Liverpool must keep energy high to beat Chelsea; Man Utd need to drop Young
W2W4 previews the weekend's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines ...
Will Liverpool have the emotional energy to beat Chelsea?
Jurgen Klopp could hardly have asked for a better result from Liverpool's Champions League tie with Porto on Tuesday, ahead of their game against Chelsea this weekend. It was a straightforward 2-0 win without much drama, which is the sort of thing they needed given some of their previous games: even the 3-1 victory over Southampton the previous Friday was a tense affair until Mohamed Salah decided he was going to cut through the treacle and score what turned out to be the decisive goal.
All of that will take its toll. The physical exertion that this frantic stage of the season demands is one thing, but the emotional energy that Liverpool's players will have to invest is another entirely, which is a particularly pertinent point given so few of them have been involved in a Premier League title race before.
It helps that Klopp has more options available to him now, and options will help conserve energy. More or less everyone in his squad is now fit, or close to fitness, with Joe Gomez returning to the bench for the Porto game and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing in a behind closed doors friendly. It's another bonus that Naby Keita finally seems to be settling at Anfield, and the midfield that started on Tuesday -- Keita, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson -- has a nice balance to it.
In short, everything seems to be falling into place for the helter-skelter last few weeks of the season. The most significant X factor is whether Liverpool have the energy -- both physical and emotional -- to keep pace with and outstrip Manchester City.
Maybe Sarri was right about Hudson-Odoi
While the irritation over Callum Hudson-Odoi's relative lack of involvement in a frustrating season is understandable, you wonder if those of us who have criticised Maurizio Sarri over his handling of the youngster owe him an apology. Hudson-Odoi is, after all, still only 18, so even if his talent is clear and his pal Jadon Sancho is ripping things up in Germany, being cautious with his development and easing him into the first-team is entirely responsible.
The consternation has come because Chelsea's performances have been so lacklustre, and when that happens it's natural to look at a young, exciting option because it's something different. It's essentially an emotional reaction, whereas Sarri has been logical, and after being left out of their Europa League win on Thursday, he's set to start at Anfield against Liverpool. Maybe Sarri was right after all.
Time for Solskjaer to drop Young
You always take player ratings with a pinch of salt, but when the Manchester Evening News gave Ashley Young 1/10 for his performance against Barcelona on Wednesday, they weren't being hyperbolic. Few United players were good, but Young was awful.
Since Young shifted to the role of full-time defender, he's had the zeal of a convert when it comes to the more -- how shall we put this -- "physical" aspects of the game. It's been as if he's trying to prove he's a proper full-back by kicking, pulling and pushing people at every opportunity.
Initially, he did that as well as defending properly, but of late it has felt like the dark arts are all he really has. Two bookings in five minutes at Wolves on April 2 led to a red card that means he will miss Saturday's game vs. West Ham, which should give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a chance to play the promising Diogo Dalot on the right side of defence.
Cardiff's fate could be decided
If you judge how big games are by how important they are to the teams involved, then Cardiff's next two fixtures eclipse any Champions League game in the offing. They face Burnley on Saturday, then Brighton on Tuesday, knowing that unless they win at least one of them then their prospects of relegation can be upgraded from probable to almost certain. Neil Warnock's side are currently five points from safety, behind Southampton and Brighton, and the latter is the side they're most likely to catch.
First come Burnley, and the game is nearly as big for them. Sean Dyche's side have recovered from a potentially fatal nosedive to win the last two games, but they're not entirely safe yet: one more victory will be enough, and against Cardiff is their best chance of getting it, considering their remaining four games are against Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal. Relegation might not quite rest on this one game, but it's one neither side can realistically afford to lose.