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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Premier League

1) Stones in spotlight for crunch clash

The slightest flaw could help the other win the supposed title-decider at the Etihad and the absence of Rúben Dias will be a worry for Manchester City. John Stones will almost certainly replace him for Liverpool’s visit. He spent most of Tuesday night in Atlético Madrid’s half as City were not forced to defend against a side who failed to have a single shot at goal. Liverpool will be the polar opposite on Sunday and Stones, alongside Aymeric Laporte, will need to maintain concentration against the most prolific attack in the Premier League, who have seven more goals than City this season. Adapting to different styles is the beauty of flitting between domestic and European football but such a drastic change could be hard to adapt to, especially for someone like Stones whose concentration can lapse. Liverpool may target Stones as the pressure will be on him to replace City’s most consistent defender. There is no doubting he has the ability to keep Liverpool quiet but he will need to be at his focused best or Jürgen Klopp could be spending Monday buying silver polish. WU

Manchester City v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm (all times BST)

Football Weekly

Everton in trouble and brilliant Benzema

2) Rangnick needs to be more dynamic

Manchester United have played more league games this season under Ralf Rangnick (16) than Ole Gunnar Solskjær (12). The pattern is clear: Rangnick loses fewer matches than Solskjær but draws more. And draws are no good to United now. They probably have to win seven of their final eight fixtures to stay in contention for the top four, and they’re in no sort of form. As Wayne Rooney said on Monday Night Football, the sharp end of the season demands experience. Rangnick needs to stop photocopying the team sheet and make better use of his resources – Nemanja Matic’s know-how, Jesse Lingard’s energy, Juan Mata’s ingenuity, Phil Jones’s hunger and Marcus Rashford’s pace, which makes defenders sit deeper and gives Bruno Fernandes room to roam. A trip to Goodison is never a doddle, but if United don’t beat Everton, they may as well go home. TdL

Everton v Manchester United, Saturday 12.30pm

Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford
Could Jesse Lingard or Marcus Rashford make a difference for Manchester United at Everton? Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

3) Wolves can increase Toon anxiety

The shake-out between fourth and eighth places in the table may turn out to be the most absorbing and tense of all the top flight’s subplots this season, and Wolves’ tenacity in staying in the hunt for the European slots perhaps deserves more credit than it has received – particularly as they are currently without Rúben Neves and Raúl Jiménez. Bruno Lage has stressed the importance of teamwork and even a bit of tough love in getting the best out of his side – he said this week that his rant at the club’s youngsters after March’s defeat by Crystal Palace had helped them “wake up” – and the derby win over Aston Villa saw an encouraging demonstration of their resolve. Some of that resolve might still be needed by Newcastle, who lapsed alarmingly into old ways in their capitulation at Tottenham last weekend and who may be anxious that all that Saudi oil money has not yet bought them safety. TD

Newcastle v Wolves, Friday 8pm

4) Arteta’s Arsenal are better in daylight

The difference in Arsenal this season, compared with the previous two, is their ability to lord it over supposedly “lesser” teams. Or it was until Monday night, when Crystal Palace ran rings round them. Even after that, Arsenal’s record against clubs outside the big six remains formidable: 16 wins, three draws and three losses, making 51 points from 22 games. All those defeats have come on the road and in the evening, so a 3pm kick-off at home should be just what the doctor ordered. But Brighton have more away draws than anyone else this season (seven from 14 games), so it’s not a shoo-in. And with Kieran Tierney ruled out for the rest of the season, Mikel Arteta doesn’t have a left-back he can trust to keep Tariq Lamptey quiet. TdL

Arsenal v Brighton, Saturday 3pm

5) Tuchel needs to tighten up

As someone who transformed Chelsea defensively when he succeeded Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel must be alarmed at just how open Chelsea have been in recent home schoolings by Brentford and Real Madrid. Admittedly, not all opponents will boast creative midfielders of the effortless class and incision of Luka Modric or Christian Eriksen, but those two defeats were rooted in more than individual errors. Chelsea suddenly look easy to score against and, given that Tuchel appears to have given up hope of turning the Madrid tie around, hanging on to a top-four place is now a priority, and is by no means a given. Southampton, winless in five, appear to have entered a familiar end-of-season drift, so could be just the opponents Chelsea need but with the best free-kick taker in the country, James Ward-Prowse, in fine fettle there are no grounds for complacency. TD

