Chris Hughton’s position looks uncertain after five successful years, Youri Tielemans catches the eye but Leicester will face a battle to keep him and Wolves show the way forward.

1) Manchester City equipped to handle stress

When was the last time Manchester City finished a Premier League match with four centre-halves on the pitch? Pep Guardiola, who admitted he had been “trembling”, said he would have brought on another one if he had not already used all his substitutes and Sean Dyche said, with some pride, that he could tell the City manager was anxious. “I saw Pep Guardiola with my own eyes – and I heard it too – screaming, ‘Get it in the corner.’ That’s some compliment.” It was certainly not a stress-free afternoon at Turf Moor for the league leaders and reigning champions but 12 league wins in a row suggest City can handle the pressure. If they can make it 14, it will guarantee the championship trophy staying in Manchester and there are no signs that they will not be able to cope now the heat of the battle is close to intolerable.

2) Liverpool forwards fire without Firmino

Yes, it was Huddersfield but it was reassuring for Liverpool that the supply line to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané was unaffected by the untimely absence of Roberto Firmino through injury. The Brazilian remains a doubt for Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final at Barcelona having suffered a small tear in a groin muscle on Thursday. He has not trained since, although Sunday was a day off for Jürgen Klopp’s squad, but will be given opportunity to prove his fitness before Liverpool fly out on Tuesday. His fellow forwards offer the comfort of being in fine form ahead of the semi-final, with Salah scoring the 68th and 69th goals of his Liverpool career on his 100th appearance for the club and Mané reaching 20 league goals for the first time in his career. Assists from Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold – who have 11 and nine for the campaign in the Premier League respectively – underlined Liverpool’s potency without their influential No 9.

3) Manchester United’s maddening inconsistency

Manchester United have drawn heat for their recent dismal form but in the league at least, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea have been worse or little better. Though we’re constantly regaled with tales of drama in the battle for the top four, the reality is more prosaic: these teams are football’s bar-room scrappers, demanding their mates hold them back before windmilling pathetically from a safe distance. They have not always been helped by their managers, but whatever success or “success” they achieve from here, they should be ashamed that it has come to this. United’s chances of filching the final Champions League spot now look over, and this draw with Chelsea evidenced the most frustrating elements of their squad: players who sometimes play well, and players who sometimes try hard. Until these elements are addressed – whether by coaching, coaxing, ruthlessness or recruitment – United cannot hope to improve.

4) Leicester face battle to land Tielemans

“Sign him up” was the chant that reverberated after another excellent performance from Youri Tielemans, who was one of the most eye-catching signings in the January transfer window. A supremely gifted midfielder, who joined on loan from Monaco until the end of the season, Tielemans has lived up to the hype, scoring three goals and setting up another four in his 11 Premier League appearances. Calm and composed on the ball, Tielemans is such an intelligent footballer, capable of executing the killer pass that prises a defence open but also blessed with that knack of knowing when to arrive in the penalty area, as he demonstrated with his header against Arsenal. Leicester would have to break their transfer-record to sign Tielemans, and all the indications are that they are prepared to do so. Their biggest problem, however, is likely to be the number of other clubs that have the same idea.

5) Warnock hasn’t forgotten Tevez

As Neil Warnock noted, it would certainly be some story. But while the odds remain stacked against his Cardiff side escaping relegation back to the Championship after Saturday’s defeat by Fulham, the prospect of going to Old Trafford on the final day still in with a chance of survival is a mouth-watering one for their veteran manager. It has been 12 years since Warnock’s Sheffield United were relegated after West Ham’s victory over Manchester United on the final day courtesy of a goal from Carlos Tevez at Old Trafford, with the Blades subsequently awarded £20m in damages when West Ham were found to have broken third-party ownership rules in the Argentinian’s transfer. “It could be fate that after what happened with Tevez and that,” admitted Warnock. “We can beat anyone on our day. But we’ve got to beat Palace first.”

6) West Ham can be more than party poopers

West Ham certainly know how to put a spoke in Tottenham’s wheels. Michail Antonio’s winner brought back memories of a similar contribution at Upton Park three years ago that drained momentum from their title chase but once the euphoria has died down, the frustration will be that they need to be more than novelty party poopers. That role is well and good but watching them defend with uncharacteristic composure and wresting control of the game after half-time to hand Spurs the first defeat at their shiny new home, one wondered exactly how Manuel Pellegrini’s side had taken a mere point from their previous eight away games. Felipe Anderson was a constant threat, Marko Arnautovic looked more or less fully engaged, Mark Noble put in one of his most commanding midfield performances of the season and their centre-backs, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena, were superb. Would it be too much to ask for this not to be a false dawn for the division’s most consistently infuriating side?

7) Brighton need new direction

Brighton will limp over the line, the point gleaned on Saturday probably priceless, but change may come regardless. Chris Hughton’s five-year tenure had been one of constant progress but this calendar year has been a painful reality check. Albion need to find new ways to hurt opponents because the methods which established them at this level have been found out. It may take a radical new approach to recruitment under the technical director, Dan Ashworth. But there is a chance it might also need a change at the top. All appreciate what Hughton has done but, even with their losing home run checked, there was grumbling discontent from plenty departing the Amex. Disillusion is unlikely to dissipate over the summer. Hughton, a man of dignity,, under contract until 2021, may even recognise the time has come for change. For now Albion will be as committed as ever in the games that remain and hope Cardiff do not pull off a miracle.

8) Guaita a safe pair of hands for Palace

Vicente Guaita had to wait for his chance to replace Wayne Hennessey as Palace’s Premier League No 1 following his arrival from Getafe. Two Carabao Cup clean sheets showed that he was a capable goalkeeper who settled into English football with greater ease than many who arrive from overseas. He has dedicated himself to the cause by moving to Croydon rather than some of the leafier London suburbs where many footballers live and it seems to have helped him settle into his professional surroundings. On Saturday, in what was a tedious game, he made the only telling contribution in the 90 minutes when he reacted superbly to stop a backheel from Cenk Tosun. It was the sort of save that fans can take home to remember for the summer and give them positivity for next season. It should do the same for Guaita.

9) Southampton set for overhaul

Southampton may be safe but they have a huge rebuilding job on their hands this summer. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s brief after taking charge at St Mary’s in December was survival but, if they have designs to push on after successive seasons treading a relegation tightrope, they need to freshen up a bloated squad. It is difficult to envisage Fraser Forster, Guido Carrillo, Sofiane Boufal, Jordy Clasie, Wesley Hoedt or Charlie Austin playing key roles next season, while they require a defensive leader and a goalscorer, even if Shane Long has hit a purple patch. “I see us as a club that develops players from our academy or signs young players from somewhere else,” Hasenhüttl said. “We can help them to become stars or very good Premier League players. It is our way but we have to be clear that in some situations we need new players because the academy does not give us players in every position that we need.”

10) Wolves offer striking example

Success in the Premier League does not come cheaply nowadays but money does not guarantee it either. Wolves, however, have shown what can happen if the right players are targeted, even if they do cost a pretty penny. Raúl Jiménez and Diogo Jota look set to lead Wolves to an impressive seventh-place finish in the top flight, which is no mean feat considering this is their first season back in the big time. The two strikers have scored 27 league goals between them, which is ultimately the key reason why they could qualify for Europe. They were unfortunate to lose the FA Cup semi-final to Watford and Saturday’s win was a small measure of revenge, but over a season they have shown themselves to be arguably the best strike partnership in the country and the incentive of the Europa League could spur them on to even greater things.

Source: Guardian

Hits: 10

Leave a Comment