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Premier League preview: What will and won't happen this weekend

West Ham vs Tottenham (Friday, 8pm)

Opta Fact

The Hammers could win back-to-back home games against Spurs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998/99 and 1999/00. 

The big talking point: Tottenham's fading title chances. Mauricio Pochettino and his players have already exceeded expectations this season, meaning that everything that happens from this point on is a bonus. Still, this is a chance to close the gap on Chelsea to just a single point and apply some light scoreboard pressure ahead of Middlesbrough's trip to Stamford Bridge on Monday.

What will happen: Disgusting effort (for a while). West Ham will put more into this single game than they have the last three combined. On the one hand, that’s how it should be - they see Spurs as a major rivals, even if that animosity isn’t mutual. On the other, this particular fixture too often shows the Hammers for what they could be rather than what they generally are across the other 37 games.

What won’t happen: That commitment to be sustained. Twenty minutes: that’s how long it usually takes for the bluster to fade and for form to show - not a dig at West Ham, rather a reality of derby football. Slaven Bilic bested Pochettino last season, but he did so with a far better side (there will be no Michail Antonio on Friday, obviously no Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll remains doubtful). The implication being that the hosts really need to score before their raw energy fades away and Spurs’ superiority begins to show.

Manchester City vs Crystal Palace (12.30pm)

Opta Fact

Crystal Palace could become only the fourth team to win away at each of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in a Premier League season, and the first of those not to finish in the top two places (Blackburn 1993-94, Arsenal 2003-04 and Manchester United 2012-13). 

The big talking point: Nervous Eagles. So, as it happens, Palace aren’t quite safe. The narrow loss to Spurs 10 days ago was expected, but the hopeless showing against Burnley was not; that was the game in which lingering relegation fears should have been vanquished.

What will happen: Gabriel Jesus will pick up where he left off. The shame of Jesus's early-year injury was that he and City proved immediately good for each other: the forward was scoring goals before going down at Bournemouth and his team looked closer to Pep Guardiola’s ideal with him in the side. But he's returned at absolutely the right moment, because City’s grip on the top four is tenuous and Palace, even away from home, will need to be unpicked smartly rather than just crushed by sheer weight of possession.

What won’t happen: Statistically, a Palace goal: they haven’t managed one in their last three visits to the Etihad. Unfortunately, Christian Benteke is also walking onto fallow ground: City are one of the six Premier League teams who he is yet to score against (zero goals from seven appearances).

Bournemouth vs Stoke (Saturday, 3pm)

Opta Fact

Josh King has scored 12 goals in his 16 Premier League appearances so far in 2017 – this tally is just three fewer than Stoke City overall (15 goals in 16 games) in 2017. 

The big talking point:Bournemouth’s turnaround. After desperate mid-winter form had Eddie Howe and his players heading back to the Championship, the club are now in 10th position. Under the circumstances and given the lack of resources, that represents a significant achievement for Howe. Just as his stock was starting to fall and his potential was beginning to suffer re-evaluation, Howe has shown again - this time by thinking his way around his team’s lack of confidence - why he deserves his 'bright young thing' tag.

What will happen: Bournemouth will go above Southampton. The two sides are level on points at the moment, with Claude Puel’s players facing a trip to Anfield on Sunday. A home win here, then (which seems likely given that Stoke’s players are all figuratively reading Jo Nesbo novels on far-away beaches), would represent some points scored over a local enemy (even if Southampton supporters refuse to properly recognise the rivalry).

What won’t happen: Assurances over Mark Hughes’ future. Here’s a interesting statistic: Stoke are currently still two points short of their lowest ever Premier League points tally (42) - and chairman Peter Coates deemed that enough of an underperformance to sack Tony Pulis.

Burnley vs West Brom (Saturday, 3pm)

Opta Fact

Ashley Barnes’ goal against Crystal Palace in their last game took his Premier League total for Burnley to 11 – no player has scored more in the competition for the Clarets (Danny Ings also 11). 

The big talking point:After some fleeting nervousness, Burnley are now safe from relegation. Barring something truly shocking - that would involve both Swansea and Hull taking maximum points from their remaining games - Sean Dyche and his players will be playing Premier League football again next year. This, then, is an afternoon in the Turf Moor sun against a West Brom team who are on the verge of losing five straight games. 

What will happen: ...soon to be six. Not only has Tony Pulis not seen his side win in over a month, but they're without a Premier League goal in nearly two: the 3-1 win over Arsenal on March 18th being the last time they troubled the scorers. By contrast, Burnley were excellent last week at Selhurst Park - as good as they've been in weeks - and seem to have arrived at some form at the crucial moment.

What won't happen: A Baggies revival. History teaches us that once a Pulis team has 'gone', they've really gone. There's no disgrace attached to that this season, after all they're just five points shy of the largest Premier League tally in their history, but everything which made them formidable earlier in the year has dissipated from their game. They're not creating chances and they're not really preventing them. 

Hull vs Sunderland (Saturday, 3pm)

Opta Fact

A win for Marco Silva would see him equal Steve Bruce’s record of seven home wins in a Premier League season for Hull set in 2013/14.

The big talking point:Hull’s home banker. Sunderland’s agonising struggle is over - they’re down - and so this is a chance which Marco Silva and his playershaveto take. Swansea face a far superior Everton side later in the day and, should results fall as expected, winning here could see them mathematically safe.

What will happen: A rout. Given how uninspiring David Moyes has proven to be with something to play for, imagine the creeping apathy in the Sunderland dressing-room now. Hull are highly competent at home, playing technically impressive, accurate football and scoring plenty of goals; they’ll better Sunderland in every conceivable way here.

What won’t happen: Sunderland’s pride to survive. Hull are actually the only Premier League side who haven’t scored against David Moyes’s team this season. Needless to say, the chances of that still be the case at 5pm on Saturday are remote.

Leicester vs Watford (Saturday, 3pm)

Opta Fact

The Foxes have claimed 40 points this season in the Premier League, 41 less than their final points total from their title-winning season but just one adrift of their points tally in 2014/15.

The big talking point:We’re into the realms of what could have been, now. Barring that sloppy recent loss to Everton and the unfortunate defeat to Arsenal, Leicester’s form has been excellent since Claudio Ranieri’s departure. One perspective on that, of course, is that it was a change which needed to happen. Another, is that their listless title defence and failure to even threaten to requalify for European football has been entirely unnecessary. The chances of them winning the title or even finishing within the top four this season were always remote, but this return to their best has shown what a waste of positive momentum late 2016 ultimately was.

What will happen: Riyad Mahrez will make his 100th Premier League appearance, becoming the first Algerian to reach that milestone. Somewhere, Moussa Saib will be beaming with pride.

What won’t happen: A Watford win or a Watford clean-sheet. The Hornets have lost nine of their last 11 away games (one win, one draw) and have conceded in all of their last 15 games at the King Power across all competitions. Worse, they’ve failed to score in their last four away games against all sides.

Swansea vs Everton (Saturday, 5.30pm)

Opta Fact

Gylfi Sigurdsson has scored two free kicks this season, including one in the last match against Manchester United – since his Premier League debut in January 2012, he has scored more free kicks than any other player (7). 

The big talking point:If Swansea don’t win this game, their relegation will essentially be inevitable. Hull will have played (and likely beaten) Sunderland by the time they kick-off against Everton, so being five or even four points from safety with only two games left would be a desperate situation. This, truly, is must-win territory.

What will happen: One of two scenarios, because Swansea are a fairly binary team. Either they’re inspired by their own desperation and give the kind of defiant performance seen at Old Trafford or, frozen by fear, they will succumb to a talented Everton team capable of scoring plenty of goals. Ronald Koeman has built a solid, improving side, but they’re highly unpredictable at the moment and seem likely to be led by Swansea’s mood.

What won’t happen: Everton to recapture their spring momentum. Koeman’s players have generally been good enough in 2017 to harbour slim hopes of Champions League qualification. The draw with West Ham and heavy loss to Chelsea have now put paid to that, though. Outwardly, they seem to be in a late-season tailspin and the suspicion is that a spirited and resolute Swansea performance (nothing silly, essentially) should be enough to beat them. As of Thursday, Koeman was again making noises about the Barcelona job, which will have done nothing for the collective focus.

Liverpool vs Southampton (Sunday, 1.30pm)

Opta Fact

Daniel Sturridge has played just 1316 minutes of Premier League football since Jurgen Klopp took over as Liverpool manager – just 22% of the possible minutes during this time and less than 17 other Liverpool players. 

The big talking point: It’s getting pretty nervy between the third and sixth place teams, all of whom - it could be argued - have done as little as possible to warrant Champions League qualification. Manchester City are at home on Saturday and Arsenal and Manchester United face each other immediately after this game, so Liverpool dare not drop points here. Southampton, though, would presumably enjoy nothing more than the chance to bite back at the club who so regularly plunder their nest.

What will happen: A home win or a goalless draw. Yes, there’s little reason to trust Liverpool in this situation but Southampton’s standards have visibly dropped in recent weeks. The heavy loss to Manchester City appears to have wounded their belief and, in subsequent games, they’ve lacked a balance between offensive productivity and defensive security. The sense is of a team at Liverpool’s mercy - not, of course, that that necessarily leads to defeat.

What won’t happen: Potentially, a Liverpool goal. Emre Can’s wonderful (ridiculous?) overhead kick aside, they were rotten at Watford and, coming into this game, are yet to score against Southampton in three attempts this season.

Arsenal vs Manchester United (Sunday, 4pm)

Opta Fact

Wayne Rooney has scored more Premier League goals against Arsenal than any other player in Premier League history (11).

The big talking point: Everything. This a game full of plotlines: Arsene Wenger’s situation, Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten run, Arsenal’s performance at White Hart Lane and, of course, the respective top four hopes of each team.

What will happen: Mourinho-tastic spoiling. United will arrive back from Spain on Friday morning, leaving just two days rest before they head for the capital. The chances of seeing any vibrancy are remote, then, with the Portuguese likely to revert to the tactics he used at the Etihad and Anfield, and to the one he tried to implement against Chelsea in the FA Cup.

What won’t happen: Any sense of spectacle. The big build up, the lofty expectations, and Sky Sports’ inevitable hyperbole? Come on, we’ve seen this film before. Nervy teams fearful of losing at this point of the season rarely combine to create a contest worth watching.

Chelsea vs Middlesbrough (Monday, 8pm)

Opta Fact

Middlesbrough have 28 points with three games remaining. The fewest points won by a team to avoid relegation from the Premier League is 34; set by West Bromwich Albion in 2004-05. 

The big talking point:The chances are that the gap at the top of the table will be one point by the time this game takes place, so Chelsea cannot slip now. Theoretically, they shouldn’t fail to win any of their remaining games, but pressure is pressure and players don’t always react well to it. Middlesbrough may not be a strong team, but they can be a stubborn one and are unlikely to beat themselves. 

What will happen: Middlesbrough to be relegated. If Hull beat Sunderland on Saturday, Boro will have to win here to avoid relegation. While they may have roughed up Manchester City at home last weekend, Chelsea are an entirely different prospect - more mechanical, less moody, far less forgiving. If Middlesbrough take so much as a point from this game, it will be a surprise.

What won’t happen: A cakewalk. However, expect this to be hard going initially. Boro may be a limp attacking force, but they can defend. So, while Chelsea obviously have enough power to break their walls down, they’ll have to put their shoulder into the task. One goal may quickly become three, of course, but finding that first may be harder than expected.

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