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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.

Villa begin defining run for European ambitions

Two of the Premier League’s in-form teams go head-to-head in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff, as a rejuvenated Aston Villa take on Champions League chasing Newcastle. It’s a huge fixture for both teams, who find themselves inside the top six and in pursuit of European football.

Villa’s rise has been remarkable and rapid, with Unai Emery having overseen an incredible transformation of this team. Six wins and a draw from their last seven matches has lifted Villa into sixth, ahead of a run-in which will make or break their ambitions.

The clash with Newcastle is the first of seven run-in clashes with the teams directly around them, as Villa face the three sides above them in the table, Newcastle, Manchester United and Spurs, and the four teams below them, Brighton, Liverpool, Brentford and Fulham, before the season’s end. Only a Midlands match-up with Wolves punctuates that run.

Talk about their fate being in their own hands.

Can Lampard fix goal-shy Chelsea?

Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in midweek saw the west Londoners set a new unwanted record. A fourth consecutive game without scoring is the club’s longest sequence since 1993.

It’s also now 17 games in which Chelsea have failed to find the net this season, their most since 1994-95 (also 17). The Blues face Brighton in the Premier League this weekend, a side who have shown no such issues with only Arsenal, Manchester city and Tottenham having outscored the Seagulls.

Evan Ferguson’s recent emergence ignored, Brighton have long lacked a reliable centre-forward but have found methods to trouble teams with multiple avenues to goal. This season the Seagulls have five different players who have all hit 6+ goals in the Premier League, while Ferguson has four.

Chelsea could do worse than examine Brighton’s flexible routes to goal.

Home comforts crucial for Everton

Everton’s survival bids looks set to be decided at Goodison Park, with the club’s woeful record on the road continuing with defeat at Manchester United last weekend. Sean Dyche will be concerned with the manner in which his side conceded chances at Old Trafford, where only an inspired performance from Jordan Pickford prevented a rout.

It’s been a different tale at home under Dyche’s management however, where Everton have picked up 10 points from a possible 15. Four of those five teams met on Merseyside are in the Premier League’s top half, underlining the club’s improvement at Goodison Park.

Everton face Fulham this weekend, a side in free fall after four consecutive Premier League defeats. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s suspension has added to the Cottagers’ problems and with a lack of goals elsewhere in Marco Silva’s side, Everton will be targeting this as a must-win against their former manager.

Dyche might be tempted to throw in Dominic Calvert-Lewin from the start, with the forward having returned to first-team training.

Eze for England?

Crystal Palace are a side on the up right now, with back-to-back wins under Roy Hodgson having provided the Eagles with much-needed breathing room from the bottom.

After coming from behind to win at Leicester, Palace produced a scintillating performance to thrash Leeds last weekend, scoring four times in the second half to record a 5-1 win at Elland Road.

Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise were the stars for the Palace, with the former appearing to have timed a run of form well ahead of England’s fixtures in June. Eze has long been on the radar of Gareth Southgate and was included in the Three Lions’ preliminary squads for both Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, but is yet to be included in a final squad or make his debut.

The 24-year-old has five goals and three assists in the Premier League this season and has the ability to glide past challenges that could open up deep-lying teams at international level. Southgate might just want to take a closer look at Eze – free from fitness issues – this summer.

Can anyone stop Manchester City?

It seems an odd take for a team who have ended a Premier League weekend top of the table just twice so far this season, but can anyone stop Manchester City this season?

Pep Guardiola’s team have been a juggernaut in recent campaigns and have often saved their best for the run-in, a scenario which appears to be unfolding once again as City approaches top gear. Nine straight wins have seen 34 goals scored and just three conceded, with the ruthless manner in which Guardiola’s side swept aside Bayern Munich in midweek a statement of intent.

Ruben Dias’ return has been vital. John Stones and Rodri are waltzing around midfield with ease. Kevin De Bruyne appears back to his best and Bernardo Silva likewise in midweek. Jack Grealish is producing his best football since wearing claret and blue and we’ve not even mentioned Erling Haaland. It’s 45 goals for the season, in case you’d lost count.

Arsenal’s dropped points last weekend mean the destination of the Premier League title is now in City’s own hands, while it will take a significant effort for any of the remaining sides to stop City in either the Champions League or FA Cup. Could a historic treble be won this season? On current form, don’t bet against it.

Manchester United need Maguire

Harry Maguire must be wondering which black cat crossed his path of late, after the defender’s dreadful luck saw him score Sevilla’s equaliser in midweek. The centre-back has struggled to shake off the negative narrative that has followed his club performances this season and endured a moment he will want to forget on Thursday night.

Two minutes into injury time and with United having already conceded one own goal, Youssef En-Nesyri’s off-target header struck Maguire to leave David de Gea helpless.

Maguire had been introduced as a substitute for the injured Raphael Varane and a serious-looking problem for Lisandro Martinez has now heightened Erik ten Hag’s need for the club captain. The Dutchman praised Maguire’s performance against Everton last weekend and will hope his unfortunate own goal in midweek will not damage his confidence which already appears fragile.

The games are coming thick and fast for United who will play the fifth of nine April fixtures against Nottingham Forest this weekend. With defensive options depleted, the Red Devils need Maguire to find his form more than ever.

Arsenal’s derby delight

Aaron Ramsdale is hopeful that Arsenal will view last weekend’s chaotic 2-2 draw at Liverpool as ‘a very good point’ at the season’s end. The league leaders dropped points in a pulsating clash, one which saw the Gunners race into two-goal lead before hanging on late for a point.

Even given Liverpool’s struggles this season, a result at Anfield is often a positive and Mikel Arteta will want his team to bounce back with Manchester City in scintillating form in their rear-view mirror. Six points ahead having played a game more, Arsenal must maintain that advantage ahead of a seismic showdown between the title challengers on April 26.

The Gunners travel to face West Ham this weekend and will be looking to continue their fine derby record this season. Arsenal have won a record-breaking nine London derbies this season, while their five capital clashes away from home have resulted in five wins, with 11 goals scored and none conceded.

With West Ham attempting a balancing act between pushing for European success and securing Premier League survival, Arsenal might just feel the Hammers – who faced Genk in the Europa Conference League quarter-finals on Thursday – are there for the taking.

Jones’ last chance to earn Klopp’s trust?

Liverpool’s impending rebuild has dominated the headlines this season, with talk of new arrivals increasing with each underwhelming performance from the Reds’ engine room. While the futures of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seem set in stone as their contracts expire this summer, less certain is the long-term plans for Curtis Jones.

Jurgen Klopp has often talked up the Toxteth talent, but time appears to be running out for Jones to prove he can be a permanent part of Liverpool’s future plans. Now 22, there has been little progression since the midfielder’s emergence as a teenager and he has been restricted to just three Premier League starts this season.

However, two of those starts have come in recent fixtures with Chelsea and Arsenal and Klopp appears to be running the rule over the academy product. There was a flash of what Jones can offer with an improvised back-heel into Diogo Jota in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal against Arsenal, but there remains more questions than answers when it comes to Jones as a senior player.

What exactly does Jones bring? Where is his best position? Full of flair at youth level, his first-team career has shown only glimpses of that fun factor. With comparatively little on the line during the run-in with Champions League hopes all but over, perhaps it’s time Jones took off the handbrake in a bid to salvage his Anfield career.

Read – Thunderbastard Kings: Five footballers with dynamite in their left pegs

Read Also – Midfield Generals: Patrick Vieira – A Gunners great

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