FourFourTwo's Premier League preview: What will and won't happen this weekend
West Brom vs Arsenal
- Alexis Sanchez has been involved in 26 Premier League goals this season (17 goals, nine assists) – more than any other player in the competition.
The big talking point: Reactions, from both sides. Arsenal haven't beaten anyone other than non-league opposition in over a month and West Brom were uncharacteristically feeble at Goodison Park a week ago. For the former, any hope of the title disappeared before Christmas, but now, in among all the Arsene Wenger hoopla, a real fear is emerging that this will be the year when they finally fall out of the Champions League places. They have games in hand, yes, but fail to win here and they will likely finish the weekend in sixth. Europa League football, however, would be some achievement for Tony Pulis and now would be an excellent time to win his first game of the month and recover some of that lost ground on Everton.
What will happen: An away win. Although "West Brom and Tony Pulis" sounds like a combination which Arsenal should struggle with, they have never not scored in a Premier League game against this weekend's opponents and Pulis himself has only been victorious in one of his last nine matches against Wenger.
What won't happen: A viewing spike on ArsenalFanTV. Nobody watches for anything other than the collective self-loathing and so, with history and West Brom's declining standards pointing to an away win, it should be a quiet night on the YouTube front.
Crystal Palace vs Watford
- Wilfried Zaha has attempted a dribble on 197 occasions this season in the Premier League; more than any other player. However, he’s failed to beat his opponent with 100 of these (51%).
The big talking point: Palace's upswing. All of a sudden, life feels better in south London. The bad habits have been broken, and Allardyce DNA has taken seed. Two consecutive wins, two clean sheets; what a difference a month can make. From being virtually helpless at the turn of the year, Palace are now a point clear of the bottom three and with a game in hand on most of the teams around them. What an opportunity to pull clear this is, then, and against a side who are likely already safe.
What will happen: A Troy Deeney goal. Watford's captain is running hot, having scored more goals in his last six Premier League appearances (5) than he had in his previous 21 (4). Added to which, he's scored four in his last three games against Palace. He'll face a far better defence on Saturday than he did in any of those games, but his bullish energy will still be a test for Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins.
What won't happen: Expression. It's an easy assumption to make about an Allardyce team, but it's still fair: they succeed by sucking the flair from games and playing in a high-percentage way. Flashes of flair are still possible from his Palace team, with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend likely providing them, but this will largely be a joyless grind.
Everton vs Hull
- Ross Barkley has already created more goalscoring chances this season (64) in the Premier League than any previous league season and seven more than he did in 2015/16 (57 in 38 games).
The big talking point: Romelu Lukaku. Inevitably, the Belgian forward announced this week that he has no intention of signing a new contract at Everton and, given his thoughts on the club's ambition, he may face a hostile reception on Saturday afternoon. Really, though, Lukaku hasn't said anything which most Everton fans themselves don't believe or frequently express.
What will happen: Coupons will be busted. Never, never underestimate the effect that inter-squad tension can have. Lukaku's leaked intentions may well be easy to rationalise for outsiders, but how will they be received inside Everton's dressing room? After all, he's essentially admitted that he believes his team-mates aren't good enough to satisfy his ambition. Yes, that's quite a loose translation, but egos are precious in football and a couple may be sporting bruises.
What won't: A routine home win. There are too many complications here: the handling of the Lukaku issue will shape Everton's performance, but Hull are also improving and, with two winnable home games following the international break, will likely consider this a free hit against a team they're not expected to beat.
Stoke vs Chelsea
- If Diego Costa scores in this game, he will have reached 50 goals in 80 Premier League appearances. The only players to do this in fewer games were Andy Cole (65), Alan Shearer (66), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Fernando Torres (72).
The big talking point: Stoke's European challenge. Chelsea are going to win the Premier League so, impressive though it remains, there's little more to say about their metronomic week-to-week form. Instead, Stoke must give themselves something to play for. Last year they sleepwalked through the last two months of the season, assured of a safe mid-table place and winning just two of their last nine games. Knock over the champions elect, though, and they'll remain engaged and – more importantly – have a Europa League place still in touch.
What will happen: Kante, Costa and Hazard; we know the drill by now. Chelsea's excellence isn't necessarily in their individual parts, but rather in the consistency they've been able to maintain for months at a time. They're not unbeatable and neither will they prove a particularly memorable champion, but their key players have developed a happy knack of rising to and exceeding every challenge they've met. Same again, then.
What won't happen: An upset. Stoke may have a reputation for derailing high-flying sides, but that's something of a myth: they've only won one of 13 matches against a side top of the Premier League on the day of the game.
Sunderland vs Burnley
- Sunderland have allowed their opponents 99 shots on target more (176) than they have attempted themselves (77) this season in the Premier League; the biggest differential in the league.
The big talking point: Sean Dyche's away record. If ever Burnley are to add to their points tally on the road, it's here. That one, strange afternoon at Selhurst Park remains Sunderland's only win in 2017 and they're without a victory at the Stadium of Light in over three months (December 17 vs Watford).
What will happen: A Burnley win, finally. Despite their record, Dyche's side haven't actually played that badly away from home. They lost by a single goal at Anfield last weekend and to Swansea seven days before, but there was aspects of each performance which warranted greater reward – so expect that pay-off to come this weekend at the cost of Sunderland's already-tenuous top-flight existence. Worry no longer, Derby County fans, your team's proud record of fewest away points won in a season (2) is safe for another year.
What won't happen: Ellis Short to sleep well on Saturday night. As of Middlesbrough sacking Aitor Karanka on Thursday, Sunderland are now the only club in the bottom six not to have changed managers this season. Lose here and Short might have a tough decision to make; they could be out of miracles in the north-east.
West Ham vs Leicester
- West Ham have lost as many games against Leicester in their last five (4), as they did in the previous 25 combined (all comps).
The big talking point: The comedown. Leicester are 'back', the win over Sevilla proves it. Or does it? Even under Claudio Ranieri, their form in the Champions League existed independently of their rotten title defence – though it should be said that they hadn't pulled out a performance quite like Tuesday until then. There are signs of a domestic revival under Craig Shakespeare, but let's wait for the sample size to increase before crowning their return.
What will happen: West Ham will score. Here's an excellent pub quiz question: who was the last Leicester City goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in an away game with West Ham? Tim Flowers in August 2000. The Hammers have scored at least once in 20 of the last 21 times this fixture has been played. Given the visitors' emotional exertion on Tuesday night, that seems likely to continue. Leicester's levels of concentration, effort and resilience were all stretched to their limit this week and they might have a debt to pay at the London Stadium.
What won't happen: Leicester to score the first goal. Shakespeare hasn't managed an away game yet, but he inherits a damning statistic: Leicester are the only team in the Premier League not to have scored the first goal in an away game this season.