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Eight talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

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

Must-win in Manchester sets stage for classic contest

Manchester City and Liverpool resume their rivalry in a high-stakes encounter this weekend, one neither side can afford to lose. Regular title rivals in recent seasons, the teams have different ambitions as the season approaches the run-in but both require results to stay in touch with sides above.

City are eight points behind leaders Arsenal and enter what represents a must-win showdown with doubts over the fitness of Erling Haaland. The Norwegian withdrew from international duty this week with a groin issue and has been described ‘touch and go’ to feature at the Etihad.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have seen their form fluctuate and followed a 7-0 thrashing of Manchester United with defeat at struggling Bournemouth. Jurgen Klopp’s side have been impossible to predict this season and need a performance closer to the former to get a result this weekend.

Seven points adrift of the Champions League places with two games in hand on Spurs, the Reds remain in the race but require results to close the gap. Liverpool face City this weekend, before a trip to Chelsea and home clash with Arsenal in a crucial eight-day span.

With little room for error on either side, it could prove unmissable viewing.

Jesus return strengthens league leaders

It might not quite be Easter weekend, but Jesus’ return has certainly proven timely for Arsenal. An emphatic win against Crystal Palace extended Arsenal’s lead at the top to eight points before the international break, ahead of what shapes as a pivotal period in the title race.

Arsenal will be eager observers as Manchester City meet Liverpool in Saturday’s early kick off, before the Gunners host Leeds at the Emirates. Momentum appears with Arsenal and the club’s title hopes have received a boost following the return of Gabriel Jesus. A late substitute in the club’s final two fixtures before the break, the pause for internationals will have allowed the Brazilian additional time to get up to speed.

Jesus started the season with a spectacular run of nine goal involvements in nine games and his selfless approach from the front added a new dimension to the Arsenal attack. With Eddie Nketiah still nursing an ankle problem and Leandro Trossard in action twice for Belgium during the break, the return of a refreshed Jesus will be welcomed for the league leaders.

Mitrovic madness leaves Fulham short

Aleksandar Mitrovic will be suspended for Fulham’s trip to Bournemouth this weekend, the first of what could be a lengthy ban as the forward awaits the verdict on his moment of madness at Old Trafford. Mitrovic’s controversial confrontation with referee Chris Kavanagh has led to calls for a long suspension, one which would leave Fulham significantly short in the final third.

The Serbia international has scored 11 Premier League goals for Fulham this season, with the next highest scorers – Manor Solomon and Bobby Decordova-Reid – have netted just four each. Marco Silva’s side have impressed this season, but lack alternative options at centre-forward.

Carlos Vinicius would be expected to replace Mitrovic, but the Brazilian has scored just nine league goals since ending the 2019/20 campaign as the Primeira Liga’s top scorer at Benfica.

Brighton and Brentford meet in match-up of European hopefuls

Brighton and Brentford enter the Premier League’s final stages sharing the same ambition, as each look to upset the odds and secure a first-ever place in Europe. The division’s overachievers meet at the Amex Stadium this week, with each in a promising position to secure continental football.

Both sides are on 42 points in the table – level with Liverpool in sixth – but seventh-placed Brighton have two games in hand on the Bees and at least one on each of the sides above them. A win for the home side would put them in a strong position to secure Europe, particularly given the two sides above them – Liverpool and Newcastle – face tough tests against the Manchester clubs this weekend.

This weekend’s showdown on the south coast will be a clash of styles, each of which have proven effective this season. Brentford trail only Tottenham for set-piece goals this season and lead the league for aerials won and long balls per game. In contrast, only the top two have scored more open-play goals than Brighton, whose fluid football has impressed under Roberto De Zerbi. The Seagulls are fourth in the Premier League for average possession per game.

Gibbs-White can prove a point against old side

Morgan Gibbs-White will face his former side this weekend as Nottingham Forest take on Wolves in a huge fixture for both clubs.

Each are embroiled in what has emerged as a fascinating battle for survival, with Wolves unable to pull away from danger after defeat to Leeds last time out. Just four points separate the bottom nine, with Wolves (13th) and Forest (16th) sandwiched in a congested pack, just a point apart. The two meetings between the teams have had an element of spice this season, with both fined for the melee that took place after a penalty shootout in the Carabao Cup in January.

Gibbs-White was at the centre of it as he cupped his ear to the Wolves fans, but it is the midfielder’s creative influence and not shithousery that should be the club’s most pressing concern. The 23-year-old has grown in stature since swapping Molineux for the City Ground and scored as captain for England’s u21 side during the break. He was given little chance to impress at Wolves, but has found his role under the management of Steve Cooper and has formed an effective understanding with Brennan Johnson.

In contrast, Wolves’ big-money additions of Goncalo Guedes and Matheus Nunes have flattered to deceive, with the latter loaned out just months after his arrival. There will be some wondering how much impact Gibbs-White could have made on this side, had he been given a regular run.

Can Villa maintain momentum?

The international break came at arguably the worst time for Aston Villa, who had taken ten points from four games to spark hopes of an unlikely push for Europe.

It’s been an impressive start for Unai Emery, whose team take on Chelsea this weekend with the two teams separated only on goal difference. A win would move Villa into the top half, while Emery’s side are just four points outside the top six with Europa League football a target.

Ollie Watkins’ fine form saw him unfortunate to miss out on the England squad this month and the forward will hope to continue a run which has seen him score six goals in his last eight league games.

Villa have scored in each of their 16 competitive fixtures under the Spaniard and will be confident against a Chelsea side who twice squandered leads to draw with Everton last time out.

Graham Potter’s side has an unconvincing home record this season and have won just six of 13 league games at Stamford Bridge. It’s set up for an entertaining showdown between two teams finding their feet under new management.

Moyes must find a way to fix West Ham’s weaknesses

In a weekend of huge showdowns, two of the Premier League’s bottom three collide at the London Stadium.

West Ham have not featured in the Premier League since March 12 and results elsewhere have seen the Hammers drop into the relegation places. Pre-season ambitions of a top-six finish seem a long time ago, with David Moyes under pressure to address his side’s slide.

For much of the season West Ham have been uncharacteristically un-Moyes-like. Despite boasting the division’s best defensive record from set-piece situations, the Hammers have kept just five clean sheets from their 26 Premier League fixtures. It’s just two shut-outs in 14 for West Ham, whose vulnerability defensively has contributed to their precarious position.

Moyes must find a way to tighten up at the back against a Saints side who arrive in the capital bottom of the Premier League, but who will have taken confidence from a 3-3 draw with Tottenham last time out. Defeat for the home side could spell change at the London Stadium.

McTominay makes his point

Scott McTominay could hardly have done more to enter Erik ten Hag’s thoughts during the international break, with four goals in two games ensuring Scotland’s Euro 2024 qualification campaign began in perfect fashion.

It’s been a frustrating season for the 26-year-old, who has started just once in the Premier League since October as Casemiro has become an automatic selection in midfield. His match-winning heroics for Scotland have been well-timed however, with Casemiro suspended and a place is up for grabs in the Manchester United midfield.

McTominay will hope to have done enough to earn a start at Newcastle this weekend, ahead of a defining fixture in the race for the Champions League. Newcastle can move above United with a win at St James’ Park on Sunday, while defeat for the latter would open up the race and increase hope for the chasing pack behind.

It is a high-stakes clash, one McTominay has not been a part of too often of late. Sunday shapes as his chance to regain favour.

Read – Golazos – Six stunning goals from the international break

Read Also – MVPs: Every Premier League club’s key man ahead of the season run-in

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