1) Win or bust for Liverpool and Spurs
For the second week in a row, Liverpool can get their work done before sitting back to see how Manchester City do. The extent of any European bounce or, in City’s case, hangover may be hard to predict but Jürgen Klopp’s men have certainly built up fearsome head of steam to carry into the final four games. Like Liverpool, Spurs have a rival sitting just above them who, by and large, keep on winning: falling five points behind Arsenal this weekend could prove very costly going into Thursday’s north London derby and it adds to the sense that neither team can really afford anything but victory at Anfield. Spurs were not especially convincing in beating Leicester but, with an on-song Harry Kane and Son Heung-min kept fresh for the best part of a week, might fancy exposing any tired legs from that monumental comeback at Villarreal. Seasons are on the line for both sides, who would doubtless have preferred different opponents at this point. NA
2) City needs to be built up for El Gasico
Even before their midweek Champions League defeat at the Bernabeu, Manchester City’s home match against resurgent Newcastle looked one of the most likely banana skins on their top-flight run-in. Until, that is, you examined Eddie Howe’s record against Pep Guardiola – a miserable 11 defeats from 11 with an aggregate score of 34-5. All but one of those losses occurred before Wor Eddie joined Pep in the managerial ranks of the nation’s state-owned sportswashing vehicles, only to lose his first El Gasico derby 4-0 at St James’ Park in December. His much-improved side travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on a team that were left floored and visibly distraught by their mugging by Real Madrid. It is up to Guardiola to rally his troops, a task that may take some doing. After City’s failure in a massive midweek test of their mettle, a season that promised so much could be completely derailed by Sunday evening. BG
3) United seeing out season of broken dreams
Manchester United’s penultimate match of a season when their remaining objective is a place in 2022-23’s Europa League. A win against an in-form Brighton will get them there but this wasn’t how it was supposed to be when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the club last summer, as more optimistic fans dreamed Ole Gunnar Solskjær might be capable of restoring the glory days to Old Trafford. Ralf Rangnick was later brought in to change the club’s culture but will leave to coach Austria and make periodic returns for his consultancy role as the outsider he has always been. What legacy will the caretaker leave? Giving debuts to Álvaro Fernández, the 19-year-old Spaniard, to follow the few minutes granted to Alejandro Garnacho against Brentford on Monday is about all there is left. United fans have spent much of the season as onlookers hoping Liverpool and Manchester City can slip up in some fashion. JB
4) Burnley owners make high-stakes game
The release of Burnley’s accounts on Wednesday revealed exactly how financially ruinous relegation could be for a club that were sitting on extremely healthy cash reserves before their leveraged buyout by ALK Capital in December 2020. In a nutshell, if Burnley go down they will not be financially well-placed to yo-yo straight back up and their situation could get an awful lot worse before it gets better. On the plus side the interim manager, Mike Jackson, has enjoyed a dream start after taking 10 points from his four games in charge, masterminding a team that have shown no shortage of character since the departure of Sean Dyche. Aston Villa travel to Turf Moor on Saturday for another game Burnley will view as eminently winnable against struggling opponents who have taken our points from the past 18 available. While the avoidance of relegation would constitute quite the heroic Houdini act for Burnley and their blameless fans, it remains to be seen if their owners deserve any such reprieve. BG
5) Watford’s fate to be sealed by Palace?
Encounters with Crystal Palace can stir bitter memories for Watford fans – 2013’s playoff final or the FA Cup semi-final of 2016, for example (even if that was avenged in the 2019 quarter-finals) – and the chances are that Saturday will bring another . Watford’s visit to Selhurst is likely to end in the confirmation of relegation and an unhappy return for Roy Hodgson to a former club where he is regarded fondly. Watford’s outgoing manager says this will be his last Premier League job and he will expect his side to at least go down fighting. They are doomed if they don’t win so will have to begin with the same intensity they initially demonstrated against Burnley last week before folding at the last. The trouble is that it is likely to expose their defense to an attack that picked them apart in a 4-1 win at Vicarage Road in February. Wilfried Zaha, Jean-Philippe Mateta, Connor Gallagher and co have the form and potency to capitalize. TD
6) Nketiah can hinder former teammates
Opportunity knocks for Arsenal on Sunday and it will be positively thrashing at the door if they face Leeds in the knowledge Spurs have failed to win at Liverpool. A fourth straight win could give them a foot in the Champions League; their previous three have not been particularly smooth going but squad players have stepped up and served them admirably. Chief among them has been Eddie Nketiah, who put in his best all-round performance for Arsenal in the victory at West Ham even if he did not score. Nketiah’s contribution outside the six-yard box has long raised question marks about him but he stretched the Hammers with intelligent runs, pressed ferociously and held the ball up well. Whether it’s enough to keep him at the Emirates beyond this season remains to be seen but Nketiah has a crucial role to play over the coming fortnight, particularly as Alexandre Lacazette has looked so lackluster in recent weeks. Against his relegation-haunted former loan club, Leeds, he should receive another chance to be a hero. NA
7) Can Wolves stay away from the beach?
Short of marching out at Molineux to face Brighton last Saturday wielding buckets and spades while wearing handkerchiefs knotted at every corner on their heads the Wolves players could scarcely have looked more “on the beach” and were duly walloped, leaving their manager, Bruno Lage , understandably furious. He said after the game that many of his charges are playing for their futures and even several of them may not be overly fussed whether that future is somewhere else. It has long been presumed that Chelsea will finish in the top four but with four games to go they have plenty of work to do. They will be hoping Lage’s warning fell on closed ears and Wolves continue their current sleepwalk to the end of the campaign. BG
8) Will Leicester’s Roman trip benefit Everton?
Leicester jetteing off to Rome for a Thursday night Europa Conference League tie would appear to play into the hands of Everton, who remain in the relegation places despite grinding out an unlikely win against Chelsea last Sunday. The problem? The only time this season Everton have won on the road was against Brighton on 28 August, a result that left them sixth, with two wins and a draw from their opening three matches. Heady days. Fast-forward to the current, anxiety-ridden run-in and Sunday would seem like a good time for them to double their tally of away wins for the campaign. Leicester will not be at full strength after their efforts in Europe, which must be a concern for Everton’s fellow relegation candidates, Leeds and Burnley. How much has that stirring win against Chelsea boosted Everton’s brittle confidence? LM
9) Bees and Saints need one win for safety
When the fixtures came out last summer, Southampton at home in May could have been the kind of fixture Brentford fans would hope to be an end-of-season stroll, a calm celebration of safety – like a pre-season friendly but with an actual full house. It’s almost come to pass. Almost. What might have been a chance for fans to just kick back and enjoy Christian Eriksen’s elegance or a James Ward-Prowse set piece or two will be laced with just a touch of anxiety. With Burnley and Everton fighting hard below them, both sides could do with more than their tally of 40 points. Despite having the rare misfortune to catch Manchester United on a good day on Monday, Brentford should have the current form to carry them home while Ralph Hussenhüttl’s side have also turned in a few decent displays of late, notably in the win over Arsenal. All of which should provide the combination of quality and urgency to make this a game well worth watching. TD
10) Smith has career direction to ponder
A penny for the thoughts of Dean Smith, who could have enjoyed some well-earned downtime after his dismissal from Aston Villa but chose instead to sup immediately from what has turned out to be a predictably poisoned chalice offered to him by Norwich. While he has not done a particularly bad job in East Anglia with the very limited players at his disposal, he has certainly not done a very good one and now has the stain of relegation on an otherwise impressive managerial CV. With West Ham visiting on Sunday for a game that is of little consequence to either team, this keen chess player could be forgiven for giving serious thought to his next move. BG