1) Van Dijk finally making his Liverpool bow
If there is one message that Jürgen Klopp has to drum into his defenders before Friday night’s Merseyside derby, it is to resist the temptation to place their hands on any Everton attackers in their own area. Manage that and Liverpool should be capable of extinguishing the frustration of last month’s draw with Sam Allardyce’s side, when Dejan Lovren conceded a late penalty with a needless and clumsy push on Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Klopp turned on plenty of people after the game – even a member of Everton’s press team was in the firing line after Wayne Rooney’s penalty – but Lovren was the real culprit and it is telling that Liverpool have bolstered their defence by spending £75m on Virgil van Dijk. Having scored once in their past four matches, Everton could find goals even harder to come by if Van Dijk is ready to make his debut. Jacob Steinberg
2) Derby fans left high and dry by scheduling
Any Derby supporters hoping to get the train back to the Midlands on Friday night will have to leave the away end at Old Trafford at half-time. Ridiculously, the last feasible train journey to Derby (via Sheffield) leaves Manchester Piccadilly at 9.22pm, midway through the second half. To make matter worse, a train previously advertised as leaving at 11pm is no longer running – East Midlands Trains were forced to apologise for “an error in the national Network Rail train planning system” – meaning there will likely be plenty of people stranded in Manchester on Friday night. The good news: those that bought tickets for the 11pm will be entitled to a free refund. The bad news: they won’t be able to get home. The draw was made in early December. How has this shambles been allowed to happen? Michael Butler
3) Dyche going toe-to-toe with Guardiola?
Burnley wasted a golden chance to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup last season when Lincoln City became the first non-league team in 103 years to reach the last eight of the competition. In the third round this year, Sean Dyche’s team face a tougher task: a trip to Manchester City. But while Pep Guardiola will almost certainly use Saturday’s game as a chance to rest key personnel with league titles and the Champions League still to come, Dyche would be unwise to follow suit. Just as a weakened Leicester side came unstuck at Millwall in the fifth round last year, too often Premier League sides play their second string when they are clear of relegation danger and have nothing else to play for. Get through this tough tie, and Burnley have a genuine chance of winning the FA Cup – after all, the league table says they are the seventh best team in England. Dyche should go for glory – three points at Crystal Palace a week on Saturday doesn’t matter nearly as much. MB
4) Bristol City need right balance before Etihad trip
In different circumstances it would be tempting to make Bristol City favourites to win at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon. The team who stunned Manchester United last month have already performed heroics in the Carabao Cup, reaching the last four after putting out four Premier League sides, and that giantkilling run began with a 3-2 victory away to Watford in August. Yet Lee Johnson has some tough decisions to make before facing Marco Silva’s inconsistent side. Not only are his team chasing promotion from the Championship, he also has to keep his players fresh before they visit Manchester City for the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final next Tuesday. Do not expect Johnson to wave the white flag, especially as Watford are vulnerable after a poor run of form, but finding the right balance will not be easy. JS
5) VAR may stir passions in Monday night derby
All eyes on the Amex on Monday night for the preposterously scheduled 7.45pm kick-off between rivals Brighton and Crystal Palace. During the match, Neil Swarbrick will be making history from a studio near Heathrow, becoming the first Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to be used in an English competitive club match. Surrounded by approximately 70 screens to aid him, Swarbrick will be able to liaise with the match referee, Andre Marriner, if a clear error has been made regarding goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity. Two stewards were taken to hospital when Brighton and Palace met in the Premier League in November – the FA could hardly have chosen a more fiery fixture for their latest innovation. MB
6) More woe for Pellegrino against Fulham?
