Frank Lampard continues quest to be Chelsea’s record scorer, Paul Lambert returns to Carrow Road for a relegation six-pointer and Wigan need to get their Great Escape going again
1) Coloccini back for Newcastle
Sam Allardyce’s smuggest smug face. The West Ham United manager won’t even have to twitch a muscle; no matter how careful he is with that visage, he will welcome his old side to Upton Park having seen his new one to safety ahead of schedule – “we are far better than where we expected to be”, he said this week – and enjoying an Andy Carroll mauve patch. The Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew, will step off the bus being careful to corral his own features as best he can after a week in which he has had to defend his job and his players have had to issue a statement insisting that they’re all getting along famously. The worrying thought for Newcastle supporters is that if there isn’t friction between the French and English players in the squad, then there’s a more complicated (less fixable) reason for their terrible results in recent fixtures. They will have to hope that the return of Fabricio Coloccini, recovered from a broken back, is as influential as Pardew predicts; the centre-half will wear the captain’s armband on Saturday afternoon. The Opta stats show Newcastle win 31 per cent of the matches Coloccini plays, compared with 25 per cent when he is absent. More importantly, while there’s little difference to how many goals Newcastle concede with Coloccini on the pitch, they score twice as many, suggesting that his ability to play the ball out with a bit of nous makes a real impact. Georgina Turner
2) Mourinho’s first signing?
There will be no Bobby Tambling on the sidelines at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon to see it happen, but against Manchester United Frank Lampard will nonetheless continue to chase down the Chelsea record goalscorer’s tally of 202. Lampard has not been a regular starter this season but it will surely take an especially devastating performance from either side to keep him out of the action entirely. Coming on to replace Ramires in the first half against Swansea City last time out, he brought an instantaneousness of thought and action without which the match might have been allowed to drift. Chelsea’s claim, earlier in the year, that Lampard would “under no circumstances” be granted a contract extension seemed at the time to be unnecessarily decisive, and his chances of changing the club’s stance have probably been growing by increments ever since. Against Swansea he set up the game’s first goal and scored the second – his 13th of the season and his 201st in Chelsea colours. But what the heck, it’s Friday: let’s put two and two together and say José Mourinho’s had a word. GT
At least Norwich City’s home form is better than their toils away from Carrow Road. That’s the crumb of comfort that the manager, Chris Hughton, has to nibble on as he awaits Aston Villa, possibly the last side he would have asked to play at this stage. Paul Lambert’s side are a point behind Norwich in that tight bunch of clubs just keeping their shirt tails clear of the flames, but Villa arrive having just walloped Sunderland 6-1, while Norwich are still coming to terms with their failure to direct a single shot on target against Stoke City. The fitness of Hughton’s two best central defenders, Sébastien Bassong (surely a contender for the club’s player of the season title) and Michael Turner, is in doubt; the form of Lambert’s best striker, Christian Benteke, is not. In Europe’s top leagues only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more than Benteke (13) in 2013, and though Sunderland haplessness played a part in his hat-trick on Monday night, the leap for his second was incredible. “I think his head was above the crossbar,” said Fabian Delph. “Every centre-back who has tried [to rough him up] has failed.” GT
4) Can Wigan keep the season interesting?
The title has been decided, while the battle for the top four has become a provincial battle, inevitably obsessing the ‘London-centric national media’. The only thing of any real import left to be decided is who fills the final relegation berth. And with Wigan v Aston Villa brilliantly scheduled for the last day of the season, neutrals are praying for it to provide some much-needed final-day drama. So the Latics really need to start winning. Five points from safety, things aren’t looking too rosy at the DW Stadium. There’s the distraction of an FA Cup Final on the horizon, and their manager was rather too enamoured of performances against Tottenham and Manchester City that only garnered a solitary point. A trip to a West Brom side with nothing to play for is eminently winnable, as is their midweek match against Swansea, so if Roberto Martínez is going to perform The Great Escape: Part IV this weekend would be a good time to start picking up maximum points. Toby Moses
5) Make or break for Spurs
After a poor performance in their draw against Wigan, Tottenham look all set to perform their now traditional end-of-season tumble down the table. They face a season-defining week, with tough trips to Chelsea and Stoke following hot on the heels of Saturday’s clash with Southampton – come out with maximum points from these three and Arsenal fans will really start sweating. This weekend’s match might look the easiest on paper, especially after Southampton’s capitulation at home to West Brom last week, but the Saints have put in some excellent performances against the big boys this year. Mauricio Pochettino’s high-tempo pressing game proved too much for Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City – while the champions eked out a 2-1 win despite having fewer shots and less possession than the south coast side. Spurs could be forgiven for having one eye on Stamford Bridge, but they’ll come a cropper if they don’t turn up at White Hart Lane ready to take Southampton deadly seriously. TM
6) Can Sunderland break their Monday night hoodoo?
