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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian sport

Premier League and FA Cup semis: 10 things to look out for this weekend

From left: Luton manager Rob Edwards, Dominic Solanke of Bournemouth and Chelsea’s Mauricio Pochettino with Noni Madueke.
From left: Luton manager Rob Edwards, Dominic Solanke of Bournemouth and Chelsea’s Mauricio Pochettino with Noni Madueke. Composite: Getty/Shutterstock

Luton hope Brentford are eyeing the beach

There was a distinct end-of-season vibe at the Gtech Community Stadium after Brentford’s win over Sheffield United, with Thomas Frank and his players performing what amounted to a lap of honour as they took plaudits from fans relieved that the spectre of relegation had finally been banished. Of course only time will tell if the Bees become the first Premier League team to decamp to the metaphorical beach and Saturday’s match at Luton will provide a fair indication. Ravaged by injury with up to 11 players likely to be unavailable, Luton were on a hiding to nothing in their game against Manchester City but still emerged from the rout with their heads held high having restricted the champions to a one-goal lead until their capitulation after the hour mark. It is increasingly difficult to compliment Rob Edwards’ side without sounding condescending, but if it transpires that the Brentford side that turns up in Bedfordshire has mentally tapped out, the Premier League’s most dashing manager, his players and their fans are unlikely to have any complaints whatsoever. Barry Glendenning

  • Luton v Brentford, Premier League, Saturday 3pm (all times BST)

Arblaster represents optimism for Blades’ future

As they prepare for what may very well be a dress rehearsal for next season’s Championship promotion challenge, Sheffield United and Burnley can take encouragement from the presence of Leicester, Leeds and Southampton in the thick of the second-tier promotion race. All three went down last season and all three have a chance of making an immediate return from a division that could represent a fine finishing school for some of Vincent Kompany’s talented, if still sometimes naive, young Burnley players, not to mention Sheffield United’s gifted 19-year-old midfielder Oliver Arblaster. It will be no surprise if Chris Wilder rebuilds the Blades around Arblaster’s amalgam of vision, technique and tenacity, but first the teenager can help restore some pride at Bramall Lane by further denting Burnley’s slender survival hopes. Sheffield United, 10 points adrift of the safety line and already sunk in reality if not quite arithmetically, will kick off their next Championship campaign with two points deducted by the EFL for delayed past payments but Arblaster’s presence offers hope that the sanction can be surmounted. Louise Taylor

  • Sheffield United v Burnley, Premier League, Saturday 3pm

Can Guardiola afford to rotate for Chelsea test?

Manchester City were chasing a quadruple when they faced Chelsea in the last four of the FA Cup in 2021. Something had to give. Pep Guardiola rotated – Ilkay Gündogan and Phil Foden did not come on until the second half, while John Stones, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were unused substitutes – and his side fell to a flat 1-0 defeat. Rather than alter his approach, though, Guardiola went down a similar path a year later, resting Ederson and starting Zack Steffen in a semi-final against Liverpool, who swept to victory after capitalising on a mistake from the stand-in goalkeeper. Last year, of course, the potential for jeopardy was lower. City faced Championship opposition in the last four and maintained their treble pursuit by beating Sheffield United 3-0. This time, though, they need to be careful. Facing Chelsea three days after going out to Real Madrid is not ideal. Chelsea have already given City a tough time in the league, drawing twice and unsettling their defence with their pace on the break. Guardiola will be wary. But the title race remains tight and City have to think about a tricky midweek trip to Brighton. How many regulars does Guardiola leave out at Wembley? Jacob Steinberg

  • Manchester City v Chelsea, FA Cup semi-final, Saturday 5.15pm

Pochettino’s players bid to banish Wembley woes

Penalty palaver aside, there is little doubt Chelsea are enjoying their best spell of the season, having gone nearly 12 weeks since they last lost a game in 90 minutes. Whether they have fully turned a corner under Mauricio Pochettino, however, remains open to interpretation. There’s a degree of over-reliance on Cole Palmer – although the Blues’ talisman will need little motivation as he faces his former club – while fans are sceptical over their manager’s ability to mould these precocious players. The row over that spot-kick against Everton was seen as emblematic of the callowness that still threatens to undermine the Blues’ progress under Pochettino. After they wilted at Wembley against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final, what better way to silence those doubters than with victory over Manchester City? With Guardiola’s players drained mentally and physically from their extra-time and penalty exertions against Madrid, Chelsea could hardly hope for a better chance – if they can keep their cool. Dominic Booth

Wobbling Wolves can rise to occasion

Wolves have won one of their past seven matches and a promising season under Gary O’Neil is in danger of petering out. The obvious mitigation is injuries to forwards that have blunted their razor-sharp attack. Hwang Hee-chan returned in Wolves’s draw at Nottingham Forest last time out, when their top goalscorer, Matheus Cunha, struck twice but the final piece of their attacking puzzle, Pedro Neto, may not play again this season because of a hamstring problem. Four of Wolves’s remaining six matches are at Molineux, the first the visit of Arsenal on Saturday. Wolves consigned Manchester City to their first league defeat of the season there in September and O’Neil’s side have a prime-time slot to offer a reminder of their progress. Ben Fisher

