Ten BIG questions for the weekend's matches

By Alex Keble 11 Apr 2024
Keble 10 key questions MW33

Alex Keble looks at the main talking points for each of the Matchweek 33 fixtures

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Alex Keble analyses where the upcoming fixtures in Matchweek 33 could be won and lost including:

- Another potential goal-fest between Newcastle and Spurs
- Iraola's quick transitions hurting Man Utd again

- If Saka and Jesus can target Villa's new weak spots
- Brentford needing to take their chance against Sheff Utd
- Whether Burnley can dent Brighton's European hopes
- Calvert-Lewin capitalising on Chelsea's defensive wobbles
- Glasner having a plan to play Olise and Eze together
- If Luton can reproduce their performance against Man City again 
- Fulham finding some late away form for a top-10 finish
- Set-pieces being key for Wolves to get the better of Forest

Will we get another goal-fest to kick off the weekend?

Before we even get into the Ange Postecoglou factor and Newcastle United’s tendency to be pulled into end-to-end matches, this fixture always seems to provide goals.

Across the last six Premier League meetings between these two sides, there have been 30 goals scored at a rate of 5.0 per match.

And both clubs have been involved in high-scoring contests throughout the season.

Newcastle’s league encounters have produced more goals than anyone else’s, they've scored 65 and conceded 52, while Tottenham Hotspur’s matches have had the fourth most, with 65 scored and 45 conceded.

Newcastle are one of just two teams to have scored in all of their home encounters this season, while Spurs are the third-highest scorers on the road, with 31.

Alexander Isak has scored in each of his last five matches at St James' Park (netting six goals in total) and Son Heung-min has been involved in 24 goals in his last 25 Premier League appearances.

Into the more granular detail, we know that Postecoglou only plays one way: expansive, front-foot, hard pressing football that can leave space for powerful counter-attacking teams.

Newcastle are definitely one of those. The speed of Anthony Gordon, Harvey Barnes, and Isak should stretch the pitch, and create an open encounter with plenty of goals to get the weekend action underway with a bang.

Will Iraola’s lightning transitions again triumph over Man Utd's porous midfield?

Manchester United’s shock 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford hangs over this one.

It was a purely tactical victory for AFC Bournemouth head coach Andoni Iraola, whose direct, high pressing, vertically-inclined football was a gut punch through Man Utd’s disjointed and wide-open central midfield.

Bournemouth’s first goal was a high turnover that caught Scott McTominay and Sofyan Amrabat flat-footed, and the second was a direct attack that cut through a porous midfield.

Bournemouth goal v Man Utd

United’s midfield issues are more widely understood now than they were back then.

Brentford, Chelsea, and Liverpool practically walked through the middle in United’s last three encounters, and the data backs up the eye test: Man Utd have allowed 729 "progressive carries" this season, more than anyone else bar West Ham United and Sheffield United.

Bournemouth's 77 direct attacks ranks fourth in the Premier League as well as their "direct speed" of 1.92, while they also top the charts for take-ons attempted, with 730. Man Utd, incidentally, have faced the second most attempted take-ons in the division, with 666.

There is a good chance, then, that Bournemouth’s rapid transitions will once again catch Man Utd cold.

Can Saka and Jesus hit Villa’s new weak spots?

As Aston Villa notably slow down towards the end of the season a new defensive vulnerability has opened up.

All three of Brentford’s goals in the 3-3 draw last weekend came from Sergio Reguilon crosses down Villa’s right, following a trend that has been going on for some time.

Manchester City’s first goal in a 4-1 win the previous match was a cutback after Lucas Digne was beaten down Villa’s left; West Ham’s goal in the 1-1 draw was a cross from Villa’s left; and three of Spurs' goals in their 4-0 win were attacks funnelled behind the Villa full-backs.

In total, eight of Villa’s last 12 goals conceded have followed the same pattern, which tells Mikel Arteta that he needs to overload the wide areas to take on Unai Emery’s full-backs.

Arsenal deployed Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus in wide positions against Brighton & Hove Albion in order to work around the outside of Roberto De Zerbi’s narrow formation.

That’s how they won the penalty for the opening goal of the match.

Arsenal penalty v Brighton

Do the same again, and there’s a very good chance Arsenal will expose Villa’s new Achilles’ heel.

Can Brentford take their chance to end winless run?

Thomas Frank desperately needs a win. Brentford managed to overturn a two-goal deficit at Villa Park last weekend only to end up drawing, which could further dent morale as the winless run ticks up to nine and counting.

A home encounter against bottom-club Sheff Utd is an opportunity that Brentford must not pass up, and yet this isn’t necessarily an easy match.

In the reverse fixture Chris Wilder recorded his first win since he returned to the club, with James McAtee scoring the only goal of the game.

It remains Sheff Utd's only clean sheet of the season to date, and it was also their lowest Expected Goals Against (xGA) of 0.6 and fewest shots faced, with 10 – until the 2-2 draw with Chelsea last weekend, in which the Blades were at their defensive best, allowing six shots worth an xGA of 0.3.

Their low block could stump Brentford again. After all, Ivan Toney hasn’t scored in any of his last seven starts – and Wilder has beaten Frank in all three of their previous league meetings.

Will Burnley put a major dent in Brighton’s European hopes?

