Back Liverpool and Man City to keep the home fires burning
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Brentford v Southampton (Saturday, 15:00) – Saints to get stung
It is now nine games since a Southampton forward has found the net and a pitiful five points picked up during that period illustrates how much their firepower has been missed. James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu have admirably chipped in with the odd strike from midfield but it’s proven nowhere near sufficient and the simple truth is that so long as Broja, Adams and co continue to fire blanks then the Saints will continue to struggle.
Of course, it helps if there is reliable service behind them, carving out chances. In a recent five-game unbeaten spell, Hasenhuttl’s men averaged 17.8 shots, 7.4 on target. In the last five that has plummeted to 10 shots with just three per game troubling the keeper.
At the back meanwhile, conceding 2.3 goals per fixture since March tells its own sorry tale.
The Bees have looked sharp and decent on home soil of late and will rightfully smell blood here. Andrew Atherley is backing Brentford in his match preview.
Burnley v Aston Villa (Saturday, 15:00) – Survival of the earliest
Steven Gerrard has wasted little time in implementing changes at Villa Park, some for better, some for ill, but one trait that has persisted is a costly habit of conceding early goals.
Across a largely frustrating campaign, that has offered up glimpses of who Villa could be only for them to lose their way for several weeks at a time, the Midlands club have given themselves a hill to climb on ten occasions, conceding inside 15 minutes. In that regard it’s a league high.
Burnley by sharp contrast, are renowned good starters, scoring just shy of one in five of their league haul in the opening 15 minutes and it was one such strike versus Southampton recently that helped kick-start the three precious back-to-back wins that has made safety a realistic aim.
Michael Jackson’s men will Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ early doors once again this Saturday.
Chelsea v Wolves (Saturday, 15:00) – Blues Mount a recovery
In-form Mason Mount boasts five goals and seven assists in his last 12 outings for the Blues and has an impressive return against Wolves, with two goals and an assist from his five previous encounters.
A further assist for the England international at the weekend will mean he’s the only player besides Mo Salah to reach double figures for both scoring and creating in the top-flight this term and let’s go for that if only to avoid getting stuck down numerous rabbit holes trying to make sense of this tricky to call fixture.
The visitors have been abject in recent weeks, and have failed to score for 324 minutes, but each time they’ve been written off in 2021/22 they have responded with a robust display, usually away from home.
Chelsea’s three defeats in six highlights their poor form but it is just as easy to imagine Tuchel’s side turning on the style at the Bridge as it is to picture more misery.
Crystal Palace v Watford (Saturday, 15:00) – No miracle of miracles
Palace have been slow out of the blocks in the past few weeks, with patience proving key in their bettering of Southampton last weekend. It will be intriguing therefore to see how they fare when hosting relegation-doomed Watford, who have conceded inside 25 minutes in seven of their last ten games.
All told, no other team have fallen behind more often than the Hornets this season and they have rarely offered up any riposte of note, gaining a measly five points from the 27 occasions they’ve been on the back foot.
One of those quick concessions incidentally took place in this game’s corresponding tie, back in February, with Jean-Philippe Mateta scoring one of his scant four goals. The French striker may score seldomly but he’s a useful foil to Wilfried Zaha who have been finding the net regularly since Mateta has established himself as a starter.
A miracle of miracles is required for the Hornets to stay up but perhaps the fight shown in their first-half against Burnley will ultimately amount to a death-rattle.
Brighton v Man United (Saturday, 17:30) – A spot of drama
The Seagulls last won at the Amex on Boxing Day but a recent spike in performances puts them in the frame here to trouble a United side that have lost four on the bounce away from Old Trafford, largely in meek fashion.
Regarding likely goal-scorers, Leandro Trossard has bagged three in four while for the visitors the obvious place to start is with their reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo and his aging magic. The Portuguese megastar has scored nine of the Reds’ last 12 in the league. Bruno Frenandes, it should be noted, has never failed to either get on the score-sheet or assist against Brighton since moving to England.
Yet it’s discipline and pens that most pique the interest. Both teams are in the lower reaches of the fair play table so a high card-count is possible. As for spot-kicks, there were two in this fixture last season and only Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool have been awarded more pens than Brighton in 2021/22.
Liverpool v Tottenham (Saturday, 19:45) – Is Kane able?
