Saturday 17 February 2018

10 questions which could be answered in the Premier League this weekend

Can Januzaj spark United into action? Can Leicester think outside the box and how will Chelsea fare in first real test since Mourinho's exit? Vicki Hodges looks ahead to the weekend's action

1. What impact will Januzaj have on return?

Adnan Januzaj has to work his way back to fitness

Adnan Januzaj is expected to be recalled to Manchester United's matchday squad for the visit of Southampton following an unsuccessful loan spell with Borussia Dortmund.

The Belgian has not featured for the club since late August but impressed manager Louis van Gaal in midweek by scoring twice for United's Under-21s in their 4-0 victory over Southampton at Leigh.

Now the 20-year-old could be called upon to add creativity and a goal threat to a side boosted by last weekend's smash and grab victory over Liverpool.

Januzaj has not been given much of a chance so far by Van Gaal but having been called back by the Dutchman during the Bundesliga's winter break, maybe this will be his time to put himself back in contention for a regular starting spot again.

2. Can Chelsea survive first real test since Mourinho's exit?

Jose Mourinho

Guus Hiddink has to a certain degree steadied the ship at Stamford Bridge and yet to suffer defeat in the league since returning in his second spell as interim manager, but he faces his sternest test yet when they take on table-toppers Arsenal at the Emirates.

Without Jose Mourinho at the helm now, Arsene Wenger's side have no reason to fear Sunday's visitors - even though they have not scored in the last eight hours and two minutes of league action against the champions.

Hiddink, though, can dig into his own memory bank if he needs reassurance or guidance before the trip. The Dutchman inflicted on Arsenal their heaviest defeat (4-1) at the Emirates back in May 2009.

3. Can Leicester think outside the box?

Leicester's Jamie Vardy is expected to return following a groin operation at Tottenham

Joint-leaders Leicester are the joint-second top goalscorers this season but incredibly all of their 39 goals - with Jamie Vardy (15) and Riyad Mahrez (13) contributing all bar 11 of their efforts - have been scored inside the area.

Claudio Ranieri's side have been awareded nine penalties this campaign already, but Mahrez won't be stepping up to the plate should they win one against Stoke on Saturday after being dropped from spot-kick duties.

Ranieri held talks with Mahrez earlier this week and informed the winger he would be taking him out of the firing line after two successive misses from the spot.

The Algeria international's profligacy has arguably cost Leicester an extra four points to boost their unexpected challenge for the Premier League title.

Vardy is expected to take over penalty duties for the forseeable future.

4. Can Defoe sustain his goalscoring exploits?

Jermain Defoe could return to haunt his former club

Jermain Defoe has been on fire in 2016, scoring more Premier League goals this year than any other player so far with five to his name.

With those goals coming in the form of a hat-trick against Swansea and a double against Villa, the former England international will be confident of adding to his tally when Bournemouth visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

While Defoe has been knocking in the goals for the relegation-strugglers, Adam Johnson has been pulling his weight in midfield. Johnson has twice as many assists in the league (4) than any other player this year.

5. Will Ighalo make it lucky seven against Newcastle?

Watford are confident striker Odion Ighalo, pictured, will stay at Vicarage Road until at least the end of the season

Odion Ighalo has scored six goals in his last six appearances at Vicarage Road and could make it a lucky seven against Newcastle - a team he scored twice against at St James' Park back in September.

Ighalo's goalscoring prowess this season and last has not gone unnoticed with Chelsea the latest club linked with the Nigerian international which further afield Atletico Madrid and Roma have also been paying the 26-year-old plenty of attention.

6. Can Aguero cause West Ham further headaches?

Sergio Aguero found the net twice for Manchester City against Crystal Palace. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Sergio Aguero is quite a handful for most Premier League defences when he's at the top of his game, but when he goes up against West Ham, the Argentine moves into another gear.

Aguero has had a hand in six goals (four goals and two assists) in seven league appearances against West Ham and travels to Upton Park on Saturday boosted by his two-goal heroics in City's 4-0 win over Crystal Palace last time out.

Aguero remains five goals off leading league goalscorers Romelu Lukaku and Jamie Vardy with 10 to his name, but is likely to soon get up to speed if he remains injury-free.

7. Will Norwich ship another three against goal-shy Liverpool?

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp

Norwich have conceded nine goals in their last three successive matches against Bournemouth and Stoke in the league and Man City in the FA Cup third round to slip closer to the relegation zone.

But surely they won't concede another three to Jurgen Klopp's side who visit Carrow Road in the early kick-off on Saturday?

Yes Liverpool head into the contest off the back of a 3-0 win over League Two side Exeter when they fielded a young side. And yes they knocked three past Arsenal in a six-goal thriller at Anfield a couple of weeks ago, but goals and Liverpool haven't exactly gone hand-in-hand this season.

In fact Liverpool have scored just one goal in their last four league fixtures on the road and also lost three of those matches.

8. Will Swansea finally get one over Everton?

New Swansea head coach Francesco Guidolin

What a baptism of fire for incoming Swansea coach Francesco Guidolin - taking over at a time when they go up against a side they have never beaten in the league.

Guidolin was in the stands as Swansea beat Watford on Monday night to climb out of the relegation zone, but he faces a tough task to make it back-to-back wins at Goodison on Sunday.

In their 21 league encounters, Everton have won 13 and lost a big fat zero against Swansea.

Swansea can at least take heart from the fact Everton have failed to score in three of the last four meetings with Swansea in all competitions.

9. Can Palace break their 2016 duck?

Alan Pardew, pictured, does not appear to be a fan of former Crystal Palace manager Neil Warnock

Aside from a 2-1 FA Cup win at Southampton, Palace have failed to win in the league since the turn of the year and have shipped eight goals in the process. Without a goal to their name in their past five league games it isn't the best time to face Spurs - a side they have have failed to score in four of the last five league meetings.

Back on December 19 when Palace beat Stoke there was talk of Alan Pardew's side challenging for a place in Europe.

Then, they had the same number of points as Saturday's opponents fourth-placed Tottenham, but an alarming slump has seem them drop to eighth.

10. Will Villa extend unbeaten run in battle against drop?

Aston Villa's Rudy Gestede following his equaliser against Leicester City. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Things are on the up for Remi Garde and his Villa side. Ignoring the table for the time being - it will still take two wins and a draw at least to see them move off the bottom - Villa are riding the crest of a wave and on an unbeaten run which stretches a mighty four games.

So is now really the best time to take on your rivals West Brom? Well Villa foward Rudy Gestede thinks so.

"It's coming at a good time. We have confidence. They beat us at home [1-0 in September]. Now we're eager to beat them away - and get the three points and keep our run going.

"These derby matches are important games for the fans and for the club. We know that.

"It's easier when you start picking up results. It helps you believe. Now we're doing that so our confidence is getting stronger and stronger."

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