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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.

Now or never for Allardyce against old side

Sam Allardyce insisted he took encouragement from Leeds’ performance despite defeat at Manchester City in his first fixture, but the Premier League at this stage of the season is strictly a results business.

Time is running out to escape from the bottom three, with wins for Nottingham Forest and Everton this week leaving Leeds mired in trouble. Three challenging fixtures remain, starting with a clash against Allardyce’s former side Newcastle. There no doubt remains a sense of unjust from Allardyce about how his tenure on Tyneside unfolded, despite a public insistence otherwise.

Leeds have taken just nine points on the road this season, so this weekend’s showdown in front of a packed home crowd will be targeted as a must win. Only four teams – Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Arsenal – have beaten the Magpies this season, but Newcastle have just one clean sheet in their last 14 league fixtures and that will offer encouragement to Allardyce.

Dropped points for either side would be a damaging blow to their ambitions at either end of the table. That should set the stage for an enthralling encounter at Elland Road.

Villa and Spurs face European play-off

Back-to-back defeats have dealt Aston Villa’s hopes of European football a blow, halting the momentum found under Unai Emery.

Villa are eighth in the Premier League table ahead of a showdown with sixth-placed Spurs this weekend, one which represents a play-off for continental competition. Villa are three points behind the north Londoners ahead of their meeting at Villa Park, while Emery’s side need a goal difference swing of four to overhaul.

Given Brighton have two games in hand and Liverpool have opened up a significant advantage ahead, Spurs are the side Villa are targeting to overtake across the run-in.

Form favours Villa, who have won five consecutive Premier League games at home, scoring 10 goals and conceding none in the process. Meanwhile, Spurs – who ended their winless run by beating Crystal Palace last weekend – have not won in six on the road, losing four of those games.

Battle of the bloated squads at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea and Nottingham Forest have competed for the crown of most remarkable recruitment drive this season, with both teams spending big to bolster their squads with multiple arrivals.

Forest captured the headlines during the summer after making a record-breaking 22 signings following their promotion to the Premier League, before adding SEVEN more additions in the winter. Their chaotic recruitment drive has meant Steve Cooper has faced a challenge in finding cohesion, but Forest have a fighting chance of survival after climbing out of the relegation places on Monday.

Chelsea made their own waves in the transfer market with a record-breaking spend on new signings this season. The club’s January spending alone amounted to £323m – which included the British record arrival of Enzo Fernandez from Benfica – and was more than the combined outlay by clubs in Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

Chelsea have handed debuts to 16 players this season, with the only time the Blues have had more players make their first appearance for the club in the same season the club’s inaugural season in 1905/06.

It’s been a disastrous campaign for Chelsea despite their spending however, with the west Londoners on their third manager of the season and languishing in the bottom half. Chelsea’s struggle to adapt to mass change should offer encouragement to Forest this weekend, with the trip to Stamford Bridge not as intimidating as it once was.

Fulham’s super sub shows value

Tom Cairney has got rather used to the substitutes bench at Fulham this season. The club captain has been an excellent servant across seven seasons in west London, but has struggled to earn a regular role in the side since Fulham’s Premier League return.

Cairney’s 27 appearances from the bench are a leading total among players across Europe’s top five leagues, but the 32-year-old showed he can still bring value to the Cottagers against Leicester last time out. Andreas Pereira’s absence through injury has provided Cairney with a chance and he scored twice during Fulham’s 5-3 win over the Foxes to net his first Premier League brace.

Marco Silva has valued Cairney’s air of calm from the bench late on in games this season, but his performance against Leicester has offered his manager food for thought. There has perhaps been a sense that Cairney has been a player stuck between Fulham’s yo-yo existence, excelling in the second tier but rarely looking completely comfortable at the top level. He will hope for more minutes across the run-in to disprove that theory.

Lack of goals threatens Manchester United’s top four hopes

Manchester United’s top four hopes are in danger of unraveling after consecutive Premier League defeats to Brighton and West Ham, with the Red Devils now just one point above fifth-placed Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand.

Erik ten Hag’s team appear to be stuttering down the home straight and goals have been an issue in recent weeks. United have scored just eight goals across their last 10 Premier League fixtures, having failed to convince since their 7-0 thrashing at Liverpool on March 5.

Marcus Rashford’s return has slowed since a blistering run of form earlier in the campaign and the 25-year-old is expected to miss this weekend’s game. Anthony Martial has scored just once since returning from his latest lay-off last month, while Wout Weghorst has just two goals in 27 appearances across all competitions.

United will need more from their attacking options against Wolves this weekend, with Julian Lopetegui’s side having bounced back from a disaster at Brighton to beat Aston Villa 1-0 last weekend. A much-needed clean sheet saw Wolves fix their defensive issues, with Lopetegui’s side dropping into a back six on occasion to keep things tight. That 6-2-2 shape could be difficult to break down for a Manchester United side lacking forward threat at present.

Have Everton found blueprint to trouble treble-chasing City?

Everton’s clash with Manchester City this weekend suddenly takes on a different look after Monday’s big win at Brighton. The Toffees climbed out of the bottom three with a stunning – and unexpected – 5-1 thrashing of the Seagulls on the south coast in a win that has raised confidence and belief on Merseyside.

City pose an altogether different challenge to Brighton and have won 10 consecutive Premier League games, while Pep Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 21 in all competitions and chasing a treble.

However, Everton will take encouragement from the manner of their win at Brighton, one which saw Sean Dyche’s side soak up pressure and concede possession before breaking brilliantly on the counter. Everton scored five goals despite having just 22% of the possession at the Amex Stadium, with their attack focused on quick breaks and take-ons in the final third.

Dyche will hope his side can repeat that tactic against a City side who will dominate the ball and who travel to Goodison in between a two-legged Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid.

Can Brighton bounce back to end Arsenal hopes?

Roberto De Zerbi said he hopes Brighton ‘remember’ last week’s unexpected humiliation against Everton with the Seagulls’ shock loss representing a reality check for his high-flying side. Despite dominating the ball, Brighton were cut apart on the counter-attack to lose 5-1 at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton next travel to face Arsenal, with the Gunners looking to maintain their title challenge. Manchester City have shown few signs of slipping up of late, but Arsenal have kept up the pressure and secured a big win at Newcastle last time out.

Brighton will take encouragement from a strong recent record at Arsenal having won on their last two visits to the Emirates, including in the Carabao Cup earlier this season. The Seagulls are agonisingly close to a first ever European qualification and will be keen to ensure eighth-placed Aston Villa do not overhaul them during the run-in.

Moises Caicedo – who Brighton fought off interest in from Arsenal during the January window – could be key against his winter window suitors.

Barnes key to Leicester’s chances against Liverpool

Leicester find themselves in real trouble as the campaign reaches its conclusion, having dropped into the Premier League’s relegation places ahead of a tough run-in.

The Foxes face Liverpool on Monday night, having won just one of their last 13 league games. Despite the club’s struggles this season, Harvey Barnes has had another impressive individual campaign with his 12 league goals the best return of his career.

Barnes scored twice in defeat at Fulham last time out and represents the best route to a result for Leicester this weekend. Liverpool have impressed since a change of formation that has seen Trent Alexander-Arnold spend large periods in midfield, but there have been vulnerabilities in the space the 24-year-old has vacated down the Reds’ right.

Barnes is best when bursting into that left-sided channel towards goal and Leicester should look to capitalise on the teething issues in Jurgen Klopp’s new system. Barnes – the leading scorer in the Premier League among bottom-half teams – will be key to that.

Read – Six of the best bargains from the Premier League season

Read Also – Ranking the five best centre-backs in world football right now

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