15 Dec 5 talking points in the Premier League this weekend
Leaders Manchester City face Tottenham in the 18th round of Premier League fixtures as the season nears the halfway stage this weekend.
Here Press Association Sport looks at five of the major talking points.
It was Tottenham who halted Chelsea’s 13-match winning streak on January 4, but the run propelled Chelsea to the title. Can Mauricio Pochettino’s men end Manchester City’s 15-match run almost 12 months later? Pep Guardiola’s side have 49 points, sit 11 points clear at the summit and have dropped two points all season, in a draw with Everton on August 21 at the Etihad Stadium. Spurs will have to improve their recent away form to have any chance. They have not won in their last four away games, at Manchester United (lost 1-0), Arsenal (lost 2-0), Leicester (lost 2-1) and Watford (drew 1-1).
Battle for second
Entering this weekend’s fixtures second-placed Manchester United have 38 points, while Chelsea, in third, have 35. Seventh-placed Arsenal, who trail Tottenham, Liverpool and Burnley by a point, have 30 points. United will have to break down a West Brom side who have drawn four of their last five games. Chelsea will have to show their good side (see Tuesday’s win at Huddersfield) rather than the bad (last Saturday’s loss at West Ham) at home to Southampton. Arsenal face Newcastle and Liverpool play Bournemouth in tricky ties, while Burnley go to Brighton, where the Clarets can be expected to continue their fine run and maintain their place among the Premier League’s elite.
Hammers seek away day boost
Much is still being made about West Ham’s move to the London Stadium, but 12 of their 14 points this season have come at home. The Hammers are still to win away from ‘Fortress Stratford’ in the league this season (played nine, drawn three, lost six). They will hope to end the winless run at Stoke, who beat Swansea in their last home game but are having a tough time of it under Mark Hughes. A win for the Hammers could pile pressure on manager Hughes and the Potters, who would fall beneath their opponents.
If the challenge for the Champions League places is close, then the fight to stay in the top flight is even tighter as the halfway point in the season nears. After 17 games, there is a four-point gap between 10th-placed Everton and Southampton, who occupy the top place in the bottom half of the table. Saints, in 11th, have 18 points, just six more than bottom club Swansea. The Toffees and ninth-placed Watford, who also have 22 points, could be dragged into the dogfight, which Leicester have escaped with four wins in a revival masterminded by the quietly-spoken Claude Puel.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
This weekend’s fixtures are the last before the festive schedule begins in earnest with Arsenal v Liverpool on Friday, December 22. With the addition of the Carabao Cup quarter-finals next midweek, plus the FA Cup third round on the first weekend in January, this period tests even the biggest of squads. Whoever can balance maintaining momentum and occasional rest for their established stars will benefit in the busy period.