It’s a biggie in the Premier League with Arsenal keen to extend their lead while the FA Cup squeezes in a fifth round in which Man Utd can continue their ascent…
Game to watch – Arsenal v Everton
Arsenal have had very little to avenge this season aside from a defeat to Manchester United – which they duly did – and, according to some shouty Gunners, the dastardly, ongoing conspiracy among Premier League officials to deny them a fair shot at the title. Everton is the other name on their sh*tlist but Wednesday offers the leaders the opportunity to take revenge for a defeat that threatened to derail their ambitions last month.
A 1-0 loss at Goodison Park prompted a wobble which saw Arsenal take only one point from nine and allow Manchester City to unseat them at the summit. The Gunners appear to have regained their composure, capitalising on City’s draw with Forest last week to reclaim top spot and establish a two-point cushion.
The visit of Everton on Wednesday provides Mikel Arteta’s side the chance to establish a bigger, more comfortable lead that would allow for a slip-up along the way. All they have to do is find a way to avoid being Dyched again.
That meeting on Merseyside coincided with Sean Dyche’s first game in charge of Everton, a rare occasion when the Toffees rallied around a single cause – to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Arsenal. It worked a treat and the Gunners could not claim defeat was undeserved.
But at the Emirates, with its own sense of unity and togetherness this season, it ought to be a different story. Arsenal should have enough quality to beat an Everton side who looked toothless even on home soil when Aston Villa left Goodison with a comfortable win on Saturday.
This Everton under this manager, though, will have their moments during the run-in. Consistency will almost certainly be too much to expect, but Dyche has already demonstrated that they can be tough to beat when they really want to be. Arsenal, as they did at Villa and Leicester, simply have to find a way.
Team to watch – Liverpool
If we must watch Liverpool again – apparently we must – then we can only hope they offer something more stimulating than what they subjected us to at Selhurst Park on Saturday night.
That was a God-awful game of football, between two teams who have had a wretched 2023 so far. Palace have been winless; Liverpool generally hopeless.
At least the Reds took a point from Palace but many travelling supporters were little more enthused than they were after the embarrassments at Wolves, Brentford and Brighton.
It isn’t just away that Liverpool have struggled with Wolves; Julen Lopetegui’s side were denied a win at Anfield in the FA Cup because of a VAR blindspot but they get the chance to try again on Wednesday, with Liverpool in little better shape than they were at the start of January.
Despite the return of Virgil van Dijk, they remain susceptible at the back, even if impotent Palace, 10-man Newcastle and rank-bad Everton couldn’t capitalise in the last fortnight or so. In midfield, a gaping void remains. Jurgen Klopp recalled Naby Keita at Selhurst Park, a mistake that was rectified after 45 minutes.
After the Real Madrid humiliation last week, Klopp opted for experience at Palace, which only prompted a weary, listless performance. With few other options to freshen things up – and against a well-rested Wolves side – Klopp just has to hope that Liverpool can play their way into something resembling form before their top-four hopes disappear completely.
The fact it has been shoe-horned into the calendar – half the ties on Tuesday night, half on Wednesday – coupled with a general lack of intriguing fixtures, would explain the apathy around the last 16, which features seven non-Premier League sides and the prospect of penalties with no room for replays.
Manchester United’s schedule is more crammed than anyone else’s as they continue to go strong in all competitions. They were the strongest of all in the Carabao Cup, and with Ten Hag’s first trophy in the bag, attention rapidly turns to the next one, while having half an eye on the one after that too.
Ten Hag has to pick a team to beat West Ham having already found the formula to knock Barcelona out of the Europa League and defeat Newcastle in their biggest game for decades. After welcoming David Moyes back to Old Trafford, the United boss then has to prepare for a trip to Anfield on Sunday.
Ten Hag has hardly put a foot wrong since he arrived but this tie against the Hammers will test his juggling skills. Harry Maguire, having collected the Carabao Cup, will be eyeing a run-out against one of the teams tipped to sign him, while the other half of the trophy-lifting committee, Bruno Fernandes, might be dragged out of the XI for an astonishingly rare rest.
This season is primed to be a huge success for Ten Hag, especially when you consider the shambles he inherited. But, as he has preached, United need to maintain the relentlessness that has seen them lose just one in 21 to make it even more special than it already is.
Player to watch – Alex Scott
The Guernsey Grealish could come up against the real one when Bristol City host Manchester City in the FA Cup on Tuesday night. Regardless, the visit of Pep Guardiola’s side offers Scott the chance to audition for the big move that many expect the 19-year-old to make in the summer.
Scott has lit up the Championship this season, starting all but one of City’s 33 games, contributing five assists along the way. Those may not be particularly eye-catching stats, but his touch, technique and the way the teenager glides through opposing midfields has caught the attention of seemingly half of the Premier League.
Scott admits Grealish is “the one I’ve almost modelled my game on”, even down to the barely-there socks and shinpads. His form has been a large factor in the Robins’ recent run that has seen them go unbeaten since Boxing Day and ease away from a relegation scrap.
The teenager could be up against Kalvin Phillips in the midfield battle at Ashton Gate, even if the England international is still ‘adapting and adjusting’ to Guardiola’s demands. Phillips’ star is currently waning; Scott’s is shining as a bright as anyone in the Championship.
EFL game to watch – Luton v Millwall
In addition to the Football League sides in FA Cup action this midweek, there are also a couple of Championship clashes on the box between teams sat together in the table.
Preston and especially Coventry will still harbour play-off ambitions when the 11th and 12th-placed sides meet at Deepdale, but Luton and Millwall are already in the top six, sixth and fifth respectively tied on points and goal difference.
The Kenilworth Road clash offers both sides the opportunity to pull away from the other in a play-off race that is becoming less tight than it was. Luton stumbled slightly after making their way up to fourth, then drawing two and losing to Burnley but they got back to winning ways on Saturday against Birmingham. Millwall have also been inconsistent, with the Lions looking for their first back-to-back victories since October.
European game to watch – Real Madrid v Barcelona
It’s a Classico week in the Copa del Rey, with Real and Barca clashing in the first leg of their semi-final tie.
Barca won the last meeting in the Supercopa last month but despite also leading the La Liga title race, Xavi needs a break after their Europa League exit at the hand of Manchester United was followed by domestic defeat to Almeria – “the worst game in the world” according to the Barca boss.
Real also dropped points at the weekend, but their late leveller in the derby against Atletico coming on the back of the mauling of Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League means Carlo Ancelotti’s side will meet Barca in rather more buoyant mood.
Their chirpiness will also be enhanced by the news that Robert Lewandowski sits this one out, though the Barca hitman should be back in time for the crucial La Liga Clasico on March 19. The chance for Real to make a statement before that huge clash is almost as juicy a carrot as a place in the Copa del Rey final against either Osasuna or Athletic Bilbao.