Two meaningful considerations butt heads at Anfield, those being Liverpool’s sustained parsimony at the back that has seen them concede only twice in over 15 hours of league football, and the acute upturn in form of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who between them have scored 18 and assisted ten times in 12 outings. Just focusing on that battle is engrossing enough.
Widening the lens reveals a Liverpool side indomitably fixated on achieving history in the coming weeks by attaining an unprecedented quadruple and the manner in which they are suffocating opponents at both ends of the pitch gives them every chance. In 2022 in the league alone they have averaged 2.4 goals per game.
But we come back to Kane and Son, and while the latter is a bet for Andy Schooler in his match preview for this writer it is the former’s tremendous record against the Reds that shines out, scoring seven in 14. We acknowledge too that, though Spurs last won at Anfield in 2011, they have converted in their last four trips to Merseyside.
Arsenal v Leeds (Sunday, 14:00) – There may be trouble ahead
This is a contest that might well have treated us to oodles of good football and plenty of entertainment had it taken place earlier in the campaign. This is especially true now that the visitors are well-structured in the middle of the park, a novel concept that briefly led to an unbeaten streak until they encountered title-chasing Manchester City.
Presently though, points are all that matter to Arsenal, entrenched as they are in a scrap for the top four, while Leeds are fighting for their Premier League lives.
So instead of rejoicing in the attacking merits of Bukayo Saka and Raphinha, we turn to disciplinary matters. As the pressure mounts expect a high card-count from Leeds who are rock-bottom of the fair play table by some distance. Chris Kavanagh is in charge of proceedings at the Emirates and he has dished out a fairly hefty 3.73 yellows per game.
We can anticipate too a minimum of corners won. The Gunners have averaged three per game in their last five fixtures while Leeds have done likewise across April.
Leicester v Everton (Sunday, 14:00) – Back to basics
Frank Lampard’s strict adherence to the relegation survivor’s manual is commendable, stripping his side, as best he can, of every frill and foible and focusing entirely on making them Everton 101.
To that end, the Toffees have increasingly leant on the noise and passion of the Goodison faithful who naturally have not disappointed. Direct fare is now the norm, because playing through the phases is for autumn when mid-table. Unsurprisingly, the card-count has risen and dramatically so.
All these traits were at the fore when hosting Leicester a mere fortnight ago with Everton ceding possession and territory to the Foxes, seeking to contain them and hit on the break. It was a strategy that worked as late as the 92nd minute, a last-gasp equaliser making it 1-1.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are hardly prolific right now, averaging a goal a goal in their last eight and with so much at stake there is little evidence to suggest this will be anything other than another low-scoring affair. Frank will be pleased.
Norwich v West Ham (Sunday, 14:00) – Better late than never
With the Canaries confirmed as down is now the right time to enact a post-mortem on what has comprehensively been a woeful campaign? After all, routinely we see sides whose fate has been sealed play much better for pride, not points; to say their farewells with an unexpected flourish. Perhaps it is better to wait?
Should Norwich indeed show belated signs of life against the top six-chasing Hammers it will need to be spearheaded by a cluster of players whose poor attacking application this term has resulted in an over-reliance on Teemu Pukki to produce goals. The Finnish striker has scored 45.5% of his team’s meagre return in 2021/22. Between them, Josh Sargent, Milot Rashica, Billy Gilmour and Kenny McLean have played 7,935 minutes of Premier League action, scoring just four goals combined.
One of these quartet will come good on Sunday, just you watch. Football is funny like that.
Man City v Newcastle (Sunday, 16:30) – Champions for a reason
To what extent will Wednesday’s seismic late capitulation in Madrid impact on City’s players from a psychological standpoint? Physically too there must be some adverse carry-over, with extra-time draining energy from legs already dealing with an immensely demanding end-of-season schedule. Add in that Kyle Walker is unavailable, in a game where it’s easy to picture Allan Saint-Maximin having a field day racing down the left, and the upset is there for those brave enough to back it.
A couple more points also need to be raised. City will be under incredible pressure to prevail, whereas Newcastle will not. And so wholesale has been the transformation in the North-East since Eddie Howe’s arrival they have remarkably accrued only a single point less than City in 2022.
But let’s not get carried away here. City have won three out of the last four titles courtesy of a hundred different strengths, fortitude being just one. If they return to Premier League action angry at what transpired in Spain then Martin Dubravka is in for a very busy afternoon.