Thursday, May 2, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 36

Title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City are both home to midtable opponents on Saturday. Both visitors, however, carry some threat. Arsenal, a loser at home just twice this season, faces a Bournemouth side having the best season in the club’s history. Since the beginning of March, the Cherries have won six and drawn two of their ten league matches. Wolverhampton, meanwhile, had both its top scorers in the starting lineup last week for the first time since December 30th. Hwang Hee-Chan and Matheus Cunha each have 11 goals this season for Wolves. Of course, no one has beaten Manchester City at the Etihad in a league match all season and the Citizens have all to play for. Stefan Ortega will again be deputizing for injured Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson. The German backup has conceded six goals in his previous seven league appearances this season.

Liverpool has dropped points in four of its last five matches and now will face Tottenham Hotspur, a top five opponent, as the Reds cling to the sheerest thread of a title hope. Adding to Jurgen Klopp’s unhappiness is the selection of Paul Tierney as the referee for Sunday’s match. Klopp and Tierney have clashed in the past and Tierney’s presence on the pitch Sunday will only add to Klopp’s current agita. Spurs, meanwhile, have had their own problems. Manager Ange Postecoglou and his charges had lost back-to-back matches entering a Thursday rescheduled derby match with Chelsea. The Champions League is slipping away from the north London club with Aston Villa now seven points ahead in the fight for fourth prior to Spurs’ Thursday match.

Aston Villa, following a Thursday Europa Conference League match with Olympiacos, visits struggling Brighton on Sunday. Borussia Dortmund’s win over PSG on Wednesday confirmed that there will be no fifth Champions League team from the Premier League next season. Tottenham Hotspur is still a lock for one of the two Europa League places as consolation should they fail to catch Villa.

The second Europa place remains up for grabs between Manchester United and Newcastle. The Red Devils currently lead the Magpies by a point in the battle for sixth. Manchester United must go to Selhurst Park on Monday to face red hot Crystal Palace, winners of three of their last four matches.

Newcastle’s match at Burnley, meanwhile, has importance for both clubs. Burnley is making a late, unexpected bid to escape a relegation fate which had seemed all but assured for much of this season. The Clarets have slowly positioned themselves, drawing four of their last eight matches while winning twice, to now trail Nottingham Forest by only two points in the battle to be safe.

Nottingham Forest, of course, has been damaged both by its own poor play and a four-point penalty for financial infractions levied by the league. The Tricky Trees visit Sheffield United on Sunday with the Blades having already clinched a relegation fate this past weekend. Their own season spoiled, Sheffield United can now play spoiler and help ruin Nottingham Forest’s season.

The one other potential wild card in the survival sweepstakes at the bottom of the Premier League table is Luton Town. The Hatters remain a point ahead of Burnley and a point behind Nottingham Forest. Poor form in recent weeks, however, casts serious doubt on a happy ending for the Hatters. Luton Town has lost 10 of its last 14 matches, winning but once. In their current three match losing run, following a surprising victory over Bournemouth, the Hatters have been outscored 12-3. Luton Town could still make things interesting should the Hatters trump Everton at Kenilworth Park on Friday. The Toffees clinched safety last weekend and could be at risk of a letdown.

Brentford also clinched safety last week and will host Fulham on Saturday in a match without serious implication for either club.

West Ham, meanwhile, may still have a shot at Europe if they can recover their form starting with a win at Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea on Sunday. The Hammers are still just four points behind seventh place Newcastle despite winning just once since the first week of March. Chelsea on the other hand has been entirely unpredictable. In the four matches preceding Thursday’s London derby with Tottenham Hotspur, the Blues had defeated Everton by six goals, lost to Arsenal by five goals, and drawn with top four club Aston Villa and cellar dweller Sheffield United.

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