Pep Guardiola focused on Liverpool clash, not signing Alexis Sanchez
CHELSEA VS. LEICESTER
CHELSEA: Chelsea are expected to field a full-strength side. Captain Gary Cahill was rested for the midweek Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg with Arsenal and could return in defence. Ross Barkley is expected to be fit to make his debut following a hamstring injury in Chelsea's FA Cup third round replay with Norwich next Wednesday.
Provisional squad: Courtois, Caballero, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Kante, Hazard, Morata, Pedro, Bakayoko, Moses, Kenedy, Musonda, Zappacosta, Willian, Batshuayi, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Clarke-Salter, Sterling, Eduardo, Ampadu, Hudson-Odoi.
LEICESTER: Jamie Vardy is fit again after missing Leicester's FA Cup trip to his former club Fleetwood. The striker will travel after recovering from the groin injury which made him sit out the goalless draw at Highbury Stadium last Saturday. Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson (both hamstring) and Robert Huth (ankle) are out but Christian Fuchs (illness) and Vicente Iborra (hamstring) are fit for Claude Puel's side at Stamford Bridge.
Provisional squad: Schmeichel, Hamer, Jakupovic, Maguire, Chilwell, Fuchs, Benalouane, Dragovic, James, King, Albrighton, Amartey, Gray, Silva, Ndidi, Mahrez, Iborra, Choudhury, Musa, Vardy, Slimani, Okazaki, Ulloa, Iheanacho.
CRYSTAL PALACE VS. BURNLEY
CRYSTAL PALACE: Knee and ankle injuries to Jeffrey Schlupp and Andros Townsend respectively have further reduced Crystal Palace's options. Manager Roy Hodgson has said Schlupp is "likely to be out for months'' and Townsend ``closer to one month''. Hodgson is also still without Joel Ward (groin), Mamadou Sakho (calf), Connor Wickham, Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon (all knee) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has a knock.
Provisional squad: Hennessey, Speroni, Fosu-Mensah, Kelly, Tomkins, Delaney, Riedewald, Souare, Van Aanholt, Cabaye, Mutch, Kaikai, Ladapo, Milivojevic, McArthur, Sako, Lee, Zaha, Benteke.
BURNLEY: Georges-Kevin Nkoudou could go straight into the Burnley line-up after signing on loan from Tottenham until the end of the season. The winger has impressed Sean Dyche in training this week and the Clarets boss has confirmed Nkoudou will feature in some capacity as they aim to get back to winning ways. Scott Arfield remains a doubt with a minor hamstring strain, while the trip will also come too soon for defender Stephen Ward (knee) and Chris Wood (leg).
Provisional squad: Pope, Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Gudmundsson, Cork, Defour, Hendrick, Nkoudou, Barnes, Wells, Vokes, Lindegaard, Lowton, Westwood, Walters, Long, Marney.
HUDDERSFIELD VS. WEST HAM
HUDDERSFIELD: Huddersfield's new signing Alex Pritchard could make his debut for the club. Midfielder Pritchard completed his permanent move to the John Smith's Stadium from Norwich on Friday morning and is expected to go straight into David Wagner's squad. Recent loan signing Terence Kongolo hopes to make his Premier League bow in central defence, but forward Collin Quaner, plus defenders Chris Lowe and Martin Cranie, will miss out through injury.
Provisional squad: Lossl, Malone, Kongolo, Schindler, Jorgensen, Smith, Hogg, Mooy, Van La Parra, Lolley, Ince, Pritchard, Mounie, Depoitre, Coleman, Hefele, Hadergjonaj, Williams, Billing.
WEST HAM: Team news to follow...
NEWCASTLE VS. SWANSEA
NEWCASTLE: Goalkeeper Rob Elliot could return after shaking off a thigh injury. Elliot sat out last weekend's FA Cup third-round victory over Luton, as did defender Chancel Mbemba (knee), but both could be included in the squad for the Swans' visit to St James' Park. However, manager Rafael Benitez will still be without striker Aleksandar Mitrovic (back), who is closing in on a return, and defenders Florian Lejeune (foot) and Jesus Gamez (ankle).
Provisional squad: Elliot, Darlow, Woodman,Yedlin, Manquillo, Dummett, Haidara, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Merino, Hayden, Shelvey, Saivet, Ritchie, Atsu, Murphy, Aarons, Diame, Perez, Joselu, Gayle.
SWANSEA: Swansea have doubts over Tammy Abraham (hip) and Renato Sanches (hamstring). Midfielders Ki Sung-yueng and Leon Britton have rejoined the squad after calf injuries. Academy product Connor Roberts could make his Premier League debut, with Kyle Naughton completing a three-game ban and Angel Rangel sidelined by a calf strain.
Provisional squad: Fabianski, Nordfeldt, Roberts, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Olsson, Mawson, Mesa, Britton, Clucas, Carroll, Fer, Sanches, Ayew, Narsingh, Abraham, Bony, Dyer, Fulton, Routledge, McBurnie.
WATFORD VS. SOUTHAMPTON
WATFORD: Team news to follow...
SOUTHAMPTON: Southampton could welcome back defenders Wesley Hoedt, Cedric Soares and Jeremy Pied. Hoedt (concussion), Soares (hamstring) and Pied (leg) have all returned to training and their fitness will be assessed before kick-off. Striker Charlie Austin remains on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
Provisional squad: McCarthy, Forster, Bertrand, Stephens, Yoshida, Hoedt, Soares, Pied, Gardos, McQueen, Bednarek, Targett, Romeu, Lemina, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Davis, Boufal, Tadic, Redmond, Long, Gabbiadini, Sims.
WEST BROM VS. BRIGHTON
WEST BROM: James Morrison and Nacer Chadli are out for at least another month. The midfield pair have suffered injury-hit seasons, with Morrison battling an Achilles problem which has sidelined him since September and Chadli struggling to overcome a hip issue. Jonny Evans (foot), Craig Dawson (fatigue) and winger Matt Phillips (hamstring) are fit to face Brighton on Saturday after sitting out the 2-0 FA Cup win at Exeter.
Provisional squad: Foster, Myhill, Palmer, Hegazi, McAuley, Dawson, Evans, Nyom, Gibbs, Brunt, Field, Livermore, Krychowiak, Barry, Burke, Yacob, McClean, Phillips, Robson-Kanu, Rondon, Rodriguez, Leko.
BRIGHTON: Izzy Brown will be absent after he was ruled out for the rest of the season. On-loan Chelsea forward Brown sustained cruciate knee ligament damage in the early stages of Monday's FA Cup win over Crystal Palace, cutting short his stay with the Seagulls. Midfielder Steve Sidwell, who has not featured so far this season because of a back problem, has suffered a further setback by picking up an ankle complaint in training and remains Albion's only other injury issue.
Provisional squad: Ryan, Krul, Maenpaa, Bong, Bruno, Hunemeier, Duffy, Dunk, Rosenior, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Kayal, Propper, Skalak, Knockaert, Stephens, March, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray, Hemed, Baldock.
TOTTENHAM VS. EVERTON
TOTTENHAM: Tottenham will be without midfielder Harry Winks. Winks had an injection on his troublesome ankle on Monday, but is not available this weekend. Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose are also out as they continue to recover from hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
Provisional squad: Lloris, Vorm, Gazzaniga, Davies, Walker-Peters, Vertonghen, Sanchez, Dier, Foyth, Trippier, Aurier, Amos, Wanyama, Sissoko, Dembele, Alli, Eriksen, Son, Lamela, Llorente, Sterling, Kane.
