Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
Martial key to Manchester United’s top four hopes?
Manchester United returned to winning ways after beating Brentford in midweek, a result which lifted the Red Devils back into the Premier League’s top four. Despite dominating the ball and chances, it ended in a nervy 1-0 win with David de Gea required to make an excellent stop from Kevin Schade.
Goals – and an over-reliance on Marcus Rashford – continue to be problematic for United, whose three-game winless run before Brentford has tightened up the top four race. Erik ten Hag will be delighted to welcome back Anthony Martial to his options, with the Frenchman having made substitute appearances in the last two league fixtures.
Marcus Rashford on Anthony Martial: “We know how good of a player he is. I’m just happy to see him back training and playing. He’s always smiling and happy and that’s when he plays his best football.” [MUTV] pic.twitter.com/76nftDXWp6
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) April 6, 2023
It has been a frustrating season for the forward, who has been restricted to nine starts in all competitions due to fitness issues. He has, however, contributed six goals in that time and offers a more potent option than Wout Weghorst. The latter was dropped against Brentford after 19 consecutive starts, a period which has returned just two goals. Ten Hag values Weghorst’s work-rate, but the added threat of Martial could prove the difference as United chase a Champions League return.
With Casemiro serving the last of his four-game suspension this weekend and Christian Eriksen also closing in on a first-team return, Ten Hag’s team are better equipped to hold off the chasing pack.
Europe within reach for Europa League specialist Emery
Unai Emery has rarely received the plaudits his coaching career deserves, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore an Aston Villa side who are flying right now. A win at Leicester lifted Villa up to seventh, continuing a remarkable transformation since the Spaniard replaced Steven Gerrard.
John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa have all found form after difficult periods, while Ollie Watkins is in contention for an England recall after eight goals in his last ten appearances. Only Arsenal have won more Premier League games than Villa since Emery’s arrival as manager, whose side are just two points outside the top six ahead of this weekend’s fixtures.
⬆ @AVFCOfficial's evolution under Unai Emery ⬆
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 5, 2023
Villa will start as strong favourites against a Nottingham Forest side without a win in eight games this weekend, while their run-in represents a real chance to make up ground.
Emery’s side face every other team from third to tenth in the current Premier League table across their final nine games, a tough run-in but a schedule that provides an opportunity to climb the table on current form. The prospect of Emery – a record four-time Europa League winner – leading a first European campaign since 2010/11 is an exciting one.
Last chance saloon for Moyes?
David Moyes appears on the brink at West Ham, with the club’s 5-1 thrashing at home to Newcastle having piled the pressure on his position. Booed from the pitch at the full-time whistle, there was an increasing atmosphere of unrest at the London Stadium with the Hammers mired in relegation trouble.
Moyes’ reign has lifted much of the toxicity of past regimes, but it appeared to be creeping back following a calamitous performance at Newcastle, with dreadful defending allowing the Magpies to run riot. Moyes cannot be blamed for the inexcusable individual errors, but patience appears to be running out.
"I might've walked out tonight as well." ❌
David Moyes says he has "no doubt" the West Ham owners remain behind him. ⚒️ pic.twitter.com/7JaXhaFN8K
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 5, 2023
West Ham, out of the bottom three only on goal difference, will face a huge decision if the club fail to beat Fulham this weekend in a clash which Moyes can not afford to lose.
“I’ve got no doubt they are behind me,” Moyes said of the West Ham board in midweek. “I’m confident in the way they work and what they think, but if you’re a manager and you lose badly like I did tonight, you’re always in jeopardy and I understand that.”
Foxes too good to go down?
Too good to go down. It’s a term often used in football when a team unexpectedly flirts with relegation. This time around both West Ham and Leicester fit that brief, two teams who have competed in Europe in recent campaigns but now find themselves in a dogfight just to survive the drop.
Leicester decided change was needed last weekend with Brendan Rodgers departing the club, the process to find a new head coach now underway. Prospective candidates will look at the Leicester squad and wonder just where Rodgers has gone wrong, a team with far more talent than the table suggests.
Brendan Rodgers has left Leicester by mutual consent pic.twitter.com/BMJ75jw9gA
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 2, 2023
The Foxes finished fifth in consecutive campaigns before the relative dip of eighth last season. Currently 19th however, Leicester are without a win in seven Premier League games, losing six. This weekend’s clash with Bournemouth at the King Power Stadium can be categorised under ‘must-win’ if the Foxes are to avoid the list of teams dubbed ‘too good to go down’ before suffering an ignominious relegation.
