Thursday, March 30, 2023

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 29

What once would have been a much anticipated match between title contenders will have lost some of its luster when Liverpool travels to the Etihad to face Manchester City. The two clubs have been battling for Premier League primacy during the era of uber managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Manchester City is still clinging to hope for a fifth Premier League title in the last six years. This year their nemesis is Arsenal, however, as the Gunners lead the Citizens by eight points at the top of the table though Pep Guardiola’s crew can trim that margin to five points by winning their game in hand. Liverpool, meanwhile, has fallen down the table and is currently locked in a battle with Brentford and Brighton for Europa League qualification. Seven points currently lie between Liverpool and Champions League qualification. A win over rival City, however, could provide a much need spark for Liverpool to make a late charge for a Champions League berth. The Reds remain dangerous in attack with Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez now combining with Mohamed Salah in a reformed strike force. Manchester City, meanwhile, will be without Phil Foden (appendectomy) while Erling Haaland could also be a doubt as he tries to recover from a groin injury.

Newcastle is five points ahead of Liverpool and just two points behind fourth place Tottenham Hotspur entering the weekend. The Magpies host third place Manchester United on Sunday. Marcus Rashford could be a question mark for the Red Devils after the forward was ruled out of the England squad during the break over a minor injury concern. Rashford has been on fire since the World Cup, scoring 18 goals in 25 matches since returning from Qatar.

Spurs will be at Everton for a Monday matchup. Goodison Park can be an intimidating place to play, potentially more so for a club as rattled as Spurs. Tottenham Hotspur parted ways with Antonio Conte earlier this week after an emotional rant by the manager following the club’s last match, a draw with Southampton. The rant and exit punctuated an unhappy stay for Conte in north London where he perpetually would question the quality and mental toughness of his squad. Cristian Stellini is now the interim manager for Spurs, assisted by a former Spurs interim manager in Ryan Mason. Everton, under manager Sean Dyche, has emerged from the relegation zone with a win and two draws in its last three matches.

One of the clubs that has replaced Everton in the drop zone is West Ham. The underperforming Hammers could be one of the most talented clubs to ever face relegation from the Premier League. The Hammers host bottom of the table Southampton Sunday in a critical relegation battle.

Two clubs which have exceeded expectations this season, Brentford and Brighton, square up on the south coast Saturday. The Bees and Seagulls are on the same point total as Liverpool as all three clubs are currently locked in a battle for Europa League qualification.

The success of Brighton under Roberto De Zerbi is a stark contrast to the troubles former Seagulls manager Graham Potter has had at Chelsea. The tenth place Londoners are level on points with their Saturday opponent, Aston Villa. Potter’s job is reported to be safe as Chelsea continues to drift aimlessly through a league season where the manager has struggled to find a winning combination from his vast array of talented player options.

Roy Hodgson returns to the touchline at Selhurst Park when the former and current Crystal Palace manager leads his squad against Leicester in a match with relegation race implications. The 12th place Eagles are three points from the relegation places while Leicester is dangling just one point above the drop line. Hodgson replaces the sacked Patrick Vieira as manager for the Eagles in a move born of desperation. Leicester ownership, meanwhile, continues to stand behind manager Brendan Rodgers despite the Foxes’ steep decline in results this season.

Wolves visits Nottingham Forest in another matchup between clubs in the relegation mix. Both clubs have lost three of their last four league outings to further ensnare themselves in the relegation battle.

League leading Arsenal has won six consecutive league matches as it prepares to host Leeds on Saturday. The Gunners can damage Leeds’s hope for survival with another impressive win at the Emirates where Arsenal has lost only once all season, winning 11 of their 14 home matches to date.

Only Bournemouth has lost more road matches than Leeds this season. Thankfully the Cherries are at home this weekend as they try to climb out of the drop zone. Bournemouth’s opponent is a Fulham squad which impressed through much of this season. The seventh place Cottagers, however, seemed to implode in their FA Cup match with Manchester United. Red cards incurred in that match meant suspensions for Aleksandar Mitrovic, Willian, and manager Marco Silva. The Cottagers’ league form had already begun to slide with two losses in their last two Premier League outings.  

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