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Weekend Football Preview (16/17th March)

Our friends at Tipstrr have kindly provided us with a preview of some of this weekend’s football action, with Saturday’s lunchtime Championship game acting as a curtain raiser for three FA Cup quarter-finals and two Premier League games, along with access to free tips from their range of tipsters.

LEEDS UNITED v SHEFFIELD UNITED

Saturday’s lunchtime Championship game that what is sure to be a competitive Yorkshire derby between Leeds United and Sheffield United at Elland Road. With nine games to go, these two teams, along with Norwich City, have opened up a gap from the chasing pack and will be keen to avoid becoming the odd one out that misses out on automatic promotion. Since the setback of losing 3-1 at home to Norwich at the beginning of February, Leeds have bounced back in some style to win five of their last six games, with their frustrating single-goal loss at Queens Park Rangers the only blot on their copybook.

Since that defeat, they have seen off the challenges of promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion (4-0) and Bristol City (1-0), while Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Reading made it three clean sheets on the spin and keeps them just two points behind league leaders, Norwich. Sheffield United have been equally impressive recently, winning five and drawing one of their last six league games without conceding a single goal. Those victories include crucial 1-0 successes against rivals Middlesbrough and West Brom, and if it were not for a crazy last ten minutes at Villa Park last month when a 3-goal advantage turned into a 3-3 draw, then the Blades would be looking at eight straight shutouts, and 22 points from a possible 24.

Leeds won the reverse fixture 1-0 at Bramall Lane in December, but games between these two tend to be tight affairs, with only one of their last seven meetings producing more than two goals.

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WATFORD v CRYSTAL PALACE

Saturday lunchtime brings us the first of the weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals in the shape of an all-London all-Premier League encounter between Watford and Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road. Watford have suffered two recent defeats at Liverpool and Manchester City, but that can’t detract from what has been an excellent season for the Hornets. Including those losses to the top two, they have only lost four of their last eighteen outings since the middle of December, incorporating this successful cup run with solid league form that has seen them cement a position in the top eight. Crystal Palace’s last three games have followed the same pattern as Watford’s (Lost, Won, Lost), but those have been their only two defeats in nine games that have seen them reach the last eight of the cup and open up some daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

While struggling in front of their own fans, Palace seems to revel being on the road, where only Liverpool, in a thrilling 4-3 defeat, have inflicted defeat on the Eagles in nine road trips since before Christmas. Palace have found the net in all but three of their sixteen away games this season, with the notable scalp of Manchester City (3-2) under their belts.

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SWANSEA CITY v MANCHESTER CITY

Sandwiched between two all-Premier League ties is this intriguing encounter at the Liberty Stadium, where Swansea City will be looking to ruin Manchester City’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple. Of course, Swansea would lose to the Premier League champions nine times out of ten, but a season of FA Cup upsets means that City cannot afford to be complacent on their trip to South Wales. Swansea’s hopes of a promotion playoff place have evaporated in the wake of inconsistent results that have seen them lose five of their last eight Championship games. In the Cup, they did well to win 3-0 at Aston Villa in the third round, before making the most of a couple of kindly home draws that saw them see off Gillingham and Brentford by the same 4-1 scoreline.

Since losing three out of four Premier League games in December, Manchester City have been ruthless and relentless in their pursuit of four pieces of silverware. Their last nineteen outings have produced seventeen wins, a goalless draw with Chelsea in the League Cup Final (which they subsequently won on penalties), and just a momentary blip at Newcastle United, where they went down 2-1 at the end of January. Tuesday night’s 7-0 romp over Schalke in the Champions League was the tenth time this season that Pep Guardiola’s team has scored five or more goals in a game, and if City arrive in Wales with the same attitude, then Swansea will do well to prevent this cup tie becoming the eleventh.

 

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WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS v MANCHESTER UNITED

The most eye-catching of the FA Cup quarter-finals is saved for Saturday night when Wolves will be looking to thrill their home fans by beating the challenge of Manchester United at Molineux. Wolves have enjoyed a successful start to 2019, ever since they claimed the scalp of previously unbeaten Liverpool in the third round back in early January. In their thirteen games since then, only Manchester City (3-0) and, frustratingly, Huddersfield Town (1-0) have got the better of Wolves, who have picked up four wins and three draws in their last eight games to head the pack of teams who are some way behind the top six.

Defensively solid, they have been helped by the improving form of Raul Jimenez, who has weighed in with eight goals since the back end of January. After their incredible run under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United, perhaps still affected by their thrilling win at PSG a few days earlier, found their trip to Arsenal just one bridge too far on Sunday, when they slipped to a 2-0 defeat. That was their first league loss in thirteen games since the Norwegian’s arrival in December (10 wins, 2 draws), and United will no doubt have been glad for a full week’s rest to prepare for this cup-tie.

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FULHAM v LIVERPOOL

The FA Cup might be taking centre stage this weekend, but there’s still some Premier League action for teams no longer involved in the Cup, with the best of the games saved for Sunday, starting with Liverpool’s lunchtime game at Fulham. Fulham’s top-flight fate has been all but decided by a dismal 2019 that has seen them lose nine of their ten league outings since the turn of the year, and even their solitary 4-2 win against Brighton needed a miraculous second-half comeback to overcome a two-goal deficit. All ten of their opponents this year have scored at least twice, and it is Fulham’s leaky defence (just two clean sheets in thirty games) that has left them staring at the inevitable prospect of an immediate return to the Championship. They come against a Liverpool team that will still be buzzing from the impressive midweek exploits that saw them return from Bayern Munich with a 3-1 win under their belts and a place in the last eight of the Champions League.

Liverpool will also be looking to put pressure back onto Manchester City by getting the win they need to go back to the top of the division while the champions are in cup action. Liverpool’s title challenge stalled a little in the wake of four draws in the space of six league games, but recent successes over Watford (5-0) and Burnley (4-2), not to mention the three they scored at the Allianz Arena, suggest the Liverpool goal machine is alive and kicking. Their cause has been helped by the return to form of Sadio Mané, who has bagged three braces in the last four games and scored ten in the last ten.

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EVERTON v CHELSEA

The weekend’s depleted Premier League programme concludes on Sunday evening when struggling Everton will be hoping to kickstart the remainder of the season by getting a positive result against Chelsea at Goodison Park. Everton are languishing in midtable, which is hardly surprising considering their dismal inconsistency this season. Nine of their ten wins have been against teams currently below their eleventh position in the table, with September’s 2-1 win over Leicester City (who are tenth) the only nominal exception. Their eight games against top six teams have produced six defeats and just two points from dour goalless draws with Chelsea and Liverpool. Two wins in the last eight games have both been against struggling Huddersfield and Cardiff, while last Saturday they contrived to relinquish a two-goal half-time advantage to lose 3-2 at Newcastle.

Chelsea appears to have overcome the defensive problems that saw them leak ten goals in their trips to Bournemouth (0-4) and Manchester City (0-6) six weeks ago. Success against Dynamo Kyiv in the Europa League has been augmented by successive league wins over Tottenham (2-0) and Fulham (2-1), although they needed a late Eden Hazard goal to snatch a point in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Wolves. A win for the Blues would see them leapfrog Manchester United into fifth place in the league, and draw level on points with Arsenal, although they would need to win by six goals to climb above them on goal difference.


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