Thursday 8 December 2016

5 Premier League talking points this weekend

Published 29/04/2016 | 12:16

Sergi Canos's future at Liverpool is still not confirmed Stock photo: PA
Sergi Canos's future at Liverpool is still not confirmed Stock photo: PA

Leicester head to Old Trafford on Saturday knowing victory over Manchester United will make them arguably the most unlikely league champions on record.

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Claudio Ranieri's men will rightly hog the headlines whatever happens and title rivals Tottenham must hope it is for negative reasons as they wait to face Chelsea on Monday night.

Meanwhile the battle at the bottom is heating up with Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland all facing vital showdowns in their respective battles to beat the drop.

Here Press Association Sport picks out five of the biggest factors for the potentially historic weekend ahead:

CLAUDIO'S CHAMPIONS?

Claudio Ranieri's appointment to succeed Nigel Pearson in the close season was met with almost universal bewilderment. But the veteran Italian has fashioned a modern football miracle which will become complete if the Foxes take the three points they need at Manchester United to take the title. No longer is the absence through suspension of Jamie Vardy considered a factor: his replacement Leonardo Ulloa starred in his side's 4-0 thrashing of Swansea last Sunday. More pertinent is Manchester United's recent improvement in form, which has seen them book their place in the FA Cup final and cling onto hopes of muscling in on the top four. But outside a little blue-and-white corner of north London, most of the football world hopes and expects it to be Leicester's day.

SPURRED ON

Most Tottenham fans would have taken second place at the start of the season but the fact is Mauricio Pochettino's men face a summer of what-might-have-beens if as expected they trail in behind Ranieri's Foxes. Spurs singularly failed to heap more pressure on the league leaders with their Monday draw at home to West Brom, and they will travel to Chelsea on Monday with - at best - the faintest hope of overhauling their rivals. Yet the reality is it has been a brilliant campaign for Spurs and it would be sad to see it peter out in disappointment and controversy after Dele Alli's three-game ban. Chelsea, meanwhile, will need little additional motivation to conclude a poor season at Stamford Bridge by well and truly ending their London rivals' title aspirations.

PARDEW'S BACK IN TOON

The deliciously mischievous fixture computer has contrived to send Alan Pardew back to St James' Park just in time to potentially deliver the decisive blow to the Magpies' Premier League status. Rafael Benitez's men have shown signs of stirring in recent weeks but it could still prove too little, too late and nothing less than a win over the Eagles will be good enough. Pardew has made plain his desire to see his former club survive and the Magpies must hope Palace minds are already straying to the FA Cup final - rival Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce certainly thinks that will be the case.

ARSENE OUT?

Norwich face the toughest task of the relegation-battling trio, but they have no reason to fear Saturday's trip to Arsenal. Gunners fans were once again left frustrated by their side's goalless draw at Sunderland last Sunday, in which their array of attacking riches seemed yet again to be contriving the best ways possible not to score. The result has piled more pressure on Arsene Wenger, who despite showing no inclination to step aside, surely knows that a late collapse which could conceivably still see them sink out of the top four will make a change in tenure inevitable. Such attendant pressures could play into the hands of the Canaries, whose own problems were amplified when they fell into the bottom three last weekend.

MARTINEZ MOVING?

Chances are Saturday could see the penultimate game in charge at Goodison Park for Roberto Martinez. Speculation over the Everton boss' future has has speculation over his future mount after a run of seven Premier League games without a win, followed by what was to all intents and purposes a season-ending FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United at Wembley last weekend. Martinez has refused to discuss his future in depth but surely knows even an improved end to the season - starting against Bournemouth on Saturday - is unlikely to give him time to alter the opinion of club chiefs. Bournemouth, meanwhile, sail on to top flight safety seemingly without a care in the world - and will overhaul Martinez's side with a win.

Press Association

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