Ahead of the Premier League’s return, the Essential Football Podcast panel discusses some of the major talking points ahead of a busy weekend of action…
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Can Liverpool pile the pressure on Man City with a 10th consecutive Premier League win when they face Watford? (Liverpool vs Watford – Saturday; kick-off 12.30pm)
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:
“The early kick-off is the last game you really want after an international break. Jurgen Klopp has had players all over the world in the last week so we’ll have to wait until Friday to get the medical report from the Liverpool boss.
“The south American contingent were still in action in the early hours of Wednesday morning, while Mo Salah and Sadio Mane played against each other for 120 minutes in an extremely tight game that went to penalties on Tuesday.
“There’s also the issue at right-back and he has a decision to make as to who will fill in for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold.
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“So, Klopp will have to juggle his resources once again and while most people will have this as a home banker for Liverpool, who are on this incredible run at the moment and looking for a 10th straight league win, I think it will be a harder game for them than many people think.
Robbie Fowler says Liverpool’s squad this year might be one of the best the club has ever produced but has reservations about backing them for the quadruple.
“The international break will have given Roy Hodgson more time to work with his players on the training pitch and you can see Watford being even more defensively well drilled ahead of the trip to Anfield.
“It has to be a full-strength team for Liverpool, despite their busy schedule coming up. It’s a simple formula for the Reds. They have to win every single game now, and that has been the same since January when they were 14 points behind.
“Can they keep it up? I think Liverpool can win the next nine games, absolutely. There is obviously the Man City game at the Etihad, which I’m sure, right now, Liverpool would take a point. Many people say they have to win that game, but I don’t believe they do.
“A draw at City and eight wins, starting against Watford on Saturday, I think that would be enough to win the title.”
Can Man City overcome a potential defensive injury crisis at Burnley? (Burnley vs Manchester City – Saturday; kick-off 3pm)
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread:
“I can’t imagine it’d be a huge issue for a team as good and as big as Manchester City if Ruben Dias and John Stones were missing for the trip to Turf Moor.
“They have depth in their squad in Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake. Fernandinho has also done well as a centre back before.
“If you were talking about this being the situation ahead of that Liverpool game in just over a week’s time then maybe you’d be a bit concerned, but with all due respect to Burnley, City should be able to cope this weekend even with a bit of a make-shift pairing at the back.
“Burnley have got a terrible record against City. They have lost their last nine in all competitions against City. Burnley haven’t beaten Pep Guardiola’s side since 2015. They haven’t won in 14 games with 13 of those coming as defeats. The aggregate score in the last nine games between the two sides is 32-1 in favour of City.
“So, as much as Guardiola won’t just be chalking this one up as a win, it’s going to be a big shock if Burnley get anything out of this game, regardless of who plays at centre-back for City.”
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Will a reduced Stamford Bridge crowd affect Chelsea against Brentford? (Chelsea vs Brentford – Saturday; kick-off 3pm)
Former Sports minister Tracey Crouch says that the sale of Chelsea could signal a turning point in fan involvement of club ownership and has called for more action in terms of governance and regulation.
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread:
“I’m not so sure it will have much effect on the players.
“We’ve got to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that all these Premier League games were being played in front of empty stadiums because of the pandemic.
“The players are very used to playing with no fans at all in the ground let alone 50 per cent full or 75 per cent full, whatever it is going to be at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
“I think Chelsea, the team, deserve plenty of credit for what they have done since Roman Abramovich announced he was selling the club. They have won six in a row in all competitions.
“Thomas Tuchel seems to have done a very good job of keeping the team focused on matters on the field, especially when they are in a strange situation in the Premier League. They look too far ahead of the chasing pack to slip out of the top four, but they are too far behind Liverpool and Man City to challenge for the title.
“It’s just a case of keeping the wins ticking over to make sure you sow up third and then you can really go for it in the Champions League and the FA Cup, and that, to be fair, is exactly what they have been doing since all the chaos off the field started.
“So, all in all, I don’t think it is going to be a huge issue, regardless of how many fans are going to be in the stadium on Saturday.”
Will Leeds Marsch on again when they host Southampton? (Leeds vs Southampton – Saturday; kick-off 3pm)
Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch remains positive over the return of striker Patrick Bamford despite his latest injury setback.
