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Premier League: Five talking points ahead of the midweek action

Five talking points ahead of the Premier League’s midweek action, featuring the race for Europe, Ineos’ need for a scalpel at Manchester United, and a Merseyside Derby with high stakes.

European race heating up

The title race might be the overriding narrative of the run-in but the chase for continental competition is becoming equally as tight. The top five are all but confirmed, though behind that is a fascinatingly close pack. Newcastle currently sit sixth, ahead of facing Crystal Palace this week, a position that at present will secure Europa Conference League football.

However, should Manchester City beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final, sixth spot will be promoted to a place in the Europa League’s group stage. Manchester United are behind Newcastle on goal difference, with the dual chance of Europa League football through FA Cup success or a sixth-place finish.

West Ham’s humbling at Crystal Palace has dented the Hammers’ hopes, though Chelsea have crept back into contention. Three points behind Newcastle and Manchester United, with a game in hand, an eight-game unbeaten run could help the Blues salvage their season with European football.

How will Chelsea cope in Palmer absence?

Cole Palmer is a major doubt for Chelsea’s London derby at leaders Arsenal on Tuesday, news that will concern the Blues. The 21-year-old has been the shining light of an inconsistent team this season, leading the Premier League for goals (20), and providing nine assists.

He scored four goals in Chelsea’s last league game and has 10 in his last five appearances in the Premier League. The club’s best displays have run through his sublime talent and how Chelsea cope without him will be an intriguing watch.

There have been limited positives in Chelsea’s campaign, Palmer aside, but a tough trip to face the Gunners offers a chance for Mauricio Pochettino’s side – unbeaten in eight Premier League games – to rise in his absence.

A Merseyside Derby with plenty at stake

Passions often run high in the Merseyside Derby, though rarely is there this much at stake. For both teams, points are precious, though for vastly different reasons. A shock setback against Crystal Palace earlier this month has left Liverpool in need of a flawless run-in, as the Premier League’s title race goes down to the wire.

A 3-1 win at Fulham on Sunday saw the Reds bounce back from an indifferent period, and Jurgen Klopp faces a decision on whether to bring Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez back into the side. Each have gone off the boil of late and failed to impact the game after starting the clash with Fulham from the bench, with Cody Gakpo impressive and Diogo Jota on the scoresheet.

For Everton, a controversial 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest has provided breathing room from the bottom three but Sean Dyche’s side are not out of the woods. Five points clear of the drop zone, a positive result against their fierce rivals would be a giant step towards preserving Premier League status. There’s plenty on the line at Goodison.

Rangnick was right – Manchester United need open heart surgery

Ralf Rangnick’s time as interim manager at Manchester United has been largely consigned to a forgettable memory, though the German’s comments on the scale of rebuild at the club have become prophetic.

“You don’t even need glasses to see and analyse where the problems are,” he warned in April 2022. “Now it’s about how do we solve them? It’s not enough to do some minor amendments – cosmetic things. In medicine, you would say that this is an operation of the open heart.”

Two years on, Manchester United’s progress has been limited. Underperforming assets from the past regime remain, while recruitment continues to underwhelm. Players and coaches with big reputations arrive and stagnate. The club’s defensive vulnerability has been an alarm bell that has continued to siren in recent months and the fortuitous FA Cup semi-final win over Coventry at the weekend was too close for comfort.

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If anything has symbolised the decline of Manchester United as an institution at the weekend, it was Anthony. As some refused to celebrate the shootout win over the second-tier side, the winger goaded Coventry, a squad that cost a third of his £85m transfer fee. He has one goal involvement in the Premier League this season, and this was embarrassing.

United have spent and squandered in recent years and new investors Ineos might need to rip up this squad and start again. It might need some financial hits, but you cannot build on shaky foundations.

Will Brighton and De Zerbi fight fire with fire again?

Brighton host Manchester City on Thursday night, with the Premier League champions looking to continue their title charge on the south coast. Pep Guardiola’s team have had a huge influence on English football, with their possession-dominant approach copied right through the pyramid.

While Roberto De Zerbi’s style is not quite exact, there are certainly similarities between his Brighton and the Citizens. Manchester City top the Premier League for average possession (66.1%) and pass accuracy (90.2%), with Brighton ranked third (62%) and second (89.1%) respectively. Brighton’s style has not changed regardless of opponent and two teams who like to dominate the ball will meet again this week.

However, Brighton’s record in fighting fire with fire is poor, having won one of 14 clashes with Manchester City in all competitions since promotion to the Premier League, losing 12. The Seagulls did hold City to a 1-1 draw in a late season dead-rubber at the Amex last season, though required a Julio Enciso wonder goal to do so. City will start as strong favourites against a Brighton team without a win in four.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 34

See more – Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

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