We’re getting into the home straight of the English Premiership and while Manchester City have poached a big lead and seem home and hosed, there are plenty sub-plots panning out behind them.
Apart from the race for top 4 Champions League slots, there’s also the relegation battle where Newcastle and potentially Brighton have been sucked closer to the fire. This week there seem obvious wins for Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but I wouldn’t see it as an upset if one or more of these three didn’t take maximum points. Especially given they’re all involved in Champions League action with everything to play for in the second legs of their quarter-finals next week.
Here’s a breakdown of this weekend’s selections.
Fulham 1 Wolves 1: Time’s starting to run out for Fulham who are 3 points behind Newcastle and still in the relegation zone. They have 7 games to go and this fixture is winnable against a misfiring Wolves side. But, they might again fall short. Both sides have conceded 41 goals, so might leak one again. Wolves won the reverse fixture 1-0.
Man City 2 Leeds United 0: City have come off an edge Champions League win against Dortmund but will find Leeds’ ambitious style perfect for an open game. Much depends on City’s appetite here – they have a 14-point lead and have virtually wrapped up the title – and they have their eye on next week’s Champions League return. They should still win but at 1.29-1 I’m not putting them in my multi.
Liverpool 2 Aston Villa 1: Ah, the reverse fixture produced a 7-2 win for Villa! Liverpool though have seemed to steady their wobble and have won their last 2 League games since losing 6 of their previous 7. But they were undone by Real Madrid in the Champions League. As is the case with City, Liverpool might have their eye on the return fixture, but now they’re also scrapping for a top 4 League spot so can’t afford to relax.
Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 2: The hosts are safe while Chelsea are very much in the thick of Champions League action and a top 4 battle. They will probably field a changed team to the one that beat Porto but they have enough depth to see things through here. However, they made West Brom look like prime Barcelona last week and Palace are just the type of side who can give them some anxious moments.
Burnley 1 Newcastle 0: Massive game for both, more so for Newcastle. This has the makings of a slight home win though, which would all but carry Burnley to safety and leave Newcastle in a relegation dogfight with Fulham. The visitors here will be watching the Fulham-Wolves game with chewed fingernails. But, a Wolves win might just release the pressure and allow Newcastle to play with freedom and I’ll change my call to a draw if Fulham lose.
West Ham 2 Leicester 1: Who would have through this would see 3rd taking on 4th with just 8 games left. West Ham will be weaker if both Antonio and Declan Rice are out injured, but Jesse Lingaard has been re-invented recently. The Hammers are playing with freedom and confidence and I’m tempted to go for the home win here. They won the reverse fixture 3-0 so might have the mental edge.
Tottenham 1 Man United 1: Hard to guess this one as both are highly capable of winning on their day. It was last October when Spurs went to Old Trafford and won 6-1 (!) and Jose will be keen to do the double over his former club. United have won their last 3 in the League and have one foot in the Europa League semi-finals and look to have sealed their Champions League competition for next season.
Sheff United 0 Arsenal 1: Can “relegated” Sheffield United show some fight and add to Arsenal’s misery. For the Gunners to be 10th with 8 games left is a poor return for them and they’ve got a big game next week against Slavia Praha in the Europa League after Thursday’s match ended 1-1. They won the reverse fixture 2-1 and I’m not expecting more than 1 goal separating the sides here, if at all.
West Brom 1 Southampton 2: Prime Barcelona one week, standard West Brom the next. Which Baggies will show up here? They were impressive in dismantling Chelsea 5-2 at Stamford Bridge last week but the win has probably come too late to save them from the drop. However, three points here would give them some hope. Southampton won a thrilling (against expectation) 3-2 game against Burnley last time. There should be 2.5+ goals here too.
Brighton 1 Everton 2: Brighton are this season’s “club too good to go down” but they find themselves 16th and only 6 points out of the drop zone. They have a goal difference of -5, which is better than 8 clubs around them, so a fairer reflection of their form should really see them about 12th in the table. But Everton themselves are a quality side when at their best. This should be a good game for the neutral.