Manchester City have another chance to ratchet up the pressure on Premier League leaders Liverpool this weekend as both teams seek to recover from disappointing midweek results.
Pep Guardiola’s defending champions, who host Arsenal on Sunday, had the opportunity to cut Liverpool’s lead to a single point on Tuesday, at least temporarily, but slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Newcastle.
Jurgen Klopp’s team, who face a tricky-looking trip to West Ham on Monday, were unable to fully capitalise, held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester the following evening.
Adding to the intrigue, Tottenham, for many weeks on the fringes of the title race, are now just two points behind City despite being without the injured Harry Kane and Dele Alli.
AFP Sports picks out some of the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.
Can Liverpool conquer nerves?
Liverpool looked on course to open up a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League when Sadio Mane gave them an early lead against Leicester but they were pegged back and had to settle for a draw.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are five points clear of Manchester City with 14 games to go but former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand suggested nerves are already playing a part at Anfield.
“That is something Klopp will have to address,” said the BT Sport pundit. “You don’t want to see nerves at this stage, this is early.
“I think they looked nervous, the crowd were nervous and it fed into the players.”
Can Man City recover fear factor?
Manchester City enjoyed more than three-quarters of the possession against Newcastle but still ended on the losing side — their fourth Premier League defeat of the season.
Guardiola’s team appeared to have put December’s wobble behind them and had smashed in 29 goals without reply in all competitions going into the match at St James’s Park.
Their past three league defeats have come in games in which they have taken the lead, a run the manager will be desperate to end.
Spurs look to Son for inspiration
Mauricio Pochettino admitted he did not want Son Heung-min to play the full 90 minutes of his side’s 2-1 win against Watford on Wednesday but circumstances forced his hand.
The South Korean, playing in his first match since returning from the Asian Cup, was the standout player against Watford and netted their crucial equaliser.
Pochettino knows how much he needs Son in the absence of Kane and Alli, even if he is aware of the need to avoid burnout.
“He finished very tired, with some cramp,” said the Spurs boss, whose side host Newcastle on Saturday.
“We’re going to see if he can recover for the next game. If he’s OK maybe he’s going to be in the starting eleven, if not on the bench.
“For sure if we need him, he’s going to help the team.”
Pressure builds on Sarri
Chelsea’s humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of Bournemouth on Wednesday left them outside the Premier League’s top four.
The Blues were unbeaten in their first 18 competitive games under Maurizio Sarri but they have lost five out of their past 12 league matches and are finding goals difficult to come by.
Sarri, who held a lengthy dressing room inquest at Bournemouth, has questioned the mentality of his players and his own ability to motivate them.
New on-loan forward Gonzalo Higuain needs to start scoring quickly for the misfiring team and has a golden chance to open his account at home to bottom club Huddersfield on Saturday.
Can United break into top four?
Manchester United, away to Leicester on Sunday, were sixth when manager Jose Mourinho was sacked in December. Now they are… sixth.
Six consecutive league wins under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before Tuesday’s draw against Burnley mean United have closed the gap to Chelsea and Arsenal to just two points after being 11 points off the top four when the Portuguese was dismissed.
The progress under the interim boss has been stark. But fans will be anxious to see concrete proof that they are heading in the right direction.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated)
Tottenham v Newcastle (1230), Brighton v Watford, Burnley v Southampton, Chelsea v Huddersfield, Crystal Palace v Fulham, Everton v Wolves, Cardiff v Bournemouth (1730)
Leicester v Manchester United (1405), Manchester City v Arsenal (1630)
West Ham v Liverpool (2000)