Premier League title is not beyond Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights the key points to keep an eye on.
West Ham vs. Liverpool
Arsenal vs. Newcastle
Leicester vs. Bournemouth
Man Utd vs. Swansea
Norwich vs. Southampton
Sunderland vs. Aston Villa
West Brom vs. Stoke
Watford vs. Man City
Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea
Everton vs. Tottenham
Battle of the weekend: Everton vs. Tottenham
Tottenham Hotspur could win the Premier League this season. This likeable team are fourth in the table, four points behind leaders Arsenal, and have one of the division's most promising managers in Mauricio Pochettino. The former Espanyol and Southampton boss is building something at White Hart Lane -- something exciting. The youthful group of players he has at his disposal are playing for their coach and also their fans, as demonstrated by their passionate display with the travelling faithful after Son Heung-Min scored a late winner at Watford last Saturday.
In that result at Vicarage Road, Pochettino added to his growing reputation as one of the game's brightest by tweaking his team's system to three at the back to help nullify the attacking threat of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. While the outstanding Ighalo did get his name on the scoresheet, Watford were restricted to one shot on target, which is no mean feat considering the ferociousness of Quique Sanchez Flores' players. Some might take umbrage at the fact that Son was offside prior to his decisive backheel, but nonetheless Spurs finished 2015 with three wins in a row and cause for genuine optimism.
After his work at Southampton -- leading them to eighth in 2013-14 and nurturing the club's youngsters -- and the progress shown at Spurs, it is not surprising that envious glances have been cast in Pochettino's direction by some Manchester United supporters considering their lack of direction under Louis van Gaal. For now, though, the 43-year-old has a project in North London, where the Argentine is contracted until 2019 -- meaning, if all goes to plan, he'll oversee the first season at Tottenham's new stadium.
Tottenham begin 2016 at Everton, a club who should be doing better -- they are nine points away from the Champions League places and the relegation zone. Having lost their last two matches at Goodison Park and conceded seven goals in the process, it seems unlikely that Roberto Martinez's men will be able to cope with Tottenham. Especially in midfield where the injured James McCarthy will be sorely missed against the effervescence of Dele Alli, who continues to show quality beyond his 19 years.
Who is the better manager?
Martinez has not been assisted by his goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose form has been alarming and puts significant pressure on the Spanish coach to find an alternative in January. When looking at the teamsheets on Sunday, Martinez would be forgiven for feeling a pang of jealously at Pochettino boasting Hugo Lloris between the sticks, with the Frenchman one of the league's best. At least, however, he can call on the wonderful Romelu Lukaku, scorer of 15 top-flight goals already this season, although there is only so much the striker can do until the Toffees' defensive issues are addressed.
January is a big month for Martinez as his side, who have not won consecutive league games all season, have seven matches in all competitions, including three meetings with Manchester City -- two of which are in the Capital One Cup -- and a trip to Chelsea. For Tottenham, after their trip to Merseyside they have back-to-back home fixtures with Leicester coming up, the first of which is in the FA Cup. By then, Pochettino may have added to his squad, which will be tested in the coming months when you also factor in their Europa League commitments to come.
Under pressure: Ronald Koeman
Southampton are sliding down the table, although a gap of seven points to the bottom three means that, for now, talk of a relegation battle is not yet emerging from their critics' lips. However, should their current form continue -- they've won one of their last seven league fixtures, losing five of those -- then such doom-mongering won't be far behind. It is vital that before facing away matches at Manchester United and Arsenal that the Saints collect a respectable haul of points from a trip to Norwich then home games against Watford and West Brom.
However, further anxiety for Koeman can be found in the approaching January transfer window when surely key duo Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama will be targeted. The club have coped impressively following high-profile sales in recent seasons but surely losing their best midfielder and striker would be two steps too far. Indeed, Morgan Schneiderlin's departure to Manchester United continues to be felt in midfield, while Graziano Pelle's tendency to score only in patches can increase the weight on Mane's shoulders.
Finding form: Stoke
Not for the first time this season, Stoke are on the receiving end of high fives from those who enjoy fun football. Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic are meshing together as the neutrals had hoped, helping the club to successive wins over Manchester United then Everton. Having named an unchanged XI in those matches, Potters boss Mark Hughes might consider shuffling his pack for Saturday's meeting with their West Brom, where former Stoke manager Tony Pulis is now in charge. As tempting as it might be to rotate, though, spare a thought for those wanting to see more of Arnautovic & Co.
- Leicester scored in each of their first 18 matches, but are currently in a season-long 201-minute goal drought in league play. Entering Boxing Day, Leicester had the best on-target percentage from shots in the penalty area at 44.4 percent, with all 37 of their goals coming from those shots. In their last two matches, however, just three of their 10 shots from inside the penalty area have been on target, with none going for goals.
- Manchester United are winless in each of their last eight matches in all competitions, their longest such streak since 1990. The club hasn't been winless in nine straight matches since October-November 1988. Saturday's opponents, Swansea, have beaten United in each of their last three league meetings and can become the third club to win four straight Premier League matches against United, joining Liverpool and Manchester City.
- Arsenal begin the new year atop the Premier League and will open 2016 hosting Newcastle. Arsenal have won eight straight Premier League games against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League matches.
- Manchester City will not have Vincent Kompany at Watford. City are unbeaten when Kompany starts in 2015-16 (6-2-0), but have won just five of the 11 matches he's failed to start. City have allowed just one goal with Kompany on the field this season and 19 without him.
- Watford's Odion Ighalo has scored in six straight league games and can equal the club record of scoring in seven, set by Frank McPherson in the 3rd Division South in 1928-29. Ighalo was the top league scorer in England's top four divisions in the 2015 calendar year with 30 goals, ahead of Harry Kane's 27.
Any other business: Guus Hiddink
Premier League champions Chelsea are now unbeaten for three matches! Unfortunately for them, however, it's not quite "crisis over," with the team just three points above the relegation zone. Interim manager Guus Hiddink has so far overseen draws with Watford and Manchester United, with both performances not without their concerns. Hiddink will at least have a striker to choose from at Crystal Palace this weekend when Diego Costa returns from suspension. That said, the forthcoming transfer window is timely for the Blues, whose squad desperately needs a refresh.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.