Big Midweek: Tottenham (and Arsenal fans) v Man City, Ten Hag, Reece James, Leeds v Norwich

Will Ford
Tottenham Man City
Tottenham v Manchester City is the big game of a Big Midweek.

Arsenal need a miraculous performance from Tottenham v Manchester City as we look forward to Erik ten Hag’s post-match comments and what Reece James can do in more than 11 minutes for Chelsea.


Game to watch: Tottenham v Manchester City
The idea that Tottenham players will give anything less than their best with a view to denying Arsenal the title is as laughable as the idea that those Tottenham players will suddenly produce anywhere close to that best on the back of two months of absolute dross.

Pre-Chelsea nightmare Tottenham would have a chance of beating Manchester City. The Tottenham side that’s picked up 10 points from their last nine games will need a huge amount of good fortune to get anything from this game.

They’ve beaten two teams – Brighton and Aston Villa – in the top half of the table this year, and having been at the Premier League’s summit before the 4-1 defeat to Chelsea in November, they’ve accrued just 37 points since, which is good enough for ninth, above Everton on goal difference. Beat Manchester City and then Sheffield United on the final day and they could qualify for the Champions League after Emi Martinez’s helping hand, but lose them both and they could finish the season in seventh.

That would be a silver lining for Arsenal fans, but they will be cheering on Sonny and co. with more vigour than many of their fierce rival supporters, as they need either them or West Ham to do a job for them against Manchester City, who have won their last seven games by an aggregate score of 28-5 and haven’t lost since the start of December. It’s not looking good.

“You’ve got to turn up against Manchester City otherwise they’ll embarrass you in front of your wife and kids!” Wayne Rooney said, in the wake of Tottenham sagely deciding to do their lap of honour after victory over Burnley on Saturday. The wife and kids can stay at home.

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Manager to watch: Erik ten Hag
Erik ten Hag’s post-match comments and press conferences have been more absorbing than the football his team has played for quite a while now. We know what we’re going to get from Manchester United: they’ll have loads of shots against them; there will be no structure to speak of; there won’t be a plan; Rasmus Hojlund will touch the ball a handful of times; they’ll make at least two or three daft defensive errors; we’ll all laugh at Casemiro.

Schadenfreude aside, there’s not much point in watching United games, it’s been Ten Hag’s take on them – and his side’s general struggles – that have provided most intrigue.

More than a few eyebrows were raised a couple of weeks ago when Ten Hag insisted United “are one of the most dynamic and entertaining teams in the league at this moment” after they escaped Old Trafford with a 1-1 draw against Burnley.

He then said his players “gave up” in the 4-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, before claiming ahead of the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal – presumably with Jamie Carragher’s assertion that United are “the worst coached team in the Premier League” in mind – that his critics “have no knowledge about football” and his team have “fought in all games” but that defeat to Palace.

He’s clearly well aware that a lack of fight reflects terribly on him as the manager, and that a downing of tools from his players can only lead to his sacking. He’s essentially saying his available players aren’t good enough, which is absolutely true. But that doesn’t explain why his uninjured troops seemingly have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing.

Other managers have been beset by similar or worse injury problems than Ten Hag this season, and the Dutchman is the only one who has failed to show any sign that there’s a distinguishable plan or philosophy that a fully fit squad could take advantage of.

👉 Five reasons Man Utd, Ratcliffe should not sack Ten Hag: Injuries, Carabao Cup, FA Cup success…
👉 Rooney claims Ten Hag directed ‘massive insult’ at Man Utd players in Arsenal post-match interview
👉 Tuchel still favourite for Man Utd job when Ten Hag is put out of his misery


Team to watch: Newcastle United
Newcastle have been quietly pretty good for a while now. In large part due to Alexander Isak’s stunning form which has seen him score 10 goals since the start of March, they’ve picked up 28 points from their last 15 games with their only defeats coming to Arsenal, Chelsea and an on-fire Crystal Palace.

Beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and Brentford at the Gtech and Newcastle are assured European football for the second season on the bounce, likely the Europa League assuming United don’t beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final, and they may yet finish fifth.

All things considered – injuries, European commitments, speculation over various star players’ futures – that would represent a decent if not spectacular season for Eddie Howe, who has at times been under real pressure this season but is now nailed on to be Newcastle manager beyond the summer.

READ MORE: How Premier League teams qualify for Champions League and Europa competitions for 24/25


Player to watch: Reece James
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen peak Reece James. He’s started just 19 Premier League games in the last two seasons, wasn’t close to his best in the five between injury lay-offs this term and in 2022/23 had the air of man being patched up and rolled out in desperation, never comfortable despite the odd bit of brilliance along the way.

We don’t want to count chickens on the basis of 11 Premier League minutes, but given his impact in his brief cameo against Nottingham Forest, his hamstring surgery appears to have done the trick.

He produced a sublime assist that even Nicolas Jackson couldn’t mess up to score the winner at the City Ground, and besides that pinpoint cross, looked as though he had rediscovered the confidence that he’s the best player on the pitch, no matter who he’s playing against. He’s faster, stronger, more composed; generally superior in every aspect of the game.

Mauricio Pochettino may be wise to ease him in slowly, so it may be a slightly longer stint from the bench against Brighton. But James will likely be gunning for more to have the opportunity to prove to Gareth Southgate that he’s England’s best right-back.


EFL game to watch: Leeds v Norwich
The first leg was awful, but they often are in the Championship play-offs, and we fully expect the second leg to be significantly better as Leeds will have little choice but to go at Norwich at Elland Road: the fans won’t allow anything less.

Daniel Farke will surely revert to playing a proper No.9 with Georginio Rutter in behind, as the Frenchman – one of the players of the season in the Championship – looked lost at Carrow Road and needs to be more involved in the game for Leeds to look more like Leeds and get to Wembley.

Norwich will presumably shut up shop and hope Josh Sargent – who missed the best chance in the first leg – can cause some damage on the break.


European game to watch: Atalanta v Juventus
Gian Piero Gasperini probably hoped for an easier opponent than unbeaten, treble-chasing Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League final, but his side could head into that formidable challenge with a trophy – just the second other than lower-league titles in their history – already under their belt.

Juventus would typically be a daunting opponent, but they’re nowhere close to the dominant force of old and Atalanta have drawn with them home and away in Serie A this season. Victory in the Coppa Italia final could also strike a psychological blow to boost Gasperini’s side in the league run-in, with Juventus currently clinging onto the final Champions League spot, four points clear of Atalanta, who have three games to play to Juve’s two.