- Premier League Spotlight
A welcome distraction for Mourinho and Chelsea
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Will Chelsea relish not being the centre of attention?
It's a cavalier statement, sure, but Jose Mourinho seems to enjoy being the centre of attention. Whether that is for the benefit of his players, his ego or both is open to interpretation, but the very fact this column is writing about it means he's succeeded. Of late, however, Mourinho and Chelsea have been a side-note in the build up to Liverpool's monumentally gargantuan clash that could decide the meaning of life and the destination of the Premier League title.
As red meets sky blue on Sunday and the two sides unleash merry attacking hell on one another, Chelsea can go about their business sort of under the radar. Indeed, even though Mourinho's meet Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium straight after the match at Anfield it is likely that spectators will be so consumed with the events that unfolded on Merseyside -- that toe-curlingly good goal by such-and-such or that refereeing abomination -- that the 90 minutes from Wales will largely pass them by in a haze.
This is seemingly what Mourinho has desired all season long, for his team to be overlooked as title contenders. But their time to be included in over-elaborate montages will come again, when they travel to Liverpool on April 27. Until then, Chelsea must maintain their touching distance of the pacesetters, who they currently trail by two points, while also not becoming distracted by all that glitters in the Champions League semifinals.
This weekend is no forgone conclusion for Chelsea, though. Tuesday's professional performance against Paris Saint-Germain helped further put behind them a disappointing pair of results, that started with a league defeat on the road at Stoke. Their title setbacks have come away from home against sides they'd be expected to overcome, which is why Swansea, in spite of their poor form, are a dangerous proposition, while the absence of the injured Eden Hazard could be telling.
Can Martinez maintain Everton's momentum?
Everton's dismantling of a wretched Arsenal last weekend felt like a second watershed moment at Goodison Park, for this season they have threatened to repeat September's win over Chelsea only to see their pleasing play undone by the opponent's killer instinct that that has been forged from experience. Last Sunday's three points mean Roberto Martinez's team have their top-four fate in their own hands, even if the run-in is not ideal.
A trip to Sunderland is followed by a home game against Crystal Palace, which on paper is relatively fine, but then follows Manchester United, Southampton and City, before a final day trip to Hull City. They can, though, probably afford to drop some points along the way, as all signs point towards Arsenal, 17th in the top-flight form table, not being able to win all of their remaining five matches.
Martinez, who merits credit for his tactical tweaks such as deploying of Romelu Lukaku against the Gunners' weak left-hand side, has been buoyed by the most recent addition to his curriculum vitae. He said: "Psychologically the whole football club senses a real feel-good factor." Yet the Spaniard is also wary of Sunderland, in spite of the Black Cats being bottom of the form table after managing just one point from their last six games. Indeed, the Toffees were beaten by Gus Poyet's in December.
Have Norwich gambled too late on their survival hopes?
Another genuinely massive match. Norwich used one hand to cover their eyes and the other to roll the dice last Sunday evening, confirming the departure of manager Chris Hughton who, while seemingly a very nice chap, had overseen a wretched run of form for some time, so the sacking was not all too surprising. The timing of it did raise an eyebrow, however, as only five matches remain for the Canaries, four of which are against clubs with clout and can be filed under: "So long as we don't get a pasting that's a bonus."
Presumably, Norwich are hoping for the "bounce" that can sometimes come with releasing a manager and handing someone else the reins, for the new leader's differing system might jolt the players from their previous sleepwalking. But if we are to write off the final four games, then it's one hell of a gamble by the Norfolk outfit; that former under-18s coach Neil Adams will inspire them against Fulham, who breathed life into their survival hopes after they beat Aston Villa. Victory for the Cottagers would put them within two points of Norwich. Gulp.
Is it time for Pardew to leave Newcastle?
The Newcastle natives are growing restless once more. A run of four defeats from their last five outings has irked them somewhat, to put it mildly, with some calling for the sacking of manager Alan Pardew, who serves the last game of his seven-match ban this weekend at Stoke. Pardew recently said it is difficult to be motivated when there are "no real goals for you," and a lack of desire was evident in their 4-0 loss at home to United.
Speaking of goals, they conceded four of them against a Red Devils side hardly firing on all cylinders. Compounding his players' questionable effort, Pardew has cited poor defending and a lack of goal threat as further reasons for their slump, which covers the two basics of winning a football match, so you've quite a task on your hands if you are to turn this around, Alan. In his defence, the club are currently ninth in the table and have five more points than last season's total which resulted in a 16th-placed finish. But fans prefer to look at the here and now, and at present Pardew is failing to fulfil the remit of a manager: to get the best out of his players.
Will a knockout blow be dealt at Anfield?
Last, but by no means least, a match between two football teams. That's it, really. Nothing else much to see. Apart from it being first taking on third; 174 goals scored between them; a tricksy midfield versus a powerhouse version and a formidable striking partnership taking on one with variety in depth -- all set against the backdrop of what promises to be one of the atmospheres of the season at Anfield. Yep, like I said, move along now.
James Dall is an assistant editor at ESPN FC