Saturday 24 March 2018

10 questions for the Premier League weekend as Steven Gerrard bids farewell to Anfield

Rob Bagchi

Can Jack Wilshere break into Arsenal's FA Cup final XI? Is Tom Cleverley finally fulfilling his potential? Which is worst defence on show at Loftus Road? Rob Bagchi takes a look ahead

1. Can Wilshere or Walcott break into Cup final XI?

Having gone for an unchanged side for the Premier League game in succession against Swansea on Monday night for the first time for Arsenal since January 1994 (Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Hillier, Jensen, Parlour, McGoldrick; Wright, Campbell) will Arsène Wenger make changes for the visit to Old Trafford?

Has Wenger settled on his starting XI for the FA Cup final or can those on the fringes - Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere - shine in what, on paper at least, will be Arsenal's toughest game in the countdown to the May 30 meeting with Aston Villa?

With Danny Welbeck out with a knee injury, Walcott will be hoping to again get the opportunity to impress Wenger but the forward will have to do better than he did against Swansea after coming off the bench earlier this week.

Likewise, will Wenger start Wilshere? The England international made only his second appearance for six months on Monday and will be desperate to not only break into Wenger's FA Cup XI, but also get one over on Paddy McNair whose reckless challenge in November cut short his season.

Jack Wilshere.jpg
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

2. How far can Cleverley go?

Tim Sherwood says he will go all out for victory to ensure safety from relegation which would give Villa time to focus on the FA Cup final.

One of the key elements of the renaissance has been the form of Tom Cleverley, finally restored to the kind of attacking midfield role in which he scored 11 goals for Watford on loan five years ago.

In his year at Wigan and during his subsequent seasons at Manchester United, he was deployed deeper and struggled to make a consistent impact even if Roy Hodgson rewarded him with 13 caps which tells us more about the England manager’s judgment in 2012-13 than it does about the midfielder’s quality.

England have plenty of options for the No10 role, not least Cleverley’s team-mate Jack Grealish, but if he can continue his resurgence under Sherwood now that he is back in his best position, he ought to be a contender.

Tom Cleverley is enjoying himself at Villa Park

3. Can Burnley keep hold of Trippier?

One Burnley fans’ website’s description of Kieran Trippier as ‘the English Dani Alves’ sounded like hyperbole 12 months ago but the marauding right-back has had a fine debut Premier League season after racking up more than a dozen assists in the Championship last year and four in 2014-15.

For all his attacking attributes – particularly his ability to exploit any space – he also snaps into tackles and is disciplined about shape.

Liverpool, Southampton and Stoke have all been heavily linked with summer bids but Manchester United may be better served by going for him at about £4 million instead of Nathaniel Clyne who will cost six times as much.

That Trippier is a lifelong City fan and former trainee is one impediment that may be insurmountable.

Kieran Trippier's own goal gave Swansea all three points at Burnley

4. Are these the two most disorganised back fours in Premier League history?

After QPR’s shellacking by Manchester City last week that sealed their relegation in a carnival of comically inept defending and Newcastle’s fortunate draw with West Brom, will any of those brave, loyal souls at Loftus Road be able to watch without adopting a finger mask in sheer terror at the antics of their club’s defenders?

Newcastle’s vulnerability at set-pieces – conceding against West Brom from a free-kick and having their posts rattled on two other occasions – and QPR’s chronic lack of pace, organisation and responsibility promises to be an engrossing watch for the neutral. But not for any positive reasons.

Newcastle skipper Fabricio Coloccini has denied there was a fight on the team coach on the way back from Leicester

5. Will Dick stick?

Sunderland’s victory over Everton may have been the flukiest of the season – just look at the goals as well as the home side’s dominance – but Dick Advocaat laid the groundwork for it by starting with Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham wide and telling them to work their socks off covering their full-backs.

They covered acres of space at Goodison but it would be a bold man who went with belt, braces and patience out wide at home when three points would be so crucial in their survival fight.

Yet Leicester’s Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp are such potent attacking forces that straitjacketing Defoe and Wickham again might be the sensible option.

Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat's side were lucky to pick up all three points against Everton on Saturday

6. Are Spurs already on the beach?

Tottenham bounced back quickly from the disappointment of defeat in the Capital One Cup final with back-to-back league victories, but since then they have picked up only eight points from eight games with the players lacking zip and the defence, in particular, exhibiting its old frailties.

 Hull haven’t won at White Hart Lane since Geovanni’s screamer in 2008 (and how they could do with Tom Huddlestone pinging one in Geo-style) but with victory essential to their chances of staying up, there is no top 10 side they would be better off visiting this weekend.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino

7. What sort of send-off will Allardyce receive?

The manager is almost certain to leave the club in the summer when his contract runs out, having waited an age for negotiations over a new one to begin and being reportedly fed up with what he perceives to be ingratitude for the work he has done in winning promotion and three years of Premier League security.

Will the supporters give him the ovation he deserves for the journey even if it has lacked spectacle and sparkle at times or will they treat him to the familiar indifference?

Sam Allardyce's contract expires at the end of the season

8. Will there be tears?

Steven Gerrard will have a 21-man guard of honour of the Crystal Palace XI and his team-mates when he emerges from the Anfield tunnel for the last time as a Liverpool player in a competitive match.

Jamie Carragher has predicted teasingly that his friend will break down and Gerrard told Sky that it’s a possibility. "I'm not like him, I'm not made of stone," he said. "I'm not macho like Jamie. We'll have to wait and see. I'm not usually one that sheds tears when I'm emotional, I usually keep it in, but we'll have to wait and see. There's no shame in shedding a tear I don't think.”

A football match might break out during the swan song, but it will be secondary to the leaving party.

Steven Gerrard

9. Will City finish second?

Since Swansea’s promotion in 2011, they have won one, drawn one and lost one of their meetings against Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium and the hosts will go into Sunday’s early kick-off with confidence following their win at the Emirates.

But Lukasz Fabianski’s excellent performance and the efficiency on the break that pulled off their smash and grab raid last week should not conceal that Arsenal wasted numerous chances.

With David Silva and Sergio Aguero firing and Wilfried Bony welcomed back to his happiest hunting ground, City should be able to stay in the box seat for the runners up spot.

Manuel Pellegrini is confident about Manchester City are constantly 'growing and improving'

10. Will Mourinho survive the West Brom curse?

Defeat at the Hawthorns has already seen off Chelsea managers Andre Villas Boas in March 2012 and Roberto Di Matteo in August 2012 and losing to West Brom has led to the sack for Mick McCarthy at Wolves and Paolo Di Canio from Sunderland.

Should the champions lose against Tony Pulis’s side will Mourinho remain in charge of Chelsea? Does he have some magical self-defence mechanism to spare him?

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are close to completing a deal for Brazilian wonderkid Robert Kenedy

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