EVERTON: New Everton signing Cenk Tosun is set for his debut. The Turkey international signed a week ago from Besiktas and manager Sam Allardyce confirmed he would be in the squad. Defender Michael Keane is still sidelined due to a gash to his foot which has reopened an old wound and is taking longer than expected to heal, while midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye (hamstring) is also out.
Provisional squad: Pickford, Kenny, Holgate, Jagielka, Martina, Schneiderlin, McCarthy, Bolasie, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Robles, Williams, Davies, Baningime, Lennon, Vlasic, Tosun, Niasse, Lookman.
BOURNEMOUTH VS. ARSENAL
BOURNEMOUTH: Bournemouth will hand late fitness tests to Josh King and Junior Stanislas. Both forwards have been battling hamstring complaints, but could yet return for the Dean Court encounter with the Gunners. Jermain Defoe and Tyrone Mings remain sidelined with long-term injury issues.
Provisional squad: Begovic, Boruc, Ramsdale, S Cook, Francis, Simpson, Ake, A Smith, Daniels, Surman, L Cook, Fraser, Gosling, Pugh, Hyndman, Ibe, Afobe, Wilson, Mousset, King, Stanislas.
ARSENAL: Midfielder Jack Wilshere could feature for Arsenal. Wilshere limped off during the Gunners' Carabao Cup semi-final tie at Stamford Bridge with an ankle issue, but may be fit for the clash on the south coast. Aaron Ramsey is back in the squad following a hamstring issue, but Mesut Ozil (knee) was rated as only "50-50'' by manager Arsene Wenger. Nacho Monreal (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Olivier Giroud (hasmtring) are still sidelined but Sead Kolasanic could return.
Provisional squad: Cech, Ospina, Mertesacker, Kolasanic, Holding, Mustafi, Chambers, Debuchy, Bellerin, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Wilshere, Elneny, Ozil, Ramsey, Iwobi, Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, Lacazette.
LIVERPOOL VS. MAN CITY
LIVERPOOL: Liverpool top scorer Mohamed Salah has recovered from a groin injury. Striker Daniel Sturridge is back in training after a muscle problem which has sidelined him for a month but is not in contention for the weekend. Midfielder Jordan Henderson (hamstring) and Alberto Moreno (ankle) are still recovering from their injuries with the latter closer to a comeback, although not in time for this weekend.
Provisional squad: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Mane, Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Karius, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold, Milner, Woodburn, Solanke, Ings.
MAN CITY: Vincent Kompany will likely remain sidelined. City's skipper is yet to feature in 2018 due to a calf problem and manager Pep Guardiola confirmed he is still struggling for full fitness. Gabriel Jesus (knee) went to Barcelona for his injury this week and Guardiola, who remains without Benjamin Mendy (knee) and Phil Foden (ankle), anticipates having his Brazilian striker back training in two-to-three weeks.
Provisional squad: Bravo, Ederson, Walker, Danilo, Kompany, Stones, Otamendi, Mangala, Delph, Zinchenko, Toure, Gundogan, Fernandinho, Diaz, Sterling, Sane, D Silva, B Silva, De Bruyne, Aguero.
MAN UNITED VS. STOKE
MAN UNITED: Team news to follow...
STOKE: Stoke could have Erik Pieters and Bruno Martins Indi available. The Dutch pair have stepped up their recoveries from hamstring and groin injuries respectively, returning to training this week. It was hoped skipper and fellow defender Ryan Shawcross, recently sidelined by a calf problem, would also be involved in training ahead of the game. There may be a debut for right-back Moritz Bauer after his switch from Rubin Kazan to the Potters, who have had first-team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki in temporary charge since the sacking of boss Mark Hughes last weekend.
Provisional squad: Butland, Grant, Zouma, Wimmer, Cameron, Martins Indi, Souttar, Bauer, Pieters, Edwards, Tymon, Fletcher, Allen, Adam, Ireland, Afellay, Shaqiri, Diouf, Choupo-Moting, Sobhi, Crouch, Berahino, Ngoy.
