The battle for Premier League safety

As you would expect, a lot of the focus on the English Premier League is directed to the top of the table. Even more so this season, as we have a title race that looks like it could go right down to the wire. The fight at the other end, the one to retain premier league status should definitely not be ignored though. It is every bit as fierce and close, and involves several teams that know the very future of their clubs hinge on what happens over the next 8 or so games.

Those that have gone

With apologies to Huddersfield and Fulham fans, I am going to assume you are already down. Fulham have been hamstrung from day one by a raft of signings that were bought with little or no knowledge of what it would take for a fight in the world’s most competitive division. As for Huddersfield, if they have achieved nothing else this season, they have made life easy for punters around the globe as a shoe-in for their for their weekly football accumulators. On the plus side, The Terriers at least will look like they will be well equipped for a challenge next season for a quick return.

Those that are relatively safe

Several teams that have flirted with the drop zone appear to have pulled themselves out in recent weeks. Newcastle are a case in point. They have had far from a vintage season, but they have picked up some crucial wins of late and have done enough for another season in the top flight. It is a reverse situation for Bournemouth. Their form and points picked up in the first half of the season should be enough to see them safe despite a worrying drop in form in recent weeks.

Those very much in the fight  

Crystal Palace

I was very tempted to put these in the preceding category. Though they have not got the points on the board to guarantee safety, they have been playing well – especially away from home – and have a team that should have enough to see them over the line. A win against rivals Brighton would have all but seen them safe, but it wasn’t to be, their poor home form coming back to haunt them. Their run in is not the easiest but they should be able to pick up the 3 or 4 points they need.

Brighton

Back to back wins, including that one at Selhurst have breathed new life into the Seagull’s fight for survival, and it has come at just the right time. They play Arsenal and Man City on the last two games of the season. They do however have home games against Cardiff, Southampton and Bournemouth, and you would think in those games alone they would be able to secure the points required.

Southampton

Sticking or twisting regarding the manager is always a tricky decision, but bringing in a new man in the shape of Ralph Hasenhüttl looks like it may be the difference to the Saints’ survival. They are playing with a belief and freedom that just was not there before, and crucially they are scoring goals. Their last three games are against Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield, all who are unlikely to be playing for anything other than pride. They should be safe, and it will be interesting to see how they push on next season.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s team payed heavily for their European run, one which meant their season started when most of their rivals were still on the beach. Since the turn of the year they appeared to have turned a corner, going on a run and picking up crucial points. Suddenly however their form has deserted them, just when they had safety in their grasp. Their run in is tricky to say the least. They face Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City as well as Wolves and Everton. It is doubtful how many points they will amass from that, and their fate will more than likely depend on how the one remaining team fare:

Cardiff

The Welsh outfit were all but down at the end of the year, but they have shown a fight and crucially a nose for goal, that has seen them still in with a sniff of safety. It comes down to a head to head with Burnley. Like The Clarets, Neil Warnock’s team have not been handed a comfortable run in, with games against Man U, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea to come. They will need to pick up points against Brighton, Palace and Fulham. There is however one game that could decide it all. Saturday 13th April sees the ultimate relegation 6 pointer when Cardiff go to Turf Moor. The winner of that match, as well as the 3 points could well also be taking home EPL survival.

The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.

Crystal Palace v Brighton

Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha

Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 30

tielemansThis weekend’s Premier League action has one or two tasty fixtures coming at a great time, with arguably the match of the round closing out the weekend’s proceedings when Arsenal take on Manchester United at the Emirates in Sunday’s 4.30pm kickoff. Conversely, getting things underway with the Saturday lunchtime kickoff will be Crystal Palace hosting rivals Brighton at Selhurst Park. With the exception of Man City taking on Watford on Saturday and Chelsea hosting Wolves on Sunday, just about every other game sees a top-half side taking on a bottom-half side, and so there could be one or two surprises in store for fans attending a game in England’s top-flight this weekend.

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Aaron Wan-Bissaka should be Manchester United’s main transfer target in the summer

AWB

Majority of Manchester United supporters will feel that their voices where heard when they wanted Jose Mourinho to be urgently sacked in the middle of December. However, due to lack of activity in the previous summer window and the lack of quality players in the squad as a whole, the next demand will be a convincing transfer spree that will help the side to challenge in all competitions.

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to become the permanent manager of the football club, the board and Ed Woodward cannot set him up to fail, which can only be prevented if they work on bringing in a director of football, providing a good amount of money to spend and also not targeting any marquee players that are not required at the moment.

Focusing more onto the types of players the club should target. Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka has to be one individuals the team should be going all out for in the summer, someone who has really stamped his marker on the top-tier of English football so far this term. Given that he will be wanted man in the summer, a figure between £35million and £45million may be just enough to sign him up for in the current market.

The 21-year-old is currently playing in his first full season in the Premier League, yet his bright and consistent performances makes it feel like he has been playing for quite some time. Defensively composed, intelligent movement on and off the ball whilst having the stamina to run constantly up and down the pitch, he certainly has the much needed assets to become United’s star player at right-back for the next five ten years.

With Antonio Valencia not receiving a contract extension by the club and Matteo Darmian expected to leave in the summer window, it would leave Diogo Dalot as the only natural right-back left remaining within the dressing room. Even then, the Portuguese international is not ready to play on a regular basis, and his recent performances may see him as a perfect wing-back or arguably as a direct winger.

If that is the case, it makes more than sense for Manchester United to splash the cash on someone who has been regarded as one of the best upcoming right-backs in the Premier League and in Europe. He may not be as complete of a full-back like Benjamin Mendy or Jordi Alba, but he is still in his early days of his professional career and will only improve, whilst being a major upgrade on the options the club currently has.

It is no secret that United’s defence is still lacking some actual quality and energy to challenge for the league title on all fronts, whether that is obviously through the middle or out wide. To be brutally honest, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have been playing as the side’s main full-backs for the last couple of years, but it is time for a change and a turnaround, where the club utilises the players in their favourite position.

Spending his early days within the Crystal Palace academy as a winger, there should be no doubts at all about Wan-Bissaka’s ability to create a new dimension in the side’s attack as well as his capability to dribble and cross consistently. When you look at the role that Jordi Alba respectfully plays in Barcelona’s attacks and Andrew Roberston plays in Liverpool’s rapid counter-attacks, the same could be expected from himself.

EPL predicted lineups for this weekend

Chelsea

There is another full list of Premier League fixtures this coming weekend with all games being played over Saturday and Sunday.

Spurs v Arsenal

Spurs XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Sissoko, Winks, Rose, Eriksen, Kane, Son

Arsenal XI: Leno, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Aubameyang

Questionable: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs); Lars Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)

Out: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (Spur); Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)

EPL Best XI – Week 27

zahaWith the title race continuing to hot up, this weekend’s Premier League action saw contenders Liverpool going toe-to-toe with rivals Manchester United, while champions Manchester City took the weekend off from league action to battle Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final. At the lower end of the table, Newcastle hosted Huddersfield in what could be described as a relegation six-pointer. With that said, let us take a look at which players performed the best for their clubs over the past few days.

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Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL fixtures

Premier League predicted lineups

It’s time to look ahead to this weekend’s Premier League action as we predict the starting lineups for each EPL game.

Cardiff City v Watford

Cardiff XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarsson, Arter, Murphy, Cordova-Reid, Niasse

Watford XI: Foster, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema, Deeney, Deulofeu

Questionable: Ashley Darel Jazz Richards (Cardiff)

Out: Sean Morrison (Cardiff); Holebas, Kiko Femenia (Watford)

Is Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino right about putting a top 4 place above trophies?

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It’s not been a good week for Tottenham Hotspur by any stretch of the imagination after the club were knocked out of the Carabao Cup and then at the weekend Crystal Palace beat them in the FA Cup. Manager Mauricio Pochettino in defending the club has come out and said that the most important thing for the club is finishing in the top 4 in the league and not trophies, but is he right?

There is no doubt of course that the lure of playing in the Champions League is what the elite clubs need, and then there is the money and extra gate receipts for European football. If Tottenham want to attract the best players they need to be playing in the Champions League full stop, so a top 4 regular finish is a must.

But one must wonder what Tottenham fans have made of what Pochettino has said- in effect that trophies give players egos. His priorities do not seem to be about filling up the trophy cabinet. Of course one could argue that if the club won the FA Cup but finished 5th that would be a sore point to their season. On the same hand surely the fans want that glory and to see their team win silverware?

Pochettino is perhaps just trying to take the pressure from himself given that he has yet to win any trophies in his managerial career- and let’s be honest the way he has coached Tottenham it seems like only a matter of time before Pochettino will start winning trophies.

He did seem to contradict himself a little when he says that a top 4 finish is more important than winning trophies, as a top 4 finish only qualifies the club to play in another trophy. Still it is clear that for Pochettino that the only trophies worth winning are the league title and the Champions League.

While that attitude should be applauded, sometimes we need to refer to the walk before you can run method and that trophies no matter if they are not as important should be taken with equal value. One could argue that if Tottenham started to win domestic cups the team would build a winning mentality to go on and then win the bigger prizes.

For now the club are left with the league which looks like a distant hope and the Champions League where they will face Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund in the last 16.

Liverpool squeeze past Crystal Palace but they must recapture defensive solidity

When Andros Townsend fired the ball past Alisson at Anfield on Saturday afternoon, it was not just Crystal Palace fans who were celebrating. Supporters of Manchester City, who began the weekend four points behind leaders Liverpool in the race for the Premier League title, were also full of cheer as they contemplated a repeat of the upset which saw Roy Hodgson’s men win 3-2 at the Eithad Stadium last month.

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Solanke deal falls through but Crystal Palace must continue search for new striker

Steve Parish did not want to give too much away, but he did in effect confirm that the deal was close.

“These things are never straightforward but we’re really trying to get someone in early,” the Crystal Palace chairman told beIN SPORTS in a pitchside interview ahead of the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea on December 30. “For once, the papers are probably not miles off what we’re looking at.”

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