Friday, February 9, 2024

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 24

Matchweek 24 does not offer the type of titanic confrontation that we were treated to in last week’s Arsenal v Liverpool showdown. While no title contenders face off against each other this weekend, the schedule does present some key matches in the races for European places, a match towards the bottom of the table that could enhance one participants’ survival chances, and a match between managers under recent fire.

Fourth place Aston Villa will be challenged at home this weekend by a Manchester United side which has flashed rare goal scoring proclivity in notching back-to-back wins. The prominence of young players in each of the two victories was particularly encouraging for Red Devil supporters. Young striker Rasmus Hojlund scored in both wins, extending his scoring run to four consecutive Premier League matches. Teenage midfielder Kobbie Mainoo scored the stoppage time winner in the victory over Wolverhampton. Alejandro Garnacho had a brace in the most recent win over West Ham. The Red Devils now travel to Villa Park where the home side has won 9 of 11 Premier League outings this season, the joint highest number of home victories in the league. Aston Villa’s league form has been less than stellar in recent weeks, however. The club’s only wins in its last six league matches have come over relegation clubs Burnley and Sheffield United. Aston Villa’s perceived invincibility at home was shattered in a 3-1 league loss to Newcastle less than two weeks ago. More shocking was a loss by the same score to Chelsea in the FA cup on Wednesday. Saturday’s match could determine which of the two sides is a true top four contender. Sixth place Manchester United trails fourth place Aston Villa by eight points in the table.

Tottenham Hotspur currently sits between Villa and United in the table as Manager Ange Postecoglou’s charges prepare to host eighth place Brighton on Saturday. Spurs trail Aston Villa by two points after a disappointing draw by the London side at Everton last weekend. Son Heung-min returns for the match versus Brighton after South Korea’s exit from the Asia Cup. In Son’s absence, Richarlison has stepped forward as a legitimate goal threat, netting nine goals in his last eight Premier League appearances for Spurs. The outburst of goal production has been shocking given that Richarlison scored but two goals in his first 39 matches for Tottenham Hotspur. Brighton beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 at their home American Express Stadium in late December. The Seagulls then experienced an uncharacteristic goal drought where they failed to score in their next three matches. Their attack then took wing again against rival Crystal Palace last Saturday in a 4-1 victory. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton, when at their best, are aggressive attack-oriented sides who sacrifice a bit of defensive solidity in the pursuit of goals. Supporters and neutrals could thus be treated to an entertaining matchup this weekend.

Following its key home victory over Liverpool last weekend, Arsenal now travels across London on Sunday for a derby versus West Ham. The Hammers are winless in their last four matches and looked toothless in a loss to Manchester United last week. David Moyes’ side remains in the thick of the European chase, however, trailing sixth place Manchester United by two points and holding a one-point advantage over Brighton entering this weekend’s matches. The Hammers may also draw some confidence from their 2-0 win over the Gunners at the Emirates in December.

A mid table clash on Monday between Chelsea and Crystal Palace features two managers under the microscope. The only question regarding Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson is whether he gets replaced during or after this season as the decision to go a different direction was reportedly decided by the Crystal Palace board after the embarrassing defeat to Brighton. The Pochettino situation at Chelsea is more uncertain. The embattled manager may have received a reprieve with Chelsea’s unexpected FA Cup win on Wednesday. The victory showed a glimpse of what some key players might be capable of and included a proactive tactical change by the manager which was nice to see. Striker Nicolas Jackson was highly effective and scored a goal from an unaccustomed left-wing position. Conor Gallagher scored a long overdue first goal of the season. Enzo Fernandez impressed with a long rage free kick goal and helped control the midfield with fellow high-priced partner Moises Caicedo. Pochettino, however, will need to see another such performance against an overmatched Crystal Palace to truly lighten the pressure.

Luton Town will have the opportunity to improve its survival prospects by taking all three points when it hosts basement dwelling Sheffield United on Saturday. Sheffield United and Burnley are assuredly going down. Luton Town currently is one point north of a similar fate, a full ten points better than the Blades.

Absent further point deductions, Everton is a threat to pull itself out of the relegation zone it currently shares with the doomed Blades and Clarets. That probably will not happen this weekend, however, as the Toffees must go to the Etihad to face title contender Manchester City.

Nottingham Forest and Brentford are other relegation candidates hovering within three points of Everton and the drop line. The Tricky Trees host unpredictable Newcastle while Brentford must go to Molineux Stadium to face Wolverhampton. Wolves position in the top half of the table is one of this season’s surprises while Brentford is hoping the recent return of striker Ivan Toney from suspension will provide enough of a boost to keep them safe in what is probably his last season with the club. League leading Liverpool will be a heavy favorite when Burnley visits Anfield on Saturday. Craven Cottage, meanwhile, will be the site of a mid-table clash between host Fulham and visiting Bournemouth.

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