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FourFourTwo's football preview: What will and won't happen this weekend

Man United vs Southampton (League Cup final)

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Southampton are just the second side in League Cup history to reach the final without conceding – Tottenham managed the feat in 1981/82 but lost the final 3-1 to Liverpool.

The big talking point: Er, duh: it's the first cup final of the season for two managers aiming to bolster the honours section on their Wikipedia pages.

Jose Mourinho has already been busy trying to deflect pressure away from the game, having rocked up to his pre-match press conference sporting 'CR' initials in support of vanquished Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri and duly laying into Foxes players for their lacklustre efforts this term. He's good at this final lark, though: the Portuguese won all four of his domestic showdowns with Chelsea, three of them in the League Cup, and could join Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson with a fourth victory in the competition. This will be only Claude Puel's second domestic final ever, having taken – and lost with – Monaco in the 2001 French Cup final. Will it be worth the wait?  

What will happen: Zlatan to turn up, and United to win. The Swede might be midway through his 36th year of life but hasn't disappointed since peacocking into Old Trafford, plundering 15 Premier League goals and finishing off the likes of Saint-Etienne, West Ham and Blackburn in the cups too. His recent final pedigree is predictably strong: with PSG, a brace in the 2015 Coupe de la Ligue final against Bastia, and another pair in the 2016 Coupe de France clash against Marseille.

What won't happen: Well, don't expect a huge amount of goal action. Southampton haven't conceded en route to the final and only Middlesbrough's matches average fewer goals in the Premier League this season. Level with them on 2.36 goals per game? Manchester United. 

Chelsea vs Swansea

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The big talking point: Can Swansea carry their new resilience into Stamford Bridge?

Paul Clement has won three of his last four games and, had it not been for Gabriel Jesus's late winner, would also have taken a point off Manchester City. While Swansea aren't definitively improved as an attacking force, their level of defensive discipline has risen exponentially over the last few weeks. But what a place to put that to the test: no team in the country is better at finding and exploiting final-third space than Chelsea.

What will happen: Chelsea are one of the most dangerous breaking sides in the country, so expect Clement to keep his players deep and compact, and to limit their ambition. Unfortunately for Swansea, they're also the most efficient front-foot team, too, and have shown themselves capable of picking through even the densest defences. Chelsea will be what they now always are under Conte: methodical and relentless in that pressure ratcheting way. 

What won't happen: Any recklessness from Swansea. In fact, expect a performance stylistically similar to the one given at Anfield in late January. 

Crystal Palace vs Middlesbrough

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The big talking point: What effect is Sam Allardyce really having?

Palace haven't played for two weeks (since the 1-0 loss to Stoke) and that will have suited Allardyce. If his message is ever to resonate with these players, it should logically be now. He cancelled a planned warm-weather training trip to Dubai, with the squad remaining in England during the Premier League's hiatus. A focus, presumably, was placed on all the usual Allardyce synonyms and if by the time they emerge on Saturday they are not recognisable in his image, then there are serious problems at Selhurst Park.

What will happen: Middlesbrough will be their obdurate, well-drilled selves: they have a better defensive record than half of the top-six clubs for a reason. Palace? It will depend on how honest the discussions have been over the past fortnight. This game will either mark the beginning of their climb to safety or the start of their death swirl towards relegation.

What won't happen: Goals. Palace have only scored four times since Allardyce took charge and if ever a game was likely to be settled by a narrow score it's this one. 

Everton vs Sunderland

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The big talking point: Everton's resurgence. Quietly, Ronald Koeman has put together a lengthy unbeaten streak stretching back to the middle of December and the Merseyside derby. No side has taken more Premier League points in 2017 than Everton. Koeman is known as a team builder and gradually forged an identity from the talented but flimsy parts he inherited from Roberto Martinez. He might also be close to cracking the conundrum of Ross Barkley, which should also provide an interesting sub-plot.

What will happen: Romelu Lukaku will score. Sunderland are Lukaku's favourite prey and has scored seven league goals against them already in his career, matched only by his record against West Ham. If he does score at the weekend, it would be his 60th for Everton and would draw him level with Duncan Ferguson as the club's leading goalscorer in the Premier League era. 

What won't happen: Tension, nervousness, or anything to unsettle the Goodison Park crowd. David Moyes might have overseen a mild improvement over the past six months, but nothing which will make Sunderland anything more than cannon-fodder this weekend. 

Hull vs Burnley

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The big talking point: How will Burnley respond to their Lincoln humiliation? And humiliation is the right word, too, because as heroic as the non-leaguers were there is never any excuse for a Premier League team to lose, at home, to such a lowly club.

It's an interesting situation. Because Burnley are a natural league underdog, their losses are rarely paid any attention and they typically draw a steady, uninterrupted flow of praise. But not so this week. Hull are resurgent under Marco Silva and will have identified this game, against a team who are notoriously fragile away from home, as being very winnable. It's a different kind of adversity for Burnley, not the 'no-lose situation' variety that they're used to. 

