Six talking points ahead of the Premier League's midweek action - Kalvin Phillips West Ham
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Six talking points ahead of the Premier League’s midweek action

Six talking points ahead of the Premier League’s midweek action, featuring Everton’s winless run, Kalvin Phillips and Aston Villa’s need for Champions League football.

Everton form drags Toffees back into the dogfight

Sean Dyche refused to condemn his players after Everton’s 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth at the weekend, a fixture that saw Seamus Coleman score an avoidable own goal in stoppage time to hand the Cherries all three points.

The defender’s error extended Everton’s winless run to 12 league games, a club record in the top flight, and has the Toffees looking nervously over their shoulder. The post-sanctions bounce seems a long time ago for Everton, who now hover just three points above the drop zone.

Dyche needs to instil confidence into his side with the club’s fate in their own hands across the run-in. The Blues face relegation rivals Burnley, Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Sheffield United all at home before the end of the campaign.

First up is a tough trip to Newcastle, where Everton will be glad to see former favourite Anthony Gordon out through suspension.

Can Phillips bounce back from Tyneside turmoil?

Kalvin Phillips’ nightmare at West Ham reached a new nadir at the weekend as the midfielder’s introduction contributed to the club’s collapse at Newcastle. Brought off the bench with the Hammers leading 3-1, he conceded a penalty that brought Newcastle back into the game, before being beaten far too easily by Harvey Barnes for the stoppage-time winner.

It continued a wretched run of form and fortune since leaving Leeds in 2022, with his loan move to West Ham having failed to ignite a career that stalled at Manchester City. He has done little to improve his popularity with a petulant middle finger gesture to a heckling Hammers fan as he boarded the team bus at St James’ Park.

For a footballer who has always come across well to the media, it was evidence of the frustration and upset he is feeling at a prolonged career dip. David Moyes must find a way to bring out the best in the 28-year-old, who is a far better player than he has shown in Claret and Blue.

Champions League or bust for Aston Villa?

Aston Villa’s financial records were labelled as “in line with the strategic business plan” by club chiefs, despite posting a loss of £119.6m for the 2022/23 campaign. Premier League clubs are permitted to lose up to £105m over a three-year period and the division has been stricter than ever on those failing to comply, with points deductions for Everton and Nottingham Forest – and potential punishment awaiting Leicester – for breaches.

Villa’s financial cloud will be a big concern from what is otherwise a period of huge optimism. Unai Emery’s team have exceeded expectations to challenge for Champions League football and currently sit fourth in the table after a weekend win over Wolves.

Villa face a tough trip to face Manchester City in the Premier League this week and face each of the three title challengers across a tricky run-in. Emery will hope his side can do enough to beat Spurs to Champions League football, an achievement that could reduce the need for summer sales.

The Spaniard will be desperate to keep together a team improving under his tutelage, as the Premier League’s wealthiest clubs circle for the likes of Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins. Extra revenue brought in from a place in Europe’s elite could be key to keeping the club’s top talent.

Arsenal backline the foundation for title charge

Arsenal’s title challenge has been built from the back with the Gunners boasting the best defensive record in the division. Their water-tight backline became the first to shutout Manchester City at the Etihad since October 2021 at the weekend and has been the foundation for the club’s title challenge.

Arsenal not only have conceded the least goals (24) but also have comfortably the lowest Expected Goals Against (xGA) figure (24.07). No side is better at restricting chances for opposition teams and the Gunners have conceded 3+ goals on just one occasion this season. That came in a thrilling 4-3 win at Luton in December, who visit the Emirates in the midweek schedule.

The Hatters have taken just one point from eight games against the Premier League’s top five this season but have rarely been embarrassed on their return to the top flight. After pushing Spurs close at the weekend – and Arsenal in the reverse fixture – Rob Edwards’ side should not be underestimated.

Returning Reds can make Liverpool title favourites

Liverpool were the big winners from the Easter Weekend, as a draw between title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City allowed the Reds to move three points clear at the top of the division. Jurgen Klopp’s side came from behind to beat Brighton, an unconvincing if much-needed win.

Liverpool are set to receive a significant boost in the coming weeks, however, with Curtis Jones, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson and Diogo Jota closing in on returns. Jones’s ability to retain the ball and slow the tempo of games was missed in an end-to-end game with Brighton at the weekend, while Alexander-Arnold and Jota represent the most natural creator and finisher in the squad.

Closing in on a full complement of options, Liverpool will be hopeful of keeping ahead of the chasing pack. Huge fixtures with Sheffield United (H) and Manchester United (A) await this week, with the FA Cup defeat at the latter still fresh in the memory.

Can anyone predict Chelsea and Manchester United?

Chelsea against Manchester United was once the headline fixture of the Premier League campaign. In the late noughties the two teams contested Premier League titles and Champions League finals, but have fallen behind England’s elite in recent seasons.

Their clash in midweek is a mere footnote in the current campaign, with neither side involved in the narrative of the title race. Each has struggled with huge fluctuation in their performances and the inconsistency of both teams has been a source of frustration for Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag.

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The worst of each was on show at the weekend, as Chelsea – Cole Palmer aside – laboured to a draw with a struggling Burnley team who spent over a half with 10 men, and Manchester United clung on for dear life in a draw at Brentford.

What we will witness from either side this week is anyone’s guess.

Read – Ranking the five best attacking midfielders in the world right now

See more – The Chelsea players to reach 20 goal involvements in their debut season

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