Top four shootout in north London
Roberto De Zerbi has been cautious when talking up Brighton’s top four hopes, but the Seagulls are capable of a Champions League shock. De Zerbi’s side have lost just once in 11 league games since the turn of the new year and a similar run to the season’s end could land the club a place in Europe’s elite.
Brighton appear more ruthless and more clinical than under past regimes, a side who now no longer just play attractive football but earn results through it. Courageous in possession and capable of opening up teams with ease, the Seagulls are closing in on a first ever European qualification. What competition that could come in remains to be seen, but this weekend’s trip to Tottenham represents a must-win for both team’s chances of the top four.
Brighton currently sit 6th in the Premier League.
They're inching closer to European football next season 📈 pic.twitter.com/pmSYc3miAw
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) April 4, 2023
Fifth meets sixth in the Premier League table, with Brighton four points behind Spurs and seven from the top four. However, De Zerbi’s side have two games in hand on this weekend’s opponents and one on Manchester United in fourth. A win for Brighton this weekend would be a damaging blow for Spurs, while reinforcing confidence that the Seagulls can gate-crash the Premier League’s elite. It’s poised perfectly in north London.
Lampard’s second stint
Chelsea have turned to a familiar face to steady the ship, with Frank Lampard returning to the club on an interim basis until the end of the season. Lampard’s first reign as manager did not work out as hoped, but there’s sense in his return given his knowledge of the club and many of the current squad.
Frank Lampard gets to work 💙 pic.twitter.com/xwJMay0g5d
— GOAL (@goal) April 6, 2023
Lampard’s tenure part two will begin at Wolves this weekend, the scene of one of his most memorable wins as Chelsea manager. Lampard’s young side destroyed Wolves at Molineux in September 2019, as a Tammy Abraham hat-trick and goals from Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori saw all five goals scored by academy graduates introduced into the side under the Chelsea great.
It proved a false dawn for a new era of success built on a Cobham-produced core, but was a win that brought back the feel-good factor to Chelsea. Lampard’s task will be to improve the atmosphere and results until the season’s end, following a challenging and chaotic period since the change in ownership.
Gracia has got Leeds on track
Javi Gracia was far from the obvious appointment when Leeds looked to replace Jesse Marsch, but the early signs are that he might just have been the right one. The club’s comeback win against Nottingham Forest in midweek made it 10 points from six games for Gracia, while Leeds’ composure in coming from behind at an expectant Elland Road will have pleased the Spaniard.
Gracia’s football is not the free-flowing and often chaotic brand Marcelo Bielsa brought, but a desire for more control could lead to an upturn in results. Already there have been positive signs from a number of players who underwhelmed under Marsch, with Marc Roca outstanding against Forest and Weston McKennie producing the sort of performance expected upon his arrival from Juventus in January.
3/6 – Leeds have won three of their six Premier League games under Javi Gracia (D1 L2), as many as they had in their previous 22 this season (D7 L12). Stabilised. pic.twitter.com/B3qswsvF5w
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 4, 2023
Jack Harrison was a threat all evening and Leeds will be relieved his proposed move to Leicester collapsed on deadline day, while Luis Sinisterra brought spark and a crucial goal. Leeds remain far from safe, but a win over Crystal Palace this weekend will take Gracia’s side top of the nine-team mini-table battling to beat the drop.
Can Arsenal end hoodoo and pass Anfield acid test?
Jurgen Klopp’s side have struggled this season, but boast a hoodoo over Arsenal at Anfield. The Gunners have not won a Premier League fixture at Liverpool for more than a decade, while their last six visits have all ended in defeat and have seen 22 goals conceded.
Mikel Arteta appreciates better than most how difficult facing Liverpool at Anfield can be, as evidenced with his unique (and unsuccessful) preparations for last season’s 4-0 defeat. Arteta used audio of Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during Arsenal training, in a bid to prepare his players for the atmosphere.
The atmosphere at Anfield can be intense 🔥
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) August 2, 2022
“There is a word we use in Spain in cycling when a cyclist is going and looks amazing and, in one kilometre, he goes [gestures downward]. He looks stuck, and it’s a word called ‘bajara’,” Arteta told Amazon Prime.
“I had it once at Anfield. The game was going well and suddenly I could only see red shirts flying around, the game was passing all over me and I cannot react.
“People were saying ‘what is he doing?’ and I’m like ‘I cannot do it’ – I cannot emotionally, physically, I cannot cope. Everything was too fast. I only had that feeling in my career once and it was at Anfield.”
Arsenal have shown few signs of wilting during the pressure of the Premier League run-in. A win this weekend would be the clearest sign yet that this team can be crowned champions.