Friday, May 7, 2021

Matchweek 35 Preview: Manchester City and Chelsea Face Off in Champions League Preview; West Ham Hosts Everton; Liverpool and Spurs Try to Stay in the Hunt; End Is Near for Fulham and West Brom

All eyes will be on the Etihad this weekend as the Champions League finalists face off in league play. Manchester City can clinch the Premier League title with a win. Chelsea needs the three points in its continuing battle to finish in the top four. A league title would be a fifth for Manchester City, matching the total of Chelsea and surpassed only by the 13 of Manchester United. Chelsea is battling to secure its top four position with the Blues currently only three points removed from fifth place West Ham. Chelsea have yet to lose an away match under Thomas Tuchel and defeated City on neutral ground in the FA Cup semi-final. Both teams have featured outstanding defense in their successful seasons to date. Manchester City has posted clean sheets in 18 of its 34 league matches while Chelsea has registered clean sheets in 11 of 15 league matches, conceding only eight goals, under Tuchel. If Sergio Aguero can score one more goal in league play this season, he will match Wayne Rooney as the Premier League’s highest scorer with a single club.

West Ham remains on Chelsea’s heels as the Hammers host Everton. David Moyes’s Hammers have accumulated more points at home this season than any club but Manchester City as Moyes prepares to welcome his former employers. West Ham stayed in the top four race by ending a two-match losing run in defeating Burnley last week. Everton has won just one of its last seven matches to dampen the Toffees own European hopes. A West Ham win would mark the club’s first home and away double over Everton since the 1972/73 season. After a brace in his last match, West Ham’s Michail Antonio is one score removed from double figure goal production for a second consecutive season and would become only the fifth West Ham player to do so. Jesse Lingard is also seeking a tenth goal for West Ham in just his 13th Premier League appearance for the club. 

Third place Leicester hold a five-point advantage on West Ham in the Champions League qualification race as the Foxes host Newcastle. Three points against Newcastle would help quiet lingering concerns on the part of Leicester supporters who will see the Foxes take on Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs in a difficult remaining slate of matches. Joe Willock has scored in his last three appearances for Newcastle, enabling the Magpies to earn points in each of those three matches against top seven opponents. Along with Allan Saint-Maximin, Willock has been perhaps Newcastle’s most influential player during their recent survival run. A win or draw for Newcastle can mathematically secure survival for the Magpies dependent on Fulham and West Brom results.  

Liverpool needs all three points when it hosts Southampton as the defending champions’ current seventh position in the table, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur, would mean no European football next season. While unbeaten in their last five matches, the Reds have dropped four vital points in drawing their last two matches. Liverpool has been uncharacteristically vulnerable at home this season and has won but once in the past 10 league matches at Anfield. Southampton surprised third place Leicester by drawing with the Foxes last week, only the third time the Saints have not gone down to defeat in their last 16 matches. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has 20 league goals, trailing Harry Kane by a single goal in the chase for the league’s Golden Boot award. Salah has seven goals in seven prior league matches versus Southampton. 

Tottenham Hotspur is just five points behind fourth place Chelsea as the club heads to Leeds where a victory would make Ryan Mason the first Tottenham Hotspur manger to win his first three topflight league matches. Gareth Bale, scorer of a hat trick last week versus Sheffield United, needs just one goal to establish a new league mark for the longest gap (8 years) between double figure goal seasons in the league. By not losing to Spurs, Leeds would become the first Premier League team in five years to go undefeated at home versus the traditional “big six” (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur). 

Manchester United, returning from Thursday’s Europa League match in Rome, begins a run of three league matches in six days when the club travels to Aston Villa. The postponed Liverpool match from last week has been rescheduled for this coming Thursday while the Red Devils face Leicester on Tuesday. Second place United is unbeaten in its last 24 league away matches, three behind Arsenal’s topflight record, and the Red Devils have lost only once in their last 27 Premier League matches. Aston Villa, meanwhile, has won just one of its last 44 league matches against United. While Villa’s 14 clean sheets are their most in over a decade, the club has no clean sheets in its last seven matches. Aston Villa will again be without Jack Grealish as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Leeds to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table. 

Arsenal returns to league action, hosting West Brom at the Emirates. The Gunners would seem out of ammunition this season with their crushing elimination from the Europa League and current seven-point deficit to rival Spurs for the final European berth in the league table. Arsenal have already lost seven league matches at home this season, equaling the club record. West Brom, however, have lost their last seven visits to the Emirates by an aggregate 15-1. West Brom could be relegated this weekend, even with a win, depending on results elsewhere. 

Fulham hosts Burnley with mathematical relegation a possibility this weekend for the Cottagers while a Burnley win would ensure safety for the Clarets. Both clubs are in poor form, each having lost four of their last five matches. Only Sheffield United has scored fewer league goals than the 25 achieved by the anemic Cottagers in 34 league matches this season. Burnley’s Chris Wood has been a bright spot for the Clarets with seven goals in his last seven appearances for Burnley. 

Wolves will attempt to beat Brighton for the first time in topflight competition when the clubs play at Molineux Stadium. The winless streak of Wolves versus Brighton is the longest in English topflight history. The teams have drawn their last four meetings. Brighton needs four points in its final four matches to match the Seagulls’ point total of last year. Wolves, meanwhile, are 17 points off the point total of last year’s seventh place finish. Brighton would pull within two points of Wolves in the table with a win. 

Sheffield United will host Crystal Palace in one of the less attractive matchups of the weekend. Sheffield Unted has already lost 12 home matches this season and can equal the Premier League record with a loss to the Eagles and, in the final match of the season, to Burnley. Crystal Palace, loser of its last three matches, is trying to avoid a repeat of last season where the Eagles lost their final seven matches of the season.


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