Friday, April 15, 2022

Match Week 33 Preview: Focus on Fourth; Burnley Rolls Dyche; Hornets and Bees on Different Flight Paths

The top three clubs are involved with FA Cup semifinals this weekend as league competition focuses on the battle for fourth place and Champions League qualification. Tottenham Hotspur is home to Brighton as Manager Antonio Conte looks to protect Spurs’ fourth-place position and ensure Champions League competition for next year. Qualification for Spurs could be a key determinant in the club’s ability to retain both its highly successful manager and star striker Harry Kane. Spurs’ run-in will unfortunately be without wing back Matt Doherty who has been ruled out with injury for the rest of the season after contributing two goals and four assists in Tottenham’s last six league matches. Brighton is in London for a second straight week after shocking Arsenal at the Emirates in its last contest. The victory over Arsenal ended a seven-match winless run for the Seagulls.

Arsenal is at Southampton this weekend trying to revive their top four hopes after two consecutive losses and three defeats in their last four matches. The Gunners have failed to score more than a goal in those four matches as the absence of an effective striker is beingly keenly felt by Manager Mikel’ Arteta’s young squad. Main center forward Alexandre Lacazette has failed to score since December. The Saints, meanwhile, are reeling from a 6-0 home loss to Chelsea last week and it will be interesting to see the response from Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s club. Hasenhuttl reaffirmed this week a stated goal of finishing in the top half of the table.

Four different clubs are within a point of currently tenth place Crystal Palace. West Ham is six points removed from the top four as the Hammers welcome Burnley to London Stadium. Burnley made news on Friday by sacking Sean Dyche who had been the Premier League’s longest serving manager.

Dyche seemed a miracle worker in his decade long tenure, navigating a low budget squad to become a Premier League presence. Burnley is completing a sixth season in the league after Dyche brought the club up for a second time. Dyche qualified Burnley for European competition, the club’s first such participation in 51 years, after the 2017/18 season. A lack of investment by the club seems finally to have taken a toll this season as the club has struggled to escape the relegation zone. Burnley’s purchase in a leveraged buyout by ALK Capital has put further financial pressure on the club. Dyche’s dismissal appears a panicked move with eight matches remaining to preserve Premier League survival and the wealth which comes with that competition. Ironically, Dyche may have given Burnley its best chance to survive. The managerial change follows the Clarets’ devastating loss to bottom of the table Norwich last weekend, just days after a memorable win over Everton. Burnley fell back to four points behind the Toffees with the Claret loss to the Canaries and Everton’s win at home versus Manchester United.

The unsettled Burnley situation is welcome news for homestanding West Ham as the Hammers will be fatigued from their quarterfinal win in the Europa League Thursday. While enjoying European success, the Hammers have lost two of their last three league matches and are only two points ahead of eighth place Wolverhampton. An eighth-place finish could drop the Hammers from European competition next season, absent the London club capturing the Europa League title this season.

Manchester United is level on points with West Ham as the Red Devils host Norwich this weekend. United has dropped 10 points in its last five matches as criticism of the underperforming and seemingly disinterested squad has intensified. Police were called to disperse disgruntled fans protesting at the club’ training ground on Friday. Ajax Manager Eric Ten Hag is rumored to have reached agreement to manage Manchester United next season and the Dutchman will be closely watching and evaluating the players he may be inheriting in coming weeks. Despite picking up four points in their last two matches, Norwich remains seven points from survival with seven matches to play.

Watford seems certain to join Norwich in the Championship next season. Manager Roy Hodgson, the third Watford manager of the season, has been unable to rally the Hornets. Watford has lost four of its last five matches and boasts a point total and goal differential superior only to Norwich. The Hornets play host to Brentford Saturday. The two promoted clubs are on entirely different paths. Brentford are 13th in the table after winning four of their last five matches. The addition of midfielder Christian Eriksen has ignited the Bee attack led by forwards Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumu.

Newcastle no longer has relegation concerns with the Magpies enjoying a 10-point cushion versus the current relegation line when they host Leicester Sunday. Leicester have won four of six as their injury plagued season has taken an upturn with the return of once injured defenders.

FA Cup

Manchester City and Liverpool face each other for the second time in a week when the Premier League elites meet in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley. While Manchester City retains a slim margin over Liverpool in the league title chase, it is the Reds who remain in contention for a quadruple of titles this season. Liverpool has already claimed the Carabao Cup and, like City, has advanced to the semifinals of the Champions League. Manchester City suffered injury blows in its bruising Champions League match with Atletico Madrid during the week. Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Waler are doubts for the FA Cup match with Liverpool. Chelsea plays Crystal Palace in the other semi-final on Sunday. Crystal palace will be without star player Conor Gallagher who is disallowed from playing against his parent club. The play of youngsters Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise thus become even more critical for the Eagles.

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