Week 20 of the Premier League season is here, as we head into 2016 and officially enter the second half of the season.
It seems like just yesterday Tim Sherwood was leading Aston Villa to a win on opening day, but oh how the time has flown by…
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With 190 more matches to be played from now until May, here are five things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend.
Potters look to make it three wins on the spin
Stoke City enter 2016 riding high after successive wins over Manchester United and Everton. With a match on Saturday against a stingy West Brom side, the Potters will look to make it three wins in a row. Despite sitting tenth on the table, just two points separate Stoke from fifth-place Crystal Palace. The attacking trio of Bojan, Marko Arnautovic, and Xherdan Shaqiri has been in top form, and their production will be the key to Stoke’s success moving forward. With their sights set on a berth in European competition, a win to kick off the new year would be a great starting point for Mark Hughes‘ men.
Payet returns from injury for West Ham
After sitting out for two months with an ankle injury, Dimitri Payet is set to make his return to West Ham for their match against Liverpool on Saturday. With five goals and three assists before going down injured, Payet was one of the best players in the Premier League and led the Hammers to a red-hot start. Entering the weekend, West Ham are unbeaten in six, although five of those matches have ended in draws. In those six matches, the Hammers have been held to just four goals, which shows how important Payet is to the team’s attack. Manager Slaven Bilic will hope his French playmaker picks up right where he left off, as the Hammers look to stay up in the top half of the table.
Arsenal, Leicester City look for separation at the top
Arsenal and Leicester start the second half of the season tied on 39 points, with Arsenal claiming the top spot on goal differential. With both sides looking to move ahead and put a bit of a gap between their competition, the first matches of 2016 are crucial. The Gunners host Newcastle in what will be thought of as a must-win for Arsene Wenger‘s side. There is a 22-point gap between the two clubs, and Arsenal will expect that gap to be 25 when the weekend is over.
Leicester City are also at home, facing a Bournemouth side that just lost to Arsenal in their final match of 2015. The Foxes are coming off of an important draw against Manchester City, although they have been held without a goal in each of their last two matches after scoring in all of the opening 17 fixtures. However, Leicester still top the scoring charts, and will fancy their chances against a Bournemouth team that has conceded the second-most goals in the league this season.
Will Manchester United snap their eight-match winless streak?
Manchester United haven’t won since November, as the Red Devils are currently winless in their last eight. With a home match against a struggling Swansea side, Louis Van Gaal needs three points to relieve some of the pressure on his position. Swansea have just one win in their last nine matches and are still without a full-time manager, so Saturday’s match is a perfect opportunity for United to get back in the win column. However, Swansea have won each of the previous three meetings between the sides, although all of those results came under Garry Monk.
Relegation battle between Sunderland and Aston Villa
The Premier League’s two bottom sides meet on Saturday, as Sunderland host Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light. Aston Villa have just eight points through 19 matches, with their only win of the season coming on opening day in August. Sunderland haven’t been much better, sitting with 12 points on the year and entering the weekend on a five-match losing streak. If Villa can find a way to win, they will move just one point behind Sunderland and could gain some confidence that maybe a miraculous escape from relegation is possible. Another loss for Sunderland could see the Black Cats fall as many as eight points below the drop, making a result vital for both sides.