Manchester City’s inexorable winning run at the top of the Premier League means neutrals are looking elsewhere for competition and entertainment.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the games taking place this weekend.
Saints in need of divine intervention?
When you have at least five players out, a defensive injury crisis and six successive defeats, the last thing Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl needed was to face Chelsea, the Premier League’s most in-form side after Manchester City. The Saints are on a downward spiral ever since their early-January win over Liverpool put them just four points off the top – that gap is now 27 and they are four ahead of 17th-placed Newcastle. Hasenhuttl’s position appears safe at St Mary’s but he desperately needs to stop the rot.
Baggies in last-chance saloon
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) February 19, 2021
It seems like it is now or never for West Brom if they are going to pull off a great escape. The club have not received the expected lift from sacking Slaven Bilic and appointing Sam Allardyce with just one win in 11 league matches since. However, just two victories all season does not point to the necessary quality being present to secure the 27 points from the 42 remaining available which would get them to the magical 40-mark. January signing Mbaye Diagne has offered some promise but only the Premier League’s top two – Manchester City and Manchester United – have won in the league at Burnley since October.
Defeat not an option for Sheffield United
The Gaffer. 👊
“There’s still fight & fire in the belly in myself and the players that we can win games of football between now and end of the season.” pic.twitter.com/jJp9DFm7Tq
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) February 19, 2021
Sheffield United’s fate looks even more hopeless as they face a must-win relegation six-pointer against Fulham. Having beaten fellow strugglers West Brom earlier this month, the Blades have to repeat the trick but injuries have not been kind to them with John Egan and John Fleck missing. Anything other than victory against Scott Parker’s side, who have taken four points from the last two matches, is unthinkable if United have any chance of avoiding the drop.
Will the fire return to the Merseyside derby?
The Merseyside derby is the top-flight fixture which has had the most red cards (28) but the feistiness has disappeared in recent seasons with Richarlison’s sending off in October the first in four years and only the third in the last decade. There may be some bad blood remaining from that game as Jordan Pickford’s tackle ended Virgil Van Dijk’s season, while Richarlison’s challenge put Thiago Alcantara out for two months. However, the lack of a crowd significantly lowers the match-day antagonism.
Can the apprentice upset the master?
Unless Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has some secret information gained from years working as Pep Guardiola’s assistant up his sleeve it would seem the Gunners are the next cannon fodder for the all-conquering Manchester City. The Premier League leaders are on a club-record 17-match winning run and have opened up a 10-point gap at the top. Arsenal have managed just 18 victories all season and have one clean sheet in the last seven matches. Nothing points to anything other than another City win and so it falls on Arteta to devise a plan to prevent that.