1) Spurs to give City cause for (mild) concern?
Long after Manchester City win the Premier League at a canter, the utterly futile and unwinnable debate will continue to rage over whether a season in which they won two trophies but came up well short in their quest for the Holy Grail of the Champions League can be considered a success. While a fourth consecutive defeat across two competitions would provide no shortage of grist to the mill of reactionary halfwits who have already written off this season as a failure, it is unlikely to be a source of too much concern for many Manchester City fans. Nevertheless, should the gap between themselves and Manchester United be reduced to 10 points (11 if you include the massive gulf in goal difference) with five games to play, there will almost certainly be City fans of a certain vintage who start experiencing mild but all too familiar feelings of discomfort. On a weekend in which the Grand National is arguably the sporting highlight, it is inconceivable that even a club with City’s proud tradition of spectacular pratfalls could somehow do a Devon Loch on this particular run-in. Inconceivable, but not impossible – as Roy Keane famously observed of his former club’s cross-town rivals, “it is in their DNA to mess things up”. BG
2) Hughes’s defensive worry for double date with Chelsea
Mark Hughes’s task over the next week is to start saving Southampton’s season by ruining Chelsea’s. Winning at St Mary’s on Saturday, and at Wembley on Sunday week, would shatter the lingering top-four hopes of Antonio Conte’s men and knock them out of the FA Cup. But how to do it? Hughes’s introduction of a back five worked quite well for Southampton at Arsenal last weekend, but Jack Stephens’s late red card in that match makes the option more risky this weekend. Deploying three central defenders would entail reassigning several players or giving a first league start of the season to young Polish centre-back Jan Bednarek. PD
3) Palace and Brighton renew their storied rivalry
Crystal Palace entertain Brighton this weekend and the corresponding league and FA Cup fixtures between the two have already generated plenty of talking points this season. A stronger than usual police presence is likely at Selhurst Park following the ugly scenes which marred November’s top flight stalemate and led to the Sussex constabulary issuing an apology to travelling Crystal Palace fans they’d falsely accused of being tooled up and looking for trouble. When Brighton knocked Palace out of the FA Cup six weeks later, Glenn Murray’s late winner prompted what would be among the first of many increasingly tedious debates surrounding the use of VAR. Four points clear of perilously-placed Palace but not yet assured of survival, Brighton fans would like nothing more than to see their club secure safety and plunge their bitter – if unlikely – rivals further into the mire. A feisty encounter seems assured, both on and off the field. BG
4) United to build on derby-day heroics
Manchester United will be greeted like returning heroes at Old Trafford when they host West Brom on Sunday. It’s their first match since the comeback against Manchester City that may empower them to challenge for the title next season. A feelgood mood needs to be fed and watered however, and United should therefore aim not just to beat the league’s bottom side, but batter them. A swaggering performance would reinforce the hope that something changed last weekend. United’s last six games of this season are all winnable – the toughest is Arsenal at home – and they could end up with 89 points. That would be 19 more than their best season tally since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. But the most relevant progress is measured by the kind of feeling a statistic can never provide; the kind they had at the Etihad last weekend. Sunday’s match will give the first indication whether that was a glorious one-off or something more profound. RS
5) Burnley to close in on European return
Burnley take on Leicester in the kind of contest once comically described by Harry Redknapp as “the scramble to avoid qualifying for the Europa League”. Whoever finishes in seventh place will qualify for Europe’s second-tier competition next season – provided Southampton do not win the FA Cup – and Sean Dyche’s team are currently in the box-seat ahead of Leicester. Despite Redknapp’s commendable cynicism, it is difficult to imagine Burnley fans being anything but excited by the prospect of a first foray into European competition since their Fairs Cup quarter-final in 1967. Harbingers of doom will suggest an attritional European campaign, and the early start to the season that comes with it, could stretch Burnley’s already meagre resources to snapping point and lead to a relegation battle next season. That may be so, but Burnley under Dyche are nothing if not resilient and are unlikely to provide any evidence at Turf Moor this weekend that they consider the prospect of competing in the Europa League next season beneath them. BG
