Game to watch – Man United v Chelsea
These two take a break from their three-way scrap with Leicester for the remaining Champions League places with a nice relaxing FA Cup semi-final.
For either of the young club legend managers involved, an FA Cup win would represent a welcome early bit of lovely silverware to confirm the current promise, especially if it comes alongside a top-four finish which neither team could honestly say they started the season certain of securing.
Man United are clearly the team in better form right now, with Chelsea’s generally decent results offset by a couple of alarmingly bad defeats at West Ham and Sheffield United.
But Chelsea have also beaten Manchester City since the restart and what’s not to like about a team that’s been on the right and wrong end of 3-2 scorelines and on the right and wrong end of 3-0 scorelines in the space of five games?
Man United are playing some lovely stuff but had their moments of good fortune against Palace on Thursday night after stumbling against Southampton.
So what you’ve got here is a cup semi-final between two big clubs who are both playing very decent but far from flawless football under young up-and-coming managers. Those are good ingredients for a Sunday evening treat.
Team to watch – Arsenal
Meanwhile, in the other semi-final, Arsenal take on Manchester City. It’s easy to play down Arsenal’s win over Liverpool on Wednesday night. There is no doubt the champions are not the same side they were before lockdown/securing the title, and both Arsenal’s goals against them in the first half at the Emirates came gift-wrapped.
But that would be to ignore the impressive and unlikely defensive solidity they showed in the second half when Liverpool came at them. We might have learned little from the manner in which Arsenal earned their 2-1 lead; we learned plenty from the manner in which they defended it. Something they did comfortably enough in the end.
And for all the talk that Liverpool had nothing to play for, there’s a case to be made that it was Arsenal who had stronger reasons for minds to wander. The chase for Europe through the league has pretty much gone. The FA Cup offers their route to redemption this season, however arduous the semi-final and potential final opponents may be.
But the NLD disappointment was swept away and, having defeated one side against whom they have a dreadful recent record, they can face another with renewed confidence.
Player to watch – Dominic Solanke
What if those two goals against Leicester open the floodgates? They probably won’t but what if they do? It’s now or never for Bournemouth, with three points the only acceptable outcome from Sunday’s quasiderby against south coast rivals Southampton, who are comfortably moored in mid-table with little to worry about.
Anyway, we put Michail Antonio in this section last week having covered all the other interesting matches elsewhere, and that all seemed to turn out alright.
Manager to watch – Brendan Rodgers
How Leicester and their manager needed that win over Sheffield United on Thursday. That was far, far more like it from a side that has been circling the drain for months now. It’s still an overall record of 17 points in the last 15 Premier League games, which is bad, but at least Brendan Rodgers and his players looked like they knew what they were doing at last.
With Chelsea and Man United in cup action against each other, Rodgers’ side have the chance to put the pressure on with three points against a Spurs team who exist as a sort of warning from history for Leicester.
Spurs are the perfect example of what can happen the following season even if you somehow sort of get away with finishing the previous one stumbling around with your cock all the way entirely out.
Bizarrely, though, Spurs are now technically one of the division’s in-form teams having taken 14 points from Project Restart and 10 from four games since letting Sheffield United pass the ball around them at will at Bramall Lane less than a fortnight ago.
Spurs are taking baby steps towards restoring the dignity they have spent the season shedding, but there were undoubtedly signs in the north London Derby – and especially at Newcastle in the week – of a team with something approaching an actual coherent plan.
It makes for a fascinating match. Neither side is full of confidence, but both appear to find themselves on some sort of upward trajectory after some traumatic lows. It’s probably just about a meeting of equals, a description which likely offends both teams and is therefore ideal.
Football League game to watch – Derby v Leeds
Leeds could well be promoted long before Sunday. It could happen tonight if West Brom don’t beat Huddersfield, or on Saturday if Brentford don’t beat Stoke. Even if West Brom and Brentford both win, avoiding defeat at Derby will be enough. What we’re basically saying here is that this has a very high chance of being a promotion party one way or another, and who doesn’t want to see Leeds having a party? Everyone loves Leeds.
Leeds United – There are only 6 games left which matter (2 Leeds, 2 West Brom, 2 Brentford). Each of these have 3 possible outcomes, so there are 729 permutations (3^6). Leeds finish the season at least 1 point clear of 3rd place in 728 of them. @AllStatsArentWe @GrahamSmyth pic.twitter.com/CEvHf8VjTM
— 8Yards8Feet (@8Yards8Feet) July 16, 2020
European game to watch – Roma v Inter
With Real Madrid wrapping up the Spanish title this week, attention turns to Italy where Inter really need to take advantage of playing 24 hours before Juventus and eat into that six-point lead. Not going to be easy away at fifth-placed Roma, but Inter do at least seem to have stopped getting players sent off every game which is probably for the best.