Nearly halfway through the transfer window, the only bit of business that Spurs have done so far is to send Georges-Kevin N'Koudou out on loan to Burnley.
It's a move that frees up a place in the Champions League squad for Erik Lamela as much as anything else. But other than that, nothing. And no one should be too surprised if it stays that way.
Not because the Tottenham ranks couldn't benefit from reinforcements in some areas, but because the chances of manager Mauricio Pochettino being able to get the players he wants are very small. Gone are the days -- hopefully -- when Spurs would buy someone just because he happened to be available.
There's also a feeling this January that Tottenham's gaze is principally directed toward the summer. Earlier this week, chairman Daniel Levy made it clear that Spurs wouldn't be selling any players over the summer that they didn't want to sell. This is a bold claim and might be easier said than done. Already there is a feeling of the vultures circling around the club: Toby Alderweireld is yet to agree a new contract after months of protracted negotiations; Dele Alli is the subject of constant media speculation, especially now he is getting back to something like his best form.
And then there are rumours linking Harry Kane to Real Madrid. This is the move that everyone at the club fears most, mainly because it could be the one most difficult to prevent. Not least because Madrid have been having a poor season with their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, badly off form and many believing his best days are behind him.
There can be little doubt that Real will step up the pressure to buy Kane in the coming months. They need a top striker and there are none better than Kane in Europe at the moment. The genius of Kane is that he doesn't appear to lose confidence in himself when he fluffs an easy chance. Time and again this season, he's missed clear-cut early chances only to end the game with a goal or three to his name. His self-belief, technique, hunger and fitness levels are in a class of their own.
Madrid also have the funds to make a serious bid. And if they were to offer a world-record fee of £200 million, would either Spurs or Kane be able to say no? Several years ago, Tottenham and Bale were unable to resist a then eye-watering fee of £90m and history could well repeat itself. And much as no one around White Hart Lane wants to admit it, Kane is bound to leave the club at some point. The chances of him playing the rest of his career at Tottenham are nonexistent. Top footballers have only a small window to cash in on their talent and make themselves financially secure for life, and Kane is now in that zone.
The main question is whether Spurs can keep Kane for one or two more seasons or whether the striker jumps ship now. Until now, Kane has been one of the most loyal players in his public pronouncements, never saying anything to add fuel to transfer rumours. But after last week's third-round FA Cup tie victory over AFC Wimbledon, the facade cracked a little as Kane declared he was happy to stay at Spurs so long as they were winning trophies.
As no fan needs reminding, the last time Spurs won anything was 12 years ago, when they beat Chelsea in the League Cup. So the inference is clear. Spurs need to start winning cups this season if they want to be in with a chance of retaining Kane for next season. Playing some of the most attractive football in the league, finishing second and winning the Golden Boot is no longer enough.
With the Premier League already as good as Manchester City's and the Champions League in all probability a bridge too far, that effectively means it's win the FA Cup this year or Kane might walk. Any thoughts Pochettino might have had of resting players in future rounds of the domestic knockout tournament must be shelved.
Somehow, Pochettino has to create a mindset where both the short-term anxieties of the transfer window and the long-term uncertainties of the squad are put to one side and players focus on each game as it comes. Though the Premier League title may have gone, Spurs desperately need a top-four finish to ensure Champions League football next year. Starting the first season in the new stadium in the Europa League is not what anyone had in mind.
The good news is that Spurs go in to this weekend's fixture against Everton in reasonably good shape. Victor Wanyama is coming back to something like full match fitness and Spurs look a much stronger unit with him at the heart of the defensive midfield. Even so, Everton will be a tough nut to crack. The side are much improved since their disastrous start to the season and Spurs will need to be at their best to take the points.
Much will depend on which Spurs turn up. All too frequently, Spurs have blown hot and cold this season, looking world-beaters in one game only to look slow and laboured in the next. At times, even Pochettino has appeared confused by his team's performances and has often seemed slow to ring the changes mid-game when his original plan isn't working.
