The race between Arsenal and Tottenham for a Champions League top four spot really hots up this weekend and both clubs are in for a tough time. Tottenham face Liverpool at Anfield and Jurgen Klopp has prepared well following his team’s success in reaching the Champions League final. Arsenal have a two point lead over Spurs and face the easier task against relegation threatened Leeds but Mikel Arteta recognises that winning will be very demanding as Leeds fight for survival. Arsenal could open up a five point lead as they prepare to take on Tottenham next Thursday. The difference between the two teams is the power of Tottenham’s strike force. However, both Brighton and Brentford demonstrated how to defeat that attacking force by denying them space in the final third of the field so both Kane and Son were starved of goal scoring opportunities. Under Antonio Conte Spurs are revitalised but they are vulnerable and he knows that controlling midfield to serve balls up to his star strikers is the key to beating Liverpool. Conte did not blame Lucas Moura for a poor performance last weekend because it was his first start since mid-February. Harry Winks was also off the pace when he was introduced. Losing injured midfielder Oliver Skipp and wing-back Matt Doherty has worried Conte because his failure to rotate the squad in the last two months has highlighted how unready stand-in players are to challenge at the highest level. Arsenal on the other hand are more settled despite losing Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney because Nuno Tavares and Kulusevski are fit and the team does not need to readjust to play them in. For Spurs neither Emerson Royal or Ryan Sessegnon have satisfactorily replaced injured Doherty or Sergio Reguilon but I understand from White Hart Lane that Conte is unlikely to change the two players again. Tottenham finish the season against Burnley, resurgent in their relegation fight, and Norwich. Arsenal face difficult matches at Newcastle and Everton who are also fighting for their Premier League status.
Chelsea could lose Premier League status
Chelsea are in deep trouble and executives tell me that it is crucial for the club’s survival that the sale of the club goes through by May 31st otherwise the Blues cannot compete in the Premier League. The problem is the £1.6billion loan which current owner Roman Abramovich gave to the club. He originally said that he would write off the loan and did not want it back however his close associates have advised him to retrieve the money through an off-shore company but the British government say he must not benefit from any part of the club sale because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his close links to Russia’s President Putin. May 31st is crucial because that is when Chelsea’s operating licence expires and on June 8th the FA draw up plans for next season, including fixtures. The British government will not allow the sale of the club to go through if Abramovich receives any money. Abramovich said that he would donate the money from the sale to victims of the Ukraine invasion but that could include Russian soldiers and again the British government would not allow it.
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Ten Hag will bring physical aggression to United
Word from inside Old Trafford is that most players are pleased with the appointment of Erik ten Hag as the new manager. His aggressive style of attacking football will very likely win his current club Ajax the Dutch Eredivisie title and they are four points ahead at the top of the table. United’s players are relieved that a new manager has been named and they now know what to expect. Ten Hag is strict on rules and does not give preference to so called superstars. He makes ruthless tactical decisions and will drop any player who he feels is not 100% fit, giving 100% effort and 100% commitment. Ten Hag will concentrate on clearing out the players he feels cannot deliver his attacking style upfield where United have failed so often this season, winning only 15 of their 35 games in the Premier League. Ralf Rangnick arrived with a reputation of progressive attacking football but he has failed to make the physical aspect of his players effective on the pitch. Ten Hag will lose approx. ten players likely to include Lingard, Cavani, Matic, Mata, Jones, Bailly, Henderson, Martial and possibly Pogba. He will be given money to spend and United insiders told me the club think it will take two years minimum to build a team strong enough to compete with City and Liverpool. I was sorry to see goodbyes to the United home fans by Matic and Mata this week, both talented and dependable players who have been solid during difficult days at Old Trafford. They will feature in United’s final games but there are no more home games this season. Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse is the latest player linked to United. Ten Hag has identified his brilliance at keeping the ball and dictating play plus he is a very effective dead-ball specialist.
Salah and Mane still have not signed new contracts
Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are in negotiations with Liverpool to extend their contracts but no deals have been reached as yet. Salah is 29 and Mane 30 so these contracts are vitally important to each one but manager Jurgen Klopp said this week that he has promised to stay at Liverpool until 2026 and he hopes this will influence the two players to commit to the club.
Burnley could still escape relegation
I was surprised when Burnley sacked Sean Dyche but have been amazed at how caretaker manager Mike Jackson has rejigged the team and given them a chance of survival in the Premier division. Instead of playing for draws and defending leads, Jackson’s style is to drive forward with midfielders playing attacking football and in training they practice lobbing balls high into the air and into the opponents penalty areas for Jay Rodriguez and Maxwel Cornet to run onto. Jackson is well liked by the players and respect his ideas.
Tuchel searching for top strike force
One of Chelsea’s big problems facing Thomas Tuchel next season is how to come up with a more effective striking partnership to rival Liverpool’s Salah and Mane and Tottenham’s Kane and Son. His hopes were pinned on putting together Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount but the three never clicked or seemed able to communicate with each other. Werner, who played on the left at his former club RB Leipzig has proved to be unsuccessful in the same role at Chelsea and £98million signing Romelu Lukaku has dropped to the bench after completely failing to match his form or goalscoring in Italy. Several Italian clubs have made enquiries about his availability but Romelu has said he is not interested in another move out of the Premier League.
Arteta’s challenge is to keep Nketiah
Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah successfully stepped up when selected to play against Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester United however Mikel Arteta still wants a top-class striker on the same level as Kane or Salah if the Gunners are going to fight for top spot in the Premier League next season. Nketiah has shown speed and leadership up front but at 22 years of age is still developing his game. Arteta pointed out that Eddie has not signed a new contract and there is speculation that he could leave the Emirates Stadium next month when his current deal expires. Arteta’s challenge is to convince his striker to stay because he doesn’t want to see him leave and improve and develop for another club.