Tottenham v Brighton (Premier League, Saturday, 12:30) – A return to the norm
Can the Seagulls pull off a shock in North London for two games running? They certainly looked a much-improved proposition at the Emirates, with Enock Mwepu running the show, while their overall away form in 2021/22 is impressive. Graham Potter’s side have lost only three in 15 on their travels.
Surely though, no team can simply flick a switch and change overnight so their terrible time of it going into their defeat of the Gunners remains pertinent. Prior to last weekend, Brighton had scored just once in 638 minutes of league football.
They are also at the wrong end of the fair play table and that doesn’t bode well against a Spurs collective who are flying at present. And no Premier League player has seen yellow more often this season than Yves Bissouma.
Man United v Norwich (Premier League, Saturday, 15:00) – A hard watch at Old Trafford
We’ve been here before with Norwich. Every month or three they show a bit of ingenuity and fight and put together back-to-back results; a brief reminder of who they were last season in the Championship.
Back in January the Canaries went three games unbeaten and currently they’ve managed two. Do they have another in the tank before they inevitably succumb to further losses and their top-flight status?
Dean Smith’s side will oddly fancy their chances at Old Trafford against a circus minus a ringleader unless Cristiano Ronaldo happens to be in the mood. United are an implosion of half-ideas right now and their 1.3 goals-per-game average under Ralf Rangnick is damning. Between them, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes have scored just four goals in their last 10 outings.
The reductive Reds should still be backed to prevail, but it will likely be a slog.
Southampton v Arsenal (Premier League, Saturday, 15:00) – Early shots fired
Atonement is the name of the game at St Mary’s with both sides seriously regressing at the worst possible juncture of the season.
Arsenal’s home loss to Brighton last weekend was their third in four and despite an otherwise bright 2022, momentum has now stalled in their top four quest.
The Saints meanwhile have lost four in five, the most recent being a mortifying six-goal hammering at the hands of Chelsea.
This was the 12th occasion they have been beaten by 3+ goals under Ralph Hasenhuttl since the Austrian took charge in December 2018. On only one occasion did they respond with a win.
To their cost, the Gunners have lost a knack for scoring early in past weeks. Don’t be surprised if it returns on the South Coast.
Watford v Brentford (Premier League, Saturday, 15:00) – A sarcastic tone-y
An annoying pattern has emerged on these pages this season regarding the goal-scoring activity of Ivan Toney.
Every time the 26-year-old is backed to net, he doesn’t. Every time we go another way, and focus on Brentford’s low corner count in 2021/22, or an assist-maker in form, he finds the target.
So, let’s try and circumnavigate fate here and state that the forward who boasts six in five should absolutely not be fancied to further damage Watford’s Premier League credentials, the Hornets having shipped in 2.6 goals per game across their last five fixtures. Imagine a winky-face emoji here.
Man City v Liverpool (FA Cup, Saturday, 15:30) – A drawn-out affair
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to rest seven of his leading lights in the Champions League mid-week may well reap dividends at Wembley. Van Dijk, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Thiago, Mane and Salah all slot back in relatively fresh and though the latter was somewhat underwhelming at the Etihad last weekend he still boasts seven in 14 against Manchester City.
The Blues, by contrast, are totting up their cuts and bruises from a turbulent affair in Madrid. Kyle Walker is almost certainly out with an ankle problem and his blistering pace will be greatly missed at the back. Kevin De Bruyne is a serious doubt and he has been the main orchestrator behind City’s successes over their arch rivals in recent times.
The Reds have the edge for this one but it would hardly amaze if it went right to the wire. Their last two Wembley encounters – in 2016 and 2019 – were both settled by pens.
Newcastle v Leicester (Premier League, Sunday, 14:15) – Turning corners, not conceding them
The Foxes are quietly improving and there is sufficient evidence to suggest they have turned a corner in what has been an injury-hit and troublesome campaign.
Newcastle meanwhile are unbeaten at St James Park in 2022 but still have some work to do on maximizing their return when taking a lead. On 18 occasions they have gone in front this term, ultimately winning only eight of them.
Corners particularly intrigue for this one, namely Leicester’s extreme reluctance to concede them – due to their ongoing inability to properly defend them – and Newcastle’s odd inability to win them.
In their last four league games, Brendan Rodger’s side have limited their opponents to four per game. In that same period, the Magpies have averaged a meagre 2.7 per game.
West Ham v Burnley (Premier League, Sunday, 14:15) – Home advantage
It is very clear what the Clarets big shortfall is, a problem that has made relegation a real threat all season. At the back, Sean Dyche’s men have conceded fewer than any other team other than Brighton in the lower half of the table. Up front however, they have only managed a goal every 108 minutes.
This frigidity is worsened on the road, with an average of just 2.6 shots on target per away game. In a full third of them, Burnley rustled up a single attempt between the sticks.
West Ham are currently hit and miss but it’s almost exclusively the former at the London Stadium, with only one defeat at home across all competitions in 2022. With Jarrod Bowen red-hot and scoring for fun they should have enough about them to extend on that fine record come Sunday.
Chelsea v Crystal Palace (FA Cup, Sunday, 14:15) – A capital classic
Patrick Vieira’s comments after Palace were downed at Leicester last Sunday were worthy of attention, with the Frenchman pinning the defeat entirely on a lack of ‘aggression’ in the opening stages.
This directly tallies with the Eagles recent habit of starting brightly, scoring 70% of their league goals going back to mid-February in the first period.
Unless stage-fright takes hold at Wembley this weekend don’t rule out the underdogs coming out all guns blazing and with Chelsea also strong starters when on song this is a contest that could ignite from the off.
More so, with both sides blessed with attacking talent bang in form – Zaha, Havertz and Mount to name but three – this all-London semi could be a goal-fest.