It's time for both the players and the manager to show their class. There's only one way to ensure this squad sticks together and that's by winning. One game at a time.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.
LIVERPOOL -- Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool had "no other option" but to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona after it became clear there was "no chance" the Brazilian could play for the Reds in the second half of the season.
Coutinho left Liverpool for the Nou Camp earlier this month in a £142 million deal (after add-ons) that makes him the second-most expensive footballer of all time.
Liverpool had resisted three offers from Barcelona in the summer, with the 25-year-old eventually returning to the squad after missing the entire month of August as he attempted to push through a move to Spain.
When asked at his pre-Manchester City news conference on Friday why Liverpool sold Coutinho, Klopp replied: "Because there was no other option. That's, I would say, a pretty easy answer.
"If there's somebody, maybe, who should be angry or massively disappointed -- or whatever in this case -- then it could be the manager of the club, but I'm not. Because I know we tried absolutely everything. The club tried everything to convince Phil to stay here and carry on going the way together with us.
"It was his dream and it's the truth when I say he left Liverpool only for one club -- and it was Barcelona. That was the moment when we really had to accept that. The club was fighting until the last second, if you want, and really tried everything. That's the case.
"I knew when it will come up again in this transfer window. It came up massively that it would be very difficult if we say: 'Here's your contract, you have to stay here' and to use him as a player in the second part of the season. That's the decision I have to make -- does it make sense? Do I think I can use him still and help us?
"To be honest, it was 100 percent clear [there was] no chance. He was not ready to do that anymore.
"He did fantastic in the first part of the season after the thing we had to deal with in the summer. The team did really brilliant with that -- how the whole club did, Anfield itself. But it was clear that's over now and we cannot do anymore. We made that decision."
Klopp has vast experience of losing key players during his managerial career, having seen the likes of Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Nuri Sahin leave Borussia Dortmund during his seven years in charge there.
"It's normal in this business -- you lose players, you buy players, you bring players through," he added. "You always need to react. It's all about the atmosphere in the club. On Sunday, for example, if there's a free kick in the stadium from 18 or 20 yards and everyone is thinking: 'ah, Phil'. That would be not too cool. It's how it always is with the past -- use it, but don't suffer because of it."
In terms of replacing Coutinho, Klopp admits Liverpool will explore the transfer market for potential new signings, but will not be rushed into reinvesting the £142m. A source has told ESPN FC that Liverpool are in dialogue with RB Leipzig about the possibility of bringing forward Naby Keita's move to Merseyside this month.
"If we do something then it needs to be the right decision. We don't have to replace him, we have to step up," Klopp said.
"We will have 11 players and we played fantastic football with Phil. I don't want to sound disrespectful because I really liked him. He was five years here and was here since I came in. You miss a person and I'm sure he's missing us -- maybe he doesn't realise in the moment when everything is new there!
"And replacements, first of all, we have to replace him internally, but we go through with open eyes in this transfer window, as you can imagine. But we will not make crazy things. That's how it is. 'Right' before 'expensive'."
On Keita, the Liverpool manager continued: "There's nothing to say about it. When we had this conversation around Phil Coutinho, I said the same -- nothing to say -- and I won't change that. He is a player of Leipzig, that's what I know and will be here in the summer, that's what I know as well. All the rest, nothing to say about it."
Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah will be fit for Liverpool's encounter with Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday after missing the last two matches with a groin injury. Alberto Moreno (ankle) and Daniel Sturridge (muscular) are back in full training, while Jordan Henderson continues with his recovery from a hamstring issue.
"If nothing happens in this moment, Mo is back, he is training completely normally," Klopp concluded. "[Sturridge] is back in training, healthy and on the way to be fit again. Hendo is in this moment out on the pitch and is training. It looks good -- he wears football boots, that is always a good sign. He was not in team training so far.
