Man City’s quadruple bid continues in FA Cup, Fabinho can prove his worth to Liverpool and a pivotal Klassiker in Germany.
1) City to advance in familiar surroundings at Wembley
Brighton are unlikely to go into their first FA Cup semi-final since 1983 with high expectations. Chris Hughton’s players produced an incredible comeback to beat Millwall in the previous round, but they know the odds will be heavily stacked against them when they face Manchester City, who have already won three games at Wembley this season. City remain on course for a historic quadruple after 13 consecutive wins in all competitions and while Sergio Agüero is doubtful after picking up a minor injury at Fulham last Saturday, Pep Guardiola’s side have been boosted by the return to fitness of Kevin De Bruyne, who scored in Wednesday’s win over Cardiff. Brighton, who have lost their previous two matches, will have their work cut out trying to contain City’s attack. Their fans might have to settle for an enjoyable day out. JS
2) Statistics favour Watford in the semis but Wolves in a final
In the nine games they have played over the last two months Wolves have beaten Manchester United twice, but also lost to Burnley and Huddersfield. In the same time Watford have lost to Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, but beaten everyone else. The Hornets are extraordinarily consistent against teams around or below them in the table but pretty hopeless against the country’s finest sides. Precisely the opposite is true of Wolves, who have taken 27.7% of their Premier League points against the top six (and knocked two of them out of the FA Cup) while Watford’s figure is 6.5%. In all competitions, Wolves have won nearly as many games against the top six this season (five) as Watford have in the four years since their promotion (seven). All of which suggests that if Manchester City beat Brighton on Saturday Wolves will be considerably better-equipped than Watford to prevail in the final – but also that the Hornets are the more likely to actually get there. SB
3) Liverpool will need Fabinho’s progressive play at St Mary’s
Ralph Hasenhüttl is nicknamed the Alpine Klopp, probably only by journalists, because of his touchline theatrics and the style of play he teaches. On Friday his Southampton team will try to stop Liverpool from regaining the summit. Despite three wins in their last four matches, including a victory over Spurs in their last home game, Southampton still need points to pull clear of relegation and they will make things difficult for Liverpool. The visitors will need to be at their slickest to beat Southampton’s dynamic pressing and that means deploying at least one midfielder whose first instinct is to play clever forward passes. Which means Fabinho has to start for Liverpool. PD
4) Will Sarri give youth its fling again?
All season Chelsea’s fans have urged Maurizio Sarri to give the youngsters a go. On Wednesday the Italian finally buckled, handing Callum Hudson-Odoi a first league start and picking Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield, and the injection of some youthful zest helped Chelsea produce one of their most convincing displays of a troubled season. Hudson-Odoi had a hand in Olivier Giroud’s opener in the 3-0 win over Brighton, Loftus-Cheek scored a sublime goal and the question now is whether Sarri will revert to type when West Ham, who have picked up one point and scored one goal in their last six away games, visit Stamford Bridge on Monday. Sarri’s detractors will not be happy if Mateo Kovacic replaces Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi makes way for Willian. JS
5) Walcott on the wane as former club visit Goodison
It looks very much like the Theo Walcott derby will feature only a minor contribution from the man himself, who has become increasingly peripheral this season after a positive start. Though there has been only one league game in which he has not appeared, he has had a combined total of 16 minutes of game time in Everton’s past three matches. Walcott has spent most of the season as an unquestioned first-teamer, but perhaps tellingly has started only one of his team’s five league wins in 2019. There has been only one goal (the opener in a 6-2 defeat to Spurs) and one assist (the second in a 3-0 win over Fulham) since August. His contract has two years to run after this season and questions are being asked about how much of it he will see out. This is all very similar to his last full season at Arsenal, when he was a guaranteed starter when fit until April before dropping abruptly to the bench. It all ended in his sale to Everton in January 2018. SB
6) Home comforts should help Newcastle move closer to safety
