Liverpool have contrived to make themselves favourites for the top four. Chelsea and Leicester have an FA Cup final to focus on for now.
Game to watch: Chelsea v Leicester
This year’s FA Cup final serves as a dress rehearsal for what now looks like it could be a Champions League decider on Tuesday night.
Allowances must be made for this season and its unique circumstances, but it still doesn’t sit right to have the FA Cup final take place while all the league dust is yet to settle. It’s not particularly fair on either side that they go into what used to be the showpiece game in the English club football calendar having to stress about the two games coming immediately after it.
That said, both sides could have significantly reduced that stress by not losing at home to Newcastle and Arsenal in the last week. There really is no excuse for either of those things to happen to anyone, least of all teams challenging for the top four and silverware.
Still, moving all that to one side this should be a final well worth watching. Chelsea are a curious beast under Thomas Tuchel; they’re either relentlessly ice-cold and unstoppable – which is most of the time – or they’re absolutely not. Does the Arsenal fiasco make it more or less likely for this to be another slipshod day? Who can say.
Leicester for their part have somehow kept themselves inside the top four and reached a first FA Cup final in decades despite a catastrophic injury list. They will enjoy the final all the more for the nerve-settling victory over Manchester United, even though Liverpool’s own win at United 48 hours later will have set those nerves off again.
It is impossible to extract this game from the ongoing top-four battle into which it has been unceremoniously dumped, and it’s a bit annoying. Still, should be a good game. And it’s a trophy that won’t be won by Manchester City. Not many of those knocking about these days.
Team to watch: Liverpool
Here they come. Suddenly not just back in the Champions League picture but favourites to finish in the top four. It looked all but impossible not that long ago in what has been a distinctly weird and esoteric title defence.
Having fooled United fans with a decoy bus, Liverpool proceeded to make chumps of the United team in a 4-2 victory that thankfully silenced a thousand conspiracy theories and frankly saved us all a bit of a headache.
Now all Liverpool have to do is win their three remaining games and they are at worst in a goal-difference shoot-out for a top-four spot. And those three games are against West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace. Liverpool certainly wouldn’t have expected to find themselves in this kind of bind at the start of the season, but those are kindly fixtures with which to free yourself. They are also precisely the sort of games Liverpool keep making a total bollocks of this season, though, so who knows. They’re not going to need a decoy bus at the Hawthorns, but they are going to need another three points.
Player to watch: Gareth Bale
His return to Tottenham might not have been a total success, but it has at least turned out not to be the memory-defiling disaster it threatened to be at multiple points during Jose Mourinho’s little-lamented reign.
Spurs haven’t quite got value out of Bale, but what they have acquired has turned out to be a very expensive and very effective flat-track bully who has scored some lovely, lovely goals against some terrible opponents.
Nobody else in the Premier League this season comes anywhere close to his 87 minutes per goal (Kelechi Iheanacho is next best at 121), but those nine league goals on his farewell tour have all come at home against Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Sheffield United. Luckily for him and anyone with blood in their veins who likes watching him score daft goals, he’s got Wolves at home this weekend which sits neatly in his zone having plundered four goals in Ryan Mason’s two home games in charge this season.
Manager to watch: David Moyes
Had a point about the “integrity” of the fixture list given Manchester United’s back-to-back games against Leicester and Liverpool, but his own team’s defeat at home to Everton gave him little authority to make it. The always-unlikely Champions League dream has probably gone now, but West Ham still have a job to do.
It would be a shame to see such a season end without tangible reward, and Moyes must get his team back up and fighting over the last three games to secure European football of some sort – even the Conference would be something.
There is no reason they can’t do it. The sides pursuing them are all flaky and West Ham’s own fixture list offers few terrors. Saturday night’s trip to Brighton is probably the toughest of the three, though, and any dropped points will offer encouragement to a gaggle of clubs who don’t really deserve it while just causing a few Hammers sphincters to twitch.
European game to watch: Lille v St Etienne
Lille could end PSG’s dominance and secure their first Ligue 1 title since the Eden Hazard days a decade ago if results go their way this weekend. Most straightforwardly in what has been an epic four-way tussle for the title, if Lille beat St Etienne and PSG fail to beat Reims, the title is Lille’s.
Even a draw will get the job done with a week to spare for Lille if PSG lose and third-placed Monaco fail to beat Rennes.
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