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Survival hunt heats up as North London clubs battle for Champions League spot

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes, left, is challenged by Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny during an English Premier League match at the Emirates stadium in London, Saturday April 23, 2022. (Photograph by Alastair J. Grant/AP)

As the Premier League enters its final month, the relegation scrap heats up after the news of Burnley manager Sean Dyche being relieved of his duties. Meanwhile, the battle for the final Champions League spot should come down to the two North London clubs, unless a surprise chase from behind is made by Manchester United or West Ham.

Fantasy managers have additional headaches ahead of a very hectic race to the finish. Rotation by the traditional powerhouses must be taken into consideration, especially given six of the top eight will have double gameweeks at some point. Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso and Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne could prove key assets on either end of the price spectrum in the run-in.

Saturday

Newcastle United v Liverpool

8.30am

Newcastle will be candidates for most improved team in the Premier League, especially for the second half of the season. They have won four of five games to pull into the top half and distance themselves 14 points ahead of the drop zone. Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson, and Ryan Fraser are all out, the first two could return by May 8.

Liverpool are playing to their best at a perfect time, as Jurgen Klopp looks to orchestrate the most successful season in English football history, that was enhanced by their 2-0 first leg home win over Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals. Konstantinos Tsimikas, Curtis Jones and Roberto Firmino are all doubts for the trip to Tyneside.

The Reds are unbeaten in their last four visits to St James Park. They are looking to make that streak five for the first time since a stretch between September 1961 and May 1969.

Prediction: 1-2

Aston Villa v Norwich City

11am

Aston Villa must be very careful with their approach to the final run-in, as they have lost six of their last 10 matches. The West Midlands club remain just eight points above the bottom three, and face teams below them in three of their final six league games. Lucas Digne and Kortney Hause are both out, while Bertrand Traore and Morgan Sanson are doubts.

Norwich have all but confirmed relegation to the Championship, despite their 2-0 home win over Burnley a few weeks ago. The Canaries have quite a few injury concerns. Andrew Omobamidele, Ozan Kabak, Lukas Rupp, and Adam Idah are all out. American forward Josh Sargent is a doubt for the trip to Villa Park.

Canaries head coach Dean Smith aims to become the first manager to beat Aston Villa in the top-flight having taken charge of the Clarets.

Prediction: 2-0

Southampton v Crystal Palace

11am

Southampton reached the all-important 40-point mark with their 2-2 away draw with South Coast rivals Brighton. Tino Livramento will be out for the rest of the calendar year with a cruciate ligament injury, the only concern for Saints. James Ward-Prowse looks to match a single-season record, set by David Beckham and Laurent Robert, with his fifth goal from a direct free-kick.

Crystal Palace have improved overall under Patrick Vieira, but have drawn 14 matches, more than any other team (also Brighton with 14). Striker Christian Benteke has scored six times in 13 matches against Saints, the second-most in any matchup in the division, behind Chelsea and Sunderland (seven each). Nathan Ferguson is out, while Tyrick Mitchell and Luka Milivojevic are doubts.

Southampton have won 14 of 25 previous meetings, their second-best win rate (56 per cent) against any team in the Premier League, behind only Welsh side Swansea (58 per cent).

Prediction: 1-1

Watford v Burnley

11am

Watford are destined for life in the second-tier of English football, having suffered 23 total defeats, the most in the division (one more than Norwich). The Hornets have lost their last 10 at home, and no team had lost 11 consecutive home games in the division. Cucho Hernandez is the only long-term injury (hamstring). Francisco Sierralta, Samuel Kalu, Kiko Femenia and Juraj Kucka are all doubts.

Since the sudden sacking of Burnley manager Sean Dyche, the Clarets are unbeaten in three games, winning two. Under-23 coach Mike Jackson, who has been given caretaker charge, would become the first Burnley head coach to stay unbeaten in their first four top-flight games. Ben Mee, Johan Gudmundsson, and Ashley Westwood are all out. Erik Pieters, Maxwel Cornet and Jay Rodriguez are doubtful.

The Clarets come into the weekend outside the bottom three for the first time since August, and should remain there as they have gained points in four of the last five meetings with Watford.

