Top-four race heats up after midweek results
The Premier League heads into the critical final straight of the season with intriguing storylines. The weekend and midweek results have brought another twist to the top-four race and the bottom four teams continue to battle for survival.
The Fantasy race is also bubbling up nicely for the final period, especially during the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, with key decisions to be made around removing premium players such as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Good budget replacements for them could be Jarrod Bowen from West Ham (£6.8 million) or Raphinha from Leeds United (£6.5 million). Other key assets may include Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa, who has kept a clean sheet in five of their last eight league matches.
Watford v Norwich City
Watford remain in the relegation scrap, especially on a run of one win in their last ten league games. The Hornets are still the only team in the division without a clean sheet.
Norwich found a vital 2-1 home win over Everton on Saturday, moving within a point of safety. In the victory, they scored two goals for the first time since November.
This relegation six-pointer, the home side’s second in a week, has been dominated by the Hornets, who won 2-1 in this fixture two seasons ago.
Everton v Aston Villa
Everton are in serious trouble and in danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. The Toffees sacked boss Rafa Benitez much to the delight of several fans of Merseyside rivals Liverpool, after their 2-1 away defeat to Norwich. They have won just once in their last 13 games.
Aston Villa have put up a strong showing in all of their matches against bigger sides, but have lost all four league games against sides above them (Chelsea, Liverpool, City, and United) under Steven Gerrard.
After the removal of Spaniard Benitez, the hosts must win this to pull away from the survival chase, but fell 2-1 when the West Midlands club last came to Goodison Park.
Brentford v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Brentford are suffering their biggest test as a club after paying for missed chances in a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United, after the 3-0 away loss to Liverpool. Four losses in their last five see the Bees on 23 points.
Wolves are certainly in their best shape since returning to the Premier League in 2018. They currently sit in eighth place, having taken a 1-0 away victory over Manchester United two weeks ago. Bruno Lage has led his team to the second-best defensive record in the division (15 goals against).
These teams met in September at Molineux, with Brentford holding out for a 2-0 away win.
Leeds United v Newcastle United
Winger Jack Harrison scored his first top-flight hat-trick as Leeds held on for a 3-2 away win over West Ham United, moving them nine points above the relegation zone.
Newcastle are still in the survival battle, but showed character to survive a 1-1 home draw with Watford. The Magpies have drawn nine times this term, second-most in the league.
The Yorkshire side should cruise to safety if they win this, but the Tyneside outfit must win to keep themselves in with a chance of staying up.
Manchester United v West Ham United
In a critical week for Manchester United’s European hopes, they have taken four points from two tricky southerly trips. At Villa Park, they gave up a two-goal lead with 15 minutes remaining, culminating with a Philippe Coutinho equaliser. In West London, three Academy graduates scored to lead the Red Devils to a 3-1 victory over Brentford.
West Ham are enduring injury struggles in the European push, but stay in fourth despite the 3-2 home defeat to Leeds. They still remain in two cup competitions, the FA Cup and Europa League, but do they have the depth of squad to compete on all three fronts?
A titanic matchup between two English juggernauts, probably the game of the weekend, could shake up the European qualification picture.
Southampton v Manchester City
Southampton have surely found their groove at the right time, virtually locking themselves for comfortable Premier League survival. Saints have lost just twice in their last eight in the competition to climb to twelfth.
Manchester City have one hand on the Premier League title. They notched their twelfth-straight win, a 1-0 result at home over Chelsea, to move 13 points clear and knock the Blues out of championship contention.
The South Coast side have proven to be a stern test for City recently, despite losing three of their previous five league matchups.
Arsenal v Burnley
Arsenal had their proposal to postpone the North London derby with Tottenham approved by Premier League authorities the day prior to their meeting at the new Spurs stadium, though they frustrated Liverpool with ten men to earn a 0-0 draw in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
Burnley just cannot buy a break right now, having their last four games postponed due to an outbreak in the squad. They still hold the slimmest hope of survival, with four games in hand on their direct competitors.
Another matchup that influences both ends of the table, the Clarets won 1-0 on their last visit to the Emirates Stadium.
Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Another disappointing week saw Palace defender Joachim Andersen score into his own net for the 1-1 draw with Brighton in a South Coast derby.
Liverpool are the only side who could still push for the title, after their 3-0 home win over Brentford. The Merseyside outfit would have visited Arsenal in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final prior to time of press.
The Reds smashed the Eagles of South London 7-0 on their previous visit to Selhurst Park.
Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester City threw away a 2-1 advantage in stoppage time to lose 3-2 at home to Tottenham Hotspur. This was the latest-ever comeback in Premier League history as Steven Bergwijn scored the winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time to sink the Foxes.
Brighton picked up a spirited 1-1 home draw with Chelsea in midweek, after drawing 1-1 with South Coast rivals Crystal Palace five days earlier. The Seagulls remain in ninth with 29 points, their best-ever start to a Premier League season.
The Seagulls were on the end of a 3-0 drubbing on their last visit to the King Power, but they will fancy their chances this time around.
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea have won just three of their last ten league games, yet they are through to the Carabao Cup final after cruising past these opponents 3-0 over two legs.
Spurs are doing quite well under Antonio Conte, unbeaten in their last five games. They are just one point off fourth with three games in hand, one of which was the postponed North London derby.
Another massive encounter in the race for European football, and if the Blues falter, they could be dragged into it. This could also be a key fixture in the future of Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.