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Eight talking points ahead of the midweek Premier League action

Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.

Villa can show how far they’ve come

Aston Villa host Fulham in the Premier League on Tuesday evening, with the reverse fixture the scene of the clubs’ lowest point of the campaign. Steven Gerrard was sacked following a humbling 3-0 loss at Craven Cottage in October, a result which left Villa outside the bottom three by virtue of goals scored.

Unai Emery’s impact has been well-documented since, with Villa among the top-flights form teams and chasing Europe. A draw with Brentford at the weekend brought an end to the club’s five-game winning run, but Emery’s side are unbeaten in nine league fixtures and have scored in each game since the Spaniard’s arrival as manager.

Villa have the chance to show how far they’ve come when Fulham arrive in the Midlands this week, while a win could all but end the European hopes of a direct rival.

Back-to-back wins have kept Fulham in touch with the top seven, but a win for Villa – six points above the west Londoners in sixth – could spell the end of their chances of continental football.

Will Smith stick with bold approach against leaky Leeds?

File this one down as a six-pointer.

Leeds take on Leicester this week, with both teams hovering just above the relegation places. Leicester climbed out of the bottom three after beating Wolves at the weekend, a first win for interim boss Dean Smith and first in the Premier League since February.

The Foxes next face clashes with relegation rivals Leeds and Everton, the former a point above them in the table but on a run of three consecutive defeats. Leeds have conceded 13 goals in those three losses and a league-leading 62 goals in the Premier League this season.

Leicester will hope to expose that defensive fragility at Elland Road and possess the resources to do so. Smith compensated for James Maddison’s absence through illness with a bold approach against Wolves last weekend, one which saw Jamie Vardy, Patson Daka, Kelechi Iheanacho and Tete all named in the same starting XI.

The Foxes’ firepower should be enough to lead them away from trouble and Smith might just be rewarded for another show of front-footed faith, against a Leeds side leaking goals at an alarming rate.

Arteta comments unconvincing ahead of Etihad blockbuster

Mikel Arteta has insisted that Arsenal’s top-of-the-table game against Manchester City will not decide the outcome of the Premier League title, but it’s difficult to ignore the significance of a huge showdown this week.

The division’s top two meet in a blockbuster clash at the Etihad, one which could have huge ramifications on the destination of the title. Arsenal have wobbled at the top and a run of three consecutive draws has seen their lead slashed, with their trip to Manchester City a must-not-lose encounter for the Gunners.

Even a draw would leave the title out of their own hands and City’s stunning form means that is a scenario that Arsenal will want to avoid. For much of the season Arteta’s team have exceeded all expectations, but now face the defining moment in their campaign.

A win will change the recent narrative that the pressure taking hold of the league leaders and hand the advantage back to the north Londoners. Defeat, however, might just be irreparable damage to their title bid.

It’s poised perfectly.

Jota getting back to his best?

Diogo Jota celebrated an unwanted anniversary earlier this month, with the forward’s wait for a Liverpool goal passing an entire calendar year. Two games later and things are looking rather rosier for Jota, who has hit four goals in wins over Leeds and Nottingham Forest to end his personal drought and reignite Liverpool’s push for European football.

Fitness issues and increased competition in the Liverpool forward line contributed to Jota’s goalless run, but his return to form will be welcomed by Jurgen Klopp. The German has often leaned on the 26-year-old on the big occasion, with huge emphasis placed on the work-rate and non-tangible contribution of Liverpool’s ‘pressing monster’.

Liverpool have lacked the intensity that defined the early Klopp era for much of a challenging season, but in Jota possess a player more capable than most of implementing the tactical demands of the man in charge. Confidence restored after a barren run, the Portugal international could be key to the Reds’ hopes across the run-in.

Willock ‘knocking on the door’ for England

Newcastle are closing in on Champions League qualification after thrashing Tottenham 6-1 at the weekend, a statement performance from Eddie Howe’s side that saw the Magpies score five times inside the opening 21 minutes.

Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak braces grabbed the headlines, but the performance of Joe Willock should not go under the radar. It was a brilliant display from the midfielder, who has been in fine form during the Magpies’ top-four push. His exquisite outside-of-the-boot pass for Isak’s first goal underlined his growing confidence and the 23-year-old is thriving at the heart of this team.

As Gareth Southgate finalises his options ahead of England’s summer internationals, Howe believes the Magpies’ midfielder should be on the radar of the Three Lions.

“I’ve said before it should be his goal, it should be his personal motivation,” Howe said when asked about Willock’s chances of an England call up.

“He will be getting closer after displays like that. All action, can do a little bit of everything. The attacking side, the defensive side has definitely improved. I still believe there is more in there for Joe to prove. He’s got to be knocking on the door.”

Calvert-Lewin crucial to Everton’s survival bid

Everton’s goalless draw at Crystal Palace continued the club’s poor record away from home, one which has seen the Toffees win once on the road and score just 10 goals in 16 away fixtures.

It was, however, poignant for the return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The forward has endured a torrid time with fitness issues across the past two seasons, but came through the contest unscathed and with flashes shown of what he brings to this side.

The 26-year-old was an aerial threat against Palace’s centre-back duo of Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi, with Calvert-Lewin’s athleticism, presence and ability to stretch defences evident despite the understandable rust.

Everton’s leading scorers this season – Demarai Gray and Dwight McNeil – have just four goals each this season, while Sean Dyche’s side are the lowest scorers in England’s top six divisions.

When fit, Calvert-Lewin is capable of providing a reliable stream of goals and Everton will hope his latest comeback does not prove to be another false dawn in his struggle to stay fit. Back in the bottom three, Everton need him more than ever.

Saints face must-win in south coast shootout

Southampton remain adrift at the bottom and without a win in seven Premier League games, but the club’s chaotic draw at Arsenal has at least raised optimism at St Mary’s.

Southampton twice held a two-goal advantage over the Premier League leaders before a late comeback from Arsenal resulted in a 3-3 draw, a result which leaves the Saints four points from safety.

Bournemouth are the visitors to St Mary’s this week, in an all-south coast affair. Both teams remain in relegation trouble, but for Southampton this shapes as a must-win encounter. Time is running out for Ruben Selles’ side to save their top-flight status, though a positive result on Thursday could tighten up the battle at the bottom.

With Leeds (16th) and Leicester (17th) facing each other and Nottingham Forest (19th) and Everton facing tough tests against Brighton and Newcastle respectively, Southampton will know there’s a real chance several of the sides immediately above them could drop points this week. It is a potential situation the club can not afford to capitalise on.

Kane sure to leave sorry Spurs?

Harry Kane must have been left wondering just what is going on at Tottenham last weekend. Spurs’ hopes of Champions League football suffered a damaging blow at Newcastle, in a fixture which saw the north Londoners torn apart to lose 6-1 at St James’ Park.

It was a defeat which followed a 3-2 loss at home to Bournemouth, with the lack of a contingency plan following Antonio Conte’s exit coming back to haunt the club. The loss at Newcastle was perhaps a microcosm of Spurs’ season, as Kane’s brilliant individual goal was the one highlight in a team who underperformed once again.

The England captain has scored 24 league goals this season, a return which has kept Spurs in contention for Europe as those around him have flattered to deceive.

This summer he will enter the final 12 months of his deal and with Spurs in need of a rebuild, the 29-year-old faces the biggest decision of his career. Stick with Spurs and run the risk of a career without silverware? Or move on to a side already geared up to challenge for trophies?

Manchester United – the side Spurs face in the Premier League this week – are expected to be at the front of the queue for his services. Erik ten Hag has spent less than one season in charge at Old Trafford, but has already succeeded where seven permanent managers have failed at Spurs since 2008 in winning a major trophy.

A second could soon follow after United reached the FA Cup final over the weekend. That will not be lost on Kane, who for all his individual achievements continues to crave team honours.

Read – Five of the worst interim managers in Premier League history

Read Also – Midfield Magicians: Juan Sebastian Veron, a f*cking great player

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