MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – The Premier League begins its first attempt at a continental-style winter break with a staggered stoppage for clubs resulting in just four matches this weekend.
While the title race appears a foregone conclusion, with Liverpool 22 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City, the battle for survival in the top flight is anything but decided.
Four of the clubs deeply involved in the scrap to stay up are in action with Brighton and Hove Albion and Watford facing each other at the Amex Stadium on Saturday in a ‘six pointer’.
Brighton are in 15th place having won just one of their last 10 Premier League games and are just two points above the drop-zone while Watford’s mini-revival under Nigel Pearson has stuttered and they find themselves back in 19th place, with only bottom club Norwich City below them.
Watford gave up a two-goal lead at home to Everton last week, losing 3-2 to Carlo Ancelotti’s side, while in contrast Brighton came back from 3-1 down at West Ham United to earn a 3-3 draw.
The equaliser in that game came from 36-year-old striker Glenn Murray, who this week signed a deal to stay with the club until the end of next season.
Brighton manager Graham Potter could have central defender Shane Duffy back from injury while Pearson is without Kiko Femenia, Craig Dawson and Daryl Janmaat and is waiting for news on Tom Cleverley, Ismaila Sarr and Nathaniel Chalobah.
Bournemouth are also in trouble in 16th place, but have been heartened by two wins on the bounce ahead of their trip on Sunday to Sheffield United, who are enjoying a dream season on their return to the top flight and currently sit in sixth place.
West Ham’s season risks going from disappointment to disaster. Since beating Bournemouth 4-0 on New Years Day, the Hammers have accrued just two points from five games and enter a tough spell of fixtures.
After visiting champions Manchester City on Sunday, David Moyes’s team face Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
The Hammers have a poor record against City in recent seasons and lost 5-0 at home to Pep Guardiola’s side on the opening day of the campaign.
Crystal Palace are in 14th place but are only six points away from the bottom three and on Saturday travel to Goodison Park to face Everton, who are seeking to extend a four-match unbeaten run.
Palace have suffered successive home defeats to Southampton and Sheffield United, while only Liverpool have won more points from their last 10 Premier League matches than Everton’s 19 points.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)
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