It could be a crowning weekend for Manchester City, but Arsenal’s trip to Forest is still the one to watch, with ramifications at the top and bottom of the table…
Game to watch – Nottingham Forest v Arsenal
When Arsenal fans – not all of them but plenty more than are willing to admit now – felt the title was theirs to lose, the trip to Forest on Saturday was ringed on many Gunners’ calendars as perhaps the crowning moment of their season. Alas, no.
Still, even if Arsenal winning the Premier League title is not among them, there are many potential consequences at the City Ground. Forest could make champions of Manchester City. The hosts could spare themselves fretting on the final day as they look to secure their survival. And Arsenal could force City to take care of their own business as they look to seal another title.
Contrary to how it appeared as recently as last month, the onus is very much on Forest here. If they beat Arsenal, only defeat to Palace on the last day and two Leeds victories could deprive them of a place in the Premier League next season. Lose, and they could enter the final weekend in the bottom three.
So it’s handy for Steve Cooper that his side have discovered some form. Especially in attack. Forest have been woefully impotent for much of the season but just in the nick of time, they have stumbled upon some ruthlessness. Only Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool and City have scored more than the dozen Forest have bagged in the last six matches.
Which doesn’t bode well for Arsenal. Brighton ripped the Gunners apart last week and the William Saliba-shaped hole in Mikel Arteta’s defence seems to be growing bigger by the week. Against a side with little to lift their spirits for, Forest should recognise an opportunity to secure themselves and serve as kingmakers for City.
Team to watch – Manchester City
The excitement around a Manchester City versus Chelsea clash in which the Premier League title might be won really ought to be feverish. Especially after Pep Guardiola’s side put on a show against Real Madrid. But, outside the Etihad, it’s really not. City barely made this preview and do so more out of obligation than anticipation.
Why? Several reasons, probably. The title might already be won before kick-off. Then the clash itself isn’t what it used to be, and even when Chelsea weren’t a sh*tshow, City have battered them at the Etihad. This would be City’s third consecutive title, an impressive achievement by a truly wonderful football team but one that is being met with widespread apathy.
Arsenal have been the big story of the title race but even if there is some revisionism taking place, it is true that many expected the inevitability of City to triumph.
Which it has. And the home fans will rejoice in another Premier League title. The majority elsewhere might just shrug their shoulders or point to the charges that hang over this City side even if, as Guardiola said, this is one of three games between his players and immortality.
Manager to watch – Sean Dyche
At the bottom of the table, the penultimate weekend arguably offers Everton the biggest opportunity of any side still scrapping for survival.
The Toffees go first when they head to Wolves on Saturday, before Forest play later on, while Leeds and Leicester have to wait until Sunday and Monday respectively. By the end of the weekend, Everton could be safe and for Dyche – job done.
Dyche started planning for Molineux, and the visit of Bournemouth on the last day, at half-time during the defeat to Manchester City last week. At 2-0 down, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin reporting a tight groin but apparently keen to carry on, Dyche took the call to withdraw his best striker, play Neal Maupay, and focus on the challenges ahead still with 45 minutes to endure against City.
Dyche felt it necessary to make another change soon after with Mason Holgate struggling badly at left-back. Replacing him with Conor Coady – ineligible this week – saw a shift to a back three and the Toffees looked much better. Does Dyche revert to the four that was so good at Brighton, or retain the three that offered more solidity against City?
Either way, Everton shouldn’t be second-best for intensity. Julen Lopetegui has done a very fine job as Wolves boss, so good that the side who were bottom when the manager came in before the World Cup are now safe and coasting to the end of the season. Win at Molineux and Everton might go to Palace in shades and sliders too.
Player to watch – Patrick Bamford
It’s hard to watch Bamford at the moment, especially if you’re cursed to be a Leeds fan. Much like many of his team-mates and his club as a whole, the centre-forward, last season an England international, has looked utterly lost since Marcelo Bielsa was sacked.
The last few weeks have been especially tough on Bamford. His only goals in the last 10 matches have come in 5-1 and 4-1 defeats to Crystal Palace and Bournemouth respectively. He should have had one against Leicester but scuffed wide at the far post late on, before stepping up to take a penalty against Newcastle that would have put Leeds 2-0 up last Saturday.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of the general pessimism around Leeds right now but it felt like there was woefully little confidence in Bamford to beat Nick Pope. Many Leeds fans wanted Rodrigo on the spot rather than the striker whose body and mind seem to be struggling to keep up these days.
We don’t know that they would have held on to a two-goal lead – this is Leeds, after all – but Bamford’s miss seemed to accelerate the Leeds doom spiral. Heads went almost as quickly as their advantage, with Callum Wilson showing his ex-England team-mate how to score from the spot within three minutes.
What followed was shameful and threats from c***s on social media are hardly likely to inspire Bamford to pull himself out of his funk ahead of a huge game at West Ham on Sunday. Leeds could be relegated if Forest get anything against Arsenal, Everton win at a Wolves side bringing their beach towels, and Sam Allardyce’s men lose to the Hammers.
If the stakes weren’t so high and Leeds had an alternative other than a record signing stuck in the reserves, Allardyce might consider giving Bamford a break. But they are, they haven’t and he can’t.
EFL game to watch – Play-offs second legs
This weekend wraps up the EFL play-off semi-finals, with three ties all delicately poised.
Friday night sees Bolton go to Barnsley following a 1-1 draw in last Saturday’s first leg. Of course, the Tykes were happier with that, especially now they get to take the Trotters back to Oakwell where they’ve been on fire, scoring 28 goals in 12 games since the turn of the year. Those strikes came in nine games, with two defeats at the end of the season coming with a play-off place all-but secure but the other loss was a 3-0 defeat to Bolton at the start of January. And Bolton haven’t lost to Barnsley in their last 16 league meetings going back to 1997.
The League Two first legs both ended in 1-0 wins for the home teams, with Salford taking a slender advantage the short distance to Stockport on Saturday before Carlisle look to claw back their deficit to Bradford on Sunday.
European game to watch – Bayern Munich v RB Leipzig
PSG can all-but seal their domestic title this weekend, making it quite likely that four of the five big leagues in Europe will be wrapped up. Leaving just the Bundesliga to be decided.
As it stands, Bayern have a one-point advantage over Borussia Dortmund going in to the penultimate matchday, when the reigning champions facing their sternest remaining test: a visit from third-placed Leipzig.
Dortmund desperately need a favour from Leipzig before they face Augsburg on Sunday. The final day sees both Bayern and Dortmund host mid-table opposition, with the leaders at Cologne while Dortmund welcome Mainz. If Bayern are to blow an 11th straight title, it might be this weekend.