Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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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.

Betting ban ends chance of Toney transfer

Brentford will be without the services of Ivan Toney for this weekend’s lunchtime date with Tottenham, a scenario the Bees will have to get used to after the forward’s eight-month ban for breaking Football Association betting rules.

Toney will not feature again until January, a devastating blow for Brentford and the forward, who has had a career-best campaign to score 20 league goals and become an England international. Toney’s performances this season had attracted interest from rival clubs with Chelsea among those to have considered the forward this summer, but the length of his ban means the 27-year-old’s chances of a summer move to one of the Premier League’s elite appear over.

Toney has the attributes to succeed at the top level with only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane having outscored him this season, while no forward in the division has won more aerial duels (109). It was expected that Brentford would receive significant interest in his services this summer, but the forward’s ban means the Bees’ inbox might be much quieter than first anticipated.

Given Chelsea, Manchester United and potentially Spurs will all look to sign centre-forwards this summer, the picture could look much different by the time Toney returns. Has his ban ended chances of a move to one of England’s elite?

Manchester United must avoid south coast slip-up

Newcastle’s win in midweek has put the Magpies in pole position to secure Champions League football and Manchester United will now want to give themselves a buffer over in-form Liverpool in the race for a top four finish.

Erik ten Hag’s team are a point ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool and boast a game in hand, ahead of this weekend’s trip to face Bournemouth. The Cherries have lost their last two and have little to play for with Premier League status assured, but United can ill-afford a slip up given Liverpool’s form in recent weeks.

The Red Devils have struggled in away fixtures since the turn of the year and have taken just eight points from a possible 27 on the road in 2023. Marcus Rashford’s expected return will be a major boost this weekend, while Anthony Martial ended his eight-game run without a goal against Wolves last time out.

Champions League qualification and two domestic cup finals – United meet Manchester City in the FA Cup final on June 3 – would represent a season of success for Ten Hag.

Cottagers chase Premier League points record

Marco Silva was this week nominated for the Premier League’s Manager of the Season award, recognition for a season which has seen him lead perennial yo-yo club Fulham towards a top-half finish.

Fulham have swapped divisions each campaign for the last six seasons, but the club’s impressive performances have ensured Premier League consolidation with ease this time around. The Cottagers host Crystal Palace this weekend, a fixture which could prove a fine spectacle as both teams take to the pitch with the freedom of safety assured.

A win for Fulham will set a new club-record Premier League points total, eclipsing the 53 points won when Roy Hodgson – in the opposing dugout this weekend – led the Cottagers to seventh in 2008/09. Fulham have already set a club-record for Premier League wins in a single season and have just one fewer away win than in their last three top-flight campaigns combined.

Fulham fans have waited some time to see a competitive team at Premier League level and will want to celebrate their season in the final home fixture of the campaign this weekend.

Firmino’s farewell at Anfield

Liverpool will wave farewell to some favourites this weekend after the club confirmed that Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita will move on when their contracts expire this summer.

Each have made their own contribution to the recent success of Jurgen Klopp’s team, but on the evidence of noise generated from the travelling Liverpool fans at Leicester on Monday night, it will be Firmino whose goodbye will be loudest.

The Brazilian has been central to the highs of recent campaigns, forming a devastating front three alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as Liverpool have won a clean sweep of major honours. Firmino’s mix of insatiable work-rate and an ability to produce the audacious have made him a firm favourite on Merseyside.

Expect the forward’s “Si Señor” song to be the soundtrack of Liverpool’s clash with Aston Villa.

Gibbs-White an England chance?

Steve Cooper said earlier this season that Morgan Gibbs-White was on the ‘right path’ to becoming an England international and the midfielder’s strong end to the season at Nottingham Forest has placed him in the conversation for a maiden call.

Questions were asked when Forest paid Wolves an initial £25m to sign Gibbs-White last summer, a club-record fee for a footballer deemed not ready for Premier League level at Molineux.

The 23-year-old has proven to be one of the most impressive arrivals of Forest’s remarkable recruitment drive and has been a key figure in the club’s survival battle. Gibbs-White has three goals and two assists in his last five league appearances and 12 goal involvements for the campaign to date.

More than that contribution, his flair and touch of creative class in the final third has given Forest real quality at the top end of the pitch. Gibbs-White formed part of the England side that won the U-17 World Cup under Forest manager Cooper in 2017 and has since seen six teammates from that squad, including Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Conor Gallagher, earn senior caps. He will hope to have done enough to become the latest ahead of June’s international break.

Hammers have big say in relegation battle

West Ham are celebrating after a win over AZ Alkmaar confirmed the club’s place in the Europa Conference League final, where the Hammers will take on Fiorentina on June 7 in a bid to win silverware for the first time since 1980.

The East Londoners could be forgiven for focusing on their upcoming European final, but David Moyes side must first end what has been a challenging Premier League season. West Ham’s final two fixtures come against sides mired in trouble, as the club host Leeds (18th) this weekend before travelling to Leicester (19th) on the final weekend.

West Ham’s superior goal difference means the club are all but mathematically safe, but the fixture list has dictated that the Hammers will have a big influence on who goes down.

Leeds manager Sam Allardyce returns to his former side this weekend and was far from popular during his spell at West Ham, calling the club’s supporters “deluded” and “brainwashed” upon his exit.

Big Sam will need to improve a poor recent record against West Ham, having failed to win in his last eight meetings with the Hammers. He has also failed to beat David Moyes in their last eight managerial meetings.

Step one of the treble for Man City?

Manchester City appear an unstoppable force right now and it’s fair to say this weekend’s opponents, Chelsea, are not quite the immovable object of old.

The manner in which City swatted aside Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final was ominous for Chelsea, who have won just one of their last nine Premier League games ahead of a daunting trip to Europe’s in-form team.

City will win the title with three points against the west Londoners, though could already be confirmed as champions if Arsenal lose at Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Even a draw for the Gunners will effectively confirm City as champions once again, securing the club’s first-ever three-peat of consecutive league titles.

Only four teams – Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (twice) – have ever won three successive top-flight crowns and City’s coronation will be another feather to the cap of their modern greatness.

It is another three-peat that is now firmly on the minds of the club’s fans however. Beat Chelsea this weekend and Manchester United and Inter Milan are the only obstacles in the path to immortality.

Champions League close for Newcastle

One more win.

Newcastle are agonisingly close to securing Champions League qualification for the first time in two decades and can confirm their place in Europe’s elite by beating Leicester on Monday night.

Eddie Howe’s side were sensational to dismantle Brighton on Thursday evening, with the club’s intensity from the front and endless energy unsettling a Seagulls side accustomed to passing through a press.

Newcastle have been almost permanently inside the top four since mid-October and victory over a Leicester side who have conceded 10 goals in their last three games will secure Champions League football.

Newcastle’s last game in the Champions League was a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona at St James’ Park in March 2003, as a team containing the likes of Nolberto Solano, Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer bowed out of the now defunct second group stage.

It’s been a long wait, two decades that have included two relegations from the Premier League, but it’s closer than ever.

Read – Five top-class centre-backs Premier League clubs will fight over this summer

Read Also – Bottlers? Most time spent at the top of the table without winning the Premier League

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