"Alberto Moreno was in team training yesterday, the first full session. He is a little bit early but after that he should be ready. He needs time for proper training of course.
"The boys really do a lot in their rehab situation and, if we have time, we bring them a little bit later into team training so that they can do a little bit more specific physical work. But still they need time to adapt to the intensity of a football game. It looks really good, cool."
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.
LONDON -- Mauricio Pochettino says Tottenham are not close to any January signings and suggested that clubs have to pay over the odds to buy players mid-season.
Chelsea and Liverpool have already added to their squads this month, signing Ross Barkley and Virgil van Dijk respectively, while the Manchester clubs are vying for the signature of Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, whom Arsene Wenger has said he will replace if he leaves.
Despite the spending among their top-six rivals, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy said on Thursday that it is "difficult" to do business in January -- a message repeated by Pochettino ahead of Saturday's match against Everton.
"Until today, now, no-one is close to arriving in this transfer window," Pochettino told a news conference on Friday. "Maybe in [the next] five minutes, something happens! But before the press conference, nothing is close.
"There are a lot of rumours in the media. I think you know the business [of football], how it is today. In three-and-a-half years at Tottenham, I saw minimum 100 names in the media. In the end, we've signed a few. Rumours!"
Barkley's contract at Everton was due to expire in the summer and he joined Chelsea for a cut-price £15 million, while Liverpool made £75m Van Dijk the most expensive defender on the planet before selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142m last week.
Dele Alli remains Spurs' only January signing under Pochettino and he was immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. The manager believes that opportunities to make shrewd January signings are limited.
"If you want to sign players [in January], there must be an opportunity and it's difficult to find these opportunities," Pochettino said. "Like Liverpool or Barcelona, they pay a lot of money and you cannot stop the players like Van Dijk and Coutinho from leaving.
"Or it's players that have six or four-and-a-half months until the end of their contract -- like the Alexis [Sanchez] rumours. It's always difficult in this transfer window."
Pochettino said he was not worried by the club's potential inactivity, however, adding: "I am confident always. Then it is up to us to deliver and try to win. Personally, I never look next to me at what another team is doing. It's about how I believe, how we believe, and make things happen. We must compete in the best way, help the team and players to be better and compete with the team that we have.
"I'm not concerned, I'm not worried. We're working. We're awake to the market. If something is available on terms we can take, of course we'll do it. But if not, no."
Last week, Harry Kane insisted he would remain happy at Spurs as long as they start to win trophies and Pochettino said December's Premier League Player of the Month was determined to deliver silverware to his boyhood club.
"Harry is happy. Always, I told our fans, he is happy. He loves Tottenham and everyone wants to win -- us, the club, Daniel, the players, the fans.
"And you want to win in the place you love. For Harry it's so special to win titles and trophies at Tottenham. Of course, at the moment he achieves a lot of individual awards, of course he would like to offer our fans and the club collective trophies. He is top because of this. He always wants to win."
Pochettino is without Toby Alderweireld (hamstring), Harry Winks (ankle) and Danny Rose (knee) for Everton's visit but he hopes to have Rose available in a "couple of weeks." The left-back is undergoing treatment at St. George's Park, England's training base in the Midlands, for a change of scene.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.
Chelsea's frenetic fixture list continues on Saturday with a home Premier League game against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge. Contesting silverware on four fronts, the Blues have been playing at least two matches per week in all competitions since mid-November, an agenda which will continue through to the end of January.
On the plus side, the London club sit a comfortable third in the table, have progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League, the semifinals of the Carabao Cup and are still in the FA Cup.
On the negative side, while Antonio Conte's squad have remained relatively unscathed by injury there is a creeping sense of unease among Chelsea supporters that the lack of respite is starting to affect the Blues boss and his players.
