As the Premier League returns to action after the international break, Nick Miller runs the rule over the top storylines of the weekend.
Is Tottenham’s trip to Liverpool a must-win?
The mood at Tottenham seems pretty good at the moment: Optimism is high because that new stadium is finally set to open, and while late, it looks magnificent. Then there’s a little reassurance about their manager, as the past few weeks have essentially guaranteed Mauricio Pochettino’s presence at the club for the foreseeable future. Positions at Real Madrid and Manchester United are filled, thus leaving no obvious destination, if there was ever a chance he would leave Spurs.
That is all a relief for most Spurs fans, but of more concern in the short term is whether they can hang on to their top-four place, having only a few weeks ago been outsiders for a title challenge. That positivity will certainly stall if they start their first fixture in that new ground next week on a run of five winless games, with defeats to Burnley, Chelsea and Southampton in the four league fixtures before the international break.
They’re a point ahead of Arsenal and three in front of Manchester United in fifth place, and they visit Premier League leaders Liverpool on Sunday. This was a game that a few weeks ago a point would have been a terrific result from, but now it feels like they need to win. The stadium and Pochettino’s sticking around are two enormous positives in the long-term plan for Tottenham, but missing out on the Champions League would be a significant step back.
Manchester United fans should temper their expectations
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s success in his caretaker spell at Manchester United didn’t give the club much choice: He had to get the permanent job, as much due to the fact that any successor would have an almost impossible task to follow as due to the Norwegian’s own long-term suitability.
Of course, the real work for Solskjaer starts now, managing under the pressure of the permanent contract, but it will be a big help for him if expectations are realistic. Almost everything has gone right in his three-plus months in charge so far, and that is not going to happen for much longer. He still has to deal with an imperfect squad, even if he has gotten more from it than his predecessor, and the knowledge that they’re some way behind their theoretical peers.
Perhaps the realism has already started: Solskjaer goes into his first full-time game after losing their past two — to Arsenal in the league and to Wolves in the FA Cup. A sign of things to come? Maybe, maybe not, but United fans must be realistic about what their new permanent manager can do.
Will Hudson-Odoi get a start for Chelsea?
To give an illustration of the low regard Maurizio Sarri has for international football, he claimed that he didn’t watch any of last summer’s World Cup. That suggests that he probably wasn’t cancelling plans to watch England beat Montenegro on Monday, but if he did catch any of it, he’ll have seen an 18-year-old play like a man in difficult surroundings, if not against the most testing opposition.
Callum Hudson-Odoi played a total of 110 minutes in two games for the national side in the past week. That’s only nine fewer minutes than he has clocked up for Chelsea in the league all season. Sarri has spoken in the past about not harming Hudson-Odoi’s development by giving him too much, too soon. That’s a valid point, but it focuses on the negative possibilities. Gareth Southgate considered the positives of giving the winger a try, and it worked.
After defeat to Everton before the international break, why not give the kid a chance?
Will this be it for Huddersfield?
The good news for Huddersfield is that they can’t break the record for the earliest team to be relegated in a Premier League season. The bad news is this weekend they can equal it, jointly held by Derby 2007-08 and Ipswich Town 1994-95 (the latter of which was in a 42-game season), whose demotions were confirmed with six games remaining. Should the Terriers lose to Crystal Palace and both Southampton and Burnley win, their two-season stay in the top flight will be over.
The encouraging thing is they are at least planning for next season. Jan Siewert was brought in with a vague hope of achieving a miraculous survival but knowledge that the job was probably preparation for the Championship, so confirmation of relegation this weekend won’t be a shock, at least. Having not spent outrageous sums of money, the hope is that their future below the Premier League, as dark as things might be now, looks bright.
Are Burnley the most vulnerable side in the relegation scrap?
There remains one relegation spot “up for grabs,” with Fulham set to join Huddersfield in the Championship. At the moment, it looks like Newcastle will be OK, but everyone below them is in some sort of trouble, and perhaps the most nervous should be Burnley. They’re currently a place above the relegation zone, two points ahead of Cardiff, but they have played a game more than most of those around them and perhaps more importantly are in rotten form, having lost their past four.
It’s surprising that Sean Dyche has not received more criticism for this. Obviously, that’s because of his considerable credit in the bank for establishing Burnley in the Premier League, but this season has been desperately disappointing, and Dyche’s attitude throughout (in public at least) has been, “We’ll be all right in the end.” Well, the end is nearing now, and Burnley aren’t all right yet: Defeat to Wolves at the weekend could put them in serious trouble.