Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures won’t be the busiest of all, but it promises to have some drama as bottom-dwellers Bournemouth and Watford face off, while Manchester City travel to Villa Park.
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Bournemouth vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN
It might be difficult to admit, but Nigel Pearson‘s arrival at Watford has done wonders for the club.
The Hornets secured 10 out of the possible 12 points during the festive period, putting the upwards-trending club two points within reach of escaping the drop zone. Throughout that same stretch of four matches, Pearson and company have outscored opponent’s eight goals to two.
The 56-year-old, who last coached Belgium’s Oud-Heverlee Leuven, is implementing an effective and pragmatic 4-2-3-1 system. But perhaps the reason behind the escape trick isn’t solely based on on-field adjustments, but on the emotional investment that the manager is putting forward.
“I’ve been asked a few times already about whether I had still got enthusiasm or the drive or whatever it is to continue to work, and those are the sorts of questions that I’ve asked myself for sure,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were capable of getting out of the situation that we’re in, but I can’t ask people to be committed if I’m not committed myself, so all those things are very important to me and I think this club has got a really strong identity and there’s potential for us to rediscover what we are as a football club.
“I do feel attached to being a part of that and trying to rediscover that.”
Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth, on the other hand, are on the opposite site of the spectrum, falling instead of climbing up the table.
Ravaged by injuries, the Cherries picked up a sole point throughout the same span of four matches. Howe, desperate to animate his team (and supporters), is urging for Dean Court to get loud and hostile again – like in the past.
“Teams used to really fear coming here, a tight ground and a great atmosphere,” Howe said. “We now need that feeling back, which only we can create as a team.
“We’ve had good battles with Watford and I imagine this game will be tight again – our motivation levels have to be higher than theirs.”
INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Danjuma (ankle), King (hamstring), Stacey (hamstring), Brooks (ankle), Daniels (knee) | Watford — OUT: Hughes (groin), Janmaat (knee), Cleverley (calf), Welbeck (hamstring), Femenía (hamstring) Prödl (calf)
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Everything is moving at hyperspeed for Aston Villa, and they probably don’t want it that way.
Days after earning a laudable draw against Leicester City in the semi-final of the EFL Cup, Dean Smith and company host back-to-back champions Manchester City. It wasn’t too long ago that Villa lost Wesley and Tom Heaton to season-ending injuries, either.
Smith recognizes at what speed the challenging hurdles are coming at, but instead preaches for concentration from his players.
“We played the second-placed team in the cup and now we’re playing the team that are third and have won back-to-back titles,” the 48-year-old said. “They have a world-class coach and world-class players, they can afford to spend £50m on a right back, so we know the test.”
“They have had some off days this season – they got beat at Norwich and Wolves – so we must have belief in ourselves, as well as concentration.”
Fresh off a 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United, the sense is that Manchester City are finally finding their groove again.
Pep Guardiola and his team may be out of contention for a third straight title, but they have a lot to prove with the EFL Cup and Champions League still up for grabs. In fact, Sunday’s match against Villa may well be a preview of the EFL Cup final.
“We have to play all the teams. Sometimes they’re at the top, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the bottom. It’s a historic club,” Guardiola said prior to Sunday’s match. “They changed their last set-up in the last game. We’ll try to maintain the dynamic we have.”
INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Davis (hamstring), Steer (achilles), Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), McGinn (foot) | Manchester City — OUT: Laporte (knee), Sané (knee) (knee)