What will happen: Hull won't be cautious. Sam Clucas (suspended) and Curtis Davies (injured) are both out, but Silva's success has been partly enabled by encouraging his team to be aggressive. They will press intensely at the top of the pitch, play at a brisk pace, and hound an opponent who they will view as there for the taking.

What won't happen: Joey Barton won't be caught in a simulation scandal. Because he hates cheats. He really can't stand them. He said so on Twitter.

West Brom vs Bournemouth

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The big talking point: Eddie Howe's limitations. Though it seems obligatory to hold a definitive position on the events within the news cycle, Bournemouth's recent slump is conflicting. On the one hand, we know Howe to be a fine manager governed by admirable tactical principles, but on the other his side have fallen off a cliff – and, in doing so, exhibited familiar, seemingly incurable patterns of failure. From being vibrant and ambitious, their football has descended into a fearful stasis; those passes are going backwards and sideways more often than they used to. 

What will happen: West Brom will run. Collectively, only Liverpool and Manchester City have bettered the 2852km run by West Brom's players this season. They may have been constructed in a blunt way and they might not be in danger of winning any style prizes, but Tony Pulis is to be admired for the honesty he's instilled in those players.  

What won't happen: Bournemouth keeping a clean sheet. Because they can't. With the exception of the 3-0 win over Bob Bradley's Swansea on New Year's Eve (which, respectfully, doesn't count), Howe's team have conceded at least once in every game since holding Tottenham goalless in late October. October.

Watford vs West Ham

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The big talking point: Andy Carroll's absence. Of the nine games West Ham have won in the Premier League this season, Carroll has played in six and scored in four (including five in his last six starts). It's not revelatory to say that he's crucial to Slaven Bilic, but there are precious few goals elsewhere in his side. Michail Antonio may have returned a very healthy eight, but hasn't scored since the end of 2016, and Manuel Lanzini (five) is more gifted playmaker than full-time goal-threat. 

What will happen: Goals. These teams produce entertaining fixtures. In the seven Premier League matches they've contested, there have been 19 goals at an average of 2.71 per game. M'Baye Niang and Mauro Zarate will provide a dynamic threat either side of Troy Deeney and West Ham, who might be without both first-choice full-backs. The Hammers will do well to keep that average from rising.

What won't happen: A muted celebration from Mauro Zarate. The Argentine's time in the East End didn't go well, and he suffered the ignominy of a loan to QPR after Sam Allardyce took issue with his attitude. If he scores, which is inevitable given how football works, he'll enjoy himself. 

Tottenham vs Stoke

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The big talking point: Tottenham's season. Where is this headed? Spurs were dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday might and already appear too far behind Chelsea to mount a serious title challenge. Supporters will take comfort in the squad no longer being under the strain of three competitions, but that's only worth anything if it subsidises performance elsewhere – and it's a while since Spurs played to their reputation. The 4-0 win over West Brom in mid January was the last time they definitively met expectations and something convincing is needed on Sunday to stave off the suspicion that their season is grinding to a halt. 

What will happen: Dele Alli will be left out. His awful tackle on Thursday night was at the root of the defeat to Gent and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Pochettino shunt him into the naughty corner. He may claim publicly that Alli's temperament animates his fabulous ability, but he'll know privately that it requires corrective measures. 

What won't happen: A London win for Stoke. The Potters have a dreadful record in the capital, losing 12 and drawing seven of their last 20 fixtures. The anomaly, however, was a 2-1 victory over Tottenham in November 2014. Doctor Tottenham? Probably not: Spurs are unbeaten at White Hart Lane all season and have more home clean sheets than any other team.

Leicester vs Liverpool

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The big talking point: Claudio Ranieri. Of course, because rarely is there a sacking which reflects the duelling forces in the game so vividly and the battle between nostalgia and modern football's financial imperatives. Accordingly, it's entirely legitimate to claim that Ranieri's departure was both absolutely necessary and yet also deeply unpleasant.  Leicester are in deep trouble and the supporters will likely take points any way they come, but the anticipated reaction to Thursday's news is likely to create one of the stranger atmospheres heard at the King Power. 

What will happen: Liverpool will score from a defensive catastrophe. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth versus Jurgen Klopp's high press? We know how that will end. A miscontrol, an errant pass or a critical slip, and Sadio Mane or Adam Lallana will surge through the line. Some games write themselves. 

What won't happen: Harmony. Because how can there be a universal response to something which is so divisive? Ranieri delivered a trophy which will likely remain well out of reach for the foreseeable future and yet he has been discarded, some believe, as a sacrifice to certain egos in the dressing room. He may be complicit in this season's failure, but the negatives have unquestionably been multiplied by toxic attitudes.

If you're a Leicester supporter, how do you even respond to that? Craig Shakespeare will take temporary charge on Monday night, but to what kind of soundtrack is anyone's guess. 

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