Van Gaal should embrace Man United's attacking instincts at Liverpool
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights five key points to keep an eye on.
Tottenham vs. Sunderland
Bournemouth vs. Norwich
Chelsea vs. Everton
Man City vs. Crystal Palace
Newcastle vs. West Ham
Southampton vs. West Brom
Aston Villa vs. Leicester
Liverpool vs. Man Utd
Stoke vs. Arsenal
Swansea vs. Watford
Manchester United were fun on Tuesday! Louis van Gaal's usually nap-inducing side were involved in a six-goal extravaganza at Newcastle, although the concern for those who prefer their football entertaining is that the match ended in a 3-3 draw. United were better going forward but were let down by some wasteful finishing and erratic defending. It is this lack of control that could strike fear in Van Gaal, who has preferred his team to be risk averse. What we'll discover at Anfield is whether the Dutchman will return to his former ways, embrace the leeway for expression or at least find a balance.
Their trip to Merseyside could be a crackerjack encounter whether Van Gaal likes it or not. Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have saved their best for the big matches: they scored three at Chelsea, four at Manchester City and then three against Arsenal on Wednesday night. We'll witness two teams with severely contrasting styles that mirror their respective managers: Van Gaal -- brooding, observing and note-taking in his seat -- and Klopp with his heart on his sleeve, snarling and chest-beating down the touchline when a goal goes in.
In last season's corresponding fixture against Stoke, Arsenal had one of their most infamous implosions when they conceded three goals in the first half of a 3-2 loss that made Jon Walters look like Pele. In those 45 minutes it was evident Arsene Wenger's side were not title contenders. This campaign feels a bit different, though, even if they had a similar capitulation at Southampton on Boxing Day. Alexis Sanchez should be back for this game, offering the table-topping Gunners some of the bite needed to survive a trip to the Britannia. Having earned a hard-fought point at Liverpool or dropped two, depending on your point of view, victory over Mark Hughes' in-vogue side is a statement of intent required ahead of next weekend's home game with Chelsea.
The most encouraging thing about Everton's 0-0 draw at the Etihad on Wednesday was that goalkeeper Tim Howard was a far safer pair of hands than he has been for some time. It was a backs-to-the-wall display as City largely penned in Roberto Martinez's team, but they could have more joy going forward at Chelsea on Saturday. The Blues, who reminded everyone they are the reigning Premier League champions with an excellent 3-0 win at Crystal Palace, showed why they are still just six points above the bottom three with some slipshod defending in a 2-2 draw at home to West Brom. Of note at Stamford Bridge will be the clubs' two strikers: Diego Costa and Romelu Lukaku. The former looks far sharper and more interested, while the latter 22-year-old faces his former club, aiming to reiterate they were wrong to sell him.
Hold on a second, could Aston Villa turn the world upside down and dramatically escape relegation? The answer is of course ... no. Even though they won for a second time in the league this season on Tuesday, Villa remain rooted to the foot of the table and are eight points adrift of safety. The win was also achieved via a terrific case of the butterfingers by goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, rather than due to Villa's own majesty. Their opponents Leicester, meanwhile, just won't go away from the summit. The late win at Tottenham was via grit rather than their early-season gusto. This was a significant positive for manager Claudio Ranieri, who is doing a fabulous job by getting his squad to play at the peak of their means.
Troubling times for Swansea City, who find themselves at the bottom of the division's form table. While there may have been a case for sacking Garry Monk in December, the side hailed for being well-run now look rudderless since no permanent alternative has been appointed. Caretaker boss Alan Curtis was right to feel aggrieved at the refereeing in their midweek 4-2 home defeat to Sunderland. For starters, Kyle Naughton should not have been sent off, but also evident was some very ropey defending and goalkeeping off the back of an inexcusable FA Cup exit to League Two side Oxford United. The Swans host Watford on Monday, when they could already be in the relegation places.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.