FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to watch this weekend | Football

FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to watch this weekend | Football

1) Fabinho misses a key stroke

Liverpool’s hopes of an unprecedented treble have taken several hits over the past week, but they can drastically reduce the odds against them by netting a pretty decent treble with a victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Their chances would have been significantly increased had Fabinho been available, but the Brazilian limped out of their win over Aston Villa with a soft tissue injury after 30 minutes and Liverpool immediately looked much more vulnerable. He shouldn’t be back until the Champions League final. A vital presence in Liverpool’s midfield, Chelsea forwards will be keen to break into Liverpool’s full-back with the usual sentry not out front on patrol. BG

  • Chelsea v Liverpool, FA Cup Final, Saturday 4.45pm

2) Lukaku’s weak comeback against Liverpool

Returning to form with three goals in his last two games, Romelu Lukaku has given Thomas Tuchel food for thought ahead of the Cup final. While not the most scientific approach to team selection, the Chelsea manager may want to bear in mind that Lukaku’s record against Saturday’s opponents is not really not very good. In 19 appearances against Liverpool during his spell at West Brom, Everton and Chelsea, he scored just five goals and finished in the winning side on three occasions. It’s a record that probably won’t inspire much confidence when the big decision is made. BG

3) Everton need to make hay against the mid-table sides

“You give us seven points from Chelsea, Leicester and Watford, we’re biting your hand,” Frank Lampard said after Wednesday’s stalemate at Vicarage Road. The mood is upbeat and, encouragingly, they have two games to come at Goodison Park against teams that are comfortable in the mid-table. It may be inaccurate to say that Thomas Frank’s men have ‘nothing to play for’, but the challenge will surely be less determined than what Everton would get from a side fighting for survival or giving up for qualifying for the Champions League. On that note, Lampard must consider it highly unlikely that they could go to Arsenal and win a week on Sunday. So in a sense Everton have two games to save themselves, starting with Brentford this Sunday and followed by Crystal Palace four days later. Two winnable matches – Premier League security ahead of the final day? Everton fans would bite your hand off. ML

4) Rice tasked with derailing City’s express goal

The capture of Erling Haaland is a bad sign for rivals Manchester City and the same would be true if Declan Rice heads for the Etihad from the London Stadium. Arguably neither player feels like a completely natural fit for City – Haaland’s outrageous play has traditionally been about using his pace to get in behind defenses rather than being a link in the chain of a possession-heavy team. Rice, meanwhile, lacks the silkiness of many recent Manchester City midfielders but, in theory at least, would provide the kind of defensive ballast that is useful while trying to win on multiple fronts. Manchester City have scored 10 goals in two games since that painful Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid – and 19 in their last four league games. Even Rice’s drive past the West Ham defense looks unlikely to stop Pep Guardiola’s goalscoring machine. ML

FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to watch this weekend |  Football
FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to watch this weekend | Football
West Ham’s Declan Rice has been linked with a move to a host of Premier League clubs. Photo: James Griffiths/West Ham United/Shutterstock

5) Late arrivals due to Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur host Burnley in Sunday’s midday kick-off, a game of huge importance to both teams. Burnley fans who cannot afford an overnight stay in London but wish to travel by train during the day will arrive in London halfway if they take the earliest available train from Manchester Road station on Sunday morning and he arrives on time. BT Sport’s decision, in conjunction with the Premier League, to stage a midday kick-off for such an important game provides the latest in a long line of examples that show the near total disregard and the borderline disregard that broadcasters and the Premier League continue to show for match fans. BG

6) Leeds can’t afford to be conservative

Leeds had Luke Ayling sent off in the 2-1 loss to Arsenal and Dan James was shown a red card after 24 minutes in their last defeat, Wednesday’s 3-0 reverse against Chelsea. They don’t do themselves a lot of favors and if they are eventually relegated, these dismissals can be seen as crucial. But Jesse Marsch’s approach in the next few days will be the most significant factor. The feeling among some fans is that he is too conservative – predictable given he replaced the more attacking (some say reckless) Marcelo Bielsa – but Chelsea had looked uncharacteristically vulnerable in recent weeks. Perhaps an opportunity was missed to put Thomas Tuchel’s men under pressure. It’s safe to assume that inspirational quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali won’t hold much sway over your average Premier League footballer. But could channeling Bielsa, and recognizing that attacking is often the best form of defence, offer an invaluable three points? ML

What does signing Erling Haaland mean for Manchester City? – video

7) A farewell to Foster at Vicarage Road?

One of the few Watford players who can end the season with their heads held high, Ben Foster has parted ways with his teammates after the club’s relegation confirmation last weekend. “We have too many players who are happy to play for an hour and 70 minutes, but then probably fall and let themselves go happily in the last 20 minutes,” he said. “You can’t have that. When you are a team like us, the minimum is to give everything. With Foster too old and nearing the end of his contract to care about hurting the feelings of his teammates with his justified criticism, they managed to wake up enough to take a point from their terrible midweek game against Everton . On Sunday, they host Leicester as they attempt to snap a 12-game run – 11 consecutive defeats and one draw – without a home win. Regardless of the outcome, Foster deserves a standing ovation, as he has already said he would like to end his career in America, so this could well be his last match at Vicarage Road. BG

8) More South London hidden gems?

With little at stake for either side as Aston Villa host Crystal Palace, Patrick Vieira has said he will use the run-in to start building for next season by giving some youngsters some top-flight experience . At the start of the campaign, Palace owner Simon Parish named David Omilabu, Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and Malachi Boateng as the trio of academy graduates most likely to make the first team this season, but alone midfielder Rak-Sakyi has only one 14 -minute elapsed. Fitness permitting, Eagles fans might like to see more youngsters in Palace’s remaining three games. BG

Jesurun Rak-Sakyi's only league appearance this season was against Chelsea in August.
Jesurun Rak-Sakyi’s only league appearance this season was against Chelsea in August.
Photography: Simon West/Action Plus/Shutterstock

9) Will Smith rebuild Norwich to be more robust?

“We are a team that was brought in to play possession-based football, but unfortunately at this level we come up against teams that are going to be better than us with possession sometimes. That was Dean Smith’s honest assessment after Norwich City’s last relegated 3-0 loss away to Leicester on Wednesday. Smith’s idea that Norwich, for all their ambition, simply don’t have the quality to play possession-oriented football in the top flight was by extension a criticism of the club’s recruitment and overall strategy prior to his arrived last November. Presumably, however, Smith will believe they have the ability to do so in the Championship. The suggestion seems to be that he will aim to introduce a more pragmatic approach with the aim of not just returning, but surviving in the Premier League. ML

10) Newcastle can dream of next season

As Arsenal continue to battle for the top four, and as the relegation battle looms a few places below them, Eddie Howe and Newcastle have the luxury of starting to think about next season. Howe’s intelligence and managerial skills, honed over many years on the South Coast and a brief stint at Burnley in 2011-12, proved perfectly suited to free the Magpies from the worries of falling in the Championship. With a good level of investment in the squad to come this summer – Brighton’s Yves Bissouma and Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips are both transfer targets – what will constitute success in the next campaign? Even the most optimistic Newcastle fans can imagine that a charge for the top six isn’t out of the question, and a rare win against a side from the top group would fuel their optimism. ML

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