Liverpool are locked in this ridiculous breakneck title race with Manchester City – the Reds will probably find themselves second again by Sunday’s kick-off – while Spurs, having clung on to the coattails of that race for so long, now find themselves in a rare old four-way scrap for the two remaining Champions League places. Isn’t it great?
The international break came at a good time for both. Liverpool have drawn five of their last ten games in all competitions and were anything but convincing in beating Fulham before the break.
Spurs, meanwhile, have had a bit of a nightmare. Having spent the first half of the season getting away with absolutely everything in the Premier League and absolutely nothing in the Champions League, those roles have suddenly been dramatically reversed.
They’ve taken one point in the last four domestic games – and were lucky to get that – and lost in differingly dreadful ways at Burnley, Chelsea and Southampton. They’ve looked absolutely spent, apart from when emerging serenely from the Champions League’s generally bonkers last-16 stage with a bafflingly straightforward and bloodless 4-0 aggregate win over the best team in Germany.
These two have produced some great games in recent seasons. Liverpool absolutely schooled Spurs at Wembley earlier in the season, while Spurs did likewise at the National Stadium a year earlier. In between came a fantastically silly 2-2 draw at Anfield.
Spurs now find themselves in quite urgent need of something to arrest their slump, while Liverpool simply have to win all of the football matches because that is the world they live in now.
Big games can so often disappoint but it’s genuinely hard to think of any way this one will. Bring it.
Player to watch – Raheem Sterling
He’s scored eight goals in his last five games, including two hat-tricks.
He’s probably the most in-form player in world football who isn’t an alien from outer space called Lionel.
He’s made absolute fools of every single one of his critics.
And he’s playing against a Fulham side that has conceded eleven goals more than any other Premier League side this season.
We have no beef with Fulham but request, nay demand, Saturday lunchtime carnage. Goals, goals, goals please.
Manager to watch – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
So the least surprising yet massive football news imaginable has now been confirmed. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the new permanent manager of Manchester United.
Obviously, that’s entirely correct. Whatever concerns anyone can have over his pre-United coaching record, the remarkable scale of the turnaround he has engineered in the last three months made any other decision unthinkable. His credentials for the caretaker job were sketchy, but he has earned the permanent job at Manchester United by successfully managing…Manchester United.
No other contender could say that. No other contender could command the affection or support or goodwill that OGS does at Old Trafford and among the wider United fanbase.
It might all go to hell, of course. Sometimes sh*t happens. Sometimes we don’t get to have nice things.
But it really might not. It might just stay brilliant.
Either way, amidst all the backslapping and celebration for a job joyously well done, it does need saying that Solskjaer has been confirmed in the job full-time after back-to-back defeats that have damaged top-four hopes and narrowed the scope for the lovely bonus of a trophy.
Don’t really want to make that three defeats in a row against maddening, mercurial and unpredictable Watford.
A fortnight ago Matt Stead wrote:
‘It felt as though Burnley had pulled away from the pack, yet they have been dragged straight back in. Leicester visit Turf Moor with the hosts just two points above the relegation zone.
‘Sean Dyche will hope his side can embark on another streak. Burnley’s season has been built on short bursts of form followed by barren runs, forming temperamental foundations for an inconsistent season. Since late October they have lost three games in succession four times, and won and drawn three consecutive games once each.
‘There are two months left to rectify any mistakes, but Burnley will hope to establish a big enough gap to Cardiff long before late April. Their last four games include trips to Chelsea and Everton, intertwined with visits from Manchester City and Arsenal.
‘They might well see all four of their games before then as winnable. Wolves and Cardiff are still to make the journey to Turf Moor while Bournemouth are about as predictable as their Claret brethren. But they might need to beat Leicester to kick-start their latest push towards safety.’
Just replace ‘Leicester’ with ‘Wolves’ and ‘all four of their games’ with ‘all three of their games’. Easy gig, this.
Football League game to watch – Middlesbrough v Norwich
Norwich stand on the brink of a frankly miraculous return to the top flight, five points clear of third with eight games to go but with one of their biggest remaining hurdles this weekend.
Promotion to the Premier League for the Canaries would mark a record-equalling fourth time, although either Middlesbrough or West Brom could go clear at the top with promotion number five via the play-offs.
Norwich have won their last six, Boro have lost their last three (two of them at home) but remain in the top six for now. It’s a bit like a Championship equivalent of the Liverpool-Spurs game. In a way.
Checkatrade Trophy game to watch – Portsmouth v Sunderland
It might not be the biggest game of the weekend, but it will draw the biggest crowd as 80,000 descend on Wembley for a clash between perhaps the two biggest clubs outside the top two tiers, both of whom remain firmly in the League One promotion picture.
Both have endured their horrors in recent years, Sunderland’s double-trouble relegation from Premier League to League One making them unlikely Netflix stars while Portsmouth went from FA Cup finalists to League Two in a decade.
Promotion obviously remains the primary goal for both sides, but the traditional Day Out At Wembley and shiny trophy would be nice too. Especially as they could yet conceivably both return to do it all again with far higher stakes in a couple of months…
European game to watch – Ajax v PSV
You’d need a heart of stone not to have enjoyed the way Ajax pulled Real Madrid’s pants down in the Champions League, but their Eredivisie hopes could all but end on Sunday.
They trail rivals PSV by five points with eight games remaining after a 1-0 defeat at AZ Alkmaar before the international break. Given PSV have lost once all season, anything less than three points at the Amsterdam ArenA will likely prove fatal.
PSV for their part have recovered from an iffy February featuring three consecutive draws to win three from three in March without conceding a goal and don’t have any of those pesky European distractions.