Conte, renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve and not suffering fools gladly, has allowed himself to be drawn into an increasingly bitter war of words with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, and with neither man prepared to back down, from a football perspective, questions are being asked if the stress of the spat, coupled with the rigorous demands of managing Chelsea through a hectic period of the season, is starting to affect Conte's judgment.
He will never admit that Mourinho has got under his skin, but the Blues' recent games have been frustrating to watch for their fans with team selection, tactics and individual player performances all drawing a fair amount of criticism.
Having thrashed Stoke City 5-0 in the final game of 2017 without the services of rested talisman Eden Hazard, the portents looked good for the New Year. Admittedly Stoke were shocking, but both Pedro and Willian in particular demonstrated their goal-scoring capabilities and appetite for attacking play as the Potters were put to the sword.
But irrespective of whether Conte has gone with 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 of late, striker Alvaro Morata has struggled. Chelsea's record signing certainly got his Stamford Bridge career off to a good start with six top-flight goals in his first six games, but since then it's increasingly become a case of hit and miss for Morata.
The 25-year-old has squandered a series of glorious chances to find the net, not only against Stoke but also in the two games against Arsenal that followed: the league match which ended in a 2-2 draw and the recent 0-0 first leg Carabao Cup semifinal tie.
Wedged in between the games with the Gunners was an FA Cup tie away to Championship strugglers Norwich City, which culminated in an unexpected scoreless draw. Morata came on as a substitute for the final 20 minutes, but the out-of-form forward failed to make an impression.
Fatigue has been cited as a problem for the Spain international, who also had hamstring trouble to contend with earlier in the campaign. With Conte evidently lacking faith in the ability of backup striker Michy Batshuayi, which has probably knocked the 24-year-old's confidence and limited his effectiveness when he has been deployed, as Morata's toils up front have continued so have Chelsea's.
The visit of mid-table Leicester presents Conte with an ideal opportunity to get back to winning ways and also for Morata to rediscover his scoring touch. There is no question that the Chelsea fans will be fully behind both men, but they will be hoping the Blues boss decides on an attack-minded strategy from the get-go and that, should the Foxes defence prove resilient or Morata wasteful, Conte will make good use of the talent on the bench available in good time for them to be effective.
A comfortable victory against Leicester with Morata among the goals would get Chelsea nicely back on track ahead of the midweek FA Cup replay with Norwich and trips to Brighton in the league, then Arsenal for the decisive second leg of that Carabao Cup semifinal.
Equally important, winning in fine style would also help re-balance Conte's state of mind and perhaps help him realise that settling his feud with Mourinho can be done on the pitch by his team playing a better brand of football and winning more trophies.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco
Everton and Tottenham followed a similar Premier League trajectory until recently, struggling for consistency for years before proving themselves as a top-eight team. But as the teams prepare to meet at Wembley on Saturday, the gap between them has rarely seemed wider.
In the three seasons since Roberto Martinez guided Everton to fifth place and their best Premier League points total in 2013-14, the Toffees have finished 17, 23 and 25 points behind Tottenham. The recent record between the two teams emphasises the gap as Everton are winless in 10 meetings, home and away, and without a win in nine away meetings.
In the long term, Everton want the same level of consistency that Mauricio Pochettino has brought to North London, improving the points total and league position in each of his first three seasons. Everton have lacked that continuity with both Martinez and successor Ronald Koeman unable to sustain progress after impressive first seasons.
In the short term, the onus is on manager Sam Allardyce to prove he is the man to take forward such a project. The first step is putting his own spin on the squad, a process already underway. With midfielders Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley the first players to head for the exit, striker Cenk Tosun, signed from Besiktas, is the first addition under Allardyce. Further incomings and outgoings seem inevitable as the reshaping of an unbalanced squad continues.
One thing aiding Allardyce for the rest of the season is a less hectic schedule after a run of 10 matches in 35 days to start his tenure. This settled fixture list and players returning from injury should also lessen the constant rotation employed to keep players fresh. With the FA Cup defeat at Anfield matching similarly abrupt exits in the Europa League and Carabao Cup, the league is the sole focus from now and presents Allardyce with a 16-game audition to stake his claim.
