LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 29 – This season’s Premier League race has been touted as one of the most open in years but Manchester City have quietly moved through the gears and are threatening to pull away from the pack.
Pep Guardiola’s men, who have won their past seven league games, host Manchester United’s midweek conquerors Sheffield United on Saturday, hoping lightning cannot strike twice.
United, their closest challengers, face a tricky trip away to rejuvenated Arsenal while Liverpool travel to high-flying West Ham.
AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points ahead of the weekend action in the English top-flight.
United seek away-day comforts
Manchester United hoped to be travelling to the Emirates as Premier League leaders before their shock defeat to bottom side Sheffield United at Old Trafford.
The 2-1 reverse on Wednesday, which ended a 13-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, was their fourth home defeat of the season.
In sharp contrast, they have won eight out of their 10 league games on the road and are unbeaten away from home in the Premier League for more than a year.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will hope this week’s limp showing was a one-off but the Emirates will not be an easy place for United to rediscover their form.
Mikel Arteta has turned Arsenal’s fortunes around, winning five out of six Premier League matches to move to within striking distance of the top four.
He will hope to make a statement that the Gunners are back in business by completing the double over United this season.
Striker-less City purring
City are heavy favourites to land a third Premier League crown in four years, even though Sergio Aguero has no league goals this season and Gabriel Jesus has just two.
Aguero, City’s all-time record goalscorer, has been unavailable for most of the campaign as a result of injury and the coronavirus while Jesus, who also suffered from Covid, has been a bit-part player in recent weeks.
In their absence Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez have chipped in with plenty of goals, backed by a rock-solid defence.
City have won their past seven league games, scoring 18 goals in the process and conceding just one.
Manager Pep Guardiola believes Aguero could still play a key role in the second half of the season but will be delighted his squad have stepped up as they chase glory on four fronts.
Last chance for Bruce?
Frank Lampard this week became the second managerial casualty of the Premier League season when he was jettisoned by Chelsea, but Steve Bruce could soon be next.
Newcastle have collected just two points out of a possible 27 in the Premier League and the manager’s future looks bleak.
Some fans mounted a protest at St James’s Park after last week’s 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa, displaying a banner aimed at owner Mike Ashley that bore the message “Act late, seal your fate”.
In a sign of the pressure he is under, Bruce refused to take questions from written media at his press conference before this week’s match against Leeds, which ended in a 2-1 defeat.
He still believes he is the right man to turn things around but must know time is running out.
New Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel admitted after his side’s dull 0-0 draw against Wolves this week that he had not had time to properly assess his squad.
Midfielder Mason Mount, one of the standout players at Stamford Bridge this season, and Christian Pulisic were left kicking their heels on the bench.
Chelsea dominated possession but looked short of ideas until Mount and Pulisic were introduced in the late stages of the game.
England international Mount in particular looked dangerous and will be disappointed if he does not make the teamsheet against Burnley.
Saturday (6pm unless stated)
Everton v Newcastle (3:30pm), Crystal Palace v Wolves, Manchester City v Sheffield United, West Brom v Fulham, Arsenal v Manchester United (8:30pm), Southampton v Aston Villa (11pm)
Chelsea v Burnley (3pm), Leicester v Leeds (5pm), West Ham v Liverpool (7:30pm), Brighton v Tottenham (10:15pm)