Sheffield United vs Southampton: Can Blades keep great escape dream alive? - Premier League talking points
Things are looking bad for Sheffield United, but their midweek win over Aston Villa means that they’re not completely down and out just yet.
The Blades are 12 points from safety with 11 games left to play, but they come up against a Southampton side this weekend who just can’t catch a break.
The Saints lost to Everton on Monday, and if they slip up again here, they will surely feel that they are in a relegation dogfight too.
We’ve taken a look at some of the other big talking points in the Premier League ahead of this weekend’s action...
Burnley vs Arsenal: Can Clarets move to the brink of safety?
Four games without a win at this crucial juncture of the season have probably left a few nerves frazzled around Turf Moor, but thanks in large part to the general ineptitude of the teams beneath them, Burnley are still in a relatively strong position going into the weekend.
A win against Arsenal would lift them nine points clear of the relegation zone, for a time at least, but a lot will depend on which version of the Gunners turn up on Saturday lunchtime.
If it’s the fire-breathing, Leicester-smiting side that we saw last weekend, the Clarets could be in trouble. If not, a valuable win isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Sheffield United vs Southampton: Can Blades keep impossible dream alive?
Common sense tells you that Sheffield United are down.
Chris Wilder’s dulled Blades are 12 points adrift of safety with 11 games to play, and the size of the great escape they need to enact from here would have Steve McQueen thinking twice.
But a midweek win over high-flying Aston Villa, however scrappy and fraught it may have been, has just about left the tiniest glimmer of hope smouldering away, and a second consecutive victory – something United haven’t managed all year – could raise a few eyebrows.
Who better to play then, than Southampton? The Saints have been dreadful of late, with a defence like a tissue paper colander and an attack that have looked positively pacifistic in recent weeks.
In the end, this one could be won not by the better team, but whoever is less bad on the day.
Aston Villa vs Wolves: Can Villans find their ruthless streak?
For all of their success this season – and it’s worth pointing out that Dean Smith and his men deserve an immense amount of praise for the progress they have made in recent months – Aston Villa still seem to suffer a little from stage fright.
Whenever there’s a golden opportunity to seize and ground to be made up in the battle for European football, the Villans tend to stutter and stall.
Wednesday’s defeat to 10-man Sheffield United was a fine case in point.
A win would have left Villa five points outside of the top four with two games in hands on many of the sides above them. Instead, they slumped to a frustrating loss at the hands of a side who have been rooted to the foot of the table all season.
Here’s hoping this superb campaign doesn’t fizzle out into obscurity.
Brighton vs Leicester City: Albion must find goal-scoring touch
For all of their promise this season, Brighton still haven’t discovered the killer instinct that will assure their Premier League survival.
Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom was a mystifying crash course in cosmic injustice, and at a point, when his side are missing braces of penalties and being thwarted by some of the most bizarre refereeing palavers you are ever like to see, you have to ask what more Graham Potter can do.
In their last three outings, Albion have had 66 shots on goal, scored just once, and taken one solitary point.
Those stats would almost be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that the Seagulls are fighting for their lives right now, and Saturday night’s clash against Leicester has to see some kind of improvement, or Potter’s woes could deepen still.
West Brom vs Newcastle United: A prickly clash at The Hawthorns
This is a clash that could have huge ramifications on the outcome of this season's relegation battle.
If Newcastle win, they could be six points clear of the drop zone come the end of the weekend. If West Brom win it would be just one loss in five and the Baggies would move within six points of the Toon Army.
Rightly or wrongly, much of the attention in the build-up to this one will be focused on Steve Bruce and his training ground clash with Matt Ritchie earlier this week, and it remains to be seen whether the Magpies’ off-brand Jeremy Kyle Show reboot will deflate or galvanise their ailing squad.
Liverpool vs Fulham: Points to prove at Anfield
If Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side were mentality monsters last season, this term they have been more like grey matter gremlins.
The Reds just can’t catch a break at the moment, and whereas they pounced on the title like rampant lions, they have defended it with all the gusto and verve of a geriatric house cat.
Defeat to Chelsea on Thursday did little to aid their wilting top four ambitions, and a clash against Fulham, who themselves have plenty to play for, could provide another banana skin for Klopp's men.
Manchester City vs Manchester United: Derby day threatens to be a mere footnote
Ordinarily, a derby day clash between the top two sides in the table at this advanced in the season would be cause for salivation from coast to coast.
Instead, it feels as if the result could be at worst a formality and, at best, an insignificant detail.
City have been unstoppable in recent weeks, whereas United have stumbled on numerous occasions, barely finding the back of the net in the process.
If Pep Guardiola’s men win this one they’ll be 17 points clear of the Reds and they can start planning their victory parade in earnest.
Even if they don’t though, they can probably still put down a deposit on the double-decker bus hire with relatively few qualms.
Tottenham vs Crystal Palace: Alli to keep treading the road to redemption
It’s a point of mild wonderment that Tottenham could be as bad as they have been for as long as they have been this season, and still find themselves just two points outside of the top four – provided they win their game in hand over Chelsea, of course.
A midweek win over Fulham was far from surefooted, but it did at least make it two wins on the spin for Spurs, and it was pleasing to see Dele Alli play such a key role in the winning goal.
The 24-year-old has drifted this season, but there’s no doubting his supreme talent, and hopefully he can use Thursday’s result as a catalyst from which he reignites his stagnating career.
Chelsea vs Everton: Top four battle heats up
This has the potential to be the game of the weekend – albeit on Monday night.
Both sets of Blues are simmering away quite nicely at the moment, and both will be riding the crest of a wave of confidence after sticking one to Liverpool recently.
Everton’s game in hand already means that they hold the advantage in the battle for Champions League football next season, and a win here would leave the Toffees sitting very pretty indeed.
West Ham vs Leeds United: Can Bielsa’s boys nail the Hammers?
Two of the undoubted success stories of the season, this is another clash that has “cracker” written all over it.
West Ham slipped up against Manchester City last time out, not that there’s any shame in that, and Leeds were left wholly frustrated by a resolute Aston Villa side.
Both teams will be eager to get back to winning ways as soon as possible, but it’s the Irons – unlikely contenders for European football that they are – who have more riding on this one.