Manchester United face a week of challenges, starting with rising Watford
John Brewin previews this week's Premier League action and highlights five key storylines in this edition of W2W4.
1. United face tough Watford examination
Manchester United vs Manchester City on Dec. 10 looks like the season's crunch game, but for that to be a chance for Jose Mourinho's men to peg back their neighbours, they must negotiate this week's tough schedule.
On Saturday, they travel to Arsenal. Before that comes Tuesday night's trip to Watford. When City visited in September, they barely gave Marco Silva's team a kick, winning 6-0. But the Hornets have been buzzing of late and are in eighth place.
Silva is the latest manager to be given the label of a "new Mourinho," and Everton have thus far been thwarted in their chase of the 40-year-old Portuguese. There are, though, significant differences. Where Mourinho is a conservative on the field and all-powerful in a news conference, Silva is shy in public as his team play bold football.
Mourinho does not have fond memories of Vicarage Road. Last season, a 3-1 defeat of United marked a third defeat in a row and was something of a last straw for Luke Shaw, who was barracked by his manager after making a couple of glaring errors. Shaw, over 14 months on, is still yet to force his way back into the United team and did not even make the trip down to Hertfordshire on Monday.
Instead, Ashley Young, whose shot was deflected in off Lewis Dunk for United's winner against Brighton on Saturday, will probably play at left-back at a club where he made his breakthrough. Watford, who destroyed Newcastle 3-0 at the weekend, should present a stern test for United, still yet to recover their previous swagger after losing at Chelsea on Nov. 5.
2. Seagulls vs. Eagles
Tuesday renews a rivalry that nobody quite knows the full origins of. But make no mistake, fans of Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace really don't get on. Attend a match played by either team, and you will hear disparaging songs about a rival who are fully 40 miles away.
One theory is that the clubs' nicknames sound so similar to as to annoy the other, but the enmity definitely heated up in the 1970s, when Terry Venables managed Palace and Alan Mullery was in charge of Albion. The former Tottenham teammates had not got on at White Hart Lane.
The running battles during one of the more curious rivalries in English football take in the hurling of hot coffee over Mullery by a Palace fan after an FA Cup tie in December 1976 to the soiling of Palace's dressing room with excrement ahead of a Championship playoff in 2013.
That meeting, won by Palace ahead of promotion, was the clubs' last meeting, with two goals from Wilfried Zaha the difference. Back at Selhurst Park, Zaha is key to Roy Hodgson's hopes of keeping his boyhood club up, while Glenn Murray, a Palace teammate back then, is now the key striker for Brighton.
A cold night on the south coast is bound to be warmed up by what is guaranteed to be a crackling atmosphere.
3. Big Sam the saviour?
By the time Everton kick off against West Ham on Wednesday night, it's possible they might actually have a manager in charge. Sam Allardyce is back in talks with the Toffees, whose five weeks of limbo have seen them crash deeper toward disaster.
Caretaker David Unsworth has lost five of seven matches in temporary charge and looked bewildered on the sideline as Southampton breezed to a 4-1 win on Sunday, following a 5-1 home defeat to Atalanta on Thursday. Unsworth, previously hoping for a permanent role, has joined the clamours for a new boss.
While that took place, Allardyce took in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and can probably now name his price at a club where Hammers boss David Moyes presided over such stability in 11 years at Goodison.
4. Spurs-Arsenal vying for fourth
Talk of a shift of power in North London now looks premature. Tottenham ended their weekend in fifth, a point behind Arsenal, after drawing 1-1 with West Brom. They can climb back above the Gunners for 24 hours by winning Tuesday at Leicester, where they won 6-1 last season as Harry Kane scored four times.
The night after that Arsenal welcome Huddersfield, who ran Manchester City close on Sunday, only to lose to a lucky goal from Raheem Sterling. David Wagner's team really need to stop the rot; they have lost five of their last seven matches and are gradually being dragged downward.
Arsenal playing Huddersfield summons sepia-toned images of the 1930s, when they were rivals and the legendary Herbert Chapman was poached from Town before he became the greatest pre-Arsene Wenger boss in Gunners history.
5. One more go for Megson?
Reports are that Alan Pardew will be West Brom's next manager, though probably not before they take on his former club, Newcastle, on Wednesday. Should he be in the Hawthorns' stands, visiting fans may have some harsh words for a manager who overstayed his welcome on Tyneside.
That would give Baggies fans one more time to hail club legend Gary Megson as caretaker boss. At Wembley, after drawing with Tottenham, he said he "enjoyed being amongst football people again. They call it banter these days. I don't know what that is."
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.