Illness puts Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Arsenal debut in doubt
Liverpool's comfortable 3-0 win over Huddersfield meant their fans on Tuesday could relax and watch Tottenham play Manchester United the following evening. As five clubs trailing way behind Manchester City adjust to a race for second, third or fourth place in the Premier League, more attention is paid to fixtures where one or even two rivals might drop precious points.
It was also an interesting battle between optimism and pessimism, between those who believed United losing would increase Liverpool's chances of finishing second and those who felt a Spurs defeat would consolidate the Reds' hold on a top-four spot. Tottenham emerged as easy 2-0 winners, so the pessimists grew further unnerved as they looked really good.
But good enough to beat Liverpool at Anfield this Sunday? That may not be quite so straightforward. Like Manchester City, Tottenham have a dreadful history at Anfield with just four league wins there in the past 100 years.
Midweek defeats for Chelsea and Arsenal make matters even more intriguing. It gave Liverpool fans a lift after two defeats against Swansea and West Brom left many critical of a lack of movement in the transfer window's final days.
The season will soon enter its final third, and if anything, things are becoming less predictable by the week. All the big sides still have European commitments that may distract them further but Liverpool no longer have an interest in the FA Cup. It promises to be an intriguing final three months of the season.
The Reds decided to go through the rest of the season with the players already at their disposal, which may well be a mistake. Liverpool have more to lose by being inactive after selling Philippe Coutinho. At least Tottenham managed to keep all their main stars.
Liverpool had an easier time in midweek compared to their Sunday rivals but their win was no less crucial. Defeat at Huddersfield in the current climate would have been devastating.
It was good to see Jordan Henderson back, and it was noticeable how much effect he had on Liverpool's whole approach -- particularly the pressing game. Tempo is an important indicator as to which Liverpool turns up. In high-profile fixtures, motivation isn't really necessary while they often struggle against lower sides. Against Tottenham, they won't need firing up by their manager yet they'll face far stronger resistance than from Huddersfield. It makes the game a hard one to call.
For the rest of the season, Liverpool hold a slight advantage by not having any FA Cup "distractions" yet a perceived disdain for actual silverware will plague Jurgen Klopp until he manages to land a trophy.
Some feel his reluctance to buy another player after the massive outlay on Virgil van Dijk denotes a more patient attitude to team-building. After all, Liverpool did make regular lousy buys before the German arrived in September 2015. All well and good if Klopp's patience is matched by his star players -- but is it? The general opinion is that Liverpool need regular Champions League qualification and a nod at least towards winning the occasional trophy in order to keep the likes of Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah succumbing to wanderlust.
It feels odd for a side in third place and still in the Champions League to have supporters thinking such negative thoughts, but they've been here before. A Liverpool side gets so close and somehow setbacks appear inevitable. It doesn't help when most of the clubs around them strengthened their squads this winter. It feels like another opportunity for growth wasted, but time will tell if that's true.
Here are the key stats heading into Sunday's massive clash at Anfield.
The last time these two clubs faced each other was in October. Liverpool left Wembley in disarray after a heavy 4-1 defeat. Harry Kane was exceptional that day, but it was made easier for him by woeful Liverpool defending.
Since then, Firmino has grown into his own striker role. He is not nearly as deadly as Kane but has other qualities which make him as integral to his side's performances as the England number nine is to his.
Salah has been almost as prolific as Kane, yet the third component in Liverpool's forward line is struggling. Sadio Mane might have had a goal or two against Huddersfield, but heading is not his greatest asset and he sent two efforts narrowly wide. He also can't use his pace against teams who sit deep. Last season, Tottenham came to Anfield prepared to attack and were caught twice by Mane in a scintillating personal performance, the likes of which Liverpool fans rarely see nowadays. If he can find his best form for Sunday, the Reds have a good chance of putting some distance between them and their rivals.
Tottenham have many players that can cause some damage too. That may be where Liverpool have to double their efforts if they are to come out on top.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.
An investigation into an allegation of bullying against Newcastle under-23s coach Peter Beardsley is ongoing as club officials interview potential witnesses.
The investigation, sparked by a complaint from 22-year-old midfielder Yasin Ben El-Mhanni and backed by several teammates, was launched last month.
Press Association Sport reported that managing director Lee Charnley was continuing the process of speaking to academy staff, having already met both 57-year-old Beardsley and his accusers, and that the his focus was solely on the youth setup.
Former Magpies and England star Beardsley, who denies the allegations, agreed to take leave while evidence was gathered.
In the wake of El-Mhanni's complaint, it is understood a series of other complaints were received by the club.
Chelsea's chastening defeat to Bournemouth led to immediate questions about beleaguered Blues boss Antonio Conte's future at Stamford Bridge: Does the Italian manager still have control of the dressing room, and has his relationship with his employers irretrievably broken down?
Such questions highlight the scale of the problems facing Conte, who faces a steepening uphill battle to salvage not only Chelsea's season but his job as well -- though whether he aspires to the latter is another topic for debate.
The manner of the Blues' second-half capitulation against the Cherries made it hard to believe that 12 months ago, Conte was steering Chelsea toward the Premier League title. A year on, the champions of England have somehow evolved into a dispirited and disjointed rabble. As the biting-cold January wind whipped around the Bridge and the Blues' backline unravelled, Chelsea supporters looked at each other and at the players on the pitch. Where were the leaders, the fighters, the men who could turn adversity into triumph?
Conte's line last summer about the need to avoid a Mourinho season sprang to mind. So did thoughts about whether he is in fact the architect of his own and Chelsea's current misfortune, or whether callous fate was conspiring against him as it often had for the London club's managers in the Roman Abramovich era.
It could be argued, the seeds of Conte's malaise were sown a couple of years before he accepted the challenge of managing Chelsea.
"I go to war. You come with me." With these defiant words in July 2014, Diego Costa introduced himself to John Terry, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic and Branislav Ivanovic, the four hard men of Chelsea's dressing room. There was always a pantomime villain aspect to Costa's demeanour that suggested he might be difficult to manage, but his gung-ho, battling approach to playing football and his ability to plunder goals aplenty was just what Jose Mourinho, the Blues boss at the time, needed. The Portuguese manager worked his players hard and Costa's goals powered Chelsea to the title.
What happened subsequently to Mourinho has been well documented. The missed transfer targets, the spat with club doctor Eva Carneiro, a bib-throwing tiff with Costa, the falling-out with the board, the lost dressing room, the inevitable sacking. Eva-gate aside, looking at the latest state of affairs at the Bridge, the expression "deja vu" springs to mind and Costa's name features prominently. Conte's woes are traceable to January 2017 and a much-publicised falling out with the striker, who was almost shipped out to China.
The Brazil-born Spain international stayed and again provided the firepower to help win Chelsea the title, but the peace between player and manager, both noted for their combustible personalities, was an uneasy one. Shortly after the campaign concluded, Conte advised Costa by text that he wasn't going to be in his plans for the coming season and that was that. It was a power play that would be repeated a few months later when defender David Luiz criticised Conte's tactics following a 3-0 loss to Roma in the Champions League. Luiz was dropped and subsequently the form of 21-year old Andreas Christensen made it difficult for the Brazilian to get back into the side.
Like Costa, Luiz has an engaging and forceful personality which needs to be managed carefully. Both players have the type of do-or-die attitude that was clearly an asset to Conte when he won the title at the first attempt, but in striving to assert his authority in the dressing room the manager has deflated the mood in the camp. Costa the warrior is now at Atletico Madrid. Luiz, who has the same spirit, has been cast aside.
Conte's actions against the players are rumoured to have displeased Abramovich, and the lack of hard backing in the January transfer window suggests the Chelsea board are already planning ahead for life without Conte -- who himself is being linked with a return to his native country to manage the national side once more, something that on Friday he steadfastly denied.
