn't found the net once, failing to muster a single attempt on target in 90 minutes against Southampton earlier in the season. With Van Dijk marshalling the defence, the Saints were a competitive prospect against the top six, and it required a 96th-minute winner from Raheem Sterling to eventually get the better of them in November.
Van Dijk's performances against imposing opposition undoubtedly played a part in Liverpool's decision to spend £75 million on his services, and Sunday's clash against City is a chance for the centre-back to build on a solid start against Everton. If he can keep Aguero quiet once more, it may hint that Liverpool finally have the foundation on which to mount their own title challenge next season.
Can Tosun solve Everton's scoring woes?
It is now five games without a victory for Everton in all competitions as Sam Allardyce's honeymoon spell on Merseyside grinds to an abrupt halt. Of all the mistakes in a haphazard approach to the summer transfer window -- which ultimately cost Ronald Koeman his job -- failing to sign a striker to replace Romelu Lukaku was the least forgivable. Having scored just two goals in their winless run, it was little surprise to see the Toffees' hierarchy hastily sanction a £27m move for Turkish striker Cenk Tosun.
It is likely Tosun will be thrown straight in against Tottenham on Saturday, and Allardyce needs his new man to adapt quickly to the Premier League to avoid a seven-point gap to the bottom three from shrinking any further. While Wayne Rooney has performed better than many anticipated on his return to Everton, scoring 11 goals so far, his recent displays -- particularly in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester United -- have reinforced the view that he is no longer capable of leading the line. That responsibility now falls to Tosun.
The striker has an impressive pedigree, helping fire Besiktas to back-to-back Turkish Super Lig titles with his direct style and lethal eye for goal. Displaying excellent movement off the ball, Tosun is strong in the air and makes well-timed runs into the box. That is exactly what Everton have been lacking and, with Yannick Bolasie and Gylfi Sigurdsson providing the ammunition, they will head to Wembley to take on Spurs with renewed confidence.
Stoke must stop Lingard
Everton may have been sorely missing Lukaku this season, but the Manchester United striker arguably isn't the biggest concern for managerless Stoke when they travel to Old Trafford on Monday night. Instead, Jesse Lingard is the player they should fear most, with the midfielder cementing his status as the clutch individual for Jose Mourinho's side in recent weeks.
The 25-year-old has scored seven times in his last nine Premier League appearances, compared to five top-flight strikes in the rest of his career as a whole (60 appearances). A brace against Arsenal earned a vital victory at the start of December, while Lingard also bagged the winner at West Brom, rescued a point against Burnley and helped secure all three at Everton -- not to mention his late goal in a 2-0 win over Derby in the FA Cup to ensure United avoided a replay in an already packed fixture list.
There are few players in better form in the Premier League at present, and Gareth Southgate will be paying close attention as he ponders his England World Cup squad. Stoke would also do well to keep a careful eye on Lingard -- otherwise his penchant for late goals could punish yet another opponent.
Is Sanchez close to the exit door at Arsenal?
Arsene Wenger's team selection for Sunday's trip to Bournemouth could reveal whether Alexis Sanchez will be staying at Arsenal this month or finally completing a protracted move to Manchester City. The forward only appeared as a second-half substitute in Wednesday's League Cup semi-final against Chelsea, hinting that Wenger is planning for a future without one of his star players.
West Brom in the last chance saloon
It is 20 matches since West Brom last won in the Premier League and eight since Alan Pardew replaced Tony Pulis in the hot seat. For the manager and his players, time is quickly running out -- even Championship side Bristol City boast more wins (4) against top-flight opposition than the Baggies this season.
Perhaps a 2-0 victory over Exeter in the FA Cup -- a first in any competition since August -- will serve as the springboard for a renewed shot at survival when Brighton travel to The Hawthorns on Saturday.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger