Another pivotal weekend in the Premier League approaches with Manchester City looking to cement their status at the top and their rivals limbering up for matches they hardly dare lose. Meanwhile, things are starting to look increasingly desperate around the relegation zone.
Here, Press Association Sport assesses the talking points.
NO LAUGHING MATTER
Arsenal have been flying under Unai Emery and it is a mark of their new-found ambition that they will have regarded the midweek draw at Manchester United with a tinge of disappointment. Just what Emery will not have wanted, then, is images to emerge in the media of some of his players apparently inhaling nitrous oxide during a pre-season party. Emery must hope the incident does nothing to affect team morale as his Gunners go into their eminently winnable Emirates Stadium clash with lowly Huddersfield.
MOURINHO v FULHAM
The Jose Mourinho roadshow has rumbled on this week, with Manchester United’s beleaguered boss mixing praise for his side’s spirit with a candid admission that they can’t simply expect to see off Fulham at home. For Mourinho, however, despite undeniably positive elements in his side’s midweek draw against Arsenal, anything but an impressive three points against the struggling Londoners would surely send his position further towards untenable territory.
Manchester City will emphasise their Premier League dominance if they pick up three points against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge without the injured Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero. Far from being title rivals, City go into the game with a 10-point advantage over the Blues, and another win would surely strike a terminal blow to Maurizio Sarri’s men on the back of their midweek defeat at Wolves. Shorn of arguably their two best players, a win would see City make another powerful statement.
THE NEW POCHETTINO?
All eyes will be on Ralph Hasenhuttl as the former RB Leipzig boss takes charge of Southampton for the first time away at Cardiff. With the Saints languishing in the relegation zone Hasenhuttl has not been given much time to implement his methods, but is clearly in confident mood. Given Saints’ recent history of plucking foreign managers from the ranks of the relatively unknown – see Mauricio Pochettino – Saints fans must hope Saturday’s showing will not puncture the mood of cautious optimism.
How Sean Dyche must have secretly relished Jurgen Klopp’s scathing criticism of his side’s rough-and-ready approach in midweek. Dyche prides himself on his players’ work ethic but the time has come for the Clarets to show signs of the form which swept them into Europe last season. Saturday’s home clash with Brighton feels like a make-or-break clash for the home side, as they will hardly have a better chance to escape the bottom three ahead of the crucial festive period.