What the rest of the season holds for Chelsea is uncertain. The title is lost. Although the Blues remain in contention for a top-four finish and are still in the FA Cup and Champions League, if Conte and his players are no longer functioning as a unit, without any leaders coming to the fore, the club's supporters are going to be in for more disappointment.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco
Manchester United will mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich disaster on Tuesday when Nicky Butt leads the under-19 team in a wreath-laying service at Partizan Stadium in Belgrade -- the venue of the last match played by the "Busby Babes" prior to the tragedy which cost the lives of 23 people in 1958.
Eight United players were among those killed at Munich as Matt Busby's team returned from a European Cup quarterfinal second leg against Red Star Belgrade on Feb. 6, 1958.
United will mark the anniversary of the disaster with a minute's silence before Saturday's Premier League encounter with Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford.
A short ceremony will then be held at the stadium on Tuesday, which will be attended by Munich survivors Harry Gregg and Sir Bobby Charlton, plus manager Jose Mourinho, club captain Michael Carrick and former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
But with United's academy team having been drawn to face Serbian club FK Brodarac in the UEFA Under-19s Champions League knockout stage, the Old Trafford youngsters will take part in a remembrance ceremony on Tuesday before facing Brodarac 24 hours later.
During the team's visit, Butt and his squad will meet British Embassy staff and Red Star Belgrade officials including Vladico Popovic, who played in the game against United in 1958.
The travelling party, which will include long-serving members of staff at United, will host the reception in the same hotel where the United team stayed in February 1958.
And on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 3:04 p.m., the exact time of the crash 60 years ago, the team will visit the Partizan Stadium for a minute's silence, laying a wreath in honour of those killed at Munich.
Meanwhile, Mourinho said he hopes United will produce a performance befitting the Busby Babes when they play Huddersfield.
Mourinho, who wore a Munich pin badge in the news conference previewing that game, said: "I was telling before MUTV that this is something that is part of my life, or part of my football culture, before I become Manchester United manager.
"And why? Because it was such a tragedy that stayed in these last 60 years.
"So as Manchester United manager obviously it means much more but I think it belongs to every sportsman as one of the biggest tragedies.
"At the same time, it is a crucial point also in Manchester United's history -- the reaction, the strength, the union after that situation.
"And I think tomorrow is an amazing day to show the respect, to show the passion for the club, the respect for them, the respect for their families and I think it is a day to play well."
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_
LONDON -- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned that financial imbalance among football clubs is "destroying competition" around Europe.
Wenger said it was clear that "something is not right in our game" with four of Europe's top five domestic leagues practically decided halfway through the season.
Manchester City have an 18-point lead in England, while Bayern Munich are 16 points clear in the Bundesliga and Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain enjoy 11-point gaps in Spain and France respectively.
And Wenger told a news conference: "When you look at the five big leagues in Europe, you can see that the unpredictability of the competition has gone down.
"In December, we already knew four champions of five leagues, so it means something is not right in our game. The huge financial power of some clubs is destroying the competition."
The Premier League is the richest of all European leagues thanks to huge TV revenue, and Arsenal broke their transfer record sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for £56 million this week.
And Wenger said: "First of all, let's not be fooled by reality -- the financial attraction of the Premier League is superior to everywhere else and that attracts the best players.
"Once the best players are in a country you want to be confronted by them. It is attractive on the competitive side, but that is always linked with the economic power."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.
Crystal Palace have been dealt a major blow in their survival battle after Roy Hodgson confirmed that Bakary Sako is ruled out for the rest of the season.
Sako was forced off in the first half of the Eagles' 1-1 draw at West Ham on Tuesday, and scans have revealed he has suffered a fractured ankle and damaged ligaments.
"Baky's injury is a very serious one. He's fractured his ankle and damaged ligaments around it," Hodgson told a news conference.
"He certainly won't play again this season and may be a doubt to be fit for the start of next."
The striker has played an important role in Palace's rise to mid-table under Hodgson, scoring six goals in 19 appearances including a recent match winner against Burnley.
With Christian Benteke struggling for form this season, Sako's absence increases the pressure on new £9 million signing Alexander Sorloth to settle quickly.
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.