Big Weekend: Man United v Liverpool, City, Tuchel, Dele
Both Manchester United and Liverpool’s domestic seasons could be over by Sunday evening and it’s time to unleash the Spursiest Spur.
Game to watch – Manchester United v Liverpool
United were three points clear of Liverpool when the two met in January and retained that lead thanks to a 0-0 draw at what could still be called, for the last time, fortress Anfield.
Burnley ended Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten run four days later before five further consecutive home defeats ended any chance of retaining the title and left their aspirations of Champions League qualification hanging by a thread. That thread has frayed further after draws against Leeds and Newcastle and defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday could see it snap altogether. Should Chelsea beat Fulham, Jurgen Klopp’s side will be seven points off fourth with four left to play.
United, meanwhile, are clinging to the faintest of faint title hopes and defeat for them will would hand City the trophy if Pep Guardiola’s side turn up against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
A game, then, in which both teams need to win to ensure they give a solitary sh*t for the rest of the domestic season at least. We’ll take a solitary goal.
Team to watch – Manchester City
Manchester City may have claimed their fifth Premier League title by close of play on Sunday. They will then sit alone in second place behind 13-time winners United.
As firm favourites to go all the way in the Champions League after their stunning comeback victory in the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, this is shaping up to be the greatest season in their history. It’s a horrible campaign for that to be the case of course, but still, few would doubt it’s deserved: they proved on Wednesday evening that they are the best team around right now.
And while talk of domination and legacy – as was the case with Liverpool and Bayern Munich last season – normally leads to a swift kick to the goolies to bring the proposed overdog crumbling back down to earth, talk there will be.
This is a very talented, very deep squad, with a very good manager who doesn’t need a striker for his side to beat the very best opponents, but will surely buy a world-class one anyway just to be sure. Do you know you’re in a legacy when you’re in it?
Manager to watch – Thomas Tuchel
Like City, this could also be the greatest season in Chelsea’s history. Considering it looked as though it could have been the worst – certainly in the Roman Abramovich era – at the point at which Thomas Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard, that is truly incredible.
And few do a mid-season sacking better than Abramovich and Chelsea.
Avram Grant took over from Jose Mourinho in September 2007 and was pipped to the Premier League title by two points by United, who also denied them on penalties in the Champions League final.
Guus Hiddink took 34 Premier League points from a possible 39 having taken over from Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2009, won the FA Cup and was only denied a Champions League final place by a “f***ing disgrace”.
Roberto Di Matteo – or Tuchel I – claimed both the FA Cup and Champions League titles in 2012 having taken over from Andre Villas-Boas.
And even the controversial appointment of Rafa Benitez the following season worked out swimmingly, with Chelsea fans ‘forgiving’ their former scourge as they claimed the Europa League title and secured Champions League qualification.
All of those managers were appointed on an interim basis. Chelsea bucked that trend this time but Tuchel has absolutely followed the others by not only saving a season but making it a truly memorable one. He’s here to stay, for a bit, probably.
The clash against Fulham is a big game in the middle of the two biggest of the season so far. A win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday is vital in that they don’t want to rely on having to pick up near maximum points in their remaining Premier League games against Man City, Arsenal, Leicester and Aston Villa.
Tuchel’s team selection will be fascinating ahead of the second leg against Real Madrid on Wednesday. A Tammy Abraham swansong, perhaps?
Player to watch – Dele Alli
“He shouldn’t be left to rot, he shouldn’t have a career that is just drifting aimlessly,” Peter Crouch said of Dele Alli last month.
A player who was said to be worth north of £100million not long ago has started just two Premier League games this season for a team sitting in seventh.
The Dele rot was pinned – strangely considering he wasn’t great for a while under Mauricio Pochettino – almost entirely on Jose Mourinho. It’s been a bit of surprise, then, that the promotion of former teammate Ryan Mason hasn’t resulted in the midfielder’s immediate reinstatement.
He didn’t emerge from the bench against Southampton and touched the ball three times in his six Carabao Cup final minutes, losing possession on two of those occasions.
But who has ever really cared about how readily Dele Alli gives the ball away? He always has, but was brilliant in spite – almost because – of that. For the nine frustrating things he does, there’s the one wondrous moment that magically, beautifully causes all frustration to evaporate.
What do Mason and Spurs have to lose against Sheffield United on Saturday evening? Be Spursy, be fun; play the Spursiest, funnest footballer you’ve got.
Football League game to watch – Cheltenham v Newport
Chris Hussey’s stunning free-kick led to Michael Duff’s double fist-pumping celebration as Cheltenham sealed promotion to League One with a draw at home to Carlisle on Tuesday. But both Cambridge and Bolton are still in with a shout of winning the title with two games left to play in League Two.
GAFFER GAFFER GIVE US A DANCE pic.twitter.com/26A9ZWDBhS
— Cheltenham Town (@CTFCofficial) April 27, 2021
Newport meanwhile, harbour their own hopes of promotion to League One and currently sit in the play-off spots, but just two points above Forest Green Rovers in eighth.
European game to watch – Monaco v Lyon
Lyon, Lyon, Lyon. You may well have f****d it last time out…
The Ligue 1 title race this season is WILD 😍
Lille came from 2-0 down against Lyon to go top of the table again 🏆 pic.twitter.com/SYMoYquP2a
— Goal (@goal) April 26, 2021
Ligue 1’s title race is 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/jhYVFLIcup
— Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) April 25, 2021