It is strange to think that Southampton were preparing for a League Cup semi-final against Liverpool this time last year. They still felt like the perfect example of a modern, well-run club 12 months ago. They remained comfortable in mid-table despite being hit by so much upheaval, and beating Liverpool over two legs seemed to offer further vindication of Southampton’s vision. Since then, however, drift has taken hold and Mauricio Pellegrino is under immense pressure after Tuesday night’s defeat to Crystal Palace pitched his directionless team firmly into a relegation battle. The constant talent drain has taken a toll, sapping Southampton’s spirit, and it will not go down as a shock if Fulham further loosen Pellegrino’s grip on his job by beating the Premier League strugglers at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. JS
7) Mir to make his mark at Molineux
Top of the Championship meets bottom of the Premier League – it will come as a surprise to nobody that Wolves are favourites to beat Swansea on Saturday. What will be interesting to see is if manager Nuno Espírito Santo utilises his new £1.8m signing Rafa Mir, who this week turned down a move to Real Madrid to play in England’s second tier. Mir has been handed the No9 shirt at Molineux and a match against a Swansea defence bereft of confidence could be the perfect way to bed him in. If the 20-year-old scores on debut, all the better to give competition to the first-choice forward Léo Bonatini, who hasn’t scored in a month. If Mir has a stinker, at least it won’t affect Wolves’ push for promotion. MB
8) Wimbledon fans soaking up Wembley return
Wimbledon have an excellent record at Wembley. On their last outing in the League Two play-off final in 2015-16, they beat Plymouth 2-0. In 2008, they won a pre-season friendly 8-1 to mark the 125th anniversary of Corinthian Casuals. The club’s previous visit to that, albeit under a slightly different name, ended with them winning the FA Cup in 1988, 30 years ago. Whatever the score is when they play Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday, the trip from one side of London to another will be a nostalgic one for the thousands of travelling away fans. When they marched up Wembley Way before the final in ’88, Wimbledon fans had to endure opposition fans pre-emptively wearing ‘Liverpool FC Double Winners’ T-shirts. This time, AFC fans will be wearing a smile as wide as Wembley’s arch and maybe even a limited-edition ‘We Are The Resurrection’ T-shirt. MB
9) Pardew risks further pain by resting players
The Alan Pardew bounce is yet to materialise for West Bromwich Albion. Tuesday’s painful defeat to West Ham means it is 20 games since their last victory and their new manager has been unable to ease their relegation fears. Goal difference alone is keeping West Brom off the bottom of the Premier League and after a draining run of fixtures, Pardew must be tempted to rest players for Saturday’s trip to Exeter City. But that would be a huge gamble from a manager whose team desperately needs a win to start repairing their battered confidence. Defeat to the League Two side would only deepen the gloom and the danger is that another disappointment could still be on West Brom’s mind when they host Brighton on Saturday week. JS
10) Cardiff look to bounce back against Stags
Cardiff have had a rotten Christmas, losing their last four matches in the Championship. Remarkably, they have only slipped one place to third – thanks to rivals Bristol City losing heavily at Aston Villa – but they are just a couple more bad results away from falling out of the play-off places. Confidence is key, and whilse Neil Warnock’s assertion last week that Sol Bamba is a better defender than Virgil van Dijk has done nothing but heap more pressure on one of his key players, a clean sheet and comfortable win against League Two Mansfield could get his side back on the promotion trail. MB
FA Cup fixtures (kick-off 3pm GMT unless stated)
Friday: Liverpool v Everton (7.55pm), Manchester United v Derby (8pm). Saturday: Fleetwood v Leicester (12.45pm), Middlesbrough v Sunderland (1pm); Bournemouth v Wigan, Aston Villa v Peterborough, Birmingham v Burton, Blackburn v Hull City, Bolton v Huddersfield, Brentford v Notts County, Cardiff v Mansfield, Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry v Stoke, Doncaster v Rochdale, Exeter v West Brom, Fulham v Southampton, Ipswich v Sheffield United, Manchester City v Burnley, Millwall v Barnsley, Newcastle v Luton, QPR v MK Dons, Stevenage v Reading, Watford v Bristol City, Wolves v Swansea, Wycombe v Preston, Yeovil v Bradford; Norwich v Chelsea (5.30pm). Sunday: Newport v Leeds (12pm), Shrewsbury v West Ham (2pm), Tottenham v Wimbledon, Nottingham Forest v Arsenal (4pm). Monday: Brighton v Crystal Palace (7.45pm).