FA Cup final and Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | FA Cup


1) All that glitters is silver

The cold, dead-behind-the-eyes pragmatist might assert that Leicester’s most important match against Chelsea comes on Tuesday, in a meeting that may prove decisive to their top-four hopes. But that would be to ignore the sheer euphoria of winning the FA Cup in front of 6,250 of their fans at Wembley, and to miss the fundamental point that if football does not come down to winning magical old competitions like this then everyone may as well pack up. For Leicester, a first-ever cup final win would reassert the sense, five years after their league title win, that they are here to stay as a club capable of winning major honours. Their continued presence around the top end since 2016 has, in many ways, been just as impressive as that Claudio Ranieri-inspired triumph. Leicester continue to make a mockery of the idea that a “big six” exists in anything bar inflated egos, and they can prove that once again on Saturday. Nick Ames

  • FA Cup final: Chelsea v Leicester City, Saturday 5.15pm, all times BST

2) Kanté’s return could settle Cup final

While surprising and an obvious setback to their Champions League qualification efforts, Chelsea’s midweek defeat to Arsenal wasn’t quite the “wake-up call” that Thomas Tuchel claimed it to be immediately after the game. While Arsenal’s defending was commendably obdurate after Jorginho gifted Emile Smith Rowe the only goal of the game, Mikel Arteta’s side rode their luck at times and can hardly claim to have been the better side despite taking all three points. While Tuchel publicly beat himself up for making too many changes to his team, the conspicuous absence of N’Golo Kanté from his matchday squad was perhaps the only omission that, with hindsight, could be considered a glaring error. Having enjoyed the night off, the pint-sized dynamo will almost certainly be back to face his former club in the FA Cup final and on current form, his speed and developing creativity could very well make the difference. Barry Glendenning

N’Golo Kanté’s return to his best has coincided with Chelsea’s huge improvement.
N’Golo Kanté’s return to his best has coincided with Chelsea’s huge improvement. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/AP

3) Can Allardyce claim another Continental scalp?

Already relegated with three games to go, West Bromwich Albion host a Liverpool side with plenty to play for in a match few in their right minds will expect the home side to win. Now their relegation is confirmed, it would be no great surprise if the players of West Brom threw in the towel and gifted Liverpool the points – and even on a good day they might not be good enough to cause Jürgen Klopp’s side much trouble. Despite going down, West Brom have visibly improved under Sam Allardyce and we all marvelled at the number they did on Chelsea. Given their manager’s obvious relish for bloodying the noses of high-profile continental managers he feels have persistently done him out of the glamorous jobs he is certain he deserves, neutrals can but hope this fixture won’t be anywhere near as straightforward as it seems for the recently deposed champions. BG

4) Can Ndombele make the most of himself?

Few footballers can do things you previously thought impossible, and fewer footballers still can do things that you still think are impossible even after they’ve done them – but Tanguy Ndombele is one. In the first half of the season he seemed to have finally hit his stride, delivering the unfathomable hand-over-mouth moments that are his USP while justifying his presence in between times by putting in a shift. Now, though, he’s back on the periphery, left on the bench throughout the League Cup final despite a dreadful Tottenham performance, surplus to requirements in the win over Sheffield United which followed it, and given just 10 minutes at Leeds despite his team trailing throughout the second half. Spurs will soon have a new man in charge, so Ndombele’s predicament is not irresolvable, but after a year of blaming José Mourinho’s mistrust of flair, Ryan Mason deeming him non-essential suggests that the problem lies with the player, not whoever his manager is. Daniel Harris

5) Hammers cannot afford to spurn lifeline

They remain outsiders but the door to Champions League football was prised back open for West Ham by Chelsea’s surprise defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday. Now they need to give themselves a chance and that means casting aside the slump that sent them off course just when they appeared to be flying. A trip to the Amex is the first of three very winnable fixtures and, if they needed an omen, it might help that Brighton have not won any of the Premier League games for which the suspended Lewis Dunk has been unavailable. Michail Antonio and company will hope for a clinical evening’s work against a rejigged back line. Brighton, meanwhile, are safe from relegation and the heat is off Graham Potter’s hosts; what a shame it would be if West Ham, so invigorating to watch under David Moyes, tailed off terminally in a season whose potential outcomes remain so diverse. Should they lose, there is a real chance the Hammers will miss out on European qualification altogether. NA

6) Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin must step it up

It’s been a strange season for Everton, who started well before regressing to the mediocre mean Carlo Ancelotti was supposed to prevent. Though ninth looks about their level, it’s hard not to feel cheated that they’ve not done better and a goal-tally of 46 – the fewest of the top 11 – is a particular disappointment, especially given the quality of their attackers. Richarlison has scored just six times in 30 league appearances, and though he must take much of the blame because he is better than that, his manager and teammates must do more to facilitate him, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin – whose 16 in 29 is respectable – will know that he is capable of better. Looking at Ancelotti’s squad, the absence of a proper winger is glaring and perhaps that’s all that’s necessary to unlock his strikers’ full potential. But in the meantime they must impose themselves more, and a home game with Sheffield United is a good place to start. DH

The goals have dried up for Richarlison and Everton.
The goals have dried up for Richarlison and Everton. Photograph: Michael Regan/AP

7) Guardiola must choose between sharpness and freshness

Manchester City have the best first XI in the league, but the gap between them and their nearest challengers also reflects the depth of their squad. When other managers were struggling through winter, unsure whether to overplay their first choices, rely on understudies or throw in youngsters, Pep Guardiola could rotate from game to game without seeing a significant drop-off in quality; similarly, it is no coincidence that Manchester United’s “title challenge” evaporated when Ole Gunnar Solskjær ran out of options, nor that Chelsea improved after appointing a manager prepared to deploy all of his myriad resources. Now, though, Guardiola has a decision to make: with the league championship claimed, he can either protect his essentials – Rúben Dias, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gündogan and Phil Foden – on the basis that injury is unlikely, or ensure they’re sharp and grooved for the Champions League final on the basis that momentum is hard to find and easy to lose. Either way, you fear for Newcastle. DH

8) Low-key Wood should not be underestimated

Few Premier League strikers are as dependable as Chris Wood. He puts in a shift, is generally good for 30 or more games a season and doesn’t seem to sulk if things aren’t going his way. A solid but unspectacular centre-forward in a decidedly unglamorous team, the 29-year-old has scored more than 11 but fewer than 15 goals in each of his four seasons with Burnley. On Saturday, Wood will lead the line against Leeds in a match that could scarcely be less significant for either side. Currently on a roll of five goals in three games, he needs another three to hit that elusive 15-mark and will fancy his chances of adding to his tally against his former side. Give the contrast in style of the two sides, not to mention the desperation of Wood’s opposite number, Patrick Bamford, to impress Gareth Southgate, this is a contest that may not be as meaningless on the Turf Moor grass as it currently appears on paper. BG

9) Fulham must look to the future and blood new faces

Who would be a Fulham player? A relatively small percentage of Scott Parker’s squad, as it happens: seven of its members will return to their loan clubs at the end of the season and it is hard to see many of Alphonse Areