Premier League questions: Consistency for Jurgen Klopp? Can Alan Pardew make West Brom click against Arsenal?
By Robert O'Connor & Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 30/12/17 3:22pm
Consistency for Jurgen Klopp? Can Alan Pardew make West Brom click against Arsenal? We look at the weekend's Premier League questions.
There are six 3pm games on Saturday, with Chelsea hosting Stoke and Liverpool welcoming Leicester to Anfield among the fixtures. Manchester United also host Southampton in the late game at 5.30pm.
New Years Eve also serves up two crackers to see out 2017 in style, with Crystal Palace hosting Manchester City at 12pm before West Brom welcome Arsenal - live on Sky Sports Premier League - for a 4.30pm kick-off.
Ahead of the year's final round of fixtures, we consider the questions that could be answered...
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Can Bournemouth finally get back to winning ways? (Bournemouth v Everton, Saturday, 3pm)
Relegation-threatened Bournemouth host in-form Everton on Saturday afternoon in urgent need of three points to help move them out of the Premier League drop zone.
However, Eddie Howe's side head into the clash on the south coast in wretched form having not won any of their previous eight league matches - their joint-worst run in the Premier League.
Ninth-placed Everton, though, are the last team Bournemouth would want to face with the watertight Toffees having now kept four clean sheets in their past six top-flight games under new boss Sam Allardyce - the same number they kept in their previous 23 league outings.
Struggle for Stoke at Stamford Bridge? (Chelsea v Stoke, Saturday, 3pm)
Out-of-form Stoke face a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon to take on a Chelsea team who should be full of confidence at present.
The current champions closed the gap on second-placed Man Utd to just a point with victory over Brighton on Boxing Day, which was the Blues' sixth straight home win.
So few would give Mark Hughes' strugglers much of a prayer of leaving west London with anything this weekend, especially given their recent defensive issues.
In fact, only Southampton (11) are on a current longer run without a Premier League clean sheet than Stoke (10, level with Newcastle) ahead of their trip to the capital.
Can Burnley stay in top-six mix? (Huddersfield v Burnley, Saturday, 3pm)
What a first half of the season it's been for Sean Dyche's Burnley. They are seventh in the table at the halfway stage and with some cracking scalps under their belt.
But Clarets beware, plenty of unheralded Premier League high-flyers have trod this way before and come badly unstuck in the New Year, slumping down the table as the early-season bubble bursts, fatigue sets in and others suss them out.
Burnley's usually watertight defence has shipped five goals in the last two games, and should those kinds of breaches become a more regular occurrence through the winter, the big fear would be that the team simply don't score enough goals to compensate - just 18 from 20 games so far in the league.
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So can Dyche's team transform an excellent start into a stunning season? A win against David Wagner's buoyant Terriers would be a fine way to cap a stunning 2017 and keep the doubters at bay into the New Year.
Can Jurgen Klopp's side turn bursts of brilliance into consistency? (Liverpool v Leicester, Saturday, 3pm)
Liverpool have only managed to string three wins together once this season, which, when you consider the manner and magnitude of some of those victories, is remarkable.
Klopp's side have clocked up 18 goals in their last six outings but it's the same old story as far as keeping them out is concerned, with that horrific five-minute spell at the Emirates and Dejan Lovren's brain-freeze in gifting a penalty to Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin at Anfield costing them four points and laying waste to their attacking largesse.
But there are reasons for Reds fans to be hopeful. High-profile maulings against Manchester City and Tottenham aside, Liverpool have shipped only 14 goals in the Premier League this term and are unbeaten against the other 18 sides they've played. So that much-maligned back four are, it seems, holding it together somewhat better than it sometimes appears.
Claude Puel's Leicester have just lost their swagger in recent weeks but still sit in a satisfying eighth. Those lightening quick breaks that have become their trademark will be a barometer of how Liverpool's defence are able to bear up under the pressure.
Which way will Newcastle's season fork? (Newcastle v Brighton, Saturday, 3pm)
Whichever way you come at it it's hard to shake the feeling that Rafa Benitez's Newcastle have come to a crossroads, not just in terms of this season but regarding their longer-term prospects.
Right now, it is impossible to predict the future of the very fundamentals of life at St James's Park, things like who will own the club and which division they'll be playing in, much beyond the summer.
That 3-2 win against West Ham at the weekend - followed by only a 1-0 defeat to swaggering Manchester City - should boost morale of a limited squad but Newcastle have been here before this season. A three-game winning run in August and September was followed by an alarming return of one point from nine games which leaves them facing a very real relegation scenario.
Win against Brighton, potential fellow travellers in the relegation equation, and a path up the Premier League table could feasibly open up. Lose, and who would bet against a swift return to the Sky Bet Championship for the Toon?
Can Swansea find that new-manager bounce? (Watford v Swansea, Saturday, 3pm)
The Swans may be dragging their feet over installing a new man on a permanent basis, but things under interim boss Leon Britton haven't exactly been an improvement on life under the deposed Paul Clement.
It's been open season in the Swans' penalty area either side of Clement's dismissal with 13 goals shipped in the last four games, and we're reaching a stage in the season where uncomfortable gaps in the league table can become terminal over the course of a single bad weekend.
Right now, the gap is five points. Lose to Watford, and with Spurs visiting the Liberty for the first game of 2018, it scarcely bears thinking about how far adrift the team could be by the time they finally get their man in place.
Interim or not, the Swans need Britton to get that new-manager bounce out of his team, or risk facing the slide back to the Sky Bet Championship.
Can Manchester United get back to winning ways against the struggling Saints? (Man Utd v Southampton, Saturday, 5.30pm)
Things are just beginning to go the way of the last term for Jose Mourinho, with draws snatched from the jaws of victory and points frittered away from commanding positions.
Consecutive 2-2 draws, both of which should have been comfortable victories in spite of the late recovery required to salvage a point against Burnley, have come with the team comfortably on top for most of the game.
More worrying still is that the manager seems to have turned on his players, and with discord fermenting, it could be the perfect time for struggling Saints to nip in and cause an upset.
Three points would be a welcome late Christmas present for the under-fire Mauricio Pellegrino, who has lost six of his last 10 games.
When will the steam run out on Pep Guardiola's City? (Crystal Palace v Man City, Sunday, 12pm)
There's a good reason why the history of English top-flight football has produced only two unbeaten sides since 1888. Not only does a side need to be consistently and ground-breakingly excellent, they also need a healthy dose of good fortune.
So far this season, Man City have benefited from a 96th-minute winner against Southampton and a 97th-minute winner against Bournemouth, and for all their brilliance these kinds of last-gasp blessings are in finite supply.
Sooner or later this electrifying team will drop points - won't they? Newcastle's defensive tactics meant they had to settle for only a narrow victory on Wednesday; could Crystal Palace, resurgent under Roy Hodgson despite Thursday's loss to Arsenal, spring a shock in front of the Selhurst Park hordes?
Can Alan Pardew make West Brom click against the tottering Gunners? (West Brom v Arsenal, Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm)
West Brom are six games into the Alan Pardew era and still there has been nothing to rally any optimism around the Hawthorns that the Baggies' time in the top flight might be extended beyond May.
The team have managed only two goals in that time, consolation efforts both, though perhaps the most revealing statistic of all is that league leaders Man City's entire 18-game winning run has happened since the Albion last won a match.
Arsenal are no City, certainly not on current form which has seen them win just two of their last six, and the Hawthorns has not always been the happiest hunting ground for the Gunners with defeats coming on each of their last two visits.
Time won't be a friend of either side club as the matches are ticked off, but the pressure weighs heaviest on Pardew.