W2W4: Man United need to rebound; Klopp's selections must be spot on
W2W4 previews the week's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines.
Manchester United must respond
Defeat in Sunday's derby against Manchester City will have hurt Jose Mourinho, but the real sting has been the reaction to his team's performance. A lacklustre United side were outclassed by their rivals to see an 11-point gap open up at the top of the table and raise questions about the success of Mourinho's methods at Old Trafford. Even Louis van Gaal has put the boot into his successor, questioning the "boring, defensive" football since his appointment.
When analysing how much Pep Guardiola has improved City both individually and collectively, it's certainly an interesting comparison to judge Mourinho's progress in the same time frame. United won two trophies last year, plus the Community Shield, but the loss to City -- albeit without Paul Pogba -- suggested they are still some way from finding the right formula to win a first league title since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure. Aside from Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini, it is difficult to think of any other players in the squad who have really kicked on under Mourinho.
The criticism will have been noted, and the manager will now expect a response from his side when they host Bournemouth. Last season this fixture ended in a 1-1 draw -- exactly the sort of performance Van Gaal was referring to -- as United endured an interminable run in sixth place. If they are to continue leading the competition against City, and provide some respite for Mourinho, a convincing display must be delivered on Wednesday.
How many changes will Liverpool make?
When Liverpool line up against struggling West Brom at Anfield on Wednesday, Jurgen Klopp may wonder whether this was the game in which he should have chosen to rotate his first XI. The Reds were unfortunate not to win the Merseyside derby after dominating against Everton, but had Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino started the match, and Mohamed Salah not been sacrificed with more than 20 minutes to play, the result may have been beyond all doubt. Instead, Dejan Lovren's late push on Dominic Calvert-Lewin proved costly and left Klopp hugely frustrated at two more dropped points in a title race that already looks decided.
The question now is how the manager responds to his critics against an opponent 13 places below Liverpool in the table and with 22 fewer goals to their name. The past seven contests with West Brom have brought four draws and three victories for the Reds, each one settled by a single goal. Klopp may opt to field his strongest side in a bid to blow the Baggies away and put Sunday's infuriating episode against Everton firmly behind him.
Will Bony be a thorn in City's side?
Wilfried Bony's vital winner against West Brom at the weekend marked the first time the striker has scored in successive Premier League matches since December 2014. It also means he has now equalled his tally in the entirety of last season, when he made 11 appearances for Stoke during a miserable campaign.
Those two goals for the Potters came against Swansea in a 3-1 victory in October 2016, and Bony has a habit of scoring against his previous clubs. Having found the net for Swansea against Stoke at the start of December, the Ivory Coast international has now claimed five goals against former employers in England. With Manchester City visiting the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday, Bony may be the only thing standing between them and an outright record of 15 straight Premier League victories.
Benitez has to halt Newcastle's slide
With takeover talk becoming a distraction, Newcastle have now lost six of their past seven Premier League matches, last tasting victory at home to Crystal Palace in mid-October. It is a dismal run that threatens to end in a swift return to the Championship unless Rafa Benitez can quickly arrest the club's slide.
To that end, Wednesday's clash with an Everton team rejuvenated under Sam Allardyce is one of the last fixtures Benitez will have wanted to face. The stubborn Toffees have conceded just once in three games since Allardyce's arrival and will be confident of adding to Newcastle's woes at St James' Park. But with tough tests against Arsenal and Manchester City coming up in the next three matches, plus a trip to a West Ham side buoyed by their win against Chelsea, it is vital the Magpies begin picking up points.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger