Big Weekend: Liverpool v Spurs, Man City, Jesse Marsch, Richarlison, EFL play-offs and final day

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Leeds manager Jesse Marsch, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Man City coach Pep Guardiola. Credit: PA Images
Leeds manager Jesse Marsch, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Man City coach Pep Guardiola. Credit: PA Images

Will Liverpool slip up against Spurs? Can City put their Madrid misery behind them? It’s a huge weekend at the top and bottom of the Premier League, and massive too in the EFL and National League…

Game to watch – Liverpool v Tottenham
Liverpool’s trip to Newcastle was said to be their hardest remaining game in the Premier League. They p*ssed it. Now comes another test viewed as the trickiest they will encounter down the home straight as Antonio Conte brings his Spurs to Anfield for some Saturday night fun.

Unlike Newcastle, Tottenham are as eager for the points as Liverpool to meet their own ends, which could make for a rather more enthralling affair than what the Reds and Toon served up last Saturday lunchtime.

Then, Liverpool did all that was needed. No more, no less. They had plenty in reserve should it have been needed, with Mo Salah, Fabinho, Thiago and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench as they rested before the Champions League semi-final second leg. Those on the pitch always seemed to have another few gears to go through if Newcastle offered a sterner examination of their title credentials.

With a Champions League final place now in the bag, it is rather more simple for Jurgen Klopp, who just needs to pick his best team and keep the Reds rolling. The momentum Liverpool currently have is a daunting prospect for Spurs but if the their mentality is anything less than monstrous, Conte’s counter-attacking talents threaten to cause the Reds considerably more discomfort than Newcastle managed.

Motivation comes rather more easily for Spurs, too, who could fall five points behind Arsenal by the end of the weekend, allowing the Gunners to wrap up fourth place and celebrate St Totteringham’s Day at White Hart Lane next Thursday.

Premier League tips: Burnley and Liverpool to win, Man City to bounce back

Team to watch – Manchester City
City have three days to find the bottle that went missing in Madrid so as to avoid suffering a similar fate in the Premier League title race.

Somehow, the leaders have to put Wednesday night’s ridiculousness behind them before Newcastle arrive at the Etihad on Sunday, by which time a rather more buoyant Liverpool might have leapfrogged them again at the top of the table.

Before the first leg against Real, Pep Guardiola spoke of City adopting a “shower mentality”, asking his side to wash and go after every match, with no time for dwelling on the past while the fixtures come thick and fast. But that isn’t as simple as it sounds when you’ve just chucked away a Champions League final place.

That is how it will be seen at City, despite Real’s relentlessness and whatever hold they have on the Champions League. Even if City win the Premier League title, for which they will almost certainly need to stay perfect through the next four games, the collapse at the Bernabeu will prompt huge regrets at the end of the campaign.

Whether City can put that huge disappointment to one side until then remains to be seen. But we’ll get a good indication on Sunday against a Newcastle team with the freedom and confidence to trouble City. Though we said that last week before they were neutered by a much-changed Liverpool side.

Guardiola need not tinker like Klopp against Toon, or as he did at Leeds. Having chased the Treble, for City it is the Premier League or nothing. This weekend will be pivotal to deciding which.

Manager to watch – Jesse Marsch
The Leeds manager was relentlessly positive in the wake of Leeds being humped 4-0 by City last Saturday. But Everton’s win over Chelsea the following day has made for a very uneasy week in West Yorkshire, at the end of which the Whites have to go to Arsenal.

Having not long ago seemed to have eased their relegation fears, Leeds are now the bookies’ favourites to join Norwich and Watford on their way back to the Championship. And their injury curse seems to have returned, with half of Marsch’s defence missing after being crocked before and during the defeat to City.

Defeat at Arsenal could leave Leeds in the bottom three if Everton maintain the spirit they showed against Chelsea last weekend when they go to Leicester at the same time Marsch’s men face the Gunners. Then they have to play Chelsea before the two games against Brighton and Brentford, which most Leeds fans are pinning their hopes on for the points needed to survive.

Marsch, though, can’t look beyond the trip to the Emirates. And he needs to inspire Leeds to achieve something they have yet to manage so far this season: take points off Big Six sides. They and Norwich are the only sides to lose in all of their meetings so far with the big boys.

If that record continues over the next week, by the time they welcome in-form Brighton, it might be too late for Leeds and Marsch.

Player to watch – Richarlison
Few players have done more to bolster Everton’s survival hopes than the Brazilian. After enduring a wretched first three months under Frank Lampard, Richarlison has had a hand in five of Everton’s last six goals over their most recent six games. In the two matches he didn’t tangibly contribute, he was a thorn in Man Utd’s side and sh*thoused his way through the Merseyside derby.

Richarlison may be playing for a move but before then, few can argue that he hasn’t the “boll*cks” for Everton’s relegation fight, with their next battle at Leicester on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a quick reunion for the Toffees and Foxes after their 1-1 draw at Goodison less than three weeks ago. Then, it was Richarlison who bagged a 90th-minute equaliser to earn what could turn out to be a vital point.

They have earned precious few of those on the road – only two, in fact, since August and none this year or under Lampard. The trip to a Leicester side winless in their last four Premier League games and now fresh from exiting the Europa Conference League offers a good opportunity to rectify that. Especially if Dominic Calvert-Lewin returns from injury to take some of the goalscoring burden off Richarlison.

Richarlison in action for Everton. Credit: PA Images
Richarlison in action for Everton. Credit: PA Images

EFL game to watch – Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday
The League One play-offs get underway on Friday night before the regular seasons in the Championship and League Two conclude on Saturday afternoon.

In the Championship, we already know the identity of the top four and bottom three, with only the order of Forest and Huddersfield in third and fourth to be decided. The other two play-off spots are up for grabs: Sheffield United and Luton are in possession of the fifth and sixth but Boro and Millwall remain in contention. Benjamin Bloom has considered all the possibilities.

Desperate to return to the Championship from the eternal damnation that is League One are Sunderland and Wednesday. Their first leg takes place at the Stadium of Light on Friday night. Allow Ian King to explain why it matters as much for financial reasons as football ones.

Championship Big Weekend: Blades nerves, Boro pounce, Luton injury test, Wallace farewell

European game to watch – Wrexham v Stockport
The Madrid derby is always a biggie but aside from Atletico’s push for a Champions League place, much of the focus before Sunday night’s clash at the Wanda Metropolitana will be on the guard of honour that won’t be laid on for champions Real.

So to Wales we go for this week’s European (sort of) game to watch. At the Racecourse Ground, the National League’s top two face off, with the title and automatic promotion on the line. Visitors Stockport are favourites to return to the Football League while they sit three points clear at the summit, with a game in hand over Wrexham, who have two games remaining to claw back that deficit.

Victory in front of a sold-out 10,000-plus crowd on Sunday is a must for Phil Parkinson’s Dragons after they lost ground on Monday, when they conceded an 89th-minute equaliser to Boreham Wood while County won at Chesterfield. Wrexham could be third by kick-off if Halifax win on Saturday, while Solihull Moors could still overtake the Welshmen in time for the play-offs at the end of a rollercoaster regular season.

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