Week 31: Top 5 Premier League Storylines — Derbies in Manchester, London, Northeast and much more
This season’s wild nature has made the task of choosing the top Premier League storylines in a given week anything but pedestrian.
In past seasons, we’ve had maybe 2-3 teams jostling for movement inside the Top Six, and a couple relegation candidates tangling for their top-flight lives.
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Throw in the fact that this week includes a trio of derbies that will play a late-season part in both the UEFA Champions League qualification picture and in what’s left on the relegation scrap heap, and you’ve got a weekend with spell-binding potential.
The Manchester Derby that could seal Louis van Gaal’s fate
Manchester City vs. Manchester United -- Sunday, Noon ET (NBC)
Do you really think Manchester United’s brass and fan base could stomach losing to City and Liverpool in the same week, with the former loss booting them out of Europe? Me neither, at least not come May. City is struggling with injuries on its back line, but United played Thursday against Liverpool and didn’t exactly rest any stars (Apologies to Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin). Van Gaal will surely be hoping Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford’s youthful legs help them run through a depleted defense. Will they?
The Tyne-Wear Derby that could edge a loser into the Championship
Newcastle United vs. Sunderland -- Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
The Black Cats carry all the bragging rights in this derby, unbeaten in nine against their hated rivals, with wins in an almost absurd six-straight matches. All it would take to set that vibe on its head, though, would be a Newcastle win that would send Sunderland into the drop zone. Sam Allardyce is considered by some to be a great relegation-fighting manager, while Rafa Benitez doesn’t have much experience against the drop. That said, Newcastle deserved at least a point at Leicester and now gets the bumbling Black Cats at St. James Park, where the Magpies have fared alright this year. How will this one play out?
Is West Ham capable of securing a Top Four slot?
Chelsea vs. West Ham United -- Saturday, 11 am. ET (USA)
This London Derby sees the Blues and Hammers in flipped positions of power. West Ham could legitimately find itself in a tie for third on points with a win here, while Chelsea needs a bevy of things to break its way just to sniff sixth or seventh come the end of the year. West Ham seeks its first season sweep of Chelsea since 2002-03.
Can Arsene halt his Gunners’ slide?
Everton vs. Arsenal — Saturday, 8:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
The Gunners haven’t won in three trips to Goodison Park (1L-2D), but that win is Everton’s only three-point pull in the series since a March 18, 2007 win. Arsenal has also struggled in general, picking up one point in its last three PL matches while sliding 11 points back of Leicester City. Arsenal’s Top Four fortunes are in jeopardy, but Everton has underperformed in the league all year long. How does it shake out Saturday?
The title fight goes on, but is a Leicester slip-up overdue?
Crystal Palace vs. Leicester City -- Saturday, 11 a.m. ET (Premier League ExtraTime)
The Foxes remain on top of the Premier League, and we’re not trying to take anything away from them when we ask, “How?!?” That’s not to the same sort of “How?!?” from earlier in the year, when Leicester was piling up goals and taking big name pelts. This is a sort of disbelief that Leicester has caught a bunch of breaks and still managed to barely get past Norwich, Newcastle and Watford (not to mention that bonkers and inexplicable 2-2 draw with West Brom). Meanwhile, Crystal Palace is still without a league win in 2016. That seems overdue as well. Could this be the week?