Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Man City must refocus, and quickly
Manuel Pellegrini might take umbrage with Manchester City playing in the lunchtime slot on Saturday, with his players likely to be heavy-legged and morale-sapped going into their trip to Hull City less than 72 hours after much ball-chasing at Barcelona. Having lifted the League Cup less than a fortnight ago, City have since departed two competitions: First, the FA Cup at home to Wigan, then the Champions League on Wednesday. This means their remaining focus is on catching Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Blues manager Jose Mourinho's comments that he'd prefer to be in City's chasing shoes -- they are nine points behind with three games in hand -- rather than his own have, frankly, become tiresome, but the Portuguese has once again succeeded in taking the attention away from his players. Whether these so-called mind games will have an effect on City remains to be seen -- instead, the lack of depth in certain areas of Pellegrini's squad threatens to be the undoing of their title charge, rather than the hot air coming from Jose's mouth.
Considering the eye-watering millions spent, that City do not boast a match for Vincent Kompany in the heart of defence raises stern questions over their transfer policy. The latest injury sustained by Sergio Aguero at the Camp Nou, meanwhile, puts further pressure on the likes of Alvaro Negredo, without a goal since Jan. 21, to share the attacking load. Indeed, this swashbuckling team from earlier in the campaign have scored just once in their past three league outings. After being prematurely touted as potential quadruple winners, Pellegrini faces a debut term with only a League Cup lifted.
Sherwood gambles on Spurs' fragility
Tim Sherwood has been letting loose on his Tottenham squad in recent days. Firstly, last Sunday he accused his players of "lacking guts and character" after their slapstick defending resulted in a 4-0 loss at Chelsea, which, admittedly, was not aided by a nonsensical decision to send off Younes Kaboul -- a call which has since been rescinded, meaning the centre-back is available for this weekend's North London derby.
Secondly, ahead of Thursday's Europa League match against Benfica -- which, Sherwood might rue, comes two days later than Arsenal were in European action -- the Spurs boss was unmoved in his criticism, saying he "is not a babysitter" and that some of the squad are "playing for their future." To so publicly chastise those who work under your guidance is a risky policy. Some characters relish this type of man-management. It fires them up, the drive to prove someone wrong. Others, though, can become despondent; their effort levels dropping below where they already were.
It has been well-documented the majority of matches against the higher-placed teams have been nightmarish for Tottenham this term. There appears to be a psychological fragility about them, a habit for capitulation which may or may not be resolved by Sherwood's aforementioned stinging words to the media. It is not all doom and gloom, however, for a win at White Hart Lane this Sunday would see Spurs three points behind third-placed Arsenal, although Arsene Wenger's men would still have a game in hand. Regardless, Sherwood needs a performance and result that allows him to speak positively about the team he hopes to be managing going into 2014-15.
Can United halt Liverpool's momentum?
Several times during this season it has been uttered that Manchester United have turned a corner under manager David Moyes only for a horrible display to follow the optimism. A 3-0 win away from home in the Premier League is worthy of back-slapping, but reminding that last weekend's result came against a West Bromwich Albion side that has not won under Pepe Mel is a worthy caveat. That said, there were genuine positives to take: Marouane Fellaini's looking assured in central midfield, a goal scored following a sequence of passes, and a solid centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
Next they face the division's in-form team, Liverpool. The Reds' impressive performances of late have propelled them to second in the table on goal difference, while their ferocious attacking style makes them arguably the most entertaining side to watch in the division. However, not often enough have they been able to turn those displays into results against their rivals away from Anfield. Defeats in the league at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have been endured, so it is up to Brendan Rodgers to transfer their home displays on the road, and where better to spike that record than at fierce rivals United?
Relegation looms for Fulham
Fulham, who are at home to Alan Pardew-less Newcastle United on Saturday, look doomed. Their last match at fellow strugglers Cardiff City was a must-not-lose, if only to provide them with a granule of hope that survival will be doable. Yet a 3-1 defeat with the defending plainly rotten reiterated Felix Magath's job is an increasingly hopeless one. Bottom of the table, four points from safety, without a win in the top flight since Jan. 1 and on to their third permanent manager of the season, the West London club's time in the Premier League looks up.
Everton must resist a late slide
For all the talk of Roberto Martinez doing such a fine job at Everton and the man he replaced at Goodison Park, David Moyes, doing a shocking job at Manchester United, the Toffees find themselves behind the Red Devils in the table, albeit on goal difference and with a game in hand. While a 1-0 win over West Ham in their last league match showed there is no real reason to panic, Martinez must ensure his team's season does not tail off after their FA Cup quarterfinal loss to Arsenal last Saturday. Expect them to return to winning ways at home to Cardif, in spite of the Welsh side's beating of Fulham last weekend.