IT’S BEEN A strange few weeks and indeed, a strange season for Manchester City.
Occasionally, they have looked back to their unstoppable best — the Sergio Aguero-inspired defeat of Bayern Munich, and more recently, their 5-0 demolition of Newcastle are two cases in point.
However, too often, City have failed to reach the kind of heights that people have come to expect from a club that has spent so much money in recent times. In their last two matches against Barca and Liverpool, certain players have looked at best tired and at worst disinterested.
The club look in desperate need of a lift — can January signing Wilfried Bony help them recover that necessary spark? Having made just three substitute appearances since joining, the ex-Swansea man is finally expected to be handed a first start against bottom-of-the-league Leicester.
It is consequently the type of game in which Bony must flourish if he is to avoid being consigned to the long list of promising and expensive Premier League strikers who ultimately acquire the status of also-rans.
2. Liverpool set for different type of challenge
Last weekend’s win over Man City seemed to confirm Liverpool as being back to their confident best.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are now unbeaten in 11 league matches — they haven’t lost since the 3-0 defeat to Man United back in December.
Deprived of Luis Suarez and with Daniel Sturridge still partially recovering from a long lay-off, the Reds have had to rely on others this term to produce match-winning moments of magic — something which Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho duly delivered at the weekend.
And while they will be strong favourites to continue this success against relegation-threatened Burnley on Wednesday night, the fact that Sean Dyche’s men have taken points off both Chelsea and Man City this season should prevent too much complacency creeping into their game.
3. Will Chelsea persist with Zouma experiment?
For 44 minutes of the League Cup final, Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Kurt Zouma in midfield looked ill-advised, with Spurs dominating the play and generally looking the better team.
However, two quick-fire goals drastically changed the complexion of the game, and Mourinho’s decision suddenly looked more inspired by the minute.
With the visitors braced for a physical battle at Upton Park, Zouma may again get the nod in the middle of the park, as defensive midfield stalwart Nemanja Matic serves the final game of a two-match ban.
The Blues will be hoping West Ham’s challenge is as feeble as it was in the reverse fixture in December, as Chelsea emerged as comfortable 2-0 winners, with the Hammers failing to register a single shot on target.
Nevertheless, with a passionate home crowd behind them, Sam Allardyce’s men are expected to offer a much greater test on this occasion.
4. Can Rooney nail down a place in attack?
An injury to Robin van Persie meant Wayne Rooney was restored to United’s attack in their most recent match with Sunderland.
The England international promptly reminded fans of his worth, scoring a brace as United eventually broke down a stubborn Sunderland resistance.
After the game, Rooney stated that he was “obviously” pleased to return to United’s attack, making no secret of his desire to play there rather occupying the midfield berth with which he had been entrusted until recently.
In Falcao and Van Persie, United already have two high-profile strikers who are plainly less adaptable than Rooney, while James Wilson is also an exciting prospect and genuine alternative up front.
United play Newcastle on Wednesday in what looks a bigger challenge than the Sunderland test — the Red Devils have regularly struggled on the road this season. Consequently, Rooney must maintain Saturday’s goalscoring form if he wants to remain in one of the two highly coveted forward positions at Old Trafford.
5. Crisis? What crisis?
As dire as their recent Champions League first-leg loss to Monaco was, Arsenal’s league form continues to look highly encouraging.
The Gunners sit third, just four points behind second place Man City, and are widely expected to claim a Champions League spot for an 18th consecutive season.
While the Monaco result left many people questioning Arsene Wenger’s future, they have taken 18 points from a possible 21 and remain strong contenders to lift the FA Cup — an immaculate record they are expected to retain against a QPR side that have lost five of their last six matches.
Therefore, as far as supposed crises go, Arsenal’s difficulties seemed relatively pleasant in comparison to most teams’ struggles.
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