Saturday 4/1/17 (4:30 AM PT)
Liverpool vs. Everton (5)
Everton have lost just once since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and that incredible second-half form has set this edition of the Merseyside Derby up to be a massive battle for both sides. A month ago, it looked like this would be about the Toffees attempting to halt Liverpool’s hunt for the top four, but a win here would
(7 AM PT)
Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace (4)
It doesn’t seem that a bottom-third team really has a chance to put a dent in Chelsea’s title run, but Palace have a good a shot as any. Sam Allardyce's side won three straight before the international break and should be able to continue playing with confidence now that it’s four points clear of the drop zone. Still, though, with games remaining against Arsenal, Tottenham, and both Manchester squads, Palace need to find a way to get points against top competition if they are actually going to survive. This should be a great test to show just how ready they are to take on the gauntlet.
Manchester United vs. West Brom (3)
United are hot, but even at the Theater of Dreams, don’t expect West Brom –– who is coming off a big win against Arsenal –– to roll over. The Baggies are in no danger of relegation but are extreme longshots for Europe, so they have nothing to play for … and nothing to lose. That can make an already talented side very dangerous, and though it might contribute to a dip in form against weaker sides, expect West Brom to be fully present for their big challenges down the stretch. United haven’t lost at home in any competition since September 10, so a loss would be surprising, but they will certainly have their hands full this weekend and can’t afford to get caught looking ahead to the bigger challenges that await.
Leicester City vs. Stoke City (3)
Just like Palace, Leicester are back on track after three straight wins, and they have a great opportunity to keep building against a middling Stoke side this weekend. Stoke have not strung together back-to-back wins since December 3 and clearly have struggled to keep their play consistent. Their lineup can still match Leicester's, but truthfully, if the Foxes bring the intensity that they have shown since Craig Shakespeare took over as manager, they are undoubtedly favorites to snag the points, especially at home. This one should come down to which Leicester side shows up on Saturday.
Watford vs. Sunderland (3)
Sunderland are seven points from safety and cannot afford to let opportunities against teams in the bottom third slip away, and they will have a big opportunity
Burnley vs. Tottenham (3)
Burnley remain one of the Premier League’s best home teams, but the Clarets have hit a bump in the road, as they’ve gone six league games without a win. With one of the most difficult sides to play against in the league visiting Turf Moor, that run could well stretch to seven. Spurs aren’t at full strength, and they too will find getting a win difficult against a solid Clarets squad. This is the kind of game that could easily go either way, but it also has the feeling of a potentially low-scoring draw given the defenses involved.
Hull City vs. West Ham (3)
With the three sides just above them playing well, 18th-place Hull are in danger of falling away from safety if they can’t get on track in a hurry. They do get a chance to do so against West Ham, but the Hammers have been a much better away team this year than a home team, and they’ll hold a sizable talent edge on their opponents. That said, Hull haven’t lost in five home games, and with points to be gained on either the team above or below them, this is a critical game for the Tigers. A loss wouldn’t end their push for survival, but it would severely damage it.
(9:30 AM PT)
Southampton vs. Bournemouth (2)
Two comfortable, mid-table sides meet in a South Coast Derby with few stakes outside of bragging rights. These clubs are currently level on points — although Saints have two games in hand — nine above the drop zone and well off a European place. Bournemouth will be the happier of the two sides with that fact, and they enter with confidence after consecutive wins before the international break. A trip to St. Mary’s will be difficult, however, and even if neither side has much to play for in terms of positioning in the table, this is still a local derby, and it should be hard fought.
Sunday 4/2/17 (5:30 AM PT)
Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough (3)
This is undoubtedly the biggest game of the week in the battle at the bottom of the table. Swansea currently sit in 17th, three points above the relegation zone, and with some help from West Ham, they could move six clear of danger with a win. However, if Boro can snap out of the funk that’s enveloped them in 2017 (they’re winless in 11 league games), they’ll close the gap between themselves and the Swans to just two points. Swansea are, however, huge favorites considering the recent forms of the two sides, and while Middlesbrough have ground out six PL draws this season on their travels, getting another might not even be enough to jump-start their sinking ship.
(8 AM PT)
Arsenal vs. Manchester City (5)
This has all the makings of a potential classic at the Emirates. Both of these teams know how to score goals, each has some obvious defensive frailties, and each has a manager who knows how to take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses. That could easily lend itself to a high-scoring thriller. Of course, it also bears mentioning that both of these teams have struggled recently — Arsenal’s well-documented issues
Bonus European Game of the Week: Benfica vs. Porto, Saturday 4/1/17, 12:30 PM
There are a whole bunch of huge fixtures around Europe this weekend, including a top-of-the-Serie A clash between Juventus and Napoli and rivalry games pitting Feyenoord against Ajax and Schalke against Borussia Dortmund. However, none is as massive as the battle for the Portuguese league lead between Benfica and Porto. As things stand, the rivals are separated by just one point atop the Primeira Liga, with Benfica narrowly ahead. Benfica earned a last-second draw in the first meeting this season between the teams, and they’ll be looking for another big result at home to move potentially four points clear of their rivals. But Porto are red hot right now, as they haven’t lost a league game since August and had won nine in a row before drawing their last game before the international break. Benfica are hot as well with a seven-game unbeaten run ongoing, and with the animosity between these teams and the huge stakes up for grabs, there’s every reason to expect this to be a fiercely contested derby match.