1) A sliding door encounter between Chelsea and Spurs
By Saturday night Antonio Conte will be living in a new reality. The only question is: which one? Scenario A is that his team will be well on their way to crowning his debut season in England with a domestic double. They will have secured a place in the FA Cup final and crushed the uprising of pesky Tottenham Hotspur, who will be so dispirited by the reminder of their place in the natural order of things that they will lose all belief in a title challenge and spend the rest of the season sulking and flailing at opponents, again. And then there is Scenario B, according to which Chelsea’s double hopes will have been expunged by Mauricio Pochettino’s swashbucklers, who will be infused by even more confidence and fluency after spreading more doubts in the minds of Chelsea players who were out-thought and outfought at Old Trafford last weekend. Given the form of each team going into the semi-final and Conte’s apparent belief that even a clapped-out Diego Costa is better than Michy Batshuayi, Scenario B looks more likely. Paul Doyle
- Pochettino: Tottenham hungry but Chelsea are FA Cup semi favourites
- Jonathan Wilson: Has Mourinho reminded Spurs how to beat Chelsea?
- Chelsea and Spurs dominate PFA Premier League team of the year
2) Centre-backs could be decisive when Arsenal face City
Arsène Wenger could roar into Wembley aboard a Harley-Davidson low-rider wearing nothing but denim shorts, dark sunglasses and a renegade smile and no one would bat an eyelid. After Monday’s events at Middlesbrough there is nothing more the Arsenal manager can do to shock us. At the Riverside he abandoned the habit of a life time and actually changed his formation, deploying a back three against the worst attack in England. It didn’t quite work even though Arsenal won. On Sunday Wenger’s team face one of the best attacks in the land and Wenger must decide whether to persist with the back three, revert to a back four or come up with another scheme now that he’s feeling versatile. The thing is, Arsenal’s defence will be weak in any shape if Shkodran Mustafi is still absent with a thigh injury. Manchester City, meanwhile, may be able to field Vincent Kompany again, fresh from his goal-scoring and defence-reinforcing exploits against Southampton. The fitness status of those two centre-backs will have a major bearing on the outcome of this weekend’s first FA Cup semi-final. PD
3) Huddersfield hope to fend off in-form Fulham
An almighty scramble is under way for a place in the Championship play-off spots. Huddersfield, to the immense credit of David Wagner, have looked snug for the whole season but now, suddenly, Fulham have got everyone’s nerves jangling. Slavisa Jokanovic’s free-scoring side are in such scorching form that the last Championship side to stop them from hitting the back of the net was, er, Gianfranco Zola’s Birmingham City. That was in February but Huddersfield will be thinking more about what happened in October, when the Terriers were whipped 5-0 at Craven Cottage. A repeat of that scoreline in a heaving John Smith Stadium looks unlikely but Fulham will certainly go all out for victory. A draw from this game might ultimately prove enough for Huddersfield, especially as Fulham have to contest a potentially decisive showdown with Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the regular season, but that would not be a natural mentality for Wagner’s team to take into what is sure to be a tense, fast-paced encounter. PD
- Brighton seal promotion after Huddersfield’s draw at Derby
- Paul Doyle: Wagner’s survivalist mentality steels Huddersfield for big time
- Jeremy Alexander: Jokanovic frees fizzy Fulham to break late for play-offs
4) Leeds need to relocate their mojo pronto
Leeds fans will travel in huge numbers to Burton and great voice, as usual, but with a growing sense of anxiety. A run of one win in five matches has resulted in Garry Monk’s side dropping out of the Championship play-off places and fretting about an anti-climax to an almost cruelly promising season. The extent of that fretting was visible in this week’s 1-0 home defeat by Wolves, as Leeds’ players misplaced an alarming number of passes and, at times, looked almost frozen by panic. That is no state of mind to be taking to Burton Albion, who are fighting valiantly to remain in the second tier. Monk needs to ensure that his players relocate their mojo pronto. A revival in the final three games of the regular season could put them in exactly the right form for the play-offs. The alternative is too painful to think about – but Leeds players can’t stop thinking about it. So Monk needs to get them to turn that fear into a driving force. PD
5) Will Allen and Stoke cook Swans’ goose?
