Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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The  Guardian-Clockwise from top left; Diego Llorente scores for Leeds, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden of Manchester City, Sean Longstaff of Newcastle United, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and Chelsea’s Timo Werner. Composite: Getty, Reuters, EPA

City could depend on Liverpool to win the league, pressure is still on Timo Werner and Ross Barkley risks missing the plane

Paul Doyle, Daniel Harris and John Brewin

 

1) City could play a second XI and still win the league

What better way to prepare for the second leg of their Champions League showdown with Paris Saint-Germain than by winning the Premier League? Manchester City will be guaranteed another title if they take three points at Selhurst Park on Saturday and Liverpool beat Manchester United on Sunday. The luxury for Pep Guardiola is that he can hold back many of the players he plans to start against PSG and still be confident of giving Palace what for. Having played without a striker in Paris, City could, for
instance, deploy both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus against Palace,
giving Kevin De Bruyne a chance to rest up. John Stones will definitely not play, with his suspension giving Aymeric Laporte a chance in central defence and possibly keep his place for the following league match, which happens to be against Chelsea, a potential opponent in the Champions League final. PD

Crystal Palace v Manchester City, Saturday 12.30pm, all times BST

2) United, Liverpool and a potential coronation

Liverpool may rescue a sliver of satisfaction from their season if they can win at Old Trafford. Should Manchester City have collected three points at Crystal Palace on Saturday then Manchester United’s minuscule chance of the title can be terminated. That would keep the score of titles at United 20-19 Liverpool. For United fans, losing against Liverpool to deny a title might bring back memories of an April 1992 loss at Anfield that handed Leeds the old First Division crown, but will feel distinctly less traumatic. In truth, United have never truly been credible title challengers at any point in the season. But this has been a campaign of progress for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, his position far more secure than a year ago. Liverpool’s disappointment ought to be greater. The sight of City celebrating a title as they try to claim a top-four place will be a painful reminder of how far they have fallen. JB

Manchester United v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm

3) For Saints, beating Leicester is not about vengeance

For Ralph Hasenhüttl there should be no dilemma. It is better to regret what you have done than what you have not done. Southampton only lost 1-0 to Leicester in the FA Cup semi-final two weeks ago but their passivity in that game must have left them feeling more remorseful than they did after the 9-0 defeat they suffered when Leicester last visited St Mary’s. So when Brendan Rodgers’s team come calling again on Friday, Southampton must be proactive, dynamic and ambitious, at the risk of leaving themselves open to being picked off by visitors who are aiming to wrap up qualification for the Champions League as quickly as possible. This is not about vengeance, it is about Hasenhüttl showing that all the good work he has done at Southampton is not crumbling away. PD

Southampton v Leicester, Friday 8pm

4) Pressure still on Werner to produce

Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Real Madrid, while a decent result, was also a missed opportunity. A very beatable opponent escaped a serious beating. And the overriding image of wastage was an early chance blown by Timo Werner. His tame, side-footed attempt gave Thibaut Courtois the opportunity to make a save at a time Chelsea were pouring on pressure. Last week at West Ham, Werner scored just his third goal in 32 appearances, grabbing three vital points in the race for the top four. He was also guilty of an inexplicable miss, suggesting that getting on the scoresheet had not soothed his fragile confidence. Thomas Tuchel appears determined to persevere with his compatriot, with Tammy Abraham left in the cold. But Werner must start scoring soon and regularly, or join the list of Chelsea striking disappointments of the Roman Abramovich era that takes in the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres and Álvaro Morata. JB

Chelsea v Fulham, Saturday 5.30pm

5) West Ham in the margins

Of West Ham’s 16 league victories this season, 11 have come by a one-goal margin, which says a lot about their mental and physical fortitude. But it also says a lot about football, a low-scoring and capricious game in which the result does not always reflect the balance of play and whose flow can change very quickly with very little apparent cause – momentum is hard to find and easy to lose. Take Liverpool for example – last season, they won 14 league games by the odd goal, a figure which has dropped to four this, with the number of draws increasing from three to nine, small differences making a huge impact. Unlike Liverpool, though, rather than nearing the end of a cycle West Ham are still improving; what they need to do next is learn how to win games comfortably. A home fixture with Burnley – a difficult but inferior opponent – is a good test of their ability to do that. DH