Unbeaten at home since2 January, and on a run of five successive wins at St James’ Park, Newcastle would take a giant stride to safety with another win against Crystal Palace. The club’s terrible record in London – their defeat at Arsenal on Monday was the 18th in their last 23 visits to the capital – has received a lot of attention but Palace’s record in Newcastle is even worse. The Eagles have only scored in one of their last seven visits – a 3-3 draw in August 2014 – and have lost six of those. Indeed since a 2-1 victory there in March 1998, the most recent of two post-war wins on Tyneside (from 21 attempts so far), they have won one of 15 games against the Magpies at all venues, losing 10. SB
7) On a roll under Rodgers, Leicester look towards Europe
Huddersfield fans have reacted to their relegation with good grace and many are even looking forward to returning to a league where the financial gulf between clubs is not so vast. Meanwhile their manager, Jan Siewert, is still trying to develop a new attacking identity and figure out which players he would like to retain, and some feathers have been ruffled. At Leicester the mood is positively buoyant, as Brendan Rodgers has introduced a little more nous and derring-do during a three-game winning streak. If Wilfried Ndidi continues his dominant recent displays at the base of midfield, then Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray could create the goals to fuel Leicester’s late charge for a European place. PD
8) Cherries ripe for picking by needy Burnley
Few teams will have been more pleased than Burnley to see two of the relegation spots already claimed. Last season’s seventh-placed finishers have a five-point lead over Cardiff in the battle to avoid the last of them, having played a game more, and with their season ending with a troublesome run of fixtures against Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (a) and Arsenal (h). That leaves this weekend’s game at Bournemouth and next weekend’s super-crucial visit of Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds as the most likely sources of the points they need to survive. They played the reverse fixtures on successive weekends in September, winning them both, and these opponents bring happy memories both of that meeting, a 4-0 shellacking, and of last season’s 2-1 away win. Failure to add another positive memory this weekend will heap yet more pressure on the almost overwhelmingly crucial next fixture. SB
9) Will Boateng be partying prematurely after Klassiker?
Having scored 17 goals in their previous three Bundesliga games, few expected Bayern to have any trouble dismissing 12th-placed Freiberg last weekend. Instead they drew 1-1, allowing Borussia Dortmund to take a two-point lead in the table courtesy of two stoppage-time Paco Alcácer goals and a 2-0 win at home to Wolfsburg. And so to Der Klassiker, and an opportunity for Borussia – whose title chances seemed to have slipped when they drew three and lost one of five league games between the first weekend of February and the start of March – to take an element of control. It is hard to tell who will be partying at the end of the game, but Bayern’s Jérôme Boateng was confident enough to announce that he would be throwing a party at the P1 Club in Munich that very evening, at which he will launch his lifestyle magazine Boa with a live set from the German rapper Capital Bra. “I want to gather this club around me,” he said. “I’m throwing a party for everyone who, like me, loves sport, music, style and life in general.” His choice of date has been widely questioned, and there is certainly a risk that Boateng will have little to celebrate, and perhaps not many people to celebrate with. “If we lose,” Mats Hummels says, “you certainly won’t see me there.” SB
10) Messi masks Barça’s cracks and will worry Atlético
Barcelona are tough to work out. Eight points clear of Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga, they look certain to win the title with ease. They have thumped Real Madrid twice and will take some stopping in the Champions League. But those who maintain that this Barça side fall some way short of the 2008-12 vintage were making themselves heard during this week’s chaotic 4-4 draw with Villarreal, who conceded twice in stoppage time after losing Álvaro González to a late red card. It was a game that lent weight to the theory that Lionel Messi, who appeared as a substitute after Villarreal had fought back from 2-0 down at the start of the second half, is masking the flaws in Ernesto Valverde’s side, and Atlético will be confident of cutting the gap when they visit the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Diego Simeone’s side have the forwards to trouble Barça’s defence, and will hope their opponents have an eye on next Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United. As ever, however, the question will be whether Atlético are capable of containing Messi, having failed to stop Juventus’s Cristiano Ronaldo last month. JS