Friday, March 11, 2022

Match Week 29 Preview: Manchester United v. Spurs in Critical Top Four Clash; Vardy Out For Arsenal Clash; Chelsea Sanctions; Streaking Villa Visits Hammers; Must Win for Marsch and Leeds

The Fight for Fourth sees a critical battle Saturday when Tottenham Hotspur travels to Old Trafford with an opportunity to overtake fifth place Manchester United. Spurs trail the Red Devils by two points and fourth place Arsenal by three points in the race for the final Champions League berth. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United have been inconsistent this season, making Saturday’s outcome difficult to predict. Spurs have rolled over their last two league opponents to revive their top four hopes. Manchester United hopes to recover from a bruising defeat to Manchester City last weekend. A goal Saturday by Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane would tie him with Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney for the most away goals by a Premier League player.

Arsenal’s task versus Leicester on Sunday becomes easier with the news that Jamie Vardy will be an injury scratch for the match at the Emirates. The loss of the oft injured striker undercuts momentum that was building for the Foxes after back-to-back league wins. Arsenal has been in top form, led its by its young stars, winning eight times while drawing once in their last 10 matches.

The Gunners’ Bukayo Saka has scored six times and assisted on three other goals in those ten matches.

Chelsea is home to one of the league’s other streaking clubs when Newcastle visits Stamford Bridge Sunday. Newcastle, which was in the relegation zone for 16 weeks this season, is on a current nine-match unbeaten run which includes wins in five of their last six matches. The Magpies won 2-1 at Southampton on Thursday when January transfers Chris Wood and Bruno Guimaraes each scored their first goal for the club. Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Norwich Thursday was overshadowed by announced sanctions on owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea is now a “frozen asset” operating under special license from the UK government. The ramifications are significant for the club which cannot sell merchandise or tickets or partake in any player contractual matters. Transfers in or out are banned as well as any new contracts for current players. Concerns regarding solvency and potential administration have caused the club to appeal for some loosening of the restrictions. Some reports indicate the club could be insolvent in less than 90 days. The sale process of the club by Abramovich was paused pending further clarification of the government restrictions. Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel needs to keep his club focused on the on-field challenge of extending a current nine match home unbeaten run and capturing a fifth consecutive league win.

West Ham has won just two of its last seven league matches to fall out of the top four. The Hammers host a streaking Aston Villa club which has averaged three goals per outing, conceding none, during a three-match winning run. Aston Villa Manager Steven Gerrard is finally getting production from his group of talented attackers which includes Philippe Coutinho, Danny Ings, and Ollie Watkins. The Hammers, meanwhile, are sputtering in attack with Jarrod Bowen injured and Michail Antonio scoreless in his last eight league matches.

The league’s top two clubs are on the road this weekend.  Manchester City visits Crystal Palace which defeated the Citizens 2-0 earlier this season. Another surprise is unlikely as the league leaders have won five and drawn one of the last six meetings between the clubs at Selhurst Park.

Liverpool needs to stay within striking distance of the Citizens by winning at Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend. Only Leeds and the three current relegation zone occupants have won fewer matches at home this season than the Seagulls. Brighton has scored just once in losing four consecutive league matches. High powered Liverpool has scored 45 more goals than Brighton this season.

Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch could be facing a must win situation in just his third match in charge. After one respectable loss and one sound defeat, Marsch’s squad host eminently beatable Norwich. A loss to the bottom dwelling Canaries would be a devastating blow to Marsch’s credibility and Leeds’s survival hopes. Leeds is two points clear of the drop zone after losing four consecutive matches. Patrick Bamford may provide a boost for Marsch’s club as the striker could be fit to make his first start in six months. Norwich is six points south of Leeds after its own four match losing run. The Canaries have scored the fewest goals in the league while Leeds has conceded the most.

Everton will try to reverse its fortunes under manager Frank Lampard when the Toffees face Wolverhampton at Goodison Park. Everton have lost four out five matches under their new manager and are one point removed from relegation. Wolverhampton has also been experiencing a rough stretch, losing three consecutive matches before defeating woeful Watford on Thursday.

The Hornets look to have their ticket punched for the Championship division next season as Roy Hodgson’s charges travel to Southampton. The Saints, meanwhile, have lost back-to-back matches to surging clubs Aston Villa and Newcastle. The Newcastle loss was only the second time Southampton has lost at home this season. A loss to the Hornets at Saint Mary’s would be a far greater sin. Burnley has an opportunity to escape the drop zone this weekend when the Clarets travel to Brentford. Burnley could move ahead of either Everton or Leeds for the final survival place dependent on the weekend results. Brentford is trying to steer clear of the relegation fray and helped themselves with last week’s defeat of Norwich in Christian Eriksen’s first start for Brentford

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