Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 23

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The January schedule is filling up, and teams are hoping to navigate the crowded fixture lists with injuries piling up through the winter months. With the FA Cup returning next week and managers hoping to limit minutes as much as possible, this weekend’s games will be critical.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The race for the Champions League spots is heating up, and a number of teams can make serious moves this weekend.

Can Spurs gain ground against the tide? [ STREAM ]

  • Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Tottenham doesn’t have Harry Kane. We know that. It’s time for Jose Mourinho to put up or shut up. Spurs haven’t scored in either of their last two Premier League games, and now Mourinho has had the time to figure things out. They now travel to Watford who is running on a high, having won each of their last three league games despite some discipline issues. The Hornets haven’t lost since December 4, which feels like an eternity ago.

Will Arsenal continue to improve under Mikel Arteta? [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Sheffield United, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

The Gunners have shown real – but slow – improvement under Mikel Arteta. There are still serious flaws, however, and Sheffield United is a team that can take advantage if given the chance. This is a litmus test match for the Gunners, and a win could get them as many as three places in the table. They were held off the scoresheet against the Blades last time around, and could complete their first double over Arsenal since the 40’s. Oh yea, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out suspended, a massive loss for the Gunners up front.

Can Aston Villa pull themselves out of the relegation zone, and Brighton into it? [ STREAM ]

  • Brighton Hove & Albion v. Aston Villa, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Aston Villa was pummeled by six Man City goals last time out, and the feeling around Villa Park is one of trepidation. Still, the results are there to give fans some hope, and one this weekend would turn things around completely. Three points on the road at Brighton would draw them level with the Seagulls in the table and give them a huge boost in the crowded relegation battle. Jack Grealish has been a motor for Villa this season, but the critical component in a game like this is the defense, a back line that’s given up 43 goals in 22 matches. Will Brighton punish the Villains at the Amex?

Which Chelsea will show up on Tyneside? [ STREAM ]

  • Newcastle United v. Chelsea, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chelsea has been extremely Jeckell & Hyde over the past month, with wins over Arsenal and Spurs but losses to Bournemouth and Southampton and a draw with Brighton. All told, it’s been two months since their last back-to-back wins. Newcastle, meanwhile, put together a draw against a scrappy Wolves side before punishing Rochdale in their FA Cup replay. Christian Pulisic is still injured, but the Blues remain one of the strongest attacking threats in the Premier League. A road loss, however, and the five-point gap to Manchester United could thin considerably.

Can Manchester United put in a shift against Liverpool? [ STREAM ]

  • Liverpool v. Manchester United, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

What a test for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defensive problems at key moments have plagued Manchester United this season, and like Chelsea, inconsistencies have proven vital. This game is critical for Solskjaer in the top four race, because a loss risks them falling a significant eight points back of the Champions League places. Still, while the United defense doesn’t instill fear in Premier League opponents, they’ve pulled out solid shifts against good teams this season, like holding both Spurs and Manchester City to a single goal in early December.

Liverpool can afford a few missteps, and Jurgen Klopp has managed his players’ minutes to perfection this campaign. A 14-point lead at the top of the table and a game in hand over Man City means we could see more players rested, and that gives the Red Devils even more hope.

Bonus: Can Pep Guardiola win on his birthday? [ STREAM ]

  • Manchester City v. Crystal Palace, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

No Man City manager has ever won on his birthday. Good luck, Pep!