Kevin de Bruyne's role v Klopp's counter-press
Sunday, 16:30, Live on Sky Sports 1
Liverpool's excellent top-six mini-league record owes much to their high-pressing, quick-counter tactics working best against attacking teams with a high defensive line. As Manchester City's defeat to Monaco on Wednesday proved, this makes Pep Guardiola's side extremely vulnerable. Much will depend upon the home side's ability to take the sting out of the game by controlling possession in deeper areas, meaning Kevin de Bruyne must be deployed in the deeper role he played during the second half in Monaco.
City's five attackers are largely unwilling to track back, leaving their sole defensive midfielder woefully exposed against opponents who push forward in huge numbers (Monaco and Liverpool are extremely similar in this regard). However, they forced Monaco into retreat on Wednesday when De Bruyne dropped alongside Fernandinho, providing the back four with a short-passing option. From here, the Belgian distributed directly to City's quick wingers and calmly controlled the game.
Liverpool will harass John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi throughout, making City's formation look disjointed as David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and Leroy Sane struggle to make themselves available. The only way to prevent an embarrassing result at the Etihad is to give De Bruyne a deep role that takes the sting out of Liverpool's pressing and gradually forces them backwards. Unfortunately, Guardiola's ultra-attacking mantra makes this scenario unlikely.
Back Liverpool to win at 11/4
Baggies' set-pieces v energy in Arsenal's midfield
Saturday, 12:30, Live on Sky Sports 1
In the middle of such a dreadful run of form, Arsenal's confidence-stricken players will struggle to muster the energy or fluency needed to break through Tony Pulis' tight defensive shell. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a late fitness test, and if he misses the game this should be a long, frustrating afternoon for Arsene Wenger, perhaps punctuated by a set-piece goal from the hosts.
Chamberlain has injected much-needed momentum into central midfield in recent weeks, filling in admirably for Santi Cazorla. His ability to turn when in possession and burst through the first line of defence significantly raises the tempo; without him in the heart of midfield, Arsenal's sideways passing will not trouble West Brom's highly structured formation.
As the game wears on, this frustrating situation will gradually spread a sense of nervousness throughout the Arsenal team. This is when the Baggies, via Chris Brunt, can do damage from set-pieces. Disorganisation in the Arsenal back four means they are likely to give away lots of corners and set-pieces before struggling to defend them, and West Brom have scored more goals from set-pieces (16) than any other Premier League club. A home win seems likely.
Back West Brom to win at 9/2
Koeman's new narrowness v Huddlestone's organisational skills
Everton's good run of form depends upon several factors, including Morgan Schneiderlin's addition to the squad and the emergence of Tom Davies, but the biggest overriding difference is their new focus on narrow attacking lines. Throughout the season, Ronald Koeman's dependence on Yannick Bolasie has seen them attack down the right 40% of the time (second highest in the division), but since his injury Everton have fielded as many as five central midfielders at once.
Expect a similarly narrow focus this weekend against Hull City, whose captain Tom Huddlestone must be at his organisational best as Sam Clucas and Alfred N'Diaye scamper recklessly around him. These three must remain compact, swarming the defensive midfield zone as a unit - something they failed to do in each of their last two away games against Arsenal and Leicester City. If they are wayward or disorganised in how they press, then Everton's overloaded central midfield should outmanoeuvre them with ease.
Koeman's new focus on central midfield peaked in the 3-2 defeat at White Hart Lane, when he played five centre-mids in a dense pentagon shape. They will be wider this time around, but Ross Barkley, Davies, and Idrissa Gueye will still be occupying the same zone of the pitch at Goodison Park. Hull are unlikely to have enough discipline in this area to halt Koeman's in-form team.
Back Everton to win and over 2.5 goals at 6/5
Howe's wayward midfield v Sigurdsson & Swansea's resulting crosses
Saturday, 17:30, Live on BT Sport 1
The only reason Bournemouth have seen a sudden upturn in results is that neither Manchester United nor West Ham United focused their attacks down the centre of the pitch. As has been mentioned numerous times in this blog, Bournemouth are horribly expansive when not in possession, allowing their opponents to drift through the middle without meeting a tackle. As such, Gylfi Sigurdsson will be the key player at Dean Court.
Sigurdsson has improved dramatically under Paul Clement, drifting into dangerous pockets of space from the left flank, and he will no doubt terrorise the home side on Saturday evening. Aside from his long-distance shooting in this zone, the Iceland international's control of the final third should allow him to consistently move the ball into the left flank, behind right-winger Ryan Fraser and into the perfect crossing position.
Tom Carroll's wonderful delivery for Fernando Llorente's winning goal against Burnley a fortnight ago was a sign of things to come. Along with Sigurdsson and Martin Olsson, Swansea have an overload of high-quality crossers on the left; Llorente should get plenty of chances in this one, with the ball shifted to the left corner by Swansea's unplayable number ten.
Back Swansea to win at 12/5