1) An unlikely double for Everton fans?
While their team was unconvincing and a little bit lucky in their midweek draw with Leicester and the win against Manchester United that preceded it, Everton fans will not care too much how their players perform, or how many goals go in, as long as they can keep hoovering up enough points to keep them ahead of Burnley in the table. On Sunday they make the short trip to Anfield and, given the respective recent performances of themselves and their hosts, it is difficult to envisage anything other than an emphatic Liverpool win. But this is a derby, albeit one where form only very occasionally goes out the proverbial window. While it seems impossible to make a case for Everton derailing Liverpool’s title hopes while taking a further step towards safety by snatching even a single point, far stranger things have happened. BG
2) De Bruyne still the key for City
There seems no end of Liverpool players determined to lead them to the title as they peak at the right time. Manchester City, however, have looked tired in recent times and are in need of an individual savior to keep them at the top. After 53 frustrating minutes at the Etihad on Wednesday, it was Kevin De Bruyne who lifted his team and the crowd, collecting a pass on the halfway line before holding off overzealous Brighton midfielders and, via a few ricochets, getting a ball through to Riyad Mahrez to open the scoring. It was a goal of pure quality against a side operating as Atlético-lite following fine wins at Arsenal and Spurs. The Belgian’s absence from the FA Cup semi-final starting XI was noticeable in a match City struggled to get any foothold in. Pep Guardiola will need to manage his talisman’s ankle issues carefully with the Premier League and Champions League trophies still up for grabs. Losing him for any of the run-in could gift their rivals a season-defining advantage. W.U.
3) A tough one to call at the Emirates
This match should have been a shootout for fourth. As it is, both sides have been turning up to gunfights armed with knives – often plastic ones from Pret. Manchester United have twice gone missing on Merseyside in recent weeks, while Arsenal went through a phase of losing to anybody from south of the Thames. After emerging from that slump by battering Chelsea, they should be able to repeat the trick here – though a paradox of United’s sorry season is the way they’ve racked up points against their immediate rivals, beating Spurs and West Ham twice each and Arsenal once . The reverse fixture, which ended 3-2 to United, came during the brief tenure of Michael Carrick, the most successful of United’s three managers in 2021-22. Ralf Rangnick, their worst for 40 years by win percentage, will at least have Cristiano Ronaldo back from compassionate leave. His players from him have yet another new manager to impress, now that the hottest seat in English football you have gone to Erik ten Hag. ToL
4) A shake-up of Villa’s underperformers
A five-game losing streak did for Dean Smith’s tenure at Aston Villa, a November defeat at Southampton providing the straw that broke the camel’s back after consecutive losses against Spurs, Wolves, Arsenal and West Ham. By a spooky coincidence, Smith’s replacement has now lost four in a row against Spurs, Wolves, Arsenal and West Ham (albeit in a different order). While there is no suggestion Steven Gerrard’s job is under threat, he could be forgiven for feeling twitchy as he takes his side from him to Leicester in a bid to arrest this alarming slide. With Emi Buendía likely to miss out with a shoulder injury, Ashley Young will probably fill in and Gerrard could ring other changes. Ezri Konsa had an extremely torrid time in their most recent reverse against Tottenham and may be dropped for Calum Chambers, while one of the misfiring Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins may also start on the bench. BG
5) Hammers strike back at the Bridge?
West Ham’s stirring progress in Europe has come at a price: in their past six league games they’ve gathered only seven points, which makes them as bad as Manchester United. Their recent record at Stamford Bridge is feeble, with only one win since 2002 – but David Moyes has had a whole week to prepare for this game, unlike Thomas Tuchel. There may also never be a better time to visit the Bridgewhere Chelsea have fallen apart three times in a row – losing 4-1 to Brentford, 3-1 to Real Madrid and 4-2 to Arsenal. When these sides met in December, the Hammers came from behind twice to win 3-2. And if Bukayo Saka can run rings round Chelsea’s defenders, Jarrod Bowen will fancy his chances too. ToL
6) Eriksen renewing old acquaintances
Signed by Antonio Conte for Inter in 2020 after seven years at White Hart Lane, Christian Eriksen will get to renew several acquaintances when Tottenham pitch up at the Brentford Community Stadium. The Danish midfielder has been in outstanding form since regaining full fitness, and is unlikely to do his former manager or teammates any favours. Brentford are seeking a fourth league win on the bounce, with their playmaker enjoying his new lease of life and pulling the strings in midfield. Spurs will arrive in west London after their home defeat to Brighton, a game in which Graham Potter’s players nullified Harry Kane’s presence by doggedly preventing his teammates finding him with the ball. It will be intriguing to see if Brentford, coached by the similarly astute Thomas Frank, adopt a similar or identical approach. BG
7) Brighton need to do their homework
So impressive in so many ways, Brighton have one curious weakness: they are the kids who behave beautifully in other people’s houses and then give their parents the run-around at home. Of their 40 points this season, only 15 have been won at the Amex Stadium. In the home table they stand 18th, with just 10 goals – fewer than anyone else. Since they last saw their own crowd, Brighton have pulled off a pair of crafty heists at Arsenal and Spurs before being flattened, more predictably, by Manchester City. Graham Potter’s elegant ball-players will need to be switched on for the south-coast derby: Southampton are breathing down their necks, three places below them in 13th but only one point behind. ToL
8) Norwich get another shot at United
Is a commendable performance in an away defeat against a desperately underperforming team, currently elite only in status and reputation, one to be proud of? It is a philosophical conundrum many Norwich fans may have wrestled with since their 3-2 reverse at the hands of Manchester United last time out While there is no disgrace in losing by the odd goal of five at Old Trafford, Norwich’s hosts were far from convincing and have rarely seemed more vulnerable than at present. A repeat performance against Newcastle would give the Carrow Road faithful some much-needed succour, but further improvement will surely be needed. Eddie Howe’s resurgent side currently looks far more United than their counterparts from Manchester. BG
9) Wolves creeping up on top seven
In their first season under Bruno Lage, Wolves have quietly improved from a nightmare start. Sitting comfortably in eighth, with an eight-point cushion to Leicester below, they have been able to play “grandmother’s footsteps” and creep up on West Ham and Manchester United. With 15 league wins under their belt already, Wolves need only two more to reach their highest tally in the top flight since 1979-80, when Willie Carr, Andy Gray and company finished sixth. They have still to play Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but their other games look winnable: Brighton, Norwich and first of all Burnley who, despite responding well to the sacking of Sean Dyche, still have a 45% chance of the drop according to the analysts at FiveThirtyEight. ToL
10) Marsch resumes survival mission
It will have been 16 days since Leeds played when they took to the field at Selhurst Park on Monday night. No one at Elland Road will be complaining – many will have felt the need to reenergize after the end of the intense Marcelo Bielsa era, while extra time on the training pitch with the new manager, Jesse Marsch, can only help the squad absorb the American’s ideas going into the latter stages of the campaign. It will have also given Marsch time to evaluate everything that has happened in the past two months. Leeds are five points clear of the drop; victory on Monday night would leave them almost safe for another season, and allow Marsch to plan long-term for the first time since arriving in England, focusing on how Leeds need to improve over the summer in terms of personnel and tactics. W.U.