  • Wolves v Arsenal, Premier League, Saturday 7.30pm

Desperation derby awaits at Goodison

What a grim advertisement for the state of the Premier League this is. Two clubs docked points for financial breaches and potentially dependent on the verdict of an appeals board for their top-flight status meet in a loaded relegation battle at Goodison Park. Forest have not won away in the league this calendar year, but Morgan Gibbs-White and co should be salivating at the thought of facing an Everton defence missing Jarrad Branthwaite, one of the few players of Premier League quality available to Sean Dyche. Everton, on the brink – on and off the pitch – due to the owner, Farhad Moshiri, and his former board, had supposedly “changed the story” according to Dyche with their highly fortuitous win against Burnley. Monday’s 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea, the heaviest defeat of Dyche’s 531-game managerial career, exposed the fallacy of that statement along with the importance of Everton’s appeal over a two-point deduction to their chances of staying up. Andy Hunter

  • Everton v Nottingham Forest, Premier League, Sunday 1.30pm

Solanke needs support for wasteful Cherries

There was a touch of deja vu about Andoni Iraola’s assessment of Bournemouth’s draw against Manchester United last Saturday. Iraola’s side overwhelmed United but failed to put the game to bed, leading Iraola to bemoan their lack of clinical edge. That may seem a bizarre sentence given only Cole Palmer, Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins have scored more goals than Dominic Solanke this season but Bournemouth wasted a series of chances. It was a similar story when they impressed against Liverpool in January before ending up on the end of a 4-0 defeat and a slender one against Manchester City the following month. Solanke has been a steady source of goals – he could cap a fine campaign with the golden boot – but Iraola knows Bournemouth need others to chip in more often if they are to climb above ninth, their highest finish in the division. BF

  • Aston Villa v Bournemouth, Premier League, Sunday 3pm

A lot done, more to do for Glasner

One of the more raucous grounds in the Premier League, the welcome afforded to Crystal Palace’s returning heroes from Anfield could lift the roof off the Holmesdale Road Stand when they march out to face West Ham. After a ropy start to Oliver Glasner’s tenure as Palace manager, last Sunday’s result was a statement win that will have earned him plenty of credit. While Palace had to ride their luck at times at Anfield, their performance showed just how good they can be on those rare occasions when they can get Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze on the pitch at the same time and in Adam Wharton they have clearly signed another gem who looks to the Premier League manor born and will soon be attracting interest from the elite. As is customary for Palace managers, the problem for Glasner during his first summer in England will be keeping hold of his best players, while simultaneously adding quality to a squad for whom such excellent performances are more rare exception than the norm. BG

  • Crystal Palace v West Ham, Premier League, Sunday 3pm

Former Red Robins eyes United upset

Who writes Mark Robins’ scripts? Not content with saving one Manchester United manager as a player – although the tale around his FA Cup strike against Nottingham Forest that saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job in January 1990 is perhaps apocryphal – he could now torpedo the career of another, with Erik ten Hag teetering closer to the edge. Robins will be keen to veer away from history, however, as he leads his Coventry team to Wembley with minds free of nostalgia or narrative. It’s his ability as a manager, not any link to the past, that has earned the Sky Blues their showpiece semi-final. It seems certain they will get some chances. So many of United’s recent Premier League opponents do, even if, like Coventry, they cannot compete when it comes to wage bills and budgets. Ten Hag has the more talented players to call upon, but United’s habit of allowing inferior sides upwards of 20 shots per game will play into the hands of the Championship outfit. DB

  • Coventry City v Manchester United, FA Cup semi-final, Sunday 3.30pm

Jota to give Liverpool the finishing touch?

Diogo Jota is not as electrifying as the players who are regarded as Liverpool’s best attacking trio. Luis Díaz brings pace and trickery on the left, Darwin Núñez chaos through the middle, Mohamed Salah undisputed world-class menace on the right. Even so, Liverpool have missed Jota during his recovery from a serious knee injury. Wastefulness has been a theme in recent weeks, missed chances against United and Palace a big factor in Jürgen Klopp’s side relinquishing their place at the top of the league. Núñez, for all his many assets, is still too raw in front of goal. He is quicker, stronger and more dynamic than Jota, but he is not a better finisher than the Portugal forward. Jota is clever and efficient, the kind of player who can operate on the margins of a game before popping up out of nowhere to settle it. Liverpool could do with some of that when they visit Fulham. JS

  • Fulham v Liverpool, Premier League, Sunday 4.30pm

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Man City 32 44 73
2 Arsenal 32 49 71
3 Liverpool 32 41 71
4 Aston Villa 33 19 63
5 Tottenham Hotspur 32 16 60
6 Newcastle 32 17 50
7 Man Utd 32 -1 50
8 West Ham 33 -6 48
9 Chelsea 31 9 47
10 Brighton 32 2 44
11 Wolverhampton 32 -5 43
12 Fulham 33 -2 42
13 AFC Bournemouth 32 -10 42
14 Crystal Palace 32 -17 33
15 Brentford 33 -11 32
16 Everton 32 -16 27
17 Nottm Forest 33 -16 26
18 Luton 33 -24 25
19 Burnley 33 -35 20
20 Sheff Utd 32 -54 16
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