Prediction: 1-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Brighton & Hove Albion

11am

Wolves are creeping up behind the teams chasing European football next season, but have suffered significant losses away to Newcastle and Burnley over the past few weeks. Max Kilman and Daniel Podence are both out with minor knocks, while Ruben Neves is a doubt with a knee injury.

Brighton have taken eight points from their last five, a decent return given those victories came away to Tottenham and Arsenal. Jakub Moder is out with a knee injury, while Tariq Lamptey is doubtful with a less-serious knee problem.

Wolves are looking to do the league double over the Seagulls for the first time, and victory will push them within goal difference of the European places.

Prediction: 1-1

Leeds United v Manchester City

1.30pm

Leeds are slowly edging themselves out of the relegation picture, and earned a valuable 0-0 draw away to Crystal Palace last time out. Tyler Roberts, Adam Forshaw and Patrick Bamford are all out, though the latter could return for the final two matches of the season. Jamie Shackleton is a doubt for American head coach Jesse Marsch.

Manchester City must be exhausted after their classic 4-3 home win over Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg. John Stones and Kyle Walker are both doubts.

The Yorkshire side push to extend their current unbeaten run to six matches, the longest since April 2021, where they also edged Manchester City. This matchup has brought success, as they have lost just twice in the last nine at Elland Road in this competition.

Prediction: 1-2

Sunday

Everton v Chelsea

10am

Everton are threatened to lose their status as the only side to feature in every Premier League season, after the 2-0 Merseyside derby defeat to Liverpool at Anfield. Nathan Patterson, Andre Gomes, Donny van de Beek and Andros Townsend are all out. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ben Godfrey are both doubts.

Chelsea come off a tight 1-0 home win over West Ham United, Christian Pulisic scoring a last-minute winner after Jorginho had a penalty saved two minutes prior. Ben Chilwell, Mateo Kovacic and Callum Hudson-Odoi will both be out for the trip to Goodison Park. Antonio Rudiger and Ross Barkley are doubts, with a groin injury and illness respectively.

Toffees head coach Frank Lampard, the tenth former Chelsea manager to take charge against the Blues, looks to become just the second to win their first matchup against the West London side.

Prediction: 1-2

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City

10am

Spurs dropped points at a vital time in their 0-0 away draw with Brentford, losing ground on their rivals Arsenal for that fourth Champions League spot. Matt Doherty, Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp remain out for Antonio Conte’s men.

Leicester are the kings of inconsistency in the bottom half, taking three draws in their last five. Key players Ryan Bertrand and Wilfried Ndidi are both out, while backup goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic is a doubt.

Harry Kane has scored 18 in 17 matches overall against the Foxes, his most against a single opponent. Leicester have never won consecutive matches away to Spurs since October 1999.

Prediction: 2-0

West Ham United v Arsenal

12.30pm

West Ham, despite losing to Chelsea on the road, are unbeaten in six league home matches, only going on a longer stretch from September 2015 to April 2016 (15 games). Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Issa Diop are all out, and Craig Dawson is suspended. David Moyes’s men have scored in their last 18 home league matches as well, last failing to convert in a 1-0 defeat to Everton last May.

Arsenal held off Manchester United to win 3-1 at home, after dominating Chelsea to win 4-2 on the road. Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney are both out for the season, with knee and thigh injuries respectively. Bukayo Saka is a doubt, after suffering a minor knock.

The Gunners have won more Premier League matches in May than any other team (50), also boasting the best win rate (59 per cent, 50 wins in 85 games).

Prediction: 1-2

Monday

Manchester United v Brentford

4pm

Manchester United had lost three of their previous four games, including defeats to Everton and a 4-0 smashing by Liverpool. Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire are all out, the latter until the end of the season with a knee ligament break. Fred, Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani are all doubts.

Brentford have suffered just one defeat in five themselves, hitting that 40-point mark with four games remaining. Ivan Toney has registered eight goal involvements in the Bees’ last seven games. Ethan Pinnock, Mathias Jorgensen, Sergi Canos, and Frank Onyeka are all out, while Christian Norgaard is a doubt for the trip to Old Trafford.

United may have won the only previous league meeting, 3-1 at Brentford Community Stadium, but the Red Devils have won just four of their last 10 total games.

Prediction: 2-0

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Published April 29, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated April 29, 2022 at 7:16 am)

Survival hunt heats up as North London clubs battle for Champions League spot

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