After winning only one of their last six Premier League matches, Brighton are now as close to Fulham in 13th as they are to Newcastle in eighth, with the Seagulls having a four-point gap to each side.

An awkward fixture list, which includes three of the top six, plus Chelsea and Newcastle, still to play – suggests De Zerbi’s side may struggle to get back into Europe. It certainly makes Burnley a must-win contest.

The problem has been scoring goals. Having recently been on a club-record run, scoring in 39 of their 41 Premier League encounters in 2023, Brighton have drawn a blank in six of their 12 league matches in 2024.

It was an issue that had already begun to develop when the two sides last met in December, a 1-1 draw in which Brighton hit a post-shot xG (a statistic that measures the quality of a shot after the player has taken it) of 4.0, suggesting the average Premier League goalkeeper would have conceded four times.

James Trafford had the game of his life, which is ironic considering Burnley’s improved form has been put down to swapping him out for Arijanet Muric.

Vincent Kompany’s side have conceded 2.2 goals per match in the Premier League with Trafford in goal, compared to an average of 1.3 goals when Muric has played.

Trafford v Muric

Brighton’s profligacy suggests Muric can inspire another big result for Burnley, who have won four points from their last two matches at Turf Moor. Brighton, meanwhile, have won just two of their last 14 encounters on the road.

Can Calvert-Lewin capitalise on Chelsea’s defensive wobbles?

It might come as a surprise to learn that Chelsea are undefeated in their last seven Premier League matches. It definitely doesn’t feel that way.

More reflective of the last couple of months is their defensive record. Chelsea are without a clean sheet in nine league matches, conceding 21 goals in that time, and have let in at least two goals in each of their last seven in all competitions.

Overall, they have conceded 52 goals this season, which is just three short of their worst-ever return since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches.

Everton have a chance, then.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored in consecutive matches after previously going 18 games without a goal, while Everton’s 1-0 win against Burnley last time out ended a 13-match winless run in the competition.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

With their tails up, Everton and Calvert-Lewin will hope to take advantage of any more shambolic defending from the hosts.

Will Glasner have a plan for Olise & Eze together?

Michael Olise returned to action off the bench in Crystal Palace’s 4-2 defeat to Man City last weekend, meaning on Sunday, Oliver Glasner can start Olise and Eberechi Eze together for the first time since he took charge.

That significantly ups Palace’s threat on the counter-attack.

Jean-Philippe Mateta has scored four goals in his last six league matches and his opener against Man City showed that Liverpool’s high line is likely to come under threat, particularly if Jurgen Klopp again instructs Andrew Robertson and Conor Bradley to overlap together.

Liverpool know that after drawing at Old Trafford they cannot afford to drop points again. Yet this has the potential to be a banana skin.

Klopp must find a way to play with more control, because if they are pulled into an end-to-end match in the same way that they were at Old Trafford, Olise and Eze will do damage.

Can Luton reproduce their performance in reverse fixture?

When, following Luton Town’s 2-1 victory over Bournemouth last weekend, Rob Edwards was asked about his plans for the evening, he implied there was no time for celebration: “I will probably start losing sleep about Man City and trying to think about how to stop them.”

Keeping him up at night will be the form of Kevin De Bruyne, who scored one and assisted two more in a brilliant performance against Palace last weekend.

And of course Luton already know all about De Bruyne. He produced four assists in Man City’s 6-2 destruction of Edwards’ side in the FA Cup in February.

Is there any hope for Luton whatsoever? Well, they did take the lead in a 2-1 defeat in the Premier League earlier this season, when Ross Barkley wriggled free to launch a counter-attack and surprise the champions.

But De Bruyne wasn’t available for that one, and Man City, still unbeaten at the Etihad Stadium, are even better on home soil.

In even worse news for the visitors, Luton are one of two teams still without a clean sheet away from home - and their 38 goals conceded on the road is a competition-high.

Can Fulham find some late away form in push for top-10 finish?

A sequence of one win in their last five Premier League matches has left Fulham four points behind 10th-placed Brighton.

If they are to recover, and secure a second consecutive top-10 finish, then Marco Silva will need to improve his team’s away form.

Fulham rank 16th in the Premier League away table, collecting a mere 11 points from 16 matches compared to 28 points from 16 at home.

And they can’t really rely on home form anymore. Fulham's final three matches at Craven Cottage are against Liverpool, Palace, and Man City.

Silva’s side have only won two away matches all season, claiming a 1-0 win at Everton on the opening day and beating Man Utd 2-1 in February.

West Ham, followed by Brentford and Luton, is a chance to correct that poor record. They might need to win all three to get back into the top half.

Can set-pieces enable Wolves to get the better of Forest?

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have started to find some form. Nottingham Forest were three matches unbeaten at the start of their recent encounter at Spurs, where, if it were not for a terrible miss by Chris Wood, they would have been 2-1 up at half-time.

Wolves, by contrast, are winless in their last three contests and are looking to avoid four in a row for the first time under Gary O’Neil.

But there is a good reason to believe Wolves will get back to winning ways on Saturday.

Forest have conceded 21 goals from non-penalty set-pieces this season, more than anyone else, while Wolves have scored 12 goals, which is 27 per cent of their total of 44 scored in the Premier League.

Only Everton and Luton have scored a higher ratio from set-plays, with 47 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.

Corners and free-kicks could be the difference at the City Ground.


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