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:
“Leeds have opponents, on paper, that you’d like to play at the moment in out-of-form Southampton.
“I think this is going to be an intriguing game. Leeds have the momentum of those two incredible late wins against Norwich and then that bonkers game against Wolves.
“You just wonder whether those two games have given Leeds the momentum they need to stay out of the relegation battle. They have moved seven points clear now of the drop zone and that is quite a cushion from the likes of Burnley.
“Another win here against Southampton and I think that is almost enough for Leeds. So, that is a huge incentive for Jesse Marsch’s side when Saints visit Elland Road.
“Although die-hard Leeds fans would be ever loathe to admit this because of the work Marcelo Bielsa did for Leeds, the change in manager might have come just at the right time for Leeds because it’s clear to see the impact Marsch has made already.
“He seems a very likeable coach and it looks to be a very good appointment for Leeds.”
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Is Manchester United’s clash with Leicester must-win for Ralf Rangnick’s side? (Manchester United vs Leicester – Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports from 5pm)
Speaking on The Overlap, Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher discuss the suitability of Erik Ten Hag as Manchester United manager.
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread:
“This absolutely is a must-win game for Manchester United, particularly with the form Arsenal have been in recently.
“It’s similar to Liverpool’s situation and their chase for the title. They near enough have to win every game and that is the same for United in the race for the top-four.
Saturday 2nd April 5:00pm Kick off 5:30pm
“At this stage of the season you just can’t afford to slip up. There is no margin for error, especially at home against a mid-table side, which Leicester are this season. However, the Foxes do have a decent recent record against United, winning their last three games in all competitions against them.
“So, it is absolutely must-win for United. They have never lost four games in a row in all competitions against Leicester in their entire history and this weekend isn’t really the time to be setting that record if United are serious about their top-four challenge.”
Gary Neville tells The Overlap that the Glazers have a list of things they need to do to rejuvenate the club and reset the culture at Old Trafford.
Where are the goals coming to come from for Everton at West Ham? (West Ham vs Everton – Sunday; kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports from 1pm)
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:
“There’s been a huge creative void at Everton this season. They have really struggled to score.
“It’s been painful at times, but there have been reasons for it.
“Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who was the club’s top scorer last season, has barely featured all season and he only has three league goals to his name in this campaign. Richarlison has also had injury struggles and although he scored three times in two matches for Brazil last week, he hasn’t really had the same impact for Everton.
“Richarlison is the one for me, however. Everton need to get him the ball more.
“There are no real surprises to see his name in the papers again, linking him with a number of big-name teams again this summer, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him leave the club in the next transfer window.
“But before that Everton need him and he is the player that can provide the spark Frank Lampard’s side have been missing. He has been one of their better players in recent weeks and will be crucial if Everton are to beat the drop.
“Everton’s bigger issue is in midfield. How are they going to get the ball to Richarlison? How are they going to create chances? Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan are their mainstays in the middle, but it is out wide where I have my concerns.
“I think it is going to be a very hard game for Everton, especially against David Moyes’ West Ham, who are still in the hunt for Europe.”
West Ham United
Sunday 3rd April 1:00pm Kick off 2:00pm
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Can Newcastle stop Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son? (Tottenham vs Newcastle – Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports from 4pm)
Sky Sports’Joe Shread:
“The job Eddie Howe has done at Newcastle is very impressive. You do caveat that with the amount of money he was able to spend in January.
“I know Kieran Trippier has been out injured for a lot of the time, but he did have an immediate impact when he first came in. Dan Burn looks good, and he has helped shore up that defence.
“So, he was able to spend money that other managers at the bottom end of the table weren’t, including former Newcastle boss Steve Bruce.
“However, he has taken a lot of players that either were not in Bruce’s plans or who were not playing well under Bruce, and he has turned them into key players. For example, Fabian Schar looks good at the back. Joelinton and Ryan Fraser looked to be bit-part players under Bruce but they are performing well now.
“So, Howe has done a really impressive job on the field and that defensive record is really impressive. They have only conceded eight goals in their last 11 games. They have lost very few games since Christmas and he has achieved the number one target, which was staying up.
