1) Buoyant St James’ will be testing venue for Reds:
Only Liverpool have a better Premier League record in 2022 than Newcastle. After the midweek: grinding down of Villarreal:, a Saturday lunchtime trip to a bouncing, optimistic St James’ Park will be a test for Jürgen Klopp’s team. The hope in the north-east is that this can soon be a grand-slam clash between two of England’s leading lights, that Eddie Howe’s post-victory, all-hands photo opportunities take in wins over the elite. Time was when a player such as Bruno Guimarães would be under the microscope of the Liverpool transfer committee but a fresh big spender on the block meant his Premier League arrival was accelerated and may, in future, price him even beyond Liverpool’s reach. Tyneside to Merseyside was once a popular trade route, taking in Gini Wijnaldum, José Enrique, Didi Hamann, Peter Beardsley and Terry McDermott. The plan in Saudi Arabia and Amanda Staveley’s office is to end the days of Newcastle being anyone’s feeder club. JB:
2) Will Leeds learn from City’s Madrid tussle?
In the 1960s, Don Revie had the idea to change the Leeds kit from yellow and blue to the all-white of Real Madrid in the hope of copying the Spanish side’s achievements. The Yorkshire club were languishing in the lower half of the second tier at the time but had lofty ambitions. Leeds can learn a few more things from Madrid for Manchester City’s visit, sitting between their two Champions League semi-final legs. Rodrygo and Vinícius Junior hugged the touchline to stretch the City defense as much as possible and utilize the space they found behind, something the makeshift right-back Fernandinho found out to his cost when Vinícius bamboozled him before slotting home. João Cancelo will return to boost a side who needed to start an unfit John Stones at right-back on Tuesday but the Portuguese might still be made to suffer by Jack Harrison, while Raphinha could cause Oleksandr Zinchenko plenty of problems. WU:
3) Smith returns to listing Villa:
If Dean Smith was less polite and less of an Aston Villa fan, he might reasonably suggest that his sacking and replacement by Steven Gerrard has not gone well – though his time at Norwich, who he has been unable to rescue, does not prove that the Villa hierarchy necessarily got things wrong. Both clubs face uncertain summers, though Smith, with extensive Championship experience, will surely be given a crack at extending Norwich’s sequence of promotion-relegation-promotion-relegation to a further promotion. Meanwhile, Gerrard’s Villa have badly run out of steam, last week’s: grim goalless draw with Leicester: at least ending a sequence of four defeats. Villa are still not mathematically safe, though 37 points is likely enough, and a club who spent much of last summer acting like a big club – spending £ 75m and also trying to sign Emile Smith Rowe from Arsenal – are 15th. Smith was sacked in November with his team 16th. JB:
4) Arsenal still not the finished article:
Arsenal enjoyed an exciting, uplifting: win over Manchester United: last weekend and are well-placed to clinch England’s final Champions League qualifying spot – which would be a decent achievement, all things considered. So to gripe feels slightly harsh – though no less necessary for that – because the hard work they made of beating a team so miserable they even lost to Everton did not speak especially well of them. Of course they were missing Thomas Partey and their first-choice full-backs, but even with everyone available, they do not look a center-forward away from being a serious outfit, capable of more than possibly finishing fourth. Mikel Arteta needs to strengthen his squad this summer, and the reality is that his first XI needs more attention than he might have hoped – there are players currently in it who still need to convince him they are good enough. DH:
5) Everton fans key on Lampard’s Chelsea reunion:
Frank Lampard welcomes his former club to Goodison Park but he will have no time for sentimentality. The Everton manager has six matches to save his new club from relegation. They sit bottom of the table when it comes to away performances, having secured only six points on the road in 16 matches, winning just once. This makes their home games incredibly important – there have been seven wins at Goodison this season. The team showed they had the fight in them to survive in last week’s: Merseyside derby loss:, which will be some relief for fans who will need to be fully behind a team under such pressure. Early ambition to attack Chelsea could be just what the crowd require to boost a nervous squad. Points are needed and sitting back will not help against a side who have failed to score in just three Premier League games this season. WU:
6) Even under Conte, Spurs are Spursy:
In some ways Antonio Conte is the least likely Tottenham manager imaginable: a driven, focused winner of substance and achievement, with little time for talented but insipid attackers – or, put another way, if you could look up the word “Spursy” in the dictionary, you would find his name listed as its antonym. Yet there is something more than a little Spursy about Conte’s Spurs, consistently flattering to deceive: just when it looks like they’re cracking it, they lose weakly to Middlesbrough, or Manchester United, or Brighton. For that reason it’s impossible to guess how they might perform against Leicester in a game they must win – primarily to keep their top-four hopes alive, but also because Conte is probably the best manager they could have, and they have far more chance of keeping him if they qualify for the Champions League. This makes Sunday’s game one of the biggest of the weekend, with ramifications not just for this season or even next, but for the next few in N17. DH:
7) Brentford to storm another citadel?
