Friday, March 3, 2023

Premier League Preview Matchweek 26

Manchester United is in the ascendancy and Liverpool is trying to salvage a troubling season as the two clubs approach their iconic matchup at Anfield this weekend. The Red Devils haven’t won at the home of their historic rivals in seven years. Manchester United manager Eric ten Hag, however, has his club on an 11 match unbeaten run across all competitions and in the hunt for four different titles this season. Liverpool, poor for much of this season, could gain some much-needed confidence with a win over their rivals. Jurgen Klopp’s side has won three of its last four matches in the league to rise from 10th to 6th place in the table and a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton during the week was helpful to renewing top four hopes. An embarrassing Champions League loss to Real Madrid and a confounding deadlock with Crystal Palace have provided recent reminders, however, that this is not the same club which has dominated the rivalry with Manchester United in recent years.

Manchester City can help Liverpool and deal a major blow to Newcastle’s fading top four hopes with a win at the Etihad against the Magpies this weekend. Newcastle has won just one of its last seven matches to fall four points behind Tottenham Hotspur for the fourth Champions League qualification spot. Manchester City, meanwhile, must keep winning or risk falling out of title contention.

Arsenal’s midweek 4-0 win over Everton extended the Gunners’ lead over Manchester City to five points. Manager Mikel Arteta’s league leaders will be expected to notch another three points at home versus Bournemouth on Saturday. Gabriel Martinelli struck for a brace against Everton and now has four goals in his last three appearance for the Gunners. Bournemouth, meanwhile, have earned the fewest points in the Premier League since play resumed after the World Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur will look to shake off a midweek FA Cup loss by taking care of business at Wolverhampton where Spurs have won four times and drawn twice in their previous six visits. It won’t be easy on Saturday, however, as Wolves are desperate for points to avoid falling into the relegation quagmire. Manager Julen Lopetegui has seen his Wolverhampton side drop eight of the last nine available points in the league to bring the drop zone into sight. Three points separate Wolves from the bottom dwellers. Spurs have won four of their last five matches to move past Newcastle into the Champions League places. All four victories came by clean sheet.

A surprisingly important London derby could impact the European places when seventh place Fulham visits Brentford. The newly promoted Cottagers are one of the biggest surprises in the league this season and have proven they can find goals even when injury prone striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is sidelined. Fulham are on a four-match unbeaten run, winning twice in that stretch. Brentford, meanwhile, can pull within a point of the Cottagers with a win in Monday’s match. The Bees have also played two fewer matches than Fulham There’s been surprisingly little buzz about a Bees’ unbeaten run which extends back to October. The Bees, however, have drawn a joint league high eleven times this season, perhaps accounting for both the lack of excitement notice and why manager Thomas Frank’s side haven’t risen even further in the table than their current ninth place standing.

Brentford is level on points with eighth place Brighton which hosts West Ham this weekend. The Seagulls have never lost in eleven Premier League meetings with the Hammers. Manager Roberto De Zerbi has seamlessly taken the reins from former Brighton manager Graham Potter and the club has performed even better than under the now embattled Chelsea manager. Brighton have more wins across all competitions at this stage of the season than any previous top flight campaign. West Ham, meanwhile, is in the midst of a relegation battle, two points above the drop.

Former Brighton manager Graham Potter has found no success at Chelsea. His side has scored only four goals in their eleven 2023 matches. The Blues are at Stamford Bridge in front of their disillusioned supporters to face Leeds this weekend. A third consecutive loss by Chelsea could endanger even the seemingly untouchable Potter’s employment status. The absence of center back Thiago Silva to a serious knee injury worsens the misery at Stamford Bridge where the Blues will try to secure just their second league win of the new year. Leeds escaped from the relegation zone last week with a win in Manager Javi Gracia’s first match in charge.

Everton Manager Sean Dyche is fast discovering that he could have even less talent in his Toffee side than his budget-conscious Burnley teams. Aside from the always injured Dominic Calvert Lewin, Everton has few other scoring options. The club has scored just two goals in five league matches under Dyche and losing their last two matches by an aggregate 6-0 margin has greatly reduced hope for a great escape from the clutches of relegation. The Toffees travel to Nottingham Forest Sunday where the Tricky Trees have some scoring issues of their own. Everton will likely look for a result by parking the bus and hoping to scratch a goal from a set piece.

Southampton is home to Leicester and the Saints may not be looking forward to trudging back out in front of the home fans after their embarrassing FA Cup loss to Grimsby Town at St. Mary’s during the week. A chance for redemption looms, however, against a Leicester side which also lost to a lesser opponent in cup play during the week and has lost its last two league matches.

Crystal Place visits Aston Villa Saturday in a meeting of midtable clubs which will have little interest for anyone but their club supporters. Aston Villa has too much talent to be dragged into the relegation fray and too little to realistically compete for a European berth. Crystal Palace is comfortably safe for the moment but is at far more risk to enter the relegation fray given its lack of scoring threats.

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