Thursday 14 December 2017

10 questions for the Premier League weekend: Can Man United get Manuel Pellegrini sacked?

Ben Bloom

The title race is over, the top four race is over, the season is almost over. No, get out of that mindset, there is still plenty to play for.

1. Can Manchester United plunge the knife into Manuel Pellegrini?

What a difference a few months makes. After New Year’s Day Manchester City were level on points with league leaders Chelsea, nine points ahead of their nearest rivals (Manchester United) and only had eyes for the title. Nothing has gone right since. Defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool, while not exactly palatable, are somewhat acceptable, but losses to Burnley and Crystal Palace are not. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are now fourth and, despite a Champions League spot almost guaranteed, the lack of a title challenge could well cost the Chilean his job. The folks in charge at the Etihad have high standards and another defeat against their biggest rivals on Sunday could hasten Pellegrini’s exit.

Manuel Pellegrini.jpg
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

2. Can Bafetimbi Gomis play himself out of the Liberty Stadium?

Filling the boots left by Manchester City-bound Wilfried Bony was never going to be easy and Bafetimbi Gomis struggled at first. Finally given a regular starting spot, it took him seven blanks after Christmas until he scored against Manchester United. Now, with three goals in his last two games, Gomis is starting to look the real deal. This week he insisted he sees himself staying at Swansea next season but words are nothing if not meaningless. A few more goals just before the summer transfer window opens and the Frenchman can secure himself an exit route from Wales. Not that there’s anything wrong with Wales. Just… you know. Bigger things.

Swansea City's Bafetimbi Gomis celebrates after scoring his second goal against Hull City

3. Are Arsenal able to keep things interesting?

Oh to be Arsene Wenger. Every year he is forced to hear the words “Wenger” and “Out” and every year he delivers Champions League football. On New Year’s Day they lost at Southampton to drop to sixth. Now they are the only hope to deliver something of a title challenge to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Seven wins on the bounce have made them the form team of the moment and, while they need their west London rivals to drop a shed load of points, all Wenger’s side can do is keep on winning. A trip to Burnley on Saturday would ordinarily look like an easy fixture but Sean Dyche’s men have taken points off Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham in recent weeks.

Wenger inherited an ageing squad when at Arsenal in 1996, but has had more difficulties with his team being too young, rather than too old, over the past decade.

4. Can Newcastle get their fans on side?

John Carver has won just two of his 12 games as head coach since replacing Alan Pardew in January. That poor run has seen Newcastle slide perilously close to a relegation battle and their supporters are becoming increasingly unhappy. A boycott of their next home game against Tottenham is in the pipeline as fans show their opposition to owner Mike Ashley and a defeat at Liverpool on Monday will only strengthen the voice of discontent. A big away win to all-but secure Newcastle’s safety would at least give fans something to cheer on the pitch regardless of the grumbling away from it.

Daryl Janmaat has admitted Newcastle got exactly what they deserved from their derby trip to Sunderland

5. Are Everton going to end the season with some pride?

Everton are just about safe from relegation now. That is a thought Roberto Martinez never expected to have this season but his side have been ordinary at best and woeful at worst. Three victories on the bounce against Newcastle, QPR and Southampton have restored some respectability to the season but finishing in the bottom half of the table would be a distinct failure. They are still five points off 10th-place Stoke City and, regardless of Martinez insisting otherwise, a top half finish is the bare minimum to attract quality players in the summer.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez, right, insists there is no issue over striker Romelu Lukaku's future

6. Should Manchester City do the unthinkable and drop Sergio Aguero?

The short answer to this question is no. Despite not scoring for 556 minutes, Sergio Aguero is still just two goals shy of Harry Kane and Diego Costa in the race to be the top Premier League goalscorer. And yet, and yet … something needs to change. City have now lost seven of their last 14 games and are out of the top three. Manuel Pellegrini’s usual selection policy is Sergio Aguero plus A.N. Other but with Wilfried Bony, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic available is this the time to give Aguero a breather?

‘Anything can happen’ in the title race according to Sergio Aguero

7. Can QPR’s resurgence derail Chelsea?

Queens Park Rangers have conceded far more goals than any other team this season and Chelsea have scored the most. Chelsea are also unbeaten in 10 Premier League matches and have been all-but handed the title by Manchester City’s poor recent run. But have they? Is there a sting in the Premier League tail to be provided by a QPR side that stuffed West Brom and drew against Aston Villa over the past week? A win for the hosts would be massive for their survival chances and you know what they say about formbooks, windows and derbies.

Charlie Austin celebrates scoring QPR's third goal

8. Will Mario Balotelli show up at Anfield on Monday?

Usually asked when someone has not been playing well, this question can be taken literally in the case of Mario Balotelli. The summer signing has played just 66 minutes of league football this calendar year and was absent for the FA Cup replay against Blackburn earlier this week due to illness – he posted a photo of a thermometer on social media to prove his point. Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, Balotelli has been more prominent online than on the pitch and he is almost certain to be on his way out of the club this summer. Whether he does make himself available to face Newcastle means little in the grand scheme of things, but the crazy world of Mad Mario is always a fun side-note to follow.

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli looks dejected against Blackburn

9. Will Tactics Tim prove Daniel Levy wrong?

Tim Sherwood’s last game in charge at Tottenham was a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on the final day of the 2013/14 season. Tactics Tim was promptly removed of his duties and instead reduced to making loud statements to the media about his managerial prowess (can anyone remember who it was that unearthed Harry Kane?). Sherwood has since resurfaced at Aston Villa, who are teetering on the edge of relegation. Victory at White Hart Lane would not only be crucial in helping the visitors stay in the Premier League, it would also allow Sherwood to show Spurs chairman Daniel Levy a metaphorical two fingers for sacking him.

Tim Sherwood, pictured, is putting his faith in Christian Benteke

10. Are Crystal Palace on the verge of history?

Hot on the back of their highest ever Premier League finish last season (indeed, the only time they have ever managed to retain their spot in the top flight since it turned into the Premier League), Crystal Palace are banging on the door of a first ever top-half finish this time around. Inspired by their unlikely hero Alan Pardew, Palace are 11th in the table and go into their match with Sunderland having stunned Manchester City 2-1 last time out. With West Brom to follow next week these could be glory days for Palace.

Scott Dann celebrates after Glenn Murray scored the first goal for Crystal Palace

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