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Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend, featuring Liverpool’s need to toughen up, Phil Foden’s fantastic form, and an acid test for Arsenal.

Limp Liverpool must toughen up against Hammers

Liverpool’s title hopes appear all but over after a crushing defeat in the Merseyside Derby in midweek, a second loss in three league games leaving the Reds down if not quite out. Their defeat at Everton was very unlike the Liverpool we have come to know under Jurgen Klopp. His side were outworked, outfought, and the Reds were rattled at set-pieces.

Both Everton goals came from dead balls into the box and Liverpool looked vulnerable all evening, a situation that David Moyes will have taken note of ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime meeting with West Ham at the London Stadium.

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Moyes’ teams are traditionally strong from set-pieces and over a fifth of West Ham’s goals this season have come from such situations. Liverpool should prepare for another aerial bombardment this weekend – and must toughen up.

Revitalised forwards meet in London derby

Two centre-forwards who have been reinvigorated this season meet in the capital, as Fulham’s Rodrigo Muniz goes head-to-head with Jean-Philippe Mateta. The former underwhelmed on loan at Middlesbrough last season and made just one league start before Christmas, but has cemented his status as Fulham’s first-choice forward since.

The big Brazilian has eight league goals since February and has passed his audition to become Aleksandar Mitrovic’s successor at the Cottage. Meanwhile, Mateta has been a revelation since the change of coach at Crystal Palace. A previous squad member with a modest goal return, he has hit a purple patch under Oliver Glasner.

The 26-year-old has eight goals in his last nine Premier League appearances after back-to-back braces against West Ham and Newcastle. That’s more than he managed in his first two full seasons with the Eagles combined. It’s been some turnaround for the duo.

Set-piece threat can confirm survival for buoyant Blues

We touched on Everton’s set-piece threat earlier and it’s a weapon Sean Dyche has maximised this season. The Toffees are now eight points clear of the relegation places and safety could be confirmed this weekend should results go in their favour.

Everton face Brentford at Goodison Park and will be keen to use dead balls to their advantage once again. After Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s towering header against Liverpool, Everton have now scored 17 goals from set-pieces, excluding penalties, in the Premier League this season. Only Arsenal (20) have managed more with 47% of Everton’s league goals coming from set-pieces.

Brentford, however, are a tough nut to crack with only three teams, Arsenal, Fulham and Manchester City, having conceded fewer set-piece goals (7).

Aston Villa closing in on historic season

Aston Villa have piled the pressure on Tottenham in the race for Champions League football, with back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Bournemouth having opened up a six-point advantage. Spurs have two games in hand, but a quirk in the scheduling means Villa could make that advantage nine points before the North Londoners next take to the pitch.

Unai Emery’s team hosts Chelsea at Villa Park, and the Blues arrive in the Midlands on the back of a 5-0 defeat at Arsenal. Victory for Villa would feel like a monumental step towards the top four, particularly given Spurs take on league leaders Arsenal in the North London derby the following day.

It is shaping up to be a historic campaign for Villa, who squeezed past Lille this month to set up a Europa Conference League semi-final with Olympiacos. A first trophy in 28 years and a place in the Champions League is a real possibility for this team. Dreamland.

Fantastic Foden heading to individual honours

Kevin De Bruyne said this week that Phil Foden has gone ‘up a level’ at Manchester City this season and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment. Foden took his total to 24 goals for the campaign in all competitions at Brighton in midweek, as the Citizens produced a ruthless performance at the Amex Stadium.

Trusted with more minutes in central positions, it has brought the best out in the 23-year-old, who has become increasingly decisive for Pep Guardiola. His double against the Seagulls took Foden to 51 career goals in the Premier League and that figure looks set to keep climbing as he continues to mature.

The PFA Player of the Year might ultimately hinge on who comes out on top in the title race, but Foden is the current favourite.

Arsenal acid test awaits in North London derby

How good is this Arsenal side? How much have they improved from last season? The evidence so far suggests very good – and that there’s been plenty of progress.

Mikel Arteta’s team thrashed Chelsea 5-0 in a statement performance on Tuesday night and the Gunners have bounced back superbly from their defeat to Aston Villa and Champions League elimination earlier this month.

Kai Havertz has silenced his doubters at centre-forward, Martin Odegaard is purring in midfield, and the North Londoners boast the division’s best defence.

Manchester City closed the gap to one point on Thursday and have a game in hand, though the Gunners can only continue to win and hope for a slip-up from the Citizens. There’s no margin for error and this weekend is perhaps the biggest acid test remaining in the run-in. No team will want to spoil Arsenal’s hopes more than Tottenham, who must win to keep their own ambitions alive, in what promises to be a North London derby for the ages.

Read –Β The Premier League players with the most penalties scored this season

See more –Β Five Premier League players who impressed during the midweek games

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