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Man City could clinch title next weekend and more Premier League talking points

Premier League action resumes this weekend following a prolonged, pre-World Cup international break.

Vincent Kompany will be looking to lift the Premier League title for the third time in seven years.
Vincent Kompany will be looking to lift the Premier League title for the third time in seven years.
Image: Getty Images

1. Will Paul Pogba return after his promising displays for France?

PAUL POGBA PUT on an impressive display for France during the recent international break, scoring and assisting in the midst of a 3-1 win against World Cup hosts Russia last Tuesday.

Included was a sublime free-kick struck from 25 yards which curled deliciously beyond the fingertips of Zenit goalkeeper Andrey Lunev. It was a goal which, for a brief moment at the very least, reminded us that this was indeed still a very special player we were watching before us.

Pogba has not put in too many of those displays this season and rumour of his discontent at Old Trafford has been fuelled both by being dropped repeatedly by boss Jose Mourinho and a reportedly fractorious relationship between the pair, with all of this clearly impacting his performances on the pitch.

Mourinho refused to speak about his player’s display during the international break, saying on Friday: “I don’t comment on my players’ performances in national teams.”

Man United take on a struggling Swansea on Saturday knowing the title chase is nothing more than a procession for their city rivals. However how much Pogba will feature between now and the end of the campaign remains to be seen.

His goal and assist for France reminded his critics (and Mourinho) that he is still one of the world’s elite performers, with a lot to prove.

Whether or not he will be given the chance to prove his naysayers wrong before the end of May is unknown and, worryingly for the 25-year-old, at the discretion of his boss sat in the dugout.

2. Tottenham face Chelsea aiming to put their Champions League dreams to bed

It has been a damp squib of a season for Chelsea and one which draws comparisons with some of the most limp title defences by a reigning Premier League champion in recent memory.

Certainty of even claiming a Champions League place is not guaranteed with just eight games to go and Sunday’s highly-anticipated London derby (of sorts) with Tottenham could be make or break for their aspirations.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Chelsea and Tottenham are in a battle for Champions League football next season. Source: Getty Images

The mood around the club since the beginning of 2018 suggests Antonio Conte will almost certainly leave at the end of the season, adding another name to the list of Premier League managers who have been let go a year after being crowned champions (Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho).

Fail to grab all three points against Spurs at Stamford Bridge and the Blues could be anywhere between five and eight points away from securing fourth spot.

This scenario would be seen as a crisis for a side which should rightly be competing for the title each year, not desperately clamouring to make a Champions League play-off last-ditch.

Harry Kane’s absence will be felt and this big advantage will play into Chelsea’s favour.

However whether or not it is enough to earn a victory and spark a monumental dash to unseat Mauricio Pochettino’s side for fourth seems unlikely for a Blues team which has lacked both motivation and a consistent cutting edge all season.

Sunday presents the perfect occasion to stand up and be counted, if they want to, but by this late stage it appears to be kill or be killed for Conte’s men; swim to safety or sink into an abyss of Europa League torment.

3. With Kane injured, Salah looks to equal Premier League record and ensure golden boot

Mohamed Salah will take no joy in the recent injury woes of Harry Kane. Regardless, the England striker’s absence presents a chance for the Liverpool forward to claim the golden boot all for himself.

With seven games to go the Egyptian has amassed an astonishing 28 Premier League goals. His recent form, which has taken in ten goals in his last six league games, means he is unlikely to slow down either, meaning he could plausibly equal the record for most goals scored in a Premier League season.

Liverpool v Watford - Premier League Mohamed Salah could claim the record for most Premier League goals scored in a season. Source: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA

Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and former Reds ace Luis Suarez all currently hold the record jointly with 31 scored each in one 38-game season, back in 1995/1996, 2007/2008 and 2013/2014 respectively.

Were Salah to score four more goals in his remaining seven games, he would hold the record as his own and rightly stake his claim as one of the Premier League’s all-time greatest forwards — despite this being his first season having played more than 10 games in a single campaign.

Liverpool take on Crystal Palace in Saturday’s early kick-off still hoping to overtake Manchester United for second spot.

Unlike their rivals, they still have Champions League aspirations to compete for, but will nevertheless refuse to take each game for granted considering they could be overtaken themselves by Spurs, who have a game in hand on the Reds.

4. Relegation-threatened West Ham return to London Stadium for first time since ugly pitch invasions

It will have been three weeks to the day since supporters invaded the pitch at the London Stadium when West Ham return to face Southampton tomorrow afternoon.

The ugly affair saw a host of fans run onto the pitch as the calamity of their performance in a 3-0 defeat at home to Burnley was matched by antics off it.

The Hammers are in a state of disarray on the pitch, in the stands and in the boardroom, with the potential of relegation only compounding the club’s woes further.

930105098 A West Ham supporter is tackled by a steward at the London Stadium. Source: Jordan Mansfield

David Moyes’ side take on Southampton on Saturday two points off the drop, and two points ahead of their opponents, as the Saints currently occupy 18th spot.

The game is their first at the London Stadium since the ugly scenes of three weeks ago, but the club haven’t enjoyed a win at home since 10 February.

The move from Upton Park has been a disaster, with anything other than a win to stem the tide of their discontent against Southampton inching them closer and closer towards the bottom three.

Once there, no-one can be sure the Hammers would have the morale or quality to fight their way back out.

5. Man City have chance to set up title decider against Man United

It was an encouraging international break for a number of Manchester City’s stars this past week.

Ederson, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus played their part in exacting revenge over World champions Germany, Kevin De Bruyne scored in Belgium’s 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia, while skipper Vincent Kompany also played in the rout.

Now attention turns swiftly back to what they have been doing all season: beating all Premier League comers. This weekend’s meeting with Everton would normally have appeared unspectacular and merely another step towards inevitable glory.

Stoke City v Manchester City - Premier League Champions-elect Manchester City take on Everton at Goodison Park tomorrow afternoon. Source: Chris Brunskill Ltd

However a win at the Etihad on Saturday guarantees that Pep Guardiola’s side can mathematically clinch the title against Manchester United next Saturday, 7 April.

It has been plain to see for countless months that City would be crowned champions this season, but being given the chance to record their crowning moment against their city rivals and their closest title challenger is a dramatic and enticing end to the narrative.

Remaining motivated in a season where they have largely gone unchallenged for the title will have been a key element to Guardiola’s management strategy in recent months, but getting psyched up to be given the chance to cap the journey against their rivals will require little added impetus.

With 90 minutes ahead of them before they can stake that claim, they are not there yet.

A slip-up against Everton — while not taking away their incredible achievements — would remove that extra cherry on top which will be fuelling City in these final few weeks.

Occupying ninth spot, the Toffees have no clear objective to aspire towards for the remainder of the season; with relegation out of sight and Europe not within reach at the other end of the table.

Following a disastrous period of form which witnessed two wins in eleven league outings, Sam Allardyce’s side rallied with two wins on the bounce before the international break.

Standing in the way of City’s potential crowning moment as the second-last step on the ladder towards their glory, it is doubtful whether or not they can make it three wins in a row.

Premier League (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)

Saturday

Crystal Palace v Liverpool (12.30)
Brighton v Leicester City
Man United v Swansea
Newcastle v Huddersfield
Watford v Bournemouth
West Brom v Burnley
West Ham v Southampton
Everton v Man City (17.30)

Sunday

Arsenal v Stoke (13.30)
Chelsea v Tottenham (16.00)

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Aaron Gallagher

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