It is noted with great sadness that the international break is at an end...said nobody! Watching countries battle it out in qualifiers is just a little turgid compared to the joys of club football. Even without fans at the stadiums, club football still entertains the masses on the weekends. Hooray for the return of the Premier League!
Game of the week
Arsenal vs Liverpool: Emirates Stadium, Saturday 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Arsenal are nothing if not entertaining. They can play some brilliant football and look like a strong force, before making calamitous defensive mistakes that undermine all of that good work. Those who are patient will appreciate the groundwork that Mikel Arteta has been doing since arriving at the Emirates. However, the Arsenal fans will expect a better push for a top-four place in the 2021-22 campaign.
Based on these predictions, Liverpool would still probably be in the top-four! That’s because they have a winning mentality instilled in them and you never expect their dips in form to gather traction. Their plague of injuries has been a key reason behind Liverpool's struggles, but the magnitude of their recent woes at home have been unfathomable.
This is easily the most exciting game of the weekend. Liverpool have a much better record on the road, in 2021, than they have at Anfield, but Arsenal are also strong on home soil. Neither team fills you with confidence from a defensive point-of-view; it could be the highest scoring game of this round fixtures.
Chelsea vs West Bromwich Albion: Stamford Bridge, 12.30 (BT Sport)
It’s a kind return to club football for Chelsea, who will be fully expecting to take maximum points against a team that looks set for relegation. West Brom improved dramatically in the month of February but their efforts seem to have arrived a little too late. It looks like Sam Allardyce will see a club relegated under his management for the first time in his career.
Leeds United vs Sheffield United: Elland Road, 15.00 (Prime Video)
The surface at Elland Road is atrocious. Players are slipping all over the place, the ball doesn’t move smoothly across it, and it’s all working against the progressive tactics that Marcelo Bielsa wants to play. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Leeds seem to prefer life away from home. While this match looks appetising for the hosts, Sheffield United showed a lot of character in their narrow FA Cup loss to Chelsea. The Blades might also be better at mixing up their style on a dodgy surface.
Leicester City vs Manchester City: King Power Stadium, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
A lovely little prelude to the big-six clash on Saturday night, it’s a clash of 1st against 3rd. Leicester are an outstandingly run club and their efforts under Brendan Rodgers have complimented that ownership. Many will expect them to compete well with the table toppers, however, City just seem to be a different animal to everybody else. This season, Pep Guardiola’s men have demonstrated brilliant game-management capabilities.
Southampton vs Burnley: St Mary’s Stadium, 12.00 (Sky Sports)
Ralph Hasenhuttl broke his winless streak in the league with a 2-0 victory at Sheff United, only to then lose against Brighton & Hove Albion. They did reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup after convincingly beating Bournemouth but the Saints are anything but predictable right now. They face a Burnley team who are unbeaten in three matches and, for my money, the visitors look the more convincing.
Newcastle United vs Tottenham Hotspur: St James’ Park, 14.00 (Sky Sports)
Steve Bruce is miles in front of his fellow Premier League managers in terms of the hate he receives from his own club’s fanbase. It’s unprecedented! That being said, Bruce looks like he’s keeping his job and the fortunes of Newcastle are very much up in the air. Spurs aren’t in the greatest shape by any stretch of the imagination but they look in very good shape compared with the shambolic set of affairs that are being orchestrated by Mike Ashley.
Aston Villa vs Fulham: Villa Park, 16.30 (Sky Sports)
Fulham have made up a lot of ground in recent months and that made their result against Leeds all the more disappointing. A win would have taken them out of the bottom-three, putting even more pressure on Newcastle. Now, the pressure remains firmly on the Londoners. Scott Parker was frustrated against Leeds and he’ll be equally annoyed to see that Jack Grealish is now ready to start for Villa, following his recent injury absence.
Manchester United vs Brighton & Hove Albion: Old Trafford, 19.30 (BT Sport)
United often flatter to deceive in the games that people expect them to walk through, and Brighton will be no easy task. Graham Potter’s men have finally started to turn their xG into goals, putting together back-to-back league wins and pushing away from the threat of the drop. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them take charge of this match at Old Trafford as it’s just how they approach matches. It will be a tough ask to win at the Theatre of Dreams, though.
Everton vs Crystal Palace: Goodison Park, 18.00 (Sky Sports)
Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been blowing hot and cold for the majority of the campaign. They have had more highs than lows, but a struggle for genuine consistency will have some supporters wondering what might have been, in a season unlike any other. A fit and firing Wilfried Zaha will be seeking opportunities on the break and Roy Hodgson will hope that his defence can withstand Everton’s two-man attack.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs West Ham United: Molineux, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
They couldn’t hit a barn door at Old Trafford and yet West Ham were 3-0 up after half-an-hour against Arsenal. Bonkers! However, David Moyes will have been tearing his hair out after seeing his players let that three goal advantage slip away. Moyes prides himself on defensive discipline and it just wasn’t there in that London derby. This could be a battle of two organised outfits, so goals could be at a premium.