Be careful what you wish for…
A curious week for managers…
Man United fans must be wondering whether to laugh or cry. The midweek win at West Ham was possibly the best of their season. Now an FA Cup Final appearance v a very beatable Watford or Crystal Palace looks a very real possibility.
Will that mean LVG is safe for another year? And handed the cheque book again this summer…?
It’s a bitter sweet thought for many.
Thirty-odd miles west, Jurgen Klopp finally assumed ownership of the Kop. It hasn’t been plain sailing in his opening six months. Liverpool’s embracing of his famed philosophy has been a process of evolution rather than revolution.
The relentless Premier League schedule hasn’t helped, of course. But now he and his team have at least two more matches to fit in, with designs on another three on top.
Still, he could be Alex Neil or Big Sam…
12.45pm Norwich v Sunderland
Oof! Big game. The term ‘six-pointer’ barely does it justice. Norwich will feel they have the chance to stamp on Sunderland’s fingers clinging to the PL cliff edge. A win will put seven points between them and their destiny in their own hands. A win for Sunderland though will reel Norwich in to within a point and leave them a game better off. Norwich are unbeaten in two at home, Sunderland two away but not scored in their last two. Pivotal for both teams.
Score Prediction: Looks all ends up the draw that neither wants. 1-1
MVP: Jermain Defoe likes an occasion like this.
3pm Everton v Southampton
Everton have secured just two points and scored one goal in the four PL matches since qualifying for the FA Cup semi-finals. The tide has turned on Roberto Martinez in recent weeks and he will no doubt priories the Cup as a means to paper over cracks and buy a bit of time (but he’s not the only one, eh Louis?). Seventh place is probably the PL ceiling for Southampton but will like the look of Everton’s home form – just one win from 13 v teams outside the Bottom Three.
Score Prediction: More gloom at Goodison. 1-2
MVP: Graziano Pelle doesn’t always travel well, but is in good form.
3pm Man United v Aston Villa
After their midweek Cup win at West Ham, United fans must be wondering whether to laugh or cry. If they win the FA Cup, does that mean that LVG stays? They could yet smuggle themselves into the Top Four, especially if neighbours City get waylayed by the Champions League. Top Four AND the FA Cup would surely save his job… Ask Arsene Wenger. The immediate concern is seeing off the PL’s worst ever team though.
Score Prediction: Might see some goals at Old Trafford. 2-0
MVP: Marcus Rashford is the headline but Antony Martial is the story.
3pm Newcastle v Swansea
Swansea’s win over Chelsea ended any slight chance of an end of season calamity so they will go to Newcastle playing with a freedom that the home side can’t even remember. This is it for Toon. Win or bust. If they could start matches like they end them they might have a chance. But lately they seem like a boxer who doesn’t fight back until he is tagged on the chin. Anything but three points and the referee can start the count…
Score Prediction: Not enough, I’m afraid. 2-2
3pm West Brom v Watford
A dead-rubber. You suspect if the management, players and probably fans too were really honest, they would take a 1-1 draw right now and spend Saturday afternoon on the golf course. Watford players – perfectly understandably – will have the FA Cup semi-final on their minds. West Brom players – equally understandably – will have the beach on their mind. No-one wants to pick up injuries that will ruin their plans.
Score Prediction: A draw it is. 0-0
MVP: Ben Foster has got his game back.
5.30pm Chelsea v Man City
It might not yet be true – or fair – to say that the wheels have come off Chelsea’s season. But the tyres have certainly been changed to suit lower octane performance. But the visit of the team predicted to provide the stiffest challenge to retaining their PL title (no laughing at the back…!) should stir a response. City’s last visit – albeit with a youth team – provided one of only three home wins at the Bridge in 2016. Only one of those was in the PL. We can again expect changes following City’s Champions League exploits. But they have more than enough fire power to get something.
Score Prediction: Chelsea love a 2-2
MVP: Diego Costa is back.
1.30pm Bournemouth v Liverpool
There’s no way that the midweek madness at Anfield won’t take its toll on Liverpool’s players. They are already two matches behind the rest of the PL and have now given themselves at least another two to fit. And will have designs on another three as it looks the most logical route into Europe. Bournemouth have played just 39 matches to Liverpool’s 53 and Eddie Howe has plotted a very canny course. He will sniff a big scalp up for grabs.
Score Prediction: A match too far for Liverpool. 2-1
MVP: Josh King could spoil Dejan Lovren’s week.
1.30pm Leicester v West Ham
The showdown of the two teams of the season (Tottenham aside, perhaps). Claudio Ranieri will rightly be crowned manage of the year, whatever happens in the home straight. But Slaven Bilic will be in the running. Their teams have been the best to watch, have arguably the season’s two best performers – in Dmitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez. And have without doubt surprised the most people. West Ham’s tepid showing in the Cup might be a signal they are running out of steam. Leicester on the other hand are floating on air.
Score Prediction: Nearly there. 2-1
MVP: If Riyad Mahrez gets the space Man United got midweek…
4pm Arsenal v Crystal Palace
As second halves of seasons go it is difficult to say whose has been the most disappointing. At Christmas Arsenal were top and Palace were fifth! Arsene Wenger was still talking about winning the title last week, but that hasn’t convinced anybody for months. Palace’s draw with Everton in the week takes them to 38pts and safety. Not before time either – they face four away trips in their last five. Arsenal look full of goals again.
Score Prediction: Too little too late. Two – nil.
MVP: Alexi Sanchez looks back on song.
8pm Stoke v Tottenham
Tottenham are likely to be ten points adrift by the time they kick-off. Which will look a mighty big gap with the finishing line in sight. But there is plenty of incentive to finish second from Arsenal snapping at their heels. Stoke look set for a ninth place finish, which will do very nicely thank you. But will be frustrated by their home form this season. Six defeats (from nine) to teams positions between seventh and 16th will look like points spilled.
Score Prediction: Spurs will just have enough. 0-1
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt