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Spotlight on Maguire and title race resumes – Premier League talking points
The battle at the bottom also heats up.
Manchester City and Liverpool will resume their title battle when the Premier League returns this weekend following an international break.
Elsewhere, the spotlight will be on Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, while off-the-field matters continue to dominate at Chelsea.
Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main top-flight talking points.
Bouncing back from the boos
Harry Maguire hit the headlines this week when he suffered the ignominy of being booed by a section of England fans at Wembley. Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate branded the jeers an “absolute joke”, while a number of Premier League managers have offered public support for the under-fire Manchester United defender. Dissatisfaction with Maguire seems to stem from some underwhelming displays at club level. All eyes will be on him as he runs out at Old Trafford for Saturday’s late kick-off. Given his former club Leicester are the visitors, the 29-year-old could well be in for further derision – albeit from rival supporters on this occasion.
Some bookmakers have already paid out on Manchester City retaining the title. But, by the time Pep Guardiola’s champions take on Burnley on Saturday afternoon, they could have been pushed off the top for the first time since early December. City were 14 points clear of Liverpool just 11 weeks ago. Yet the in-form Reds, who had two games in hand back then, have racked up nine consecutive top-flight victories to keep the heat on their rivals. Jurgen Klopp’s men are red-hot favourites to extend that impressive winning streak when former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson takes relegation-threatened Watford to Anfield. Victory for the hosts in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off could add an extra edge to the subsequent clash at Turf Moor.
Stamford Bridge sanctions
Uncertainty continues to cloud the future of Chelsea ahead of a west London derby with Brentford. Events away from the field are expected to dominate once again. Stamford Bridge will be below capacity for the match due to sanctions placed on the European champions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even more noteworthy is a planned protest from Blues supporters as they wait to discover the identity of Roman Abramovich’s successor as club owner. The demonstrations are aimed at the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family – one of four bidders – and based on historic Islamophobic comments, in addition to alleged racism and homophobia.
Battle at the bottom
A quick look at the fixtures suggests it could be a significant weekend for Leeds’ survival aspirations. The reenergised West Yorkshire club host mid-table Southampton seeking a third successive win under Jesse Marsch, while their five nearest rivals each face tricky clashes against top-seven opposition. In addition to Watford, Burnley and Brentford taking on Liverpool, City and Chelsea respectively, Sunday’s games see Everton go to West Ham and Newcastle travel to Tottenham. Meanwhile, rock bottom Norwich face a must-win game. Relegation looks inevitable for the Canaries, yet hosts Brighton have suffered six defeats in a row and could still be sucked into danger.
Vieira gunning for victory
The race for Champions League qualification is also reaching a pivotal point of the season. Arsenal are currently in pole position for the final top-four spot as they seek to return to Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign. Mikel Arteta’s men sit three points ahead of Spurs and four above Manchester United with a game in hand on both, while West Ham are six points off the pace having completed two fixtures more. Standing in Arsenal’s way on Monday evening are club great Patrick Vieira and Crystal Palace. Eagles boss Vieira lifted a trio of Premier League titles with the Gunners but will have little room for sentiment as he bids to make up for the frustration of conceding a late leveller at the Emirates Stadium in October.