The outstanding fixture for me in Round 15 of the Premier League season comes at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon when Manchester United host Tottenham Hotspur.
Playing well just won’t be enough for a frustrated Jose Mourinho this time out and Manchester United simply have to beat a “big” team in this league for the first time since Marcus Rashford led them to a 1-0 win at Manchester City back in March.
Thanks to three straight 1-1 draws, the Reds are in sixth place, six points behind Spurs and 13 off leaders Chelsea. Defeat could leave them 12 points away from the top four. They have dropped seven points with goals conceded in the last 10 minutes of games this season and know they must put teams away when they are dominating games.
At the back, Phil Jones has been excellent lately but he and United have to keep out Harry Kane, who has seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances, and Dele Alli, who has been in the thick of things lately! Spurs badly needed to play a struggling team like Swansea last week and their subsequent showing in midweek means they have started December in fine festive spirits.
It’s a cracking battle in prospect, even if it will not impact the very top of the table.
At the summit, the top two teams face assignments that look tricky on paper but they won’t be unduly concerned because they boast the best two strikers in the league.
Leaders Chelsea face an in-form team in West Brom, for whom Matty Phillips is undoubtedly a player you need to be following in your fantasy games. How though to stop one of the hottest strikers in Europe in Diego Costa, who has racked up 11 goals and five assists in a stunning campaign? Well, he needs to be fit to start first, so keep an eye on team the pre-match press conference from Antonio Conte.
Second-placed Arsenal face Stoke, who have only been beaten once in their last nine games and who again this week have the option of being able to bring Joe Allen back into the starting XI. Their attacking nemesis though is likely to be Alexis Sanchez. Ignore all the stories about his future for the time being and simply focus on his numbers: 11 goals and four assists already. He’s on fire.
Elsewhere, there are really challenging fixtures for two teams who haven’t lived up to pre-season expectations. West Ham are at Anfield and should beware a Liverpool team that trained and took notes in Barcelona this week. Leicester, beaten by Sunderland, West Brom and Watford lately and embarrassed in midweek, face a visit from a Manchester City team that may not have Sergio Aguero but that will be desperate to bounce back from the collapse against Chelsea last week.
At the bottom, Swansea-Sunderland is precisely the kind of game Bob Bradley will ultimately be judged on and Hull-Palace is no less significant. Enjoy! I’ll be back on Monday.