Southampton v Chelsea, Saturday 3pm

James Ward-Prowse with a trademark goal at Elland Road.
James Ward-Prowse with a trademark goal at Elland Road. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

6) Leeds can breathe, Watford can’t

Watford’s last meeting with Leeds took place so long ago that the Hornets were still being managed by Xisco Muñoz. Six months and three sackings later, the men in the technical area will be Roy Hodgson and Jesse Marsch. Hodgson has been the manager at more Premier League clubs (six) than Marsch has Premier League matches (five), but he would surely be happy to swap places with him now. After six defeats in a row, Leeds suddenly turned over a new leaf in mid-March, beating Norwich and Wolves before drawing with Southampton to open up a five-point breathing space between them and the bottom four. Watford have been better organised under Hodgson, as expected, but they still can’t get a tune out of a talented attack and remain bafflingly bad at Vicarage Road. In the home table they are bottom, with only seven points from 14 games. Leeds can afford to lose or draw this one; Watford cannot. TdL

Watford v Leeds, Saturday 3pm

7) Spurs may well go marching on

Don’t tell Pep but for the past six weeks, Tottenham have been the second-best team in the league. The top-flight form table has Antonio Conte’s side second only to Liverpool after winning five and losing one of their past six games. Chelsea have the same record but goal difference forcefully separates the sides quite: while both teams have conceded five, Spurs have scored 21 to Chelsea’s 12. Villa, by contrast, have lost their last three matches after winning the three before that. It is hard to see them getting much out of this one unless Philippe Coutinho treats Spurs’ defence with the same contempt that Cristiano Ronaldo showed on his way to a hat-trick at Old Trafford. TdL

Aston Villa v Tottenham, Saturday 5.30pm

8) Burnley need to go for the win

Beating Everton on Wednesday should have reinvigorated Burnley but they need to follow it up at rock-bottom Norwich. The Clarets have already won back-to-back games this term when they defeated Brighton away and Spurs at home – collecting half their season’s tally of four league wins. Only Norwich can match that low bar, but Sean Dyche’s side at least have 12 draws to put them within a point of 17th place. A second consecutive victory could take Burnley out of the relegation zone, helping build momentum for a season-defining spell with home games against Southampton and Wolves coming before a trip to relegation rivals Watford. Failure t take all three points at Carrow Road would be a blow to a side desperate to secure a sixth consecutive season in the top flight. Burnley are likely to end the season with their lowest points total since promotion in 2016 but they have shown before that they know how to survive. WU

Norwich v Burnley, Sunday 2pm

Maxwel Cornet celebrates Burnley’s winner against Everton
Maxwel Cornet celebrates Burnley’s winner against Everton – but can they get another victory on Sunday? Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

9) Bowen boosts Hammers for run-in

For all the rare and understandable euphoria that has accompanied West Ham’s progress in Europe, they’ve rarely been at their best in the league since the turn of the year. Yet such is the inconsistency around them that they’re still in the mix for European qualification. Sunday brings a chance to avenge Brentford’s smash-and-grab win in October and with Jarrod Bowen returning from injury to score the winner against Everton last weekend and the opener against Lyon on Thursday, the Hammers should have some of their potency restored. Bowen, a refreshing old-school example of a player plucked from the Football League to thrive at the top level, scored West Ham’s goal against Brentford earlier in the season. Thomas Frank’s defence will need to be on its guard if the Bees are to maintain the momentum generated by their win at Chelsea. An entertaining cross-town derby awaits. TD

Brentford v West Ham, Sunday 2pm

10) Top-nine finish in sight for Eagles

Crystal Palace have lost twice in their last 13 games in all competitions, with only Liverpool and Chelsea defeating them since mid-January. The run has taken them to ninth in the Premier League and an FA Cup semi-final. They have not finished in the top flight’s top half since 1991 but Patrick Vieira has created an exciting side to watch, able to call upon the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise and Conor Gallagher to help them reach 42 goals already, nine behind their best-ever Premier League total with eight games still to go. The defence cannot be forgotten, either, as Palace currently have a positive goal difference, something they have not managed in the top flight for 31 years. A ninth-place finish might not be too exciting for most clubs but for Palace it would show the rapid growth they have made under Vieira. Victory over the team currently in 10th would keep them on track with the finish line in sight. WU

Leicester v Crystal Palace, Sunday 2pm

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