Dimitri Payet’s poetry, Leicester and Tottenham’s unlikely title charges, Manchester United clash with Arsenal – the Premier League is back this weekend, and we cannot wait.
5) Will Payet continue his poetic masterclass?
Arguably the signing of the season, after West Ham’s 5-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, Slaven Bilic admitted he would need poetry lessons before he could do Dimitri Payet’s performance justice.
The France international scored yet another sumptuous free-kick – which he brilliantly wheeled away in celebration before the ball had even gone in – before completing the scoring with a stunning solo goal.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 21, 2016
Payet has scored seven goals and created a further five in the Premier League this term, meaning he has directly contributed to over a quarter of the Hammers’ goals, despite missing two months of the season with an ankle injury.
With Sunderland visiting Upton Park on Saturday, who Payet scored against in October, the 28-year-old will be confident he can show his class once more.
Black Cats manager Sam Allardyce will have a headache thinking about how to stop the playmaker. More on that later.
4) Can Spurs avoid a Europa League hangover?
Following their 2-1 victory at Manchester City, Tottenham became many fans’ favourites for the Premier League title.
One of the question marks still hanging over the club’s credentials is how they can balance competing in the Europa League with challenging domestically, especially with Mauricio Pochettino’s threadbare options up front.
Despite Harry Kane’s absence, Tottenham eased to a 3-0 victory against Fiorentina on Thursday night, although perhaps losing would not have perhaps been the worst result for the club’s title hopes.
Last season, Spurs failed to win the fixture succeeding a European tie six times. This term, that figure already stands at five, which culminated in the north Londoners elimination from the FA Cup at the hands of Crystal Palace.
Swansea visit White Hart Lane on Sunday and the hosts will be big favourites. However, in October, Spurs drew 2-2 with the Swans three days after a Europa League clash with Monaco. If Tottenham are indeed the real deal, they can’t afford to slip up again.
3) How will Leicester respond to heartbreak at Arsenal?
At one stage on Valentine’s Day, Leicester City were on their way to being eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Then Danny Simpson was sent off, Arsenal overturned a 1-0 deficit to triumph thanks to Danny Welbeck’s last minute goal, and Spurs won at Manchester City. Suddenly, the Foxes lead was cut to only two points.
Claudio Ranieri allowed his squad a week off after the defeat at the Emirates, a decision that was criticised in some quarters, meaning all eyes will be on whether Leicester’s players repay their manager’s faith by returning to winning ways.
Like Tottenham, the Foxes will be expect to win, given that Norwich are the visitors to the King Power Stadium. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of attacking the Canaries’ leaky defence.
A win would lift the some of the pressure on Leicester, but a failure to do so, especially if other results go against them, will cast some serious doubts over their title challenge.
2) Which side in trouble can secure a vital result?
Sunderland may face the daunting trip to West Ham and Dimitri Payet on Saturday, but if any side near the bottom of the table looks like dragging themselves out of trouble, it’s Sam Allardyce’s Black Cats.
Allardyce’s January signings appear shrewd acquisitions so far, with Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone inspiring the side to a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in their last outing.
Elsewhere, Norwich City are in somewhat of a free fall, earning just one point from their last six league matches while conceding 18 goals. A brave man would back the Canaries to get a result at Leicester.
Swansea and Aston Villa face difficult trips to Tottenham and Stoke, respectively, meaning it could be a big chance for Bournemouth, who visit Watford, to further stretch away from the relegation zone. Watford have been inconsistent of late, while the Cherries are starting to welcome back some players from their crippling injury list.
Newcastle, meanwhile, might count themselves lucky to have a week off. With all their rivals facing away games against teams above them in the league, Steve McClaren’s men could potentially move out of the bottom three without even playing a match.
1) Who will be the happier manager at Old Trafford?
Louis van Gaal continues to live to survive another day as Manchester United manager. While it now seems only a matter of when, not if, the Dutchman leaves Old Trafford, it has actually been a good week for the Red Devils boss.
Resounding victories in both the FA Cup and Europa League leave United with a genuine chance of silverware this season and, with Manchester City not playing in the Premier League this weekend, Van Gaal would find his side only three points off the top four with a win over Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, is now starting to face the same criticisms thrown at him over the last decade at the Gunners. A draw at home to Hull City in the FA Cup has added another unnecessary tie to the fixture list, while Arsenal then succumbed to a predictable 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League.
When trailing 1-0 to Leicester, Wenger’s men looked down and out of the title race. Arsenal now need to regain the momentum generated by Welbeck’s heroics.
Three points at Old Trafford, where they have not won in the Premier League for 10 years, would do just that.