With Paolo Di Canio’s honeymoon period having lasted considerably less time than most honeymoons, the threat of relegation remains very real for Sunderland, who could find themselves in all sorts of bother by the time they entertain Stoke City on Monday night, depending on results elsewhere over the weekend. In an omen that will make grim reading for Sunderland, still reeling from the spanking administered to their team by Aston Villa, it has been noted that Sunderland have failed to win on a Monday night in their last 17 attempts, seven managers ago when Peter Reid was in charge and Claudio Reyna scored a brace against Leicester. With Stéphane Sessègnon suspended for the Premier League run-in, it’s difficult to see from where the goals required to end this bizarre hoodoo will come. Barry Glendenning
7) A relegation scrap with added needle
A relegation dogfight with the added needle of visiting manager Paul Lambert, arguably the world’s least controversial man, returning to an old stamping ground he left under a contractual cloud – who’d think a match between Norwich and Aston Villa could be so mouth-watering? After the hammering they gave Sunderland earlier this week, Villa will arrive at Carrow Road full of confidence, but only five teams have won at Norwich this season. Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Luton Town have all beaten the Canaries in their own cage. The other team to knock them off their Carrow Rod perch were Aston Villa, who stuffed them 4-1 in the Capital One Cup. BG
8) Light the torches
After Twitter went berserk on Sunday evening, rounding up a virtual lynch mob to rival the one in Young Mr Lincoln to punish QPR’s José Bosingwa for the heinous crime of laughing even though he knew the club had been relegated, watch out for any Rangers player not dressed entirely in funereal black, weeping profusely as if they were hoping to be cast in a re-make of Terms of Endearment and sombrely bowing his head on remorse when taking the field to the sounds of Panis Angelicus. And once you have spotted them, malign them for their characters rather than for their inability to prosper in incoherent sides cobbled together in slapdash fashion which, had you not been assured was not the case, would seem to have been done without any regard whatsoever for the consequences. Tony Fernandes, the principal owner, doesn’t require any summer reading but he could do far worse than listen to the greatest of all west London bands, The Who, and Pete Townshend’s Won’t Get Fooled Again until the title, at least, gives him pause for thought. Rob Bagchi
9) Crossing the divide
Sunday’s derby should be the 30th and last of Jamie Carragher’s career and his captain, Steven Gerrard, says Liverpool must send him off “with a nice derby win for Carra to remember”. For the centre-half, a boyhood Evertonian who admits he only switched wholeheartedly from Blue to Red 14 years ago at the age of 21, a victory would be his 18th in the fixture but he will be put under greater scrutiny by Everton than the derelict side masquerading as Newcastle United managed last week. Everyone knows his pace has gone but if you listen to Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger they feel Carragher more than makes up for it with his organisation, strength and experience. It may benefit Everton to push Leon Osman further forward to play off Victor Anichebe and try to buzz about and drive through the inside-forward channels to test their verdict. RB
10) It’s nearly all to play for in the Championship
OK, so strictly speaking under the Trade Descriptions Act the Championship is not the Premier League, but it features teams that’ll be playing in the top flight next season and that’s good enough to warrant us crowbarring a mention of it in here. The final round of fixtures in the English second division kick off at 12:45pm this Saturday and it is a measure of just how competitive a league it is that the outcomes of just two of the 12 fixtures – Burnley v Ipswich and Charlton v Bristol City – are of no consequence. Admittedly, the chances of Blackburn getting relegated are slimmer than a willowy bloke posing with an over-sized pair of trousers on a Weight Watchers website, but if you had to bet on any team engineering relegation from such preposterously unlikely circumstances, you’d lump on the Venky’s owned circus.
With Hull and Watford fighting over the remaining automatic promotion place, Crystal Palace, Bolton, Nottingham Forest and Leicester vying for two remaining play-off spots and – deep breath – Wolves, Barnsley, Peterborough, Sheffield Wednesday, Millwall, Huddersfield and Rovers all battling to avoid the drop, fans of all 13 clubs will be forced to endure a horrifically tense denouement. That’s with the possible exception of all but the most hopelessly optimistic Wolves fans, who have probably reconciled themselves to the fact that, for a second traumatic season in succession, the survival jig is very much up. BG
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