Friday, April 2, 2021

Matchweek 30 Preview: European and Relegation Implications; Leicester Look For Double v. Manchester City

The Premier League returns from international break with a full slate of games this weekend. While the title seems secure in Manchester City’s hands, there remain key races for European qualification while other clubs battle to avoid relegation. 

Liverpool travels to the Emirates to face Arsenal hoping to still salvage something from a disappointing league season by qualifying for 2021/22 European competition. While manager Jurgen Klopp has expressed pessimism on Liverpool’s Champions League qualification chances, the Reds trail fourth place Chelsea by only five points while sixth position and a Europa League slot is only two points from Liverpool’s reach. Arsenal faces longer odds for Europe as they trail sixth place Tottenham Hotspur by six points. Despite league difficulties this season, Liverpool have won four of their five matches in London, their most London wins in any league campaign, while Arsenal has lost only once in their last eight home matches.


Spurs travel to Newcastle for a match impacting both the European qualification chances for the north London side and the survival chances for the Magpies to remain in the Premier League. Sixth place Spurs are only three points behind Chelsea for the final Champions League berth. Overshadowed by disappointing recent losses to rival Arsenal and to Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League is the fact that Jose Mourinho’s charges have won four of their last five league matches. Newcastle, having earned fewer points than any Premier League club since December 12th, is trying to hang onto their ticket for next year’s Premier League and defend their current two-point advantage on presently relegation bound Fulham. Fortunately for the Magpies, manager Steve Bruce’s club also have a game in hand versus Fulham.  

Fulham visit Aston Villa this weekend as the Cottagers try to escape the relegation zone. Fulham are unbeaten in their last eight league away matches but are desperate for points after losing their last two matches, both at home, before the international break. The Cottagers’ match with Aston Villa could hinge on the potential return from injury of Villa captain Jack Grealish. Grealish has missed the last six matches with injury and the Villans have managed just three goals in those six matches. 

The only matchup of top four teams this weekend sees Manchester City travel to Leicester with the Citizens having won their last 14 away matches, a record for an English team. Leicester, meanwhile, has been vulnerable at home, losing six of their fourteen home matches, the joint highest home loss total for teams in the top half of the league. City’s dominating defense, which has conceded the fewest goals and recorded the greatest number of clean sheets in the league this season, will face a challenge from Leicester’s in-form striker Kelechi Iheanacho who has scored seven goals in his last four appearances for the Foxes. Manchester City has a comfortable 14-point lead over second place Manchester United in the table while Leicester has a seven-point cushion on fifth place West Ham for the final Champions league slot in the league table. Leicester defeated Manchester City 5-2 earlier this season, one of only three losses on the season for the Citizens.


Chelsea, two points ahead of West Ham, looks to defend its top four standing as West Brom visits Stamford Bridge. Chelsea is yet to concede a goal at Stamford Bridge under manager Thomas Tuchel and will be seeking an eighth consecutive clean sheet across all competitions. West Brom has also improved on its league worst defense in recent matches, conceding only three goals in its last six matches. The Baggies have never won at Stamford Bridge while Chelsea has won its last 11 matches against clubs in the relegation zone. West Brom is currently 10 points from safety as the air is quickly escaping from the Baggies season.  

Manchester United, unbeaten in their last nine league matches, hope to post a fifth consecutive league clean sheet when facing a Brighton and Hove Albion club which has never won at Old Trafford. The Seagulls have taken flight of late, though, and will be targeting a third consecutive league win as they try to separate themselves from the relegation fray.  

West Ham continues its chase of a European qualification berth when the Hammers travel to Wolves hoping to complete a double over the West Midlands team for the first time since 1922/23. West Ham trails Chelsea by two points for a possible Champions League qualification but have only a three-point lead on Liverpool for a Europa League spot. The Hammers' fortunes have been greatly improved by the winter transfer window loan acquisition of Jesse Lingard. The Manchester United man has averaged a goal or assist every 88 minutes for West Ham, a club best in the Hammers’ Premier League history. Wolves have won just one of their last five matches while never scoring more than a single goal during that recent stretch.  

Eighth place Everton is five points removed from the top four, two points short of Spurs and Europa League qualification. To stay in the hunt, the Toffees need to put a quick end to a two-match league losing run when they host Crystal Palace, a club which has failed to best the Toffees in twelve consecutive matches between the clubs. Everton hopes to have James Rodriguez back from injury.  

Crystal Palace would seem safe for another year with the Eagles currently eleven points above the relegation zone.  Speculation continues regarding the future of 73-year-old Palace manager Roy Hodgson, who is out of contract following the season and could thus be facing his final try to win a match at Goodison Park, a feat that has so far eluded the accomplished manager.  

Leeds still has a chance to finish in the top half of the table and that ambition should be helped by a visit from floundering Sheffield United.  Entering their Yorkshire derby match, Sheffield has lost six of seven matches, failing to score in all but one of those losses. The 45 goals scored by Leeds this year is the most by a promoted side in more than a decade. Conversely, the Blades have managed just 16 goals this season.  

Moveable object meets resistible force when Southampton hosts Burnley this weekend. The Saints have allowed the second highest number of goals in the league while Burnley has scored more than only West Brom and Sheffield United. Southampton has lost four of their last five matches while Burnley have lost just once during that same stretch and is coming off an impressive win over Everton just before the break. The Clarets will leapfrog 14th place Southampton in the table with a win.

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