The first weekend of 2021 brings another round of interesting Premier League fixtures.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some talking points ahead of the games.
How strong will Manchester City be at Chelsea?
Manchester City have not yet revealed the identities of the three additional players who have tested positive for coronavirus this week, so it is hard to know how strong a squad Pep Guardiola will have at his disposal at Chelsea on Sunday. It is already known that Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus will be missing but those who reported positive on Monday – leading to the postponement of the game at Everton – may not be known until the line-up is announced at Stamford Bridge. Any serious weakening of the team would be an obvious blow to City just as they looked to be hauling themselves into the title race.
Can Liverpool grind it out at Southampton?
Champions Liverpool may have thrashed Crystal Palace 7-0 and beaten Tottenham recently but frustrating draws against Fulham, West Brom and Newcastle have suggested the intensity of the fixture schedule, coupled with their lengthy injury list, could be taking its toll. They remain in a magnificent position, having largely coped well to date, but the Premier League has not yet reached the halfway point. With plenty of challengers ready to pounce, Jurgen Klopp’s men will need to show resolve to hold onto their crown. A difficult trip to Southampton on Monday would not be the ideal choice of fixture in these circumstances.
What does the future hold in store for Burnley?
Sean Dyche made no secret of his frustration at Burnley’s lack of investment in the last transfer window but this next one promises to be different following the club’s takeover by American firm ALK Capital this week. Recent results have seen the Clarets start to pull away from the relegation zone anyway but it will be interesting to see if manager Dyche has an extra spring in his step as his team host Fulham. Certainly the takeover has the potential to end uncertainty over Dyche’s position.
Bruce hoping to allay further criticism
An intriguing match lies in store at St James’ Park as Newcastle host high-flying Leicester. Criticism of Newcastle boss Steve Bruce from fans reached a crescendo following defeat to Championship Brentford in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals before Christmas – something the manager labelled as unjustified “mass hysteria” after a difficult few weeks complicated by positive Covid-19 tests. The Magpies then faced a daunting run of fixtures but they were creditable in defeat at Manchester City and held champions Liverpool to a draw. A further positive result against Leicester could give Bruce breathing space although the Foxes, who will want to get back to winning ways after successive draws, have the capability to reopen wounds.
Can the Blades finally win a game?
With just two points to their name after 16 games, Sheffield United look to be facing a bleak 2021. Even if performances have remained positive so far, things on that front could soon nosedive if continued bad results start to affect morale. To have any chance, Chris Wilder’s team simply need to start picking up wins – and soon. They next face a Crystal Palace side who shipped 10 goals without scoring in the space of two games against Liverpool and Aston Villa before Christmas. With matches against Tottenham and both Manchester clubs in January, the Blades cannot afford to let this chance slip by.
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