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W2W4: Can Wayne Rooney halt City title parade? Man United over their crisis?

W2W4 previews the week's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines ...

Man United back from the brink of crisis

For Manchester United, a fortnight is thankfully a long time in football. The Red Devils were veering towards crisis mode before the international break as Jose Mourinho lamented his team's lack of "football heritage" following the shock exit to Sevilla in the Champions League.

Even a routine FA Cup win against Brighton failed to improve the manager's mood, with Luke Shaw hauled off at half-time and publicly rebuked for his performance. That led to reports of unrest among the squad, who were thought to be unhappy with Mourinho's treatment of the left-back, and one wonders what the atmosphere has been like on the training ground ahead of Saturday's test at home to Swansea.

Paul Pogba certainly seemed to enjoy the international break more than his recent spell on the bench at Old Trafford. The midfielder delivered a rousing display in France's 3-1 victory over Russia, setting up a goal for Kylian Mbappe with a fine pass before curling a free kick home to score himself. It was a stark contrast to his subdued efforts for United in recent weeks as Mourinho's handling of the 25-year-old continues to be scrutinised.

United must avoid underestimating Swansea at the weekend, despite their opponent's lowly league position. The Swans have improved immeasurably since Carlos Carvalhal's appointment, earning victories against Liverpool and Arsenal, and have proven they can hold their own at Old Trafford. In their last five trips to United in all competitions, they have won twice, lost twice, and drawn the other, claiming a point on the way to securing survival last season. Another gutsy display at the weekend would add to Mourinho's growing sense of frustration.

Can Wayne Rooney halt City title parade?

Win at Everton on Saturday, and Manchester City could claim the title with three points at home to Manchester United next weekend in what Vincent Kompany has described as a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

However the captain preached caution ahead of the leaders' trip to the Toffees -- with a Champions League quarterfinal against Liverpool also coming up on Wednesday -- but, for anyone associated with City, it will be difficult to banish the tantalising prospect from their minds.

Everton have gained back-to-back victories for the first time since December, but they have largely been poor under Sam Allardyce, losing their previous three fixtures against top-six sides by an aggregate scoreline of 11-1.

Wayne Rooney could still help out his old club, however, having earned the Toffees a spirited 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium back in August. United will hope he can do them another favour to avoid potentially being given front row seats to City's coronation.

Chelsea and Tottenham meet in a game that could have far-reaching implications in the top-four race.

Will Dele Alli prove his talent once more?

Despite an encouraging season for Tottenham in Europe and the Premier League, it has, to an extent, been a campaign of personal frustration for Dele Alli. Following his remarkable return of 22 goals in 50 appearances in 2016-17, the 21-year-old's form has taken a dip this year, with Mauricio Pochettino defending his player from criticism before the international break, calling him the best 21-year-old in the world.

It is perhaps a very English trait to place such high demands on young players -- especially in a World Cup year when they will inevitably be chastised for a premature tournament exit -- but even Gareth Southgate has begun to overlook Alli's qualities. The England manager switched his formation to leave the playmaker out of his starting line-up against Netherlands and Italy, with Alli afforded just 22 minutes of action over the two friendlies.

Accusations of diving -- which again, appears to be a particularly English complaint -- have persisted, but were Alli hitting the heights of last year it's unlikely that would matter. After three goals in his last 29 matches, it is easy to forget that Alli started the season in such a rich vein of form, scoring seven times in 13 fixtures including a double in a 3-1 win over Real Madrid at Wembley.

He couldn't save Spurs from losing their first home game of the campaign to Chelsea, but on Sunday the midfielder has an opportunity to remind everyone of his ability. Spurs haven't won at Stamford Bridge since 1990 and, with only five points separating the two clubs in the race for the top four, Alli will be desperate to help his team record a positive result.

Can Christian Benteke do the business? 

If Benteke didn't already have something to prove against Liverpool, his omission from the recent Belgium squad has given him extra incentive.

The striker has managed only two goals all season, with the nadir arriving in December when he wrestled the ball from teammate Luka Milivojevic only to then miss a last-gasp penalty in a 2-2 draw with Bournemouth.

Benteke has since been forgiven for that episode, but manager Roy Hodgson has challenged him to regain his international spot for the World Cup. A telling performance against his former club on Saturday is the perfect place to start.

Last chance for West Brom

"It is getting near the last chance saloon," said Alan Pardew after watching West Brom throw away the lead to lose 2-1 at Bournemouth before the international break.

Other commentators might suggest that the Baggies have been in the last chance saloon for some time, propping up the bar and thinking about calling for a taxi. They are now 10 points adrift at the bottom with only 21 left to play for. It will take a miracle to survive, and that miracle must begin with three points at home to Burnley.

Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger


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