His ability to organise a defence and remedy that aspect of a team has never been in doubt; Everton are already seeing the benefit of that, registering more clean sheets in fewer games under Allardyce than the rest of the season combined.
However, the problem of late is at the other end of the pitch. In fairness, Everton have struggled creatively and in front of goal throughout the season, but recent matches amplified those shortcomings. They have not managed a shot on target in the first half of any of the last five matches and have just five on target in total across those 450 minutes of football. This output has contributed to three successive defeats and five games without a win in all competitions.
Question marks about aesthetics and attacking football have always been the issue with Allardyce, the one weight hanging heavily over him, but this is his chance to prove the doubters wrong, and the second half at Anfield last Friday pointed the way forward, should Allardyce settle on a more adventurous approach.
With the introduction of Ademola Lookman as a substitute, Yannick Bolasie on the other flank and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the No. 10 role, Everton began to cause problems and scored their best goal of the season as the latter applied a first-time finish to a fine counter-attacking goal. The enterprise shown by 35-year-old captain and centre-back Phil Jagielka to race the length of the field and record a surprise assist is the sort of enterprise that has been in short supply of late.
Lookman has scarcely appeared since scoring twice in the Europa League in December, recording a man-of-the-match display against Apollon Limassol, but his dribbling ability and pace caused problems at Anfield, and this is the ideal scenario to hand the youngster an extended run in the team and see what he can do.
Along with the recent struggles of Wayne Rooney and the improved form of Sigurdsson, there is also a case for the latter enjoying a prolonged run in his preferred No. 10 position. After no goals or assists in his first 10 league appearances in royal blue, the Iceland midfielder has recorded three goals and two assists in the next 10. Tellingly, three of his last four goals in all competitions materialised when working in central areas.
It might be overly bold to start with Bolasie, Sigurdsson and Lookman as the attacking trio behind whomever fills the lone striker role -- likely new arrival Cenk Tosun -- but that second half at Anfield, even though it ended in defeat, is the first time in months Everton looked like a football team.
Allardyce has the ideal platform to discard his safety-first approach and loosen the shackles on his players. Having steadied the ship and moved Everton clear of a relegation scrap, the onus is now on the former England manager to deliver in attack. A win against Tottenham at the national stadium would be a good starting point.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.
MANCHESTER -- Pep Guardiola has refused to comment on Manchester City's interest in signing Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal during the January transfer window.
Sanchez, 29, has been linked with City and local rivals Manchester United ahead of his contract expiring at the end of the season.
But Guardiola insists his focus is on City's Premier League clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
"I'm not going to answer, I understand the question, you do your job, you know my answer, I am focused on [the game against Liverpool]. If I was my players I wouldn't want my manager talking about other things," he told a news conference.
"Everyone knows the quality of Alexis -- but it's Liverpool I'm sorry I can't answer about Alexis and other players."
Premier League leaders City go into Sunday's game against fourth-placed Liverpool 15 points clear at the top of the table.
But Guardiola maintained that the game at Anfield was crucial in City's bid to become champions.
"If you want to win titles you have to win these kind of games," he said. "This season we have done that but we still have to go to Anfield and to Tottenham.
"But Liverpool is such an important game, to realise again if we are able to do big things in this season, in important stages, in the Champions League.
"To see ourselves, when we arrive in Basel, knockout games -- how is our behaviour? We did it in Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, and we'll see on Sunday how we do."
Guardiola also confirmed Gabriel Jesus could return from injury before the end of the month.
The Brazil international suffering a medial ligament injury during the goalless draw against Crystal Palace in December, but it now looks like he could return sooner than expected.
"[He] was in Barcelona yesterday with Dr. Cugat," Guardiola said. "I think he could be ready in two or three weeks for Basel in the Champions League."
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