6) Swansea face a fork in the road to survival
If Carlsberg made football matches, they would want bugger all to do with Swansea v Everton on Saturday. That said, this is a huge match for the hosts. They won five of their first nine league games under Carlos Carvalhal, a spectacular run that more than doubled their points total. But the last three matches have brought only two points, and they even – the horror! – failed to beat West Brom last weekend. Although there’s no need to panic yet, this game against an Everton side with an abysmal away record (two wins in 16 games) has the look of a fork in the road. If they win, Swansea will surely be safe; if they lose, they may start to worry that they began their great escape too early. Their next two games are against Manchester City and Chelsea. Then, after a trip to Bournemouth, they end the season with matches at home to Southampton and Stoke – the two teams desperate to drag them back into the relegation filth they seemed to have escaped. RS
7) Liverpool should put Salah on the spot
Eddie Howe might have hoped that, with a Champions League semi-final on the horizon, Jürgen Klopp would give Mo Salah a rest this weekend. But Harry Kane has probably banjaxed that wish. The Egyptian used Twitter this week to express his surprise at the decision by the Premier League to award England’s darling striker the goal that Denmark’s Christian Eriksen appeared to score at Stoke – and Salah will likely be motivated to give a more emphatic reaction on Saturday. He is currently four goals ahead of Kane in the race for the Premier League’s golden boot and will no doubt be dead set on extending that lead if he plays on Saturday. James Milner, meanwhile, deserves a rest. Salah should take penalties in his absence. PD
8) Newcastle to end barren run against Arsenal?
Few sets of fans find themselves face to face with Rudyard Kipling’s two imposters of triumph and disaster with such monotonous regularity as those who follow Newcastle. Right now the pendulum has swung towards the “decidedly upbeat” end of the scale. Their Premier League status has been all but assured, prompting reports that the possibility of a takeover is back on the boardroom table. And if the prospect of ridding their club of Mike Ashley isn’t enough to prompt goofy grins across the Gallowgate End, that of their bitter rivals Sunderland being relegated to League One certainly is. Arsenal visit St James’ Park this weekend, having won just three league matches on the road this season. Indeed, they go to Newcastle on the back of consecutive away defeats at the hands of Brighton, Tottenham, Swansea and Bournemouth. With Arsenal eyes firmly focused on a bigger Europa League prize, this constitutes a free swing for a buoyant Newcastle who must be fancied to end a run of 10 consecutive defeats at the hands of their visitors. BG
9) Huddersfield’s best chance of another win
Huddersfield have five matches left from which to gain enough points to remain clear of the trapdoor. The last three of those are against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. While we should not discount the possibility of David Wagner’s team beating those sides, whose minds could be anywhere by the time they play, the probability is that Huddersfield are going to have to get the points they need in their next two matches, at home to Watford and Everton. If Saturday’s match against Watford is not must-win, it is at least a “could very much do with winning”. Huddersfield prevailed 4-1 at Vicarage Road in December and Watford have not managed to even score in their last six away matches. They are the sort of visitors who will surely fall if Wagner’s team can rediscover the vibrancy they regularly showed at home earlier in the campaign. PD
10) Hart, England’s No 1?
It is usually promising youngsters who stake a late claim to go to the World Cup. Joe Hart, 30 years old and with 75 England caps, could put a new spin on an old theme in the next few weeks. The Zlatanic influence of Marko Arnautovic has been West Ham’s main on-field focus of late, but Hart has quietly made an impressive return to the side. His performance at Chelsea, when he made three extremely good saves, had an authority that brought to mind his best years at Manchester City. It’s too early proclaim that he is back, but he has an opportunity that did not exist a month ago. An immaculate end to the season would probably get him in the England squad; maybe even the team. RS