FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Soccer


1) Fabinho absence a key blow

Liverpool’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple have taken several knocks in the past week, but they can significantly reduce the odds against them notching up a pretty decent treble with a win against Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Their chances would have been greatly increased had Fabinho been available but the Brazilian limped out of their win over Aston Villa with a soft tissue injury after 30 minutes and Liverpool immediately looked far more vulnerable. He’s not expected to be back until the Champions League final. A vital presence in Liverpool’s midfield, Chelsea’s forwards will seriously fancy their chances of breaching Liverpool’s rearguard with the usual sentry not in front of it on patrol. BG

  • Chelsea v Liverpool, FA Cup final, Saturday 4.45pm

2) Lukaku’s low return against Liverpool

Back in form with three goals in his past two games, Romelu Lukaku has given Thomas Tuchel plenty to think about ahead of the Cup final. While it is hardly the most scientific approach to team selection, Chelsea’s manager might want to bear in mind that Lukaku’s record against Saturday’s opponents is really not very good. In 19 appearances against Liverpool during his time at West Brom, Everton and Chelsea, he has only scored five goals and finished on the winning side three times. It is a record that is unlikely to inspire much in the way of confidence when the big decision is made. BG

3) Everton must make hay against mid-table sides

“You offer us seven points from Chelsea, Leicester and Watford, we bite your hand off,” Frank Lampard said following Wednesday’s stalemate at Vicarage Road. The mood is upbeat, and encouragingly they have two games to come at Goodison Park against sides who are comfortable in mid-table. It’s perhaps inaccurate to say Thomas Frank’s men have “nothing to play for” but the challenge will surely be less determined than Everton would get from a side fighting for survival, or scrapping for Champions League qualification. On which note, Lampard must regard it as highly unlikely that they could go to Arsenal and win a week on Sunday. So in one sense Everton have two games to save themselves, starting with Brentford this Sunday and followed by Crystal Palace four days later. Two winnable matches – Premier League safety before the final day? Everton fans would bite your hand off. LM

4) Rice tasked with derailing City’s goal express

The capture of Erling Haaland is an ominous sign for Manchester City’s rivals and the same would be true should Declan Rice head for the Etihad from the London Stadium. Arguably neither player feels like an entirely natural fit for City – Haaland’s outrageous game has traditionally been about using his pace to get in behind defences rather than being a link in the chain of a possession-heavy side. Rice, meanwhile, lacks the silkiness of many recent Manchester City midfielders but, in theory at least, would bring the sort of defensive ballast that comes in handy while trying to win on multiple fronts. Manchester City have hammered in 10 goals in two matches since that painful Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid – and 19 in their previous four league games. Even Rice’s dynamism in front of the West Ham defence seems unlikely to stop Pep Guardiola’s goal machine. LM

Declan Rice of West Ham is being linked with a move to a host of Premier League clubs.
Declan Rice of West Ham is being linked with a move to a host of Premier League clubs. Photograph: James Griffiths/West Ham United/Shutterstock

5) Late arrivals due at Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur host Burnley in Sunday’s midday kick-off, a match of of massive importance for both sides. Burnley fans who cannot afford to an overnight stay in London but wish to travel by rail on the day will arrive in London mid-way through half-time if they take the first available train from Manchester Road Station on Sunday morning and it arrives on time. BT Sport’s decision, taken in conjunction with the Premier League, to stage a noon kick-off for a match of such significance provides the latest in a long line of examples which showcase the almost total disregard and borderline contempt which broadcasters and the Premier League continue to show for match-going fans. BG

6) Leeds cannot afford to be conservative

Leeds had Luke Ayling sent off in the 2-1 defeat by Arsenal and Dan James was shown a red card after 24 minutes in their latest loss, Wednesday’s 3-0 reverse against Chelsea. They are not doing themselves many favours and if they are ultimately relegated those dismissals may be thought of as pivotal. But Jesse Marsch’s approach in the coming days will be the most significant factor. The feeling among some fans is that he is overly conservative – predictable given he replaced the more attack-minded (some say reckless) Marcelo Bielsa – but Chelsea had looked uncharacteristically vulnerable in recent weeks. Perhaps an opportunity was missed to put Thomas Tuchel’s men under pressure. It is safe to presume that inspirational quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali are not going to hold much sway with your average Premier League footballer. But could channelling Bielsa, and recognising that attack is often the best form of defence, deliver a priceless three points? LM

What does Erling Haaland’s signing mean for Manchester City? – video

7) A farewell to Foster at Vicarage Road?

One of the few Watford players who can finish the season with his head held high, Ben Foster cut loose at his teammates after the club’s relegation was confirmed last weekend. “We’ve got too many players who are happy to put it in for an hour, 70 minutes, but then probably fall off and happily let it go in the last 20 minutes,” he said. “You can’t have that. When you’re a team like us, the minimum is giving it everything you’ve got.” While Foster is too old and near the end of his contract to care about hurting the feelings of his fellow players with his justified criticism, they managed to rouse themselves enough to take a point from their dire midweek game against Everton. On Sunday they host Leicester as they bid to arrest a run of 12 games – 11 consecutive defeats and a draw – without a win at home. Whatever the outcome, Foster deserves an ovation, as he has previously said he’d like to finish his career in America, so this may well be his final game at Vicarage Road. BG

8) More hidden gems from around south London?

With little at stake for either side as Aston Villa host Crystal Palace, Patrick Vieira has said he will use the run-in to start building for next season by giving some youngsters some top-flight experience. At the start of the campaign, Palace owner Simon Parish named David Omilabu, Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and Malachi Boateng as the trio of academy graduates most likely to break into the first team this season, but only midfielder Rak-Sakyi has got a solitary 14-minute run out. Fitness permitting, Eagles fans might like to see more of the youngsters in Palace’s three remaining games. BG

Jesurun Rak-Sakyi only league appearance this season was against Chelsea back in August.
Jesurun Rak-Sakyi only league appearance this season was against Chelsea back in August.
Photograph: Simon West/Action Plus/Shutterstock

9) Will Smith rebuild Norwich to be more robust?

“We’re a team that’s been recruited to play possession-based football, but unfortunately at this level we’re coming up against teams who are going to be better than us with possession, at times.” That was Dean Smith’s honest assessment following relegated Norwich City’s latest defeat, 3-0 away against Leicester on Wednesday. Smith’s idea that Norwich, for all their ambition, simply lack the quality to play possession-focused football in the top flight was by extension a criticism of the club’s recruitment and overall strategy before his arrival last November. Presumably, though, Smith will believe they have the ability to do it in the Championship. The suggestion seems to be that he will aim to introduce a more pragmatic approach with the aim of not just returning to, but surviving in, the Premier League. LM

10) Newcastle can dream of next season

As Arsenal continue to battle for the top four, and while the relegation fight plays out a few places below them, Eddie Howe and Newcastle have the luxury of beginning to think about next season. Howe’s intelligence and his managerial skill, honed over many years on the south coast plus a brief spell at Burnley in 2011-12, have proved a perfect fit in freeing the Magpies of worries about dropping down into the Championship. With a healthy level of investment in the squad to come in the summer – Yves Bissouma of Brighton and Leeds’s Kalvin Phillips are both transfer targets – what will constitute success in the next campaign? The more upbeat Newcastle fans may even fancy that a charge for the top six is not out of the question, and a rare win against a side from the top bracket would fuel their optimism. LM



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