After Brentford: lost 3-1: to Manchester United in January, Thomas Frank irked a section of away fans, and Ralf Rangnick, by suggesting their team was “unbelievably lucky to win”. Frank is no respecter of reputations, not one to offer deference. Following last week’s: goalless draw with Tottenham:, he made similar, more supportable claims his team deserved victory. Having won 4-1 at Chelsea in March, he is entitled to believe another statement win at a Premier League citadel is possible. Particularly as Monday’s opponents are United. Their dreadful first-half display at the Community Stadium in January has turned out to be the norm rather than the exception with Rangnick, seemingly demob-happy, telling home truths: that must unsettle the hierarchy and star players. With their high pressing and Christian Eriksen’s mastery of set pieces, Brentford appear custom-designed to be the latest visitors to triumph at Old Trafford. JB:
8) McNeil thriving after Dyche exit:
Seven points in three games under the guidance of the caretaker, Mike Jackson, has taken Burnley from staring down the barrel to being out of the relegation zone. The feelgood factor is back at Turf Moor following the sacking of Sean Dyche, which looks more justified by the day. One of the main beneficiaries of Dyche’s exit has been Dwight McNeil, who looks liberated since the departure of a hardened taskmaster. The winger has struggled for form this season, providing no goals and a solitary assist in 33 appearances, but he is finally making an impact. His last start under Dyche, against Manchester City, saw him replaced at half-time, but Jackson and his staff have rebuilt his confidence by telling him to express himself. He now has the chance to show all his attributes and a win at Watford could leave Burnley five points clear of the drop zone. WU:
9) Wolves and Brighton face striker hunt:
That both teams have found goals difficult to come by this season would be stating the obvious. Wolves have scored 33 and Brighton 31 – only Burnley (29), Watford (31) and Norwich (22) have been so goal-shy and yet unlike that trio, neither Bruno Lage’s nor Graham Potter’s team have been in any relegation danger. Few would expect a deluge of goals at Molineux since both teams defend well, with Wolves’ concession of 29 goals behind only Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. They are more offensive than under Nuno Espírito Santo, but Lage has had similar problems to his predecessor in introducing tactical variety. At this late, comfortable juncture, fans of both clubs will now look to the transfer window, where goal power might be sourced. There the wealth of Newcastle looms, though, with Reims ‘young striker Hugo Ekitike chased by both Wolves and Eddie Howe’s team, and Brighton’s Leandro Trossard linked with St James’ Park. JB:
10) Who will perform with little at stake?
With Southampton and Crystal Palace sitting 13th and 14th respectively, Saturday’s game looks likely to go one of two ways: it could either be a thrilling goalfest, the teams committing to express themselves with the pressure off, or it could peter out into a dismal trudge through yet another 90 minutes, players and fans alike yearning to be somewhere else. Either way neither manager should be entirely happy with their current position, even if they are largely satisfied with how the season has gone – there is no excuse for being behind Brentford and Brighton. Consequently, Ralf Hasenhüttl and Patrick Vieira will be keeping a close eye on which of their charges are more inclined towards the first option and which towards the second, because to finish in a position more in line with their squad’s talent, the moxie to turn it on every week regardless of what’s on the line differentiates those worth keeping from those better off elsewhere. DH: