Can Liverpool complete power shift over Man United? Will strain show for Spurs?
W2W4 previews the week's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines ...
Can Liverpool complete the power shift over Manchester United?
This season has been defined by moments of progression for Liverpool. Every time they keep a clean sheet, every time they close out a game in a calm and mature fashion without conceding two late goals, every time they keep pace with and now overhaul Manchester City, it represents another step forward from the thrilling but flawed team of last season.
However, one of the things remaining on their checklist is beating Manchester United, something they haven't done in the league since a few weeks before David Moyes was sacked in 2014. Liverpool are, this season, an objectively better team than United: they have a a manager still at something like his peak versus one who looks like he should find a job he enjoys more. A team maturing versus one which seemingly refuses to learn. One at the top of the league versus one already 16 points back in sixth.
The point of a rivalry as big as Liverpool and Manchester United is not just to be better than the other lot, it's to let them know you're better with such emphasis that they can't forget it. League positions are not immediately, viscerally obvious: a fan of the inferior team can come up with a million ways to write that off, or ignore it, but beating them in a derby, and beating them emphatically, it's not as easy to forget that.
Even if Liverpool lose on Sunday, they will still be the superior team. But if Jurgen Klopp's side do win, it not only represents another way in which they are streaking ahead, but shouts it in the face of their rivals.
Will any Arsenal defenders make themselves known?
Theoretically, a trip to Southampton shouldn't be that tricky for Arsenal. This is, after all, a side who haven't won a league game since September hosting one who haven't lost one of any kind since August. But Unai Emery will travel to the south coast a little light on defenders. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi are suspended, Rob Holding is out for the season, Nacho Monreal has only played 42 minutes since the start of October, Konstantinos Mavropanos was last seen being sent off in May, and Laurent Koscielny only returned on Thursday in the Europa League, after seven months out.
So Emery will have to gamble significantly on half-fit (at best) players, mix and match with someone like full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner in the middle or a combination of both. Again, theoretically, Southampton are not the most fearsome opponents, but Ralph Hasenhuttl has now had a little time to work with his troops, and they already looked refreshed in defeat to Cardiff last weekend. It could be a trickier afternoon for Arsenal than you might think.
Will Spurs start feeling the strain?
It's around this point of the season when the thinness of Tottenham's squad might start to look most apparent. Mauricio Pochettino's side are in the middle of a run that sees them play 12 games in 38 days, the sort of run that will test any squad to cracking point. Pochettino indicated that this run might be a problem by resting Harry Kane for their last league game against Leicester, and Tuesday's intense encounter with Barcelona will have taken plenty out of his players.
Saturday's contest against Burnley is another fixture in which Pochettino might be tempted to rotate, but the trouble is Spurs don't really have the players, other than maybe in the attacking trio behind Kane, to chop and change too much. Sean Dyche's side have shown signs of life recently, the win over Brighton last time out finally rewarding them, so this will be a tricky affair for this weary Spurs.
Palace have to deal without Zaha ... again
Roy Hodgson tends to smile thinly and look as if he'd rather be anywhere else when he's asked about Crystal Palace's reliance on Wilfried Zaha. Perhaps it's because he knows very well how serious the problem is, but this week it might have been because the problem presents itself once more: Zaha is suspended for their game against Leicester, meaning they have to try to win without him, something they haven't managed in the league since September 2016.
In fairness, Palace haven't been winning much with their talisman in the team of late, so perhaps being without him won't make much difference. But should they lose to the Foxes, they will have collected just five points from 11 games, the sort of record that gets trigger fingers twitchy in boardrooms. Palace need to learn how to win without Zaha, and it needs to be now.
Cardiff need to improve their away record
Things have started to look up in the past few weeks for Cardiff. The team widely tipped to plummet straight back from whence they came by, well, pretty much everybody, have won three of their past five and are inching up the table. One point that should be made, though: they have won all of those three at home, whereas they have only collected a single point on their travels. A rampant away record isn't necessarily required for survival (Brighton were the worst team on the road last season and survived handily), but it certainly helps, and it also takes some pressure off those home games.
They might have a chance this weekend. Watford have been vulnerable lately, only collecting two points from their past six games -- the brilliance of their early season form merely a memory. A win for Neil Warnock's side would really start convincing people they could stay up.