Creativity falls on Salah’s shoulders
Two big names left the Premier League this week with Philippe Coutinho heading to Spain to join Barcelona and Mark Hughes sacked as Stoke manager.
Coutinho was sold by Liverpool for a reported £142 million (about $192 million) and that money has been spent already — defender Virgil Van Dijk has already arrived ($100.5million), while Naby Keita ($74 million) will join from RB Leipzig in July after agreeing his transfer a season in advance. It will be interesting to see how Liverpool cope with the loss of creativity after Coutinho’s departure given his replacement will not be arriving until the summer.
Plenty of responsibility will now fall on Mohamed Salah to continue his remarkable form if Liverpool are to challenge for any trophy this season.
The sacking of Mark Hughes should not have surprised anyone. Stoke City were heading into the Sky Bet Championship under the Welshman’s management, and the 2-1 FA Cup third round defeat by League Two side Coventry City proved the final straw.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who has not managed in the Premier League since 2013, is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Hughes, but whoever gets the job faces an enormous task to avoid relegation with an ageing team that contains an alarming lack of pace.
Chelsea v Leicester City
Antonio Conte’s men dominated the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Arsenal on Wednesday but just could not find the breakthrough. If that effort has not taken too much of a toll on their legs, they should record a comfortable win over Leicester, who may be without Jamie Vardy through injury. Prediction: 2-0
Crystal Palace v Burnley
An ankle injury to Andros Townsend means there is even more pressure on Wilfried Zaha to produce some magic for Roy Hodgson’s men. Burnley made a magnificent start to the season but have failed to win in their last five league matches and may be about to come down at the same time as the Christmas decorations. Prediction: 1-0
Huddersfield Town v West Ham United
West Ham picked up a valuable four points in their fight against relegation with a win against West Brom and a draw at Tottenham in their last two matches, but those performances came at a cost. They now face a defensive injury crisis with Winston Reid joining Aaron Cresswell, James Collins, Sam Byram and Jose Fonte on the treatment table. That may make all the difference. Prediction: 2-1
Newcastle United v Swansea City
A difficult game to call. Bottom club Swansea have shown signs of improvement under new manager Carlos Carvalhal. Newcastle have not won at home since October and are finding it difficult to perform in front of some of the most demanding fans in English football. Those fans could be set for some more pain tomorrow. Prediction: 1-2
Watford v Southampton
Marco Silva’s Watford made a great start to the season but have won just once in their last nine Premier League matches, They may take some comfort in facing Southampton, who are in woeful form, sit just one place above the relegation zone, and are bracing themselves for another tough game. Prediction: 2-0
West Bromwich Albion v Brighton & Hove Albion
The two teams with the longest names in the Premier League are set to do battle in what is likely to prove a dreary encounter. Brighton are the lowest scorers away from home in the division and the best they can hope for is probably a goalless draw. That may prove beyond them. Prediction: 2-0
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton
Everton should give a debut to new striker Cenk Tosun, who was bought from Besiktas for £27 million. If he plays, he will have to get used to very limited service as manager Sam Allardyce attempts to park his bus. Tottenham should have enough to move it out of their way. Prediction: 2-0
Bournemouth v Arsenal
Bournemouth have won just one of their last ten Premier League matches but come up against an Arsenal side who may be without Mesut Özil through injury and Alexis Sánchez, who could be sold to Manchester City at any time. Arsène Wenger’s men have won just three of their 11 away games in the League this season and may again have to settle for a point. Prediction: 1-1
Liverpool v Manchester City
This may be Manchester City’s toughest test so far. Liverpool are unbeaten at home and have a tremendous defensive record at Anfield. Despite the loss of Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool could just inflict the first defeat of the season on Pep Guardiola’s men if Mohamed Salah returns from injury. Prediction: 2-1
Manchester United v Stoke City
Manchester United must surely have a big home performance in them soon and they can go to town on a demoralised, manageress Stoke. Prediction: 3-0
•Congratulations to Jamal Salaam, the winner of December’s RG Fantasy Football contest. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prize!
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