After beating Hull City last weekend, chivalrous Stoke will now try to do Marco Silva’s men a favour by beating Swansea City. Paul Clement has declared this a must-win match for the Welsh side, who haven’t won any of their last six. During that run they have picked up one point and scored one goal and performed as if the initial upturn under Clement was a mirage. With the away team’s best midfielder expected to be fit enough to return to action, Stoke can look forward to welcoming back Joe Allen, something Swansea fans still regret that their club did not do last summer. Stoke have not won away since helping themselves to three points at Sunderland in January, if they were to do so at the Liberty Stadium, then the Swans’ goose would be close to cooked. PD
6) Port Vale desperate for win in game that Bolton dare not lose
Bolton will return to the Championship if they beat Port Vale on Saturday and Fleetwood fail to win at Gillingham. But the size of that ‘if’ has grown with the absence of striker Gary Madine, without whom Bolton have failed to score in their last three matches. That dodgy streak has given Fleetwood belief that Phil Parkinson’s erstwhile fine team could be overtaken in League One’s automatic promotion places. Bolton looked nervous in their most recent outing, Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Bury. Worse, that result left Bury two points above Port Vale, increasing the need for Michael Brown’s team to win against Bolton as they strive to get out of the relegation zone. PD
7) Christian Benteke: the return … and the revenge?
It is a crying shame that Jürgen Klopp believes he cannot get along with Mamadou Sakho but at least Liverpool’s best defender cannot be used against them at Anfield on Saturday. That will seriously weaken Crystal Palace, for whom Sakho has become essential since joining on loan in January. So even in the continued absence of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mané and Jordan Henderson, Liverpool will fancy their chances of piercing the visiting defence. But to prevent Palace from winning at Anfield for the third season in a row they will also need to subdue another of Klopp’s cast-offs. Christian Benteke would presumably take almost as much satisfaction as Sam Allardyce in exposing the frailties in Liverpool’s Sakho-less defence. Klopp believed Benteke was not the striker to fire Liverpool into the Champions League, now the Belgian must do his utmost to complicate their chances of reaching it. PD
- Uefa attacks Wada over incorrect handling of Sakho’s drug test
- Klopp rules out signing Hart: ‘Liverpool have highest-quality keepers’
- Liverpool intend to keep Can as contract runs into final 12 months
8) The return of Harry Redknapp
Having talked up the difficulty of keeping a side that isn’t in the Championship relegation zone on the right side of the thick black line for just three matches, Harry Redknapp gets his first opportunity to undo the damage done to Birmingham City by Gianfranco Zola in what promises to be a fiery Second City derby against Aston Villa. Zola was hired in mid-December with a view to moving the club “in a new direction”, a task he achieved with some gusto before resigning last Monday. Needlessly complex tactics, a failure to settle on a back three or four and the chaotic results of his insistence on defenders playing out from the back seem to have confused Birmingham’s players during Zola’s reign, but the success they had previously enjoyed under Gary Rowett suggests it won’t take much to whip them into shape now the Italian has departed. A good result against an Aston Villa side that’s taken one point from the last nine available would confer instant hero status upon Redknapp, whose innate modesty will no doubt preclude him from taking too much credit should Birmingham pull off the relatively straightforward task of avoiding the drop. Barry Glendenning
- Redknapp: ‘I was managing Tony McCoy’s XI, now I have a Midlands derby’
- Brighton up, and Birmingham bring in Redknapp – Football Weekly Extra
9) Hull City to revert to two up front?
Unbeaten at fortress KCom since Boxing Day but hopeless on the road, Hull’s Premier League future appears to depend on the three home games in their five remaining fixtures. Hull’s last home game was a 4-2 demolition of Middlesbrough in which Marco Silva played two strikers in Abel Hernández and Oumar Niasse. In subsequent visits to Manchester City and Stoke City, he dropped Hernández to the bench only to see his team lose both games. With that in mind, it will be intriguing to see how he sets up his side as he attempts to maintain a staggering unbeaten home record as a manager that stretches back 40 games. The helter-skelter intensity with which Hull City set about Middlesbrough was key to that particular win and if they put in the same hard yards against a Watford side with little to play for, it seems likely they will take another giant leap towards safety. BG
10) Another stellar display from Tom Heaton?
Having crushed Burnley 0-0 in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford in October, Manchester United get another crack at Sean Dyche’s team this weekend and will be hoping their opponents’ goalkeeper Tom Heaton is not in similarly inspired form. Having spent 13 years at Old Trafford during the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson without ever playing so much as a minute of first-team football, Heaton has blossomed into one of the Premier League’s more dependable goalkeepers and has become a regular in the England squad. He will almost certainly be aware of the ongoing travails of Joe Hart at Torino and some recent criticism levelled at Southampton’s Fraser Forster. Hart’s position as England No1 looks anything but set in stone and a repeat performance of the inspired form that kept his old club at bay at Old Trafford would certainly not harm Heaton’s chances of deposing his colleague. BG
- Tom Heaton: ‘It got heated for a minute or two with Alex Ferguson’
- The Rumour Mill: Tottenham to join chase for Burnley’s Keane?
- Mourinho tells Martial to shape up and follow Rashford’s example
- Jamie Jackson: Ibrahimovic misfortune could still yield dividend for United