Premier League talking points: Which Liverpool will turn up at Manchester City?

Tottenham enter a post-Conte era, Arsenal aim to maintain momentum, and the battle to avoid relegation continues

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah battles with Manchester City's Nathan Ake during the Carabao Cup fourth round match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Thursday December 22, 2022.
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The Premier League returns from the international break this weekend with plenty still to play for as the season enters its final phase. The title race and top-four battle remain fiercely contested, while the fight for survival involves almost half of the league.

Here are the big talking points as the Premier League gets back underway.

Will the real Liverpool please stand up?

When Liverpool destroyed Manchester United 7-0 at the start of the month, it had all the hallmarks of a season finally turning a corner. The Reds were devastating in attack, particularly in the second half, pressed superbly, and were organised at the back – a classic Jurgen Klopp team display.

Many expected Liverpool to use that performance as a springboard to end the season strongly, string together a run of wins, and steal a place in the top four. Instead, what followed was a tepid display in a 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Bournemouth.

Next up for the consistently inconsistent Reds is a daunting trip to Etihad Stadium to take on champions Manchester City. All signs should point to a routine City win but with this Liverpool side, who won the reverse match at Anfield, it's anyone's guess.

Even if Saturday's clash isn't between title rivals – as it so often has been in recent years – this fixture usually delivers the fireworks.

Manchester City v Liverpool, Saturday, kick-off 3.30pm (UAE time)

Jurgen Klopp, left, takes Liverpool to face Pep Guardiola and Manchester City at the Etihad. AFP

Can Arsenal maintain momentum?

After losing to a woefully out-of-form Everton – albeit under Sean Dyche's new management – getting beaten by title rivals City, and being held to a draw at home by Brentford in three straight games in February, there was a sense that the wheels on Arsenal's impressive season were starting to loosen.

How the Gunners came through their first signs of adversity would provide a strong indication of their title credentials. Twice trailing at Aston Villa, Arsenal roared back to win 4-2 to kickstart another run of five straight wins and ensure that February setback was nothing more than a blip.

Mikel Arteta's side host a Leeds United who have improved since the arrival of new manager Javi Gracia, the Spaniard overseeing two wins and a draw in his four matches so far. But this is another opportunity for Arsenal to take a closer step towards the title, particularly if City fail to beat Liverpool.

Arteta will just hope the international break has not halted their renewed momentum, although the sensational form of star man Bukayo Saka for England would suggest he has nothing to worry about.

Arsenal v Leeds United, Saturday, kick-off 6pm

Gabriel Martinelli, left, and Bukayo Saka have been in excellent form for Arsenal this season. Getty

Brighton and Brentford in battle of 'overachievers'

Outside of Arsenal, and arguably Newcastle, Brighton and Brentford can lay claim to being the most impressive teams in the Premier League so far this season. Two clubs with budgets comparatively smaller to their rivals and both more recent additions to the top flight, Brighton and Brentford occupy seventh and eighth in the table respectively .

Brighton have gone from strength to strength since Graham Potter left to takeover at Chelsea and even the January exit of Leandro Trossard has failed to stop them in their tracks. Meanwhile, Brentford's remarkable 12-match unbeaten run, dating back to October, only came to an end this month, but they bounced back with another win and a draw.

The Amex Stadium will therefore host a battle of this season's overachievers on Saturday as both Brighton and Brentford continue their unlikely, but deserved, push for European football.

Brighton v Brentford, Saturday, kick-off 6pm

Brighton have enjoyed an excellent season so far, as have opponents Brentford. AP

Who will break clear of relegation dogfight?

Only four points separate Crystal Palace in 12th and Southampton in 20th, so it's inevitable that several teams involved in this season's wide open relegation scrap will frequently meet.

Palace, who have re-appointed Roy Hodgson following the sacking of Patrick Vieira, host a 17th-placed Leicester City who have lost four and drawn one of their past five games; Wolves, in 13th, welcome 16th-placed Nottingham Forest – without a win in their last six – to Molineux; and bottom side Southampton travel to East London to face a West Ham team who dropped into the bottom three just before the international break.