“It will now be interesting to see how they do against Spurs where they will come up against Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, who have looked terrific recently. It will be interesting to see whether this new-look Newcastle defence can deal with the threat of Kane and Son.”
Sunday 3rd April 4:00pm Kick off 4:30pm
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Will the pressure tell on Arsenal when they travel to Selhurst Park to face Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace? (Crystal Palace vs Arsenal – Monday; kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports from 7pm)
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he will look to refocus his players for the battle to finish in the top four after a busy international break.
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:
“The results that Man Utd and Spurs get against Leicester and Newcastle respectively will determine how much pressure will be cranked up on Arsenal when they travel to Crystal Palace on Monday Night Football.
“On paper, you’d probably expect two wins for United and Spurs as they both look to keep the pressure on in the race for the top-four, and in which case, there would be huge pressure on Arsenal because United and Spurs would be right on their coat tails.
“However, it would be no more pressure than they faced just before the international break when they went to Aston Villa and ground out a win just after losing to Liverpool.
“A lot of people were questioning how Arsenal would respond and that was a tricky looking assignment at Villa Park against an in-form Aston Villa team, and I think the game at Palace will be an equally tough test of their top-four credentials.
“It’s a London derby, Selhurst Park under the lights and there will be a cracking atmosphere. I can see this being a huge test for the Gunners.”
Monday 4th April 7:00pm Kick off 8:00pm
It’s a big weekend for…
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan: “It’s a big weekend for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta. The pressure could really be on by the time they get to face Palace on Monday. This is going to be a tough game for Arsenal. There is obviously plenty to gain for Arsenal, but there is also plenty to lose, especially if the pressure is cracked up by wins for Spurs and United. You do just wonder that if this young Arsenal side start to drop a few points, could the wheels come off.”
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread: “It’s a huge few days for Everton, and in particular, Frank Lampard. Lampard is going back to West Ham, and he is not well liked there after he left the club to join rivals Chelsea. This could be a tasty affair. Lampard has only managed once at the London Stadium and that was as Chelsea boss when his side lost 3-2, but that was in front of an empty stadium.
“Obviously, the bigger picture for Everton is that they need as many points as they can get in this relegation battle, and this game could be a big opportunity for them. I know they are away from home against a very good West Ham side, but this is a weekend where Watford play Liverpool and Burnley play Man City. So, you’d expect those two sides to struggle and that could leave the door open for Everton, who could go six points clear of the drop zone with a win.”
Sky Sports’ Ron Walker: “I’m going for Manchester United. The ball is not in their court in terms of getting into the top-four, so they need to be faultless with Leicester, Everton and Norwich in their next three games. That then takes them into a double header with Arsenal and Liverpool, but they could be out of the race altogether if they slip up against team they really should be beating. It’s not the defeats that are going to cause them problems, it is the draws. They draw far too many games and any more and it will be curtains for their Champions League hopes.”
And finally, a prediction for the weekend…
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira confirmed that Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise have returned from International duty with injuries but have not yet been ruled out of facing Arsenal on Monday Night Football.
Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan: “I’ve gone for something a bit unoriginal, but there have been mutterings that league leaders and champions Manchester City are about to be caught by Liverpool. I think plenty of people are playing City down.
“There are also mutterings that they might slip up at Burnely. It’s a hard game and they have defensive worries, but I think they are going to slap down those concerns with a resounding 5-0 win just to quieten down those people who are questioning their title credentials.”
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread: “I was looking for an upset and I am going for Crystal Palace and Gunners legend Patrick Vieira derailing Arsenal’s top-four bid. Palace’s FA Cup win over Everton was really impressive. I was really impressed with Palace, and they are now unbeaten in over a month, holding Man City to a 0-0 draw on MNF earlier this month. Arsenal have been good against the sides they should beat, and this is a game they should really win, but this one does look a tough proposition, and Vieira will be looking to impress against the club that helped to make him in English football.”
Sky Sports’ Ron Walker: “My prediction is Newcastle to get something at Tottenham. The job Eddie Howe has done since going in at Newcastle has been fantastic. He’s shored them up which a lot of people thought he couldn’t do and also, you just don’t know which Spurs will turn up.”
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