Burnley v West Ham, Monday 8.15pm

6) Barkley has not caught the eye at Villa

Practically every English player at Aston Villa has enhanced his international credentials this season, except one. Ross Barkley went there on loan in an effort to wow his way back into Gareth Southgate’s squad in time for the Euros but sadly he has not risen to the opportunity despite a promising beginning at Villa Park. His performance in Villa’s last match – his first start for two months – was not bad but nor was it good enough. He showed some clever touches but too often found himself on the fringes of the action. Everton and Villa still have to play each other twice this season and it would be no surprise if Barkley did not start either game. Southgate should still tune into both, of course, to compare the relative merits of Ollie Watkins and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and to remind himself that if there is one uncapped Englishman who deserves a call-up, it is Ezri Konsa. PD

Everton v Aston Villa, Friday 8pm

7) Longstaff lift has been vital on Tyneside

Steve Bruce always said Newcastle would be alright when they got their best players back and he was right: a run of two wins and two draws has taken them to relative safety. The return from injury of Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson has obviously made a huge difference, but it is also worth noting that their upturn in form has coincided with Sean Longstaff regaining his place in the first XI. Not that long ago Longstaff was a target for Manchester United – an unremarkable circumstance in and of itself, except Longstaff was recommended by Michael Carrick, who knows something about deep-lying midfield behaviour, while his brother Graeme coached the player, so knows something about his character. Pep Guardiola was also a fan, citing Longstaff as the principal reason Newcastle beat Manchester City in January 2019, and though things have been harder for him since then, if he can develop into the Carrick with legs he was meant to be, he will be a very serious proposition. DH

Newcastle v Arsenal, Sunday 2pm

8) West Brom can still make the 40-point mark

When West Brom rode their luck and won 3-2 at Molineux in January, it looked like the Sam Allardyce rescue operation might finally have kicked into gear. But it turns out that was just fleeting respite from haplessness, as the Baggies, despite a general improvement in performances, have repeatedly let points slip since then. Their survival looks less likely than ever now but they could still reach the cherished 40 points by winning all five of their remaining matches. Victory in Monday’s match against Wolves is essential and should be well within their grasp, since Nuno Espírito Santo’s side have developed similar problems, especially defensive leakiness. Wolves cannot afford to be as bad as they were against Burnley last week, otherwise West Brom will, at least, have a double in the Black Country Derby to show for a sorry season. PD

West Brom v Wolves, Monday 8pm

9) An attacking treat on the south coast

Leeds currently sit ninth, a decent return for any promoted club and surely as high as any manager in world football could manage with the players that Marcelo Bielsa has. Especially impressive have been his side’s better showings against the better sides, most recently the win over Manchester City and draws with Liverpool and Manchester United. Those games were also notable because Leeds swapped an attacking high press for a more circumspect mid-block, but the likelihood is that on Saturday against Brighton, they’ll return to their usual hyperactive whirl. It didn’t work when the teams met in January, the visitors leaving Elland Road with the points – Leeds’ 14 league defeats reflect their approach just as much as their 14 wins, likewise their 50 goals conceded do their 50 goals scored. New players and stylistic tweaks would leave them well-placed to attack next season, but in the meantime, Brighton’s relative safety and attacking propensity should make for one of the more watchable games of the weekend. DH

Brighton v Leeds, Saturday 3pm

10) A meeting of temporaries

Two interim managers, neither with any hope of landing the gig permanently, meet each other in Sunday evening’s graveyard shift. Paul Heckingbottom collected a first win after five straight defeats in beating Brighton last week, while Ryan Mason was powerless to prevent Spurs losing the Carabao Cup final to Manchester City. Both must forge on under the cloud of speculation of who might take over their club on a full-time basis. Alexander Blessin, of Belgian club KV Oostende, a former youth coach at RB Leipzig, has been most heavily linked with Blades, though work-permit red tape may become a stumbling block. Erik Ten Hag, the Ajax manager, is reported in these pages to be leading a Tottenham list of candidates that includes Ralf Rangnick, the architect of the Red Bull coaching school that produced Blessin. Heckingbottom and Mason might reflect that the bigger jobs now go to an ever shrinking pool. JB

Tottenham v Sheffield United, Sunday 7.15pm

 

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