Second-bottom Bournemouth, meanwhile, take on high-flying Fulham but the Londoners will be without key striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and manager Marco Silva following their incredible red cards in the FA Cup defeat against Manchester United.

Points are always valuable at the bottom end of the table, but even more so when facing a direct relegation rival. Will any of the strugglers start to break free from the pack? This week would be a good time to start.

Bournemouth v Fulham; Nottingham Forest v Wolves; Crystal Palace v Leicester City, all Saturday, kick-off 6pm / West Ham v Southampton, Sunday, kick-off 5pm

West Ham dropped into the bottom three before the international break and host Southampton this weekend. AP

Break a good or bad thing for Chelsea?

It's been a season of frustration for Chelsea, one of which manager Potter has operated under constant and intense pressure. The clouds appeared to be lifting for the 10th-placed, and expensively-assembled, Blues following successive wins over Leeds and Leicester either side of eliminating Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

Yet, familiar problems returned in a poor result and display against Everton, the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge prior to the international break exposing the Blues' struggle for goals – 20 shots and seven on target – and poor game management – 69 per cent possession but conceding a last-minute equaliser.

Potter will now hope several of his players can carry their international form into this weekend's fixture against Aston Villa. Mateo Kovacic scored twice for Croatia against Turkey, record signing Enzo Fernandez was on the scoresheet for World Cup winners Argentina, and full-back Ben Chilwell made an impressive return to the England side.

Given Chelsea's wealth of talent, it's still not too late to put together a winning run and sneak into Europe but time is running out fast. Anything less than a win against Villa might be fatal.

Chelsea v Aston Villa, Saturday, kick-off 8.30pm

Chelsea manager Graham Potter is back under pressure after a 2-2 draw against Everton. Getty

Newcastle take aim at third against Casemiro-less United

Newcastle have spent much of the season receiving plenty of plaudits as Eddie Howe's side went on a superb run from the start of October to establish themselves as top-four contenders.

Recent back-to-back defeats saw the Magpies dip to fifth but successive wins have put them firmly back on track to qualify for next season's Champions League. Still in fifth, Newcastle trail fourth-placed Tottenham by two points but have played two games fewer.

Newcastle face their leading rival, at present, for third place when they welcome Manchester United to St James' Park on Sunday. Much has been made of United's progress under Erik ten Hag this season, and rightly so, but the destruction at the hands of Liverpool and being held to a goalless draw by Southampton were hardly the results the Dutchman would have wanted ahead of the break.

To make the task against Newcastle that much more challenging, United will be without their midfield leader Casemiro as the Brazilian, a revelation since joining from Real Madrid last summer, serves a suspension for his red card against Southampton.

A win for either side will make a strong statement for their respective Champions League ambitions.

Newcastle United v Manchester United, Sunday, kick-off 7.30pm

Newcastle United have returned to form and face a Manchester United side missing key man Casemiro. AFP

Tottenham begin post-Conte era

An era that promised so much came to a disappointing conclusion last week when Antonio Conte was sacked as Tottenham manager, a week after his astonishing criticism of his players in light of a 3-3 draw at Southampton.

Conte led a revival after taking the reigns at Spurs in November 2021, guiding the club to a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League, but those foundations crumbled this campaign and the Italian was dismissed. The football may have been largely uninspiring but Tottenham are still well placed in the league and are very much in contention for another top-four finish.

The task now falls on Conte's former assistant Cristian Stellini to lead Spurs until the end of the season, and the club will hope his encouraging record from when he stepped in for his old boss will continue. Stellini took charge of six games in Conte's absence, mainly when the former manager underwent gall bladder surgery, and won four of them, including victories over Manchester City and Chelsea.

A visit on Monday to Everton, who have stabilised somewhat under Dyche, will provide an intriguing test for a coach who has spent much of his career as an assistant.

Everton v Tottenham, Monday, kick-off 11pm

Cristian Stellini has taken charge at Tottenham until the end of the season following the sacking of Antonio Conte. Getty
Updated: March 31, 2023, 3:36 AM