Premier League and FA Cup: 10 questions for this weekend
Lots to ponder ahead of Saturday and Sunday's matches, including: Will Chelsea all but end the title race or can United lay down a marker for next season? Will Newcastle fans boycott the Spurs match? Will Arsenal or Liverpool slip up at Wembley?
1) Will Chelsea wrap up the title against United?
A win for Chelsea wouldn’t make it mathematically impossible for Arsenal to catch them, but it would make it hugely unlikely.
Three points for Jose Mourinho’s side would take them 10 clear of Arsenal with each team having six games left to play, and there’s just no way Chelsea would give up such a lead. Manchester United are in terrific form though and will provide an extremely stern test, so a win for Chelsea would be a fitting way for them to all but secure their first Premier League title since 2010.
2) Can United lay down a marker for next season?
Daley Blind said this week that Saturday’s match at Chelsea gives United the chance to show that they will be a major player in next season’s title race.
You certainly get the feeling that the team will be more familiar with manager Louis van Gaal’s methods and a more cohesive unit next term than they have been for much of this year.
Going to Stamford Bridge and winning would be a huge statement of how far United have come this season, and what they could be building towards in the next few years.
3) Will Newcastle fans boycott the Spurs game?
After a run of five straight Premier League defeats, including a loss at rivals Sunderland, it appears Newcastle fans’ patience has finally snapped.
Supporters’ groups have mobilised to organise a boycott of Sunday’s home match against Spurs and anti-Mike Ashley rallies prior to the game.
Fans have a habit of not really following their convictions if it means not going to games, so it will be interesting to see how many of them follow through on the threat.
It would be a great to see swathes of empty seats and a demonstration that there is a limit to how much football fans can be taken for a ride.
4) Have Arsenal put their big-match nerves behind them?
It would be a major surprise if Arsene Wenger’s side didn’t easily beat Reading on Saturday, but a year ago they made a monumental meal of beating Championship side Wigan at the same stage.
On that occasion, they needed a penalty shoot-out to scrape through, and played the whole match as if absolutely petrified by the prospect of actually winning a trophy, even though they were up against a team in the division below.
Arsenal have played the big games a whole lot better this season, but it would still be a big relief for Wenger to see his side stamp their authority on the match early, and not turn it into an unnecessarily tense affair.
5) Are Aston Villa going to cause an upset?
Villa manager Tim Sherwood said that last week’s 1-0 victory against Tottenham would allow him to focus "One million per cent" on Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
No two ways about it, that is an awful lot of focus. Whether it will be enough to beat Liverpool is another matter, but Brendan Rodgers’ side have wobbled in recent weeks, and with Mamadou Sakho out and Daniel Sturridge doubtful, Villa definitely have a chance.
Christian Benteke in particular has been unplayable in recent weeks, with five goals in three games, and has dominated Martin Skrtel in the past. If he can do it again at Wembley, then Sherwood could be celebrating an FA Cup final appearance. Lord only knows what per cent of his focus he’d dedicate to that.
6) Is Leicester’s great escape on?
Can they do it? Maybe. Possibly. Probably not.
Nigel Pearson’s side looked dead and buried a couple of weeks ago, but consecutive wins (and eight goals in three games) have suddenly got them dreaming again.
They’re still bottom, but do have a game in hand, and if they beat Swansea at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, could move up to level on points with 18th-placed Hull.
Fulham in 2008, West Brom in 2005, Oldham in 1993…are Leicester about to join that distinguished list of Premier League Houdini acts?
7) Will West Ham face a Manchester City backlash?
Surely City are going to get it together sooner or later and give someone an absolute spanking? With just four wins in 15 matches, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are on a wretched run of form, but still have the players to administer a right battering, especially at home.
In addition, Sergio Aguero got back on the scoresheet with a brace against Manchester United last Sunday, and will fancy himself to start finding the net regularly again.
West Ham are also in many ways the perfect side to be playing right now – they’re ensconced in mid-table, have won just once in 11 games, and look like they’re already on the beach. Now I’ve said all that, expect a West Ham win on Sunday.
8) Is there a more exciting strikeforce than Palace’s at the moment?
Alan Pardew’s side have been a joy to watch in recent weeks, with the flair of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha complementing Glenn Murray’s brawn and Jason Puncheon’s industry perfectly.
Saturday’s home match against West Brom, who have uncharacteristically conceded 10 goals in their last three games, could offer Palace’s thrilling frontline the chance to fill their boots once more.
9) How will Tony Pulis be received at Selhurst Park?
The West Brom manager did an excellent job at Crystal Palace last season, but his walking out of the club just 48 hours before the start of this campaign could see him get a hostile welcome from the Palace fans.
His acrimonious departure from the club was precipitated by a fractious relationship with owner Steve Parish, and it’s unlikely they’ll be delighted to see each other again.
10) Will Southampton start Nathaniel Clyne against Stoke?
Ronald Koeman's decision to drop/rest Manchester United target Clyne for last week's match against Hull set the rumour mill about the defender's future into overdrive.
With Clyne stalling on a new contract, and the Premier League vultures circling, the right-back's non-selection was seen as confirmation that the defender will leave the club this summer.
If Clyne is omitted again at the Britannia Stadium this Saturday, the transfer rumour mill might just spontaneously combust.