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10 key questions ahead of the weekend Premier League fixtures

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Referee Phil Dowd is surrounded by players after a late challenge from Cesc Fabregas on Jan Vertonghen.

Referee Phil Dowd is surrounded by players after a late challenge from Cesc Fabregas on Jan Vertonghen.

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Referee Phil Dowd is surrounded by players after a late challenge from Cesc Fabregas on Jan Vertonghen.

This weekend's round of Premier League fixtures could throw up a lot of controversy and talking points. Here are 10 questions ahead of the weekend fixtures.

1. Are Chelsea going through a managed mid-season decline?

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Other than his charge, Mourinho has also been issued with a formal warning for calling on referee Neil Swarbrick to produce a strong performance in the game against Stoke City on December 22.

Other than his charge, Mourinho has also been issued with a formal warning for calling on referee Neil Swarbrick to produce a strong performance in the game against Stoke City on December 22.

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Other than his charge, Mourinho has also been issued with a formal warning for calling on referee Neil Swarbrick to produce a strong performance in the game against Stoke City on December 22.

 

It’s tempting to assume that everything Jose Mourinho is deliberate, thoughtful, and correct.

The tactics, the mind games, the choice of belt, he’s generally spot-on about most aspects of management.

Is it too big a stretch to suggest that Chelsea’s mini-wobble might be part of a grand plan? Several elite managers have spoken about the need for seasons to peak in the right places. Peaks tend to necessitate troughs, and what better time to take the foot off the accelerator than Christmas?

There are too many games, too many chances to suffer injuries and Chelsea had a healthy lead over Manchester City in the table.

Mourinho is a pragmatist, unconcerned with adornments to the overall goal: big shiny silver things. He does not seem the sort of manager concerned with record points totals or going the season unbeaten.

There’s no danger of that now for Chelsea this season, nor is there the mounting pressure that potential invincibility brings.

Instead Chelsea have played a few games in a gear only just above reverse. They’ve dropped points, sure, but you’d still make them favourites for the title.

You’d also back them heavily at home to walking point-donators Newcastle United tomorrow afternoon, especially coming off the back of a most un-Mourinho like high-scoring reverse at Spurs.

Expect a thoroughly joyless 2-0 victory, and several in the same vein to follow. Their players, unlike most for the teams around them, should have plenty left in reserve after a low-intensity festive period.

 

2. Can Southampton beat United to prove they’re really good, rather than just quite good?

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Sadio Mane of Southampton (C) celebrates with team mates Graziano Pelle (L) and James Ward-Prowse (R) as he scores their first goal of the afternoon.

Sadio Mane of Southampton (C) celebrates with team mates Graziano Pelle (L) and James Ward-Prowse (R) as he scores their first goal of the afternoon.

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Sadio Mane of Southampton (C) celebrates with team mates Graziano Pelle (L) and James Ward-Prowse (R) as he scores their first goal of the afternoon.

 

Southampton have been written off once already this season, when they failed to win in five in late November and early December. ]

It's a mark of the mettle of Ronald Koeman's side that they responded to that blip with impressive victories at home to Everton and away at Crystal Palace.

They then held Chelsea and beat Arsenal at home. Unthinkable even last year, suddenly not even that surprising in 2015.

The Europa League must remain Southampton's realistic target for the season, but top four finishes become tantalisingly possible if you can start beating the best teams away.

Victory at Old Trafford in Sunday's teatime game would represent the biggest ascension in class since the film My Fair Lady.

 

3. Should we all have a bit more faith in Brendan Rodgers?

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

 

Say what you like about Brendan Rodgers (many have, it's quite fun...) but unleashing the hurricane of Steven Gerrard sadness is an undeniably ballsy move.

Rodgers has prioritised the ongoing relevance of the club rather than sentimentality at a time when appeasement of The Kop would have been a tempting option.

His team are picking up steam too. Still without their talisman Daniel Sturridge, and relying on a teenager playing out of position to replace him, they've only lost once in their last eight league games, and recent away successes at Liverpool, Wimbledon and Bournemouth should give them plenty of heart ahead of Saturday's trip to Sunderland.

 

4. Can Stoke successfully export intimidation?

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Stoke City players appeal to Referee Michael Oliver for a handball in the box

Stoke City players appeal to Referee Michael Oliver for a handball in the box

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Stoke City players appeal to Referee Michael Oliver for a handball in the box

 

Stoke have a well-known ability to frighten Arsenal at home. Arsenal haven’t beaten them in the Potteries since 2010, their only victory in eight visits to Stoke since City won promotion in 2008.

