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Eight talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

Eight talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend, featuring the importance of Rodri, a crucial six-pointer in the Sean Dyche derby, and Liverpool’s bid for revenge at Old Trafford.

The importance of Rodri

Rodri’s remarkable record at Manchester City extended to 43 league games without defeat in midweek and the midfielder will be a strong favourite for the Footballer of the Year award if his side defends the title this season.

The 26-year-old leads his teammates for touches, successful passes, successful passes into the final third, successful long passes, and possession won this season while recording a career-best eight goals and 12 assists in all competitions.

“Rodri is the best. In his position, he is the best. He can do everything,” Guardiola gushed after the Spaniard starred against Aston Villa.

“The quality that he reads the game with. His mentality, always he is ready. Rodri is top, top. What can I say? Other teams don’t have a player like him. He is so good in many, many things. We have alternatives but the presence, physicality, he is complete. He is an incredible signing for Manchester City.”

Rodri’s assist against Villa was the sort of silk not often associated with midfield enforcers, but he is a player who can truly do it all. Undroppable to this team, he will be central to hopes of a win at Crystal Palace this weekend, a team which City have dropped points against in three of the last five meetings.

Bolstered Villans can get back on track

A trip to Manchester City is never easy. It’s even tougher when stripped of star names. A depleted Aston Villa side suffered a 4-1 setback against the champions in midweek, having arrived at the Etihad without Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Martinez and John McGinn, among others.

Each of that trio could return against Brentford in a big boost to the top-four hopefuls, whose recent run of one win in four has handed the advantage to Tottenham. Though still fourth, Spurs can move above Villa with a win in their game in hand and Unai Emery will be desperate to avoid further slip-ups.

The Villans travel to face another title challenger, Arsenal, after this weekend’s clash with the Bees. Three points are imperative to stop their Champions League charge from unravelling.

Dyche faces former side in crucial six-pointer

The Sean Dyche derby will take on added significance this weekend, as Everton and Burnley meet in the Premier League. Each earned valuable points in midweek and the winners of this weekend’s clash will take a huge step towards safety.

Dyche will be well aware of the improvement from his old side of late. From dead and buried a few weeks ago, Burnley have breathed life into their season with a four-game unbeaten. Arijanet Muric’s introduction in goal has added solidity for the Clarets, while points deductions for Nottingham Forest and Everton have narrowed the gap to the teams above.

There’s no doubt Dyche would want both teams to survive this season, having worked for a decade to consolidate the Clarets in the top tier, but past loyalties will be placed to one side for this weekend’s dogfight. A home win for Everton would provide them with significant breathing space and push Burnley closer to the drop.

Adarabioyo a summer option for in-need Newcastle?

Newcastle’s need for centre-back cover is no secret with ACL injuries to Sven Botman and Jamaal Lascelles having left the Magpies short of defensive depth. A central defender was perhaps on the radar for Eddie Howe anyway, but recent events have heightened that need.

Given the squeeze of PSR rules, could an option be in the opposition this weekend? Tosin Adarabioyo is out of contract at Fulham in the summer and several top clubs are checking in on the 26-year-old.

The former Manchester City youngster ranks in the 86th percentile of Premier League centre-backs for aerials won this season, 82nd for percentage of aerial duels won, and in the 91st for completed long passes per game. Comfortable on the ball and a real presence in both boxes, Newcastle could do a lot worse than move for the free agent.

Luton and Bournemouth should take stock of how far they’ve come

Luton and Bournemouth meet in the Premier League this weekend, a fixture that not so long ago was a feature in English football’s fourth tier. As recently as January 2009, the teams went head-to-head in a League Two contest but will meet on Saturday as top-flight teams.

Luton’s remarkable fall and rise has been well-documented with the Hatters having risen from the fifth tier to the Premier League in a decade. Bournemouth’s climb up the divisions was almost as swift, with three promotions in six years, after financial issues had contributed to the demise of both clubs.

From administration to fourth-tier football and more in turbulent recent histories, to competing alongside England’s elite and impressing. Luton and Bournemouth – who rank 49th and 50th for average attendance among English clubs in 2023/24 – should take stock of how far they’ve come this weekend.

Arsenal away form faces tough test

Arsenal’s unbeaten start to 2024 will face another tough examination at Brighton this weekend, as the Gunners look to up the pressure on league leaders Liverpool. Solid defence has been the bedrock of Arsenal’s title challenge and the Gunners are seeking a fifth consecutive away clean sheet at the Amex Stadium on Saturday evening.

Just once before, in 1996/97, have Arsenal kept five consecutive clean sheets in away league games, while no Premier League goalkeeper has achieved that feat in two years.

Brighton, who have won each of their last three home games and have lost just one of their last eight on the South Coast, will test an Arsenal defence that has been impregnable of late. Despite not reaching the heights of last season, the Seagulls rank fifth in the Premier League for shots (452) and shots per game (15.1).

Will Liverpool exact Old Trafford revenge?

Jurgen Klopp’s hopes of a historic quadruple came to an end last month as Liverpool lost at Manchester United to exit the FA Cup. The manner of the defeat was dramatic, as a last-gasp extra-time winner from Amad Diallo sent the Reds crashing out of the cup.

Liverpool had led late in normal time and again in the added period, but individual errors contributed to a disappointing defeat to their arch-rivals. The two teams meet again in the Premier League this weekend, as Manchester United look to dent the title challenge of Klopp’s side.

Liverpool will equal Manchester United’s record of 20 top-flight crowns if successful this season and the Red Devils will be desperate to stop that bid in its tracks. An atmospheric Old Trafford saw Liverpool lose their grip on the game last time out and Klopp will call for composure from his team this time around. The tightness of the title race means there’s no room for error.

Improving Johnson faces Forest reunion

Brennan Johnson faces a reunion with Nottingham Forest this weekend with the Welsh winger in his best spell since signing for Spurs last summer.

Johnson’s £45m exit from the City Ground felt inevitable as Forest looked to comply (a little late) with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules. His time at Tottenham has been mixed and he started slowly in north London, but recent performances have been encouraging.

After scoring in the midweek draw with West Ham, Johnson now has four goals and three assists in his last nine Premier League appearances. Given he has not always been a regular, that is an encouraging record and he has now averaged a league goal involvement every 118 minutes for Spurs.

He’s already surpassed last season’s total (11) at Forest with 12 Premier League goals and assists for Spurs, despite starting just 16 league games.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 31

See more – Premier League Awards: Hat-trick heroes, outrageous assists

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