Premier League W2W4: Positivity powering Man United? Will Higuain help Chelsea?
W2W4 previews the weekend's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines ...
Positivity has Man United chasing top four
Manchester United were 11 points shy of the Champions League places when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed caretaker manager on Dec. 19. By the end of this midweek round of fixtures, with United hosting Burnley, they might have closed that gap entirely. Granted, it's slightly unlikely because it relies on Chelsea losing to Huddersfield and Arsenal not beating Cardiff, but it emphasises the fairly remarkable turnaround that United have made since his return to Old Trafford.
It's a point that has been made a lot in the last six weeks or so, but listening to him talk on Monday, it's not a surprise that the atmosphere around United has been much more positive.
"That's not the dream, though, to be top four," he said. "We're Man United -- you should always aim to win the league. We can't do that this year, but we've just got to look forward to that again because we have to get back to that."
How will Cardiff cope after the Emiliano Sala tragedy?
As ever in these situations, it feels at best insensitive, or missing the point of wider life, to worry about Cardiff playing a football match. But despite the Emiliano Sala tragedy, that is what they must do, away to Arsenal on Tuesday. It's perhaps a cruel twist that they were witness to another match following such a disaster earlier this season, as they were Leicester's first opponents after Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter crash in November.
Cardiff's players and staff must be in a slightly curious position, losing this man who barely any of them will have got to know, but who was one of them nonetheless. But inevitably it will affect them.
"I think it was only right that they speak to people who might help them in this situation," said Neil Warnock on Monday, about whether any of his squad have required professional help after the accident. "I've been surprised at the number of players who have required a little bit of help, from outside as well as inside."
You hope they can pull through the game as best they can. You wish they didn't have to.
Is Higuain the cure for Chelsea's woes?
The Alvaro Morata experiment is over, and so begins another. Under most circumstances the arrival of Gonzalo Higuain would be regarded as a gamble, a striker whose last few months have been awful and around whom there seem to be near constant questions about his weight and/or fitness. But it's a gamble Chelsea needed to take, because without a reliable centre-forward, so many areas of their team go askew.
Chelsea need this to work for slightly more complicated reasons, such as the delicate balance of their team with Eden Hazard allowed to move back to his favoured role on the left flank, but mainly for the simple reason that they need goals. They're the lowest scorers in the top six and their options at centre-forward thus far this season produced six goals.
But in truth, Higuain needs Chelsea as much as they need him, to rehabilitate his reputation as one of the world's best No. 9s, so the question is whether this co-dependency will put extra and intolerable pressure and strain on the two sides to get it right, or whether necessity will provide the motivation they need.
Spurs must justify Pochettino's cup position
There were a few problems with Mauricio Pochettino's comments after Spurs were knocked out of the FA Cup on Sunday. Pochettino intimated that neither domestic cup competition was a particularly big deal, that it was progression in the league that really mattered. But after the dismissal of actual trophies as mere ego-fluffing frippery, one of those problems is that extra pressure is now put on Tottenham to do well in the league. You can punt the cups in favour of success in the Premier League, but you had better succeed in the Premier League.
It's turned what would under most circumstances be a relatively routine match against Watford -- not exactly in the most sparkling form having won just one of their last five -- into a virtual must-win, with the three points needed as a justification of Pochettino's priorities.
By the end of Wednesday evening Spurs could have a relatively paltry four-point cushion over fifth place, and without either domestic cup as a fall-back. Clearly it's too dramatic to say their season is unravelling, but they must be careful.
Half an eye will be on deadline day...
Having games on a day or two before the transfer window shuts is an improvement on previous years, when we had the frankly absurd situation of the deadline being on the same evening as a full round of fixtures. We never had the sight occasionally seen in baseball, when players are quite literally removed from the field of play as a move is finalised, but it's hard to see how someone around whom there is speculation can't be affected as the clock ticks down.
Several players will go into Tuesday and Wednesday night's games with half a mind on the idea that this might be their last for their current clubs, or at least with their thoughts not 100 percent on the task at hand. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Idrissa Gueye are just two players subject to heavy interest from two of Europe's biggest hitters in Bayern Munich and PSG, respectively, which is bound to be a distraction so close to the deadline. The gamble their managers must take is not even whether they will be concentrated enough to perform at 100 percent, but that they won't be distracted enough to be a liability.