The FA Cup third round may still be fresh in the memory, but there’s no time for rest and recuperation as 12 Premier League teams dive straight into midweek action.
League leaders Liverpool are among the sides taking a welcome breather, but for some of the Reds’ fiercest rivals – namely Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, and, erm, Everton, it’s a chance to shake things up in the title race and charge for European qualification places.
Injuries, illness and general fatigue are undoubtedly doing the rounds, so what impact will that have on the outcome of the six games to be played? Here’s90min‘s preview and predictions for gameweek 18.
Sheffield United vs Newcastle
What time is kick off? 18:00 (GMT)
Where is it being played? Bramall Lane
TV channel? Sky Sports Main Event (UK), Peacock Premium (US)
The 2020/21 Premier League season has been up and running for four months and poor Sheffield United have yet to pick up a win.
What is the fewest points picked up in a Premier League season?
The Blades have so far played 17 games this season without picking up a win – becoming the first top flight side since 1902 to enter the new year without a single three point haul. To become the worst side in Premier League history, they will need to beat Derby County’s incredible 11 point haul – achieved in the 2007/08 campaign with a -69 goal difference. Yikes.
Victory in the FA Cup away at Bristol Rovers could be the catalyst for change, and there’s probably no better opposition to take on than Steve Bruce’s Newcastle. The Magpies blow very hot and cold, and are one side who often look bereft of any creative inspiration.
Callum Wilson’s goals have kept their head above water, but Sheffield United may finally get their noses over the line.
Prediction: Sheffield United 1-0 Newcastle
Burnley vs Manchester United
Manchester United have the chance to top the Premier League table for the first time since the opening day of the 2018/19 season – providing they can dispatch an ever improving Burnley at Turf Moor.
Will Paul Pogba be fit?
At this stage, it’s unclear whether the Frenchman, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly will be fit to start. Pogba may not be required anyway, such has been the impressive form of Scott McTominay, who skippered the Red Devils to victory in the FA Cup third round.
The Red Devils have been very good on the road this season, and led by Bruno Fernandes, confidence will be high even though the Clarets have lost just two of their last nine Premier League games.
Burnley scraped past MK Dons on penalties at the weekend, and even though results have improved after a terrible start to the season, they are still struggling in front of goal. United, with the carrot dangling in front of them, should have all the tools to get the job done.
Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Manchester United
Wolves vs Everton
What time is kick off? 20:15 (GMT)
Where is it being played? Molineux
TV channel? Sky Sports Main Event (UK), Peacock Premium (US)
Recent form would suggest that Everton are favourites to come away with three points against Wolves at Molineux, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be more than aware of the threat carried by the hosts despite the absence of Raul Jimenez.
Pedro Neto looks to be a real livewire out wide, and Adama Traore’s stonking finish against Crystal Palace could be just what he needs to recapture some form in the league.
The Toffees have won four out of their last five, but did slip up against West Ham at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day. There’s also minor concerns over the halt to Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s supreme scoring run; he’s now gone five Premier League games without a goal after netting 11 in as many games to open up the season and will be missing on Tuesday due to a hamstring injury.
Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Everton
Manchester City vs Brighton
Manchester City have slid under the radar for much of this season simply because they haven’t been at their phenomenal goalscoring best.
But Pep Guardiola’s team have only shipped five goals from open play this season, and John Stones’ resurgence alongside Ruben Dias in central defence has allowed City to grind out results and propel themselves back into the title race.
Is Raheem Sterling injured?
There is speculation that Sterling could be ruled out of the game, but as yet there’s been no official confirmation from the club regarding the nature of any problem. He didn’t play any part in the FA Cup win over Birmingham, so his availability remains up in the air.
Brighton survived a nerve jangling penalty shootout against League Two high-flyers Newport County, but Graham Potter’s side must do better to have any chance of coming away with a positive result. A backs against the wall job seems most likely, and even though Sergio Aguero is unavailable, City could be set for a big win.
Prediction: Manchester City 4-0 Brighton
Tottenham vs Fulham
Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham were originally slated to play Aston Villa, but a major COVID-19 outbreak among their squad – an outbreak which forced Dean Smith to dip into the club’s nursery in order to fulfil their FA Cup tie against Liverpool on Friday – has forced a re-think.
Instead, Spurs take on Fulham in a game that was originally supposed to take place just before the turn of the year, but was postponed because of positive COVID cases in the Cottagers camp.
Spurs are rightly favourites to win the game despite the late change in scheduling, and should have fresh legs to get them over the line after fielding part-timers Dele Alli and Carlos Vinicius, among others, in the cruise control win over Marine.
Prediction: Tottenham 2-0 Fulham
Arsenal vs Crystal Palace
Arsenal decided to splash the cash on Nicolas Pepe (extortionate transfer fee) and Willian (ridiculously high wages) but their recent rejuvenation, of sorts, has largely been inspired by two academy products, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.
The dynamic duo have got the Gunners playing with a little bit of swagger, and they’ll need all of their creative juices to break down a Crystal Palace side who, seven-goal mauling from Liverpool aside, are pretty damn stubborn in defence.
Throw the talented duo of Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze into the mix on the counter and this game could be far from a walk in the park for Arsenal. Still, a slender home victory is the most likely outcome.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace