• Premier League preview: What will and won’t happen this weekend

    FourFourTwo’s preview of the Premier League weekend, as Tottenham continue their chase of Chelsea and Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger face each other for potentially the final time

    The big talking point: Tottenham’s fading title chances. Mauricio Pochettino and his players have already exceeded expectations this season, meaning that everything that happens from this point on is a bonus. Still, this is a chance to close the gap on Chelsea to just a single point and apply some light scoreboard pressure ahead of Middlesbrough’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Monday.

    What will happen: Disgusting effort (for a while). West Ham will put more into this single game than they have the last three combined. On the one hand, that’s how it should be – they see Spurs as a major rivals, even if that animosity isn’t mutual. On the other, this particular fixture too often shows the Hammers for what they could be rather than what they generally are across the other 37 games.

    What won’t happen: That commitment to be sustained. Twenty minutes: that’s how long it usually takes for the bluster to fade and for form to show – not a dig at West Ham, rather a reality of derby football. Slaven Bilic bested Pochettino last season, but he did so with a far better side (there will be no Michail Antonio on Friday, obviously no Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll remains doubtful). The implication being that the hosts really need to score before their raw energy fades away and Spurs’ superiority begins to show.

    Manchester City vs Crystal Palace (12.30pm)

    The big talking point: Nervous Eagles. So, as it happens, Palace aren’t quite safe. The narrow loss to Spurs 10 days ago was expected, but the hopeless showing against Burnley was not; that was the game in which lingering relegation fears should have been vanquished.

    What will happen: Gabriel Jesus will pick up where he left off. The shame of Jesus’s early-year injury was that he and City proved immediately good for each other: the forward was scoring goals before going down at Bournemouth and his team looked closer to Pep Guardiola’s ideal with him in the side. But he’s returned at absolutely the right moment, because City’s grip on the top four is tenuous and Palace, even away from home, will need to be unpicked smartly rather than just crushed by sheer weight of possession.

    What won’t happen: Statistically, a Palace goal: they haven’t managed one in their last three visits to the Etihad. Unfortunately, Christian Benteke is also walking onto fallow ground: City are one of the six Premier League teams who he is yet to score against (zero goals from seven appearances).

    Bournemouth vs Stoke (Saturday, 3pm)

    The big talking point: Bournemouth’s turnaround. After desperate mid-winter form had Eddie Howe and his players heading back to the Championship, the club are now in 10th position. Under the circumstances and given the lack of resources, that represents a significant achievement for Howe. Just as his stock was starting to fall and his potential was beginning to suffer re-evaluation, Howe has shown again – this time by thinking his way around his team’s lack of confidence – why he deserves his ‘bright young thing’ tag.

    What will happen: Bournemouth will go above Southampton. The two sides are level on points at the moment, with Claude Puel’s players facing a trip to Anfield on Sunday. A home win here, then (which seems likely given that Stoke’s players are all figuratively reading Jo Nesbo novels on far-away beaches), would represent some points scored over a local enemy (even if Southampton supporters refuse to properly recognise the rivalry).

    What won’t happen: Assurances over Mark Hughes’ future. Here’s a interesting statistic: Stoke are currently still two points short of their lowest ever Premier League points tally (42) – and chairman Peter Coates deemed that enough of an underperformance to sack Tony Pulis.

    Burnley vs West Brom (Saturday, 3pm)

    The big talking point: After some fleeting nervousness, Burnley are now safe from relegation. Barring something truly shocking – that would involve both Swansea and Hull taking maximum points from their remaining games – Sean Dyche and his players will be playing Premier League football again next year. This, then, is an afternoon in the Turf Moor sun against a West Brom team who are on the verge of losing five straight games.

    What will happen: …soon to be six. Not only has Tony Pulis not seen his side win in over a month, but they’re without a Premier League goal in nearly two: the 3-1 win over Arsenal on March 18th being the last time they troubled the scorers. By contrast, Burnley were excellent last week at Selhurst Park – as good as they’ve been in weeks – and seem to have arrived at some form at the crucial moment.

    What won’t happen: A Baggies revival. History teaches us that once a Pulis team has ‘gone’, they’ve really gone. There’s no disgrace attached to that this season, after all they’re just five points shy of the largest Premier League tally in their history, but everything which made them formidable earlier in the year has dissipated from their game. They’re not creating chances and they’re not really preventing them.

    Hull vs Sunderland (Saturday, 3pm)

    The big talking point: Hull’s home banker. Sunderland’s agonising struggle is over – they’re down – and so this is a chance which Marco Silva and his players have to take. Swansea face a far superior Everton side later in the day and, should results fall as expected, winning here could see them mathematically safe.

    What will happen: A rout. Given how uninspiring David Moyes has proven to be with something to play for, imagine the creeping apathy in the Sunderland dressing-room now. Hull are highly competent at home, playing technically impressive, accurate football and scoring plenty of goals; they’ll better Sunderland in every conceivable way here.

    What won’t happen: Sunderland’s pride to survive. Hull are actually the only Premier League side who haven’t scored against David Moyes’s team this season. Needless to say, the chances of that still be the case at 5pm on Saturday are remote.

    Leicester vs Watford (Saturday, 3pm)

    The big talking point: We’re into the realms of what could have been, now. Barring that sloppy recent loss to Everton and the unfortunate defeat to Arsenal, Leicester’s form has been excellent since Claudio Ranieri’s departure. One perspective on that, of course, is that it was a change which needed to happen. Another, is that their listless title defence and failure to even threaten to requalify for European football has been entirely unnecessary. The chances of them winning the title or even finishing within the top four this season were always remote, but this return to their best has shown what a waste of positive momentum late 2016 ultimately was.

    What will happen: Riyad Mahrez will make his 100th Premier League appearance, becoming the first Algerian to reach that milestone. Somewhere, Moussa Saib will be beaming with pride.

    What won’t happen: A Watford win or a Watford clean-sheet. The Hornets have lost nine of their last 11 away games (one win, one draw) and have conceded in all of their last 15 games at the King Power across all competitions. Worse, they’ve failed to score in their last four away games against all sides.

     

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