It’s less well-heralded that Stoke have failed to beat Arsenal at home in that period in six visits. In fact, their last win away to Arsenal was in 1981.

What gives? Same players, same mentality, but perhaps lacking the fervour that their home crowd bring to the occasion.

Stoke's away form is a little better under Mark Hughes, they're the ninth best team on their travels in the league, and Sunday lunchtime gives them a chance for a league double against Arsenal. Sing up, travelling support.

 

5. Will Roberto Martinez still be in a job on Sunday if City tonk Everton?

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Roberto Martinez and Everton suffered a fourth straight defeat

Roberto Martinez and Everton suffered a fourth straight defeat

Roberto Martinez and Everton suffered a fourth straight defeat

 

Theatre Impressario Bill Kenwright (to refer to him by his full name) does not have a track record of hasty sackings.

David Moyes had some sticky spells among the glorious years of consistent averageness and Kenwright stuck by his man.

But things somehow look gloomier for Roberto Martinez. Perhaps there was a reason Wigan were generally fighting relegation under him?

If Everton suffer a wholly possible shellacking at home to Manchester City on Saturday patience could run out.

 

6. Just how much trouble are Aston Villa in?

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Ron Vlaar of Aston Villa slides in to tackle Bobby Zamora. Photo credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images

Ron Vlaar of Aston Villa slides in to tackle Bobby Zamora. Photo credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images

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Ron Vlaar of Aston Villa slides in to tackle Bobby Zamora. Photo credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images

 

Behind Christian Benteke, Ron Vlaar is probably Aston Villa's most important player. He's injured. Out for six weeks with an upset knee.

Behind Ron Vlaar, Villa's most important player is probably Fabian Delph. He's off, if you believe the rumours. Where does this leave Villa?

The league's most consistently depressing team host Liverpool then travel to Arsenal after this weekend's games. That makes a result away at Leicester on Saturday crucial.

 

7. Can Swansea cope without Wilfried Bony?

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Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (left) and Everton's Antolin Alcaraz battle for the ball. Photo credit: Jon Buckle/PA Wire

Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (left) and Everton's Antolin Alcaraz battle for the ball. Photo credit: Jon Buckle/PA Wire

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Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (left) and Everton's Antolin Alcaraz battle for the ball. Photo credit: Jon Buckle/PA Wire

 

Swansea have a total of 25 goals this season and sit healthily in ninth. Take Wilfried Bony's goals out of the equation and they would have 14, fewer than everyone other than Aston Villa.

The Ivorian's importance was underlined when he was called into action to score an excellent late equaliser with his team reduced to 10 men at QPR on New Year's Day.

Assuming his move to Manchester City goes through, Swansea must find a way to operate without him. They host West Ham at three on Saturday with plenty to prove.

 

8. Is Alan Pardew the new Tony Pulis?

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Alan Pardew returns to Selhurst Park for the first time as Crystal Palace manager on Saturday

Alan Pardew returns to Selhurst Park for the first time as Crystal Palace manager on Saturday

Alan Pardew returns to Selhurst Park for the first time as Crystal Palace manager on Saturday

 

Nothing like a nice relaxing relegation battle in the least lovely corner of south London to blow away those Newcastle blues.

Alan Pardew jacked in life in a goldfish bowl for life at a ground with a stand attached to a supermarket. Palace are wobbling severely, but free of the constraints of Mike Ashley and frighteningly fanatical fans, there's every chance this season will become much like the last one for Palace.

A brief daliance with gloom before a comfortable glide to mid-table. Spurs at home will be an instructive start for the new manager.

 

9. Can Burnley comfortably turn over QPR at home again?

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Sam Vokes of Burnley celebrates scoring the equalising goal during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor

Sam Vokes of Burnley celebrates scoring the equalising goal during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor

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Sam Vokes of Burnley celebrates scoring the equalising goal during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor

 

Last season QPR and Burnley were involved in a battle for promotion from the Championship.

This time it's avoiding a trip straight back there which is the joint priority. When Harry Redknapp's side travelled to Turf Moor in October 2013 Sean Dyche presided over a comfortable 2-0 home win.

Given QPR's appalling away record and Burnley's upturn in form a similar outcome on Saturday looks thoroughly possible.

 

10. Why would you light a cigarette in the shower?

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This is, of course, the most important question of the week.

Wojciech Szczesny (pictured above, with an added Photoshopped bonus) was accused of smoking in the showers after Arsenal's defeat to Southampton.

Which... just... why? Since when was a soggy nude cigarette a desirable option after losing a football match? Just wait until you get home, Wojciech.

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