The battle for second reaches its pinnacle, but can United triumph over the side fans want them to the most?

Premier League Preview Manchester United

This weekend’s Premier League fixtures are the league’s last full slate of games before the international break. However, there are plenty of tantalising ties to satisfy any football fan’s fix as the Premier League begins to enter crunch-time.

United go into the weekend having pulled off a late comeback against Crystal Palace very reminiscent of Sir Alex’s era, but Jose Mourinho’s men face a much more challenging week ahead.

Manchester United vs Liverpool

Arguably the biggest clash of the weekend, United and Liverpool kick off this weekend’s football with a monster clash. The home advantage may prove crucial for United, as the Red Devils’ record on the road is not as convincing as it should be.

This game has all the ingredients to be the match of the season. Liverpool have become one of the most threatening attacking teams in the top-flight, though still struggle in defensive areas.

The same could be said for United, they have attacking power in abundance with the likes Lukaku, Martial, Sanchez etc, though defensive errors from Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Victor Lindelof have already cost them valuable points this season.

Nemanja Matic’s man-of-the-match performance against Crystal Palace, as well as an impressive display against Chelsea the week prior, has cemented the Serb’s place in the heart of midfield, comfortably becoming one of United’s most reliable players in big games.

He, along with the rest of the United defence, will have quite the job on their hands if they are to nullify the attacking threats of Salah, Firmino, and Mane, leaving questions as to whether Mourinho will re-visit the cautious defensive tactics that frustrated fans last season.

This game will decide whether United cling on to 2nd place having fought incredibly hard to keep hold throughout the season, or if Liverpool will finally leapfrog their age-old rivals.

United’s last game at home against Chelsea saw – in my opinion – the most complete performance of their season so far. And if Jose can replicate this result against the Scousers, then a lot of United fans will be waking up with hangovers Sunday morning.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

Next up, United’s previous two opponents face off against each other on Saturday in the first of this weekend’s London derbies.

Roy Hodgson’s men were denied three crucial points against Mourinho’s side on Monday night at Selhurst Park, having taken a 2-0 lead in the game’s early stages.

Chelsea have won just two of their last six games in all competitions, and have lost four of their last five in the Premier League. As pressure begins to mount on Antonio Conte, luckily for them, Palace haven’t won any in their last six, failing to topple big clubs such as Spurs, Arsenal, and United in the process.

Palace simply have to pick up some points in this game. Otherwise, they’ll find the prospect of relegation rapidly looming.

West Brom vs Leicester

There’ll be plenty of other sides West Brom would prefer to face this weekend given their current situation. The Baggies have lost all of five of their last games in the league, and can’t afford to slip any more if they are to somehow survive in the top flight.

Leicester have won all three of their previous visits to the Hawthorns, and Jamie Vardy has scored in all three of those visits. The Foxes are flying high under Claude Puel, the sticky situation left by Craig Shakespeare turning into a realistic campaign for European football.

West Brom currently sit rock-bottom in the league, Leicester in 8th, but if Alan Pardew’s men can pick up three points this weekend, then the great escape may be on.

West Ham vs Burnley

Burnley currently sit three points above Leicester in 7th, they visit the London Stadium to face a West Ham side who are by no means in the clear yet in terms of survival.

The Hammers sit in 14th, just three points above the drop zone, but have won just one of their last six games in all competitions, suffering back-to-back 4-1 losses at the hands of Liverpool and Swansea.

Burnley, on the other hand, beat Sam Allardyce’s Everton 2-1 in their last game. A win in London could help round off a perfect season for Sean Dyche, with the potential of European competition becoming increasingly feasible.

Everton vs Brighton

Speaking of Sam Allardyce’s men, they host south-coasters, Brighton, who are unbeaten in their last seven games in all competitions, winning three in a row.

Chris Hughton’s men currently sit in 10th place, but are level on points with the Toffees in 11th. The Seagulls’ last visit to Goodison Park came 36 years ago, but the two sides drew 1-1 at the Amex Stadium earlier in the season.

Brighton’s form is undeniable, though the home advantage for Everton may well help clinch some crucial points. However, Sam Allardyce will be without Welshman, Ashley Williams, who was sent off at Turf Moor last weekend, meaning that it’ll be a makeshift defence who will be tasked with keeping Brighton’s man-of-the-moment Jurgen Locadia quiet.

Huddersfield vs Swansea

Another side whose turnaround in form has left punters applauding in appreciation is Swansea City. They’ve gone from relegation favourites to 13th place in a matter of months thanks to Carlos Carvalhal.

They visit the John Smith Stadium, coming off the back of a 4-1 victory against West Ham at the Liberty and losing just once in their last six games in all competitions. The Terriers will be without their midfield maestro, Aaron Mooy, who is with a knee injury, while Swansea’s Renato Sanches may make a return from a hamstring problem.

An away win for the Swans could be huge, given the side’s impressive displays at home. Although, the John Smith Stadium is one of the hardest to visit in the league, with Huddersfield fans making their voices heard support no matter the occasion.

Newcastle vs Southampton

The last of this Saturday’s fixtures sees relegation strugglers, Southampton, make the long journey up north to visit Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United.

The visitors have lost just one of their last six in all competitions, drawing their last two games against Stoke and Burnley. Newcastle, on the other hand, lost their previous game at Anfield. Although, the Magpies won their last game at home, upsetting Manchester United in the process.

Neither side is safe in this season’s remarkable fight for Premier League survival, making each clash between sides in the bottom half of the table as important as a cup final.

Arsenal vs Watford

Not much would be able to change Arsenal’s season from anything other than complete disappointment. ‘Wenger out’ campaigns run rife at the Emirates, with Champion’s League qualification more or less out of the question and even Europa League football not set in stone.

The Gunners look to avoid a third consecutive home loss, failing to get the better of Manchester City for the second time in the space of a week in their last game at the Emirates Stadium. However, Arsene Wenger’s men got back to their winning ways against AC Milan at the San Siro on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Watford have won their last two games in the Premier League, both 1-0 wins against West Brom and Everton. Javi Gracia’s side will look to take advantage of an Arsenal side in crisis, as the Gunners sit a massive 13 points behind rivals Spurs in fourth.

Bournemouth vs Spurs

On the topic of Mauricio Pochetino’s men, they visit 12th place AFC Bournemouth in the second of Sunday’s two fixtures.

Spurs were knocked out of the Champion’s League thanks to a hearty display from Gianluigi Buffon and his Juventus side, but had won their three games prior. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have drawn their last two games in the league against Leicester and Newcastle, but managed to topple Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the year.

Spurs have plenty of fire-power to collect another three points at the Vitality Stadium. However, the Cherries are well within their capabilities to perform another upset of a top London club.

Stoke vs Man City

Finally, the last of this weekend’s fixtures sees Stoke City host league leaders, Manchester City, on Monday night.

Not much can be said about this tie – not to discredit the Potters – but it’s seemed almost this season for a team to burst Pep Guardiola’s bubble. In the league at least.

City’s only loss in the league this season came at the hands of Liverpool. However, the side have lost twice in their last five games in all competitions, against Basel in the Champion’s League on Wednesday night, and against Wigan in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Cracks are beginning to show as the season nears its final act. But if City have a reputation for anything, it’s making teams suffer after they have suffered themselves.