Monday 11 December 2017

Will Liverpool pip Manchester United for fourth? - 10 talking points ahead of weekend action

Can Liverpool beat a more relaxed Chelsea? What new way will Newcastle find to implode? Who will be plunged towards relegation? Charlie Eccleshare takes you through the action

Can Liverpool claim an unlikely Champions League spot?

Brendan Rodgers side looked out of the running after a dreadful defeat at Hull, but Manchester United’s slump has allowed them back in. The gap to Louis van Gaal’s team is now just four points, and this weekend could see that deficit further reduced. But, wait, Liverpool are away at champions Chelsea on Sunday I hear you cry, surely that’s one of the toughest fixtures possible?

Well, maybe, but already-crowned champions are vulnerable to losing games once the intensity of chasing the title is over (and Chelsea of course have granted their players extra time off since the weekend). Think United in 2007 against West Ham and at home to Chelsea in 2013. Thierry Henry revealed in Amy Lawrence’s book Invincible that the hardest part of Arsenal’s undefeated 2003/04 season was the four dead rubbers they had to play after clinching the title. Liverpool will be hoping Chelsea suffer from a similar comedown.

Memphis Depay .jpg
Dutch player Memphis Depay

Will Manchester United be buoyed by the Memphis Depay signing?

After three straight defeats, morale was low at Old Trafford, but nothing lifts the spirits quite like a £25 million signing. Depay will join the club in June after the end of the season, and before then the likes of Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria must show they should be kept on at the club.

On Saturday United travel to out-of-sorts Crystal Palace, where they have an opportunity to build on the positive mood generated by the Depay signing, and take an important step towards Champions League qualification.

Newcastle head coach John Carver faces a crucial game against West Brom on Saturday

Will Newcastle continue their Harchester United impression?

For those of you not familiar with Harchester, they were a fictional Midlands football team in late-90s/early 00’s Sky One drama Dream Team. Storylines included plane crashes, players being shot on the pitch, and affairs between the chairwoman and the captain. Sound familiar? Ok, Newcastle might not be that bad but you have to admire their ability to find new and more ludicrous ways to self-destruct.

John Carver’s post match meltdown last week and accusation that Mike Williamson had gotten himself sent off deliberately was staggering, but also not entirely unexpected. Just to ramp up the truly bizarre mood at St James Park, Carver then described himself as the best coach in the Premier League. On Saturday his side host West Brom, and one can only imagine the shenanigans if Newcastle suffer their ninth consecutive Premier League defeat.

Does David Cameron fancy attending the Aston Villa v West Ham match?

It may have been a bruising election campaign, but surely Mr Cameron can take some solace in watching his two favourite teams doing battle on Saturday? The PM’s recent mistaking of Aston Villa, the team he’s meant to support, with West Ham caused much mirth, and it’s unfortunate for him that they face each other so soon after. Expect a deluge of memes, virals and whatever else the kids are doing right now.

Arsene Wenger saw Arsenal continue their winning run against Hull

How much will Arsenal wind everyone up this weekend?

One thing is guaranteed on Monday, one way or another everyone is going to be angry at Arsenal. Either the Gunners will lose or draw against Swansea, and be lambasted for a poor performance and dropped points against an inferior side. Or they will continue their excellent recent form and win, and be damned for producing the goods only when the pressure is off.

This is not to say that Arsene Wenger’s side don’t deserve criticism for taking so long to hit their stride, but they do also deserve some credit for going from sixth place in February to climbing up to joint-second with a game in hand after winning nine out of 10 games. Either way, Monday’s match promises to be an entertaining affair between too fluid and aesthetically pleasing teams.

Will Leicester take another big step towards safety?

After five wins from six matches, Leicester are out of the drop zone and hurtling towards safety. This weekend it’s Southampton at the King Power Stadium for Nigel Pearson’s ostrich-fuelled men, who must feel confident of beating a team who are out of form and have little to play for. With Leonardo Ulloa back scoring and Jamie Vardy in cracking form, you wouldn’t bet against the Foxes picking up another win.

Is it bye bye Burnley and QPR?

Both sides will be relegated with defeats this weekend – at Hull and Manchester City respectively (and Burnley will go down with a draw), as the relegation battle draws to a conclusion. It seems a shame that Burnley are going down with a whimper after such an encouraging spell during the middle of the season.

But Sean Dyche should still receive a huge amount of credit for making essentially a Championship side look like they belong in the Premier League, albeit temporarily – and beating City at home, and picking up draws at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge will live long in the memory. For QPR, you just hope Chris Ramsey will be given a proper chance to rebuild the team in the Championship.

Eliaquim Mangala, front right, has endured a tough first season at Manchester City

Do Tottenham fancy qualifying for the Europa League?

The permutations are complicated by what happens in the FA Cup final, but a sixth-placed finish provides a guaranteed Europa League place. The question is, does anyone want it? Tottenham more than anyone in recent seasons have been damaged by the added burden of playing in the tournament, and would surely benefit from not having to play on Thursday nights.

If Spurs are looking to drop points, Stoke away provides a decent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see how much intensity and fight Pochettino's men show at the Britannia.

Can Sunderland haul themselves to safety?

Dick Advocaat’s side are in 18th place and a point below Hull with a game in hand (though that game is Arsenal away), so need to start picking up points quickly. They take on Everton at Goodison Park in the Saturday lunchtime game, and a draw against a team with nothing to play for is the minimum requirement. A win would lift them four places to 14th and pile the pressure on their relegation rivals.

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at White Hart Lane

Can Sergio Aguero recreate the old magic against QPR?

We should expect to see Aguero’s 2012 title-winning strike from every conceivable angle before Sunday’s match at the Etihad, and there’s an equally good chance he’ll find the net once more against the west Londoners. Aguero was back in match-winning form against Tottenham last week, and it’s hard to see the likes of Clint Hill and Richard Dunne offering a huge amount of resistance.

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