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Jose Mourinho vs. Antonio Conte in focus; will Liverpool stutter at West Ham?

W2W4 previews the week's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines...

Can Man United put their recent strife behind them?

As it turned out, Jose Mourinho's decision to bench Paul Pogba against Sevilla was largely inconsequential as Ander Herrera's hamstring injury forced the Frenchman's introduction after just 17 minutes. But it was not an empty statement by the manager. Whatever is happening behind the scenes at Manchester United, this is a power struggle he intends to win -- and he has been emboldened by his signing of a new contract only a month ago.

This isn't the first time Mourinho has picked a personal battle. But as the mind games become more mind-boggling, he appears to have adopted a siege mentality of one, set in play ever since feuds with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas characterised the end of his reign at Real Madrid. The orchestrated three-finger celebration following United's Europa League triumph last May was emblematic of Mourinho's third act; contrast that with the young Portuguese coach sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline in a spontaneous burst of energy and emotion in 2004.

Despite all this, United are on course to record their best league standing since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013, no matter how little it may count for given Manchester City's commanding 16-point lead. But recent performances have lacked invention and Pogba isn't the only player struggling to fulfil his potential in a team that is weaker than the sum of its parts.

Romelu Lukaku, for all his 21 goals, is yet to prove himself as a title-winning centre-forward; Alexis Sanchez arrived to great fanfare and has returned one goal in six matches. That the spotlight again fell on goalkeeper David De Gea following the 0-0 draw against Sevilla was telling of United's efforts.

Mourinho and Conte have not seen eye to eye recently.

It has been another season of trial and error and a team playing within itself, despite significant investment. As the focus gradually turns to hopes for next season, with 11 games remaining and the title race virtually decided, United must deliver a display against Chelsea that offers a sense of the cohesion and incision that has been lacking all too frequently.

As for Chelsea, Antonio Conte appears equally frustrated with how the campaign has unfolded after warning against a "Mourinho season" back in the summer. This is a fixture he will be looking forward to more than most, however, following the war of words that escalated between the Italian and Mourinho in January.

Conte said he "will not forget" that episode, and he would enjoy nothing more than taking three points at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Will West Ham prove a tricky test for Liverpool?

Liverpool have enjoyed a well-earned break following their 5-0 demolition of Porto in the Champions League, but they return to action against the sort of stubborn opposition that have caused them problems in the past.

The Reds eased to a 4-1 victory over West Ham at the London Stadium back in November -- Mohamed Salah scoring a brace, of course -- which proved to be Slaven Bilic's last game in charge. But the Hammers have been tougher to beat under David Moyes, claiming a 1-0 win over Chelsea and draws with Arsenal and Tottenham during their climb up the table.

They will make life difficult for Liverpool, defending deep and attempting to starve Salah of the space in which to make his darting runs. As home draws against Burnley, Everton and West Brom this season indicate, Jurgen Klopp's side are still figuring out how to get the better of teams who come to Anfield with the intention to escape with a point.

Spurs sights back on top four

Following contrasting 2-2 draws against Juventus and Rochdale over the past 10 days, Tottenham's Premier League campaign resumes at Crystal Palace on Sunday. With Mauricio Pochettino's side still a point outside the Champions League places, it is vital they retain their focus ahead of the Juventus and Rochdale rematches.

Spurs have remained unbeaten for 14 games since a 4-1 thrashing at Manchester City in December, but they have also won only three of their last eight fixtures, requiring FA Cup replays against Rochdale and Newport as the games begin to stack up.

It was slow going in a 1-0 win over Palace back in November as they managed only two shots on target at Wembley -- Son Heung-Min scoring the winner -- compared to three for the Eagles. Spurs will hope for an easier afternoon on Sunday as they strive to keep the pace with their rivals in the top five.

Harry Kane reflects on a missed opportunity during Tottenham's Premier League game against Arsenal at Wembley.
Tottenham are looking to get back into the European spots.

Watford seek revenge against Everton

Was Marco Silva distracted by Everton's approach in the autumn as the Toffees' searched for Ronald Koeman's replacement? The Hornets board certainly seemed to think so as the club's form dropped off a cliff -- with one win in 11 league matches between the end of November and Silva's dismissal.

With Everton travelling to Watford on Saturday, it will be interesting to see if any resentment still lingers. It should be a lively atmosphere for a game in which both sides need to pick up points to strengthen their ambitions of a top-half finish.

Taxi for Pardew?

Reports this week have suggested that Alan Pardew has two games to save his job after failing to improve West Brom's form since his appointment in November and overseeing off-field distractions that have added to the club's plight.

With the Baggies seven points adrift at the bottom, the visit of fellow relegation strugglers Huddersfield could not have come at a better time. Although they defeated Bournemouth 4-1 in their last outing, the Terriers have won only one of their previous nine top-flight matches, failing to score in five of those.

If Pardew can't lead West Brom to victory on Saturday, it's unlikely he will even be given the second game of his ultimatum.

Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger

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