Big Weekend: Watford v Wolves, Arsenal, Foden, Dyche

Date published: Friday 5th April 2019 7:24

Phil Foden Manchester City

Game to watch – Watford v Wolves
If Liverpool are the year’s biggest overachievers then this pair must come next. Both have kept us royally entertained all season and still have two potential routes available to end fine seasons with the tangible reward of European football.

They are separated by just one point and one goal in the Premier League table, contesting seventh place and the Europa League prize it would carry should Manchester City win the FA Cup.

If City don’t win the cup, then it’ll most likely be because one of these two has scuppered them in the final.

Wolves came into the league with money and grand plans and have served notice that with a bit more consistency they can pose a genuine threat to the Big Six hegemony. They’ve got a result against all six of the big boys somewhere along the way this season and would sit third in a top seven Premier League mini-league.

Watford have been around the top flight a little longer but have stability and purpose now, and ambition that extends beyond mere survival, as shown by their uncharacteristic refusal to down tools once safety was assured.

For both teams, a successful season is already assured. But for one of them an FA Cup final – and who knows even an FA Cup win – to really top it off. Don’t knock reaching an FA Cup final. Liverpool haven’t done it in seven years; Spurs haven’t done it in twenty-eight.

 

Player to watch – Phil Foden
Caught the eye when finally handed a Premier League start in Wednesday’s bloodless win over Cardiff and may well get another chance in the FA Cup semi-final against Brighton as City look to manage resources for the immense challenge of attempting to win absolutely everything.

City’s next five games after Saturday include three against Spurs and one against Manchester United so another opportunity for Foden to impress at Wembley this weekend seems prudent.

Foden has already scored three goals in the Oldest and Greatest Cup Competition in the World this season, while his performance against Cardiff left even notably foreign Kevin de Bruyne announcing in no uncertain terms that It’s Coming Home and Pep Guardiola saying the next decade will inevitably come to be known by football historians as the Foden Era.

 

Team to watch – Arsenal
It’s a quiet Premier League weekend for the big boys with City in FA Cup action, Liverpool playing on Friday, Chelsea not in action until Monday and Spurs and United enjoying a weekend off.

The exception then is Arsenal, who look to keep their recent good form going in a ticklish away game at Everton. Defeat would instantly toss away the hard-won advantage over Spurs – who have blown a ten-point lead – while victory would send a real message to their assorted top-four rivals.

Arsenal’s away form remains the biggest obstacle between them and Champions League football next season, and this is one of five away games in their remaining seven. While none of those are against the Big Six, four are against the Medium Five with trips to Watford, Wolves and Leicester to come after this one.

The Gunners have taken 16 of the last 18 Premier League points available, but four of their five wins in that time have come at home and the other at Huddersfield. During that fine domestic run they have also lost Europa League away games at Bate Borisov and Rennes; while those deficits were overturned comfortably enough back at the Emirates, it still points to a worrying travel sickness.

The last Premier League away win before the Huddersfield game was at Bournemouth right back in November. They’ve managed just six points in their last eight away games.

If that top-four spot is to be held, then a solid points return will be needed in those mid-range away days to come. Everton, for their part, have taken four points from their last two home games against Liverpool and Chelsea.

This could be a proper and revealing test of the depth and sustainability of Arsenal’s recent rejuvenation.

 

Manager to watch – Sean Dyche
Been a difficult old season for Dyche and Burnley. It started in the Europa League and has ended in a relegation scrap.

Unsurprisingly they’ve been entirely unable to replicate the frankly unsustainable defensive record that carried them to seventh place last year, but they have an opportunity this weekend to really settle the nerves. With Cardiff not in action this weekend, victory for Burnley would take them to 36 points, eight clear of Grandpa Brexit Neil Warnock’s merry band and to the brink of survival.

Every chance as well, against a Bournemouth team that threatened at one point to make a decent tilt at a seventh-place finish themselves this season before a run of five defeats and one win – against Huddersfield, of course, it’s always against Huddersfield – in eight games since handing Chelsea a 4-0 spanking in January.

 

Football League game to watch – Norwich v QPR
It’s the only one on the telly for starters, so unless you’re going to actually leave your house, it’s the only choice.

Still. Not a bad one. Promotion pacesetters Norwich have the advantage of playing first this weekend which, assuming they don’t make a balls of it, will allow them to take another huge stride towards promotion and heap the pressure on Leeds and Sheffield United who will have to respond later in the day in – on paper – far tougher assignments at Birmingham and Preston respectively.

QPR for their part have won just once in the last 15, leading to the sacking of Steve McClaren on April Fools’ Day. Poor Steve.

John Eustace takes temporary charge of a team that should already be far enough clear of the relegation zone to avoid things getting too hairy. Never know, though…

 

European game to watch – Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
Surely the last chance for any real late drama in La Liga’s title race as Atleti travel to Barcelona eight points adrift at the top of the table.

Even another draw after that very, very silly 4-4 at Villarreal this week would probably do for Barca, preserving that eight-point cushion ahead of what looks a simple enough run-in. Victory over their closest challengers, though, will really allow Messi and co to fully shift their full focus to the wide-open Champions League and the immediate task at hand against a suddenly mortal again Manchester United.

Dave Tickner

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