The Champions League and Europa League matches for this week have come and gone, and with teams either in better or worse shape across the European competitions, the focus shifts back to league play. It’s derby week, with a trio of local rivalries to take the field.
[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]
In addition to the local matchups,
The North London derby can shape the Top 4 battle
Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 9:05 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Not only is the North London derby a battle of two bitter rivals who battle twice a season for bragging rights, but it has a heightened importance this time around as the teams are separated by just three points in the Premier League table, and are scrapping and clawing for Champions League places. As it stands, Arsenal sits in fifth position on the outside looking in, a point back of fourth-placed Chelsea, but that could all change this weekend.
Both teams picked up important midweek results, but both teams still have major squad questions to sort out. For Arsenal, the home side has to sort out more questions surrounding Mesut Ozil after Unai Emery benched the German to send a message. For Spurs, a jam-packed December means Mauricio Pochettino could get tinkering to prepare for the heavy slate to come.
Can Bournemouth expose Manchester City on the break?
Manchester City vs. Bournemouth, 10:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
This week in Champions League play, Lyon made Manchester City look mortal. Again. The French side again challenged Pep Guardiola and earned a result, a 2-2 draw that left City with questions as they return to Premier League play. Bournemouth has suffered three straight 2-1 defeats, but have been solid on the counter as Eddie Howe is committed to an entertaining style of play. Last time Manchester City suffered a disappointing result at the hands of Lyon midweek, they came back and clobbered Cardiff City 5-0. Will they rebound in such dominating fashion again, or will Bournemouth use the Lyon film to formulate a winning plan?
Will Crystal Palace or Burnley pull away from the drop?
Crystal Palace vs. Burnley, 10:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]
Relegation six-pointers. Who doesn’t love them? Crystal Palace and Burnley both sit on just nine points this season, a single point above the bottom three. Burnley has won just once in their last 12 league meetings with Crystal Palace, and they have just two goals against Crystal Palace after the 20th minute in Premier League play. They’ll need to find their shooting boots if they want to earn some space in the relegation fight, but more importantly, Burnley’s patented lockdown defense has been absent of late, allowing 15 goals over their last five games, with only a clean sheet against Leicester City to write home about.
Does Jose Mourinho continue to ring the Manchester United changes?
Southampton vs. Manchester United, 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC [ STREAM ]
Jose Mourinho has continued to prove a lightning rod, and he sparked more chatter this week by benching Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku against Young Boys in Champions League play. It’s highly possible they were just rested, but with the team struggling again and Lukaku scoring the game’s only goal off the bench, will he continue to shuffle the deck? Struggling against a relegation-threatened Southampton would release the hounds, as would falling behind minnows Bournemouth, Leicester City, or Watford in the league table. Mourinho needs a good performance here, or the pressure mounts heavily.
Claudio Ranieri earned all three points in his first game in charge of the Whites, but the task is much taller on Sunday. The Fulham project is a long-term one, and it could be a feast for Maurizio Sarri if Chelsea can punch the Whites in the mouth early. The leaky Fulham back line isn’t a problem fixable in a few weeks, and with Chelsea looking to hold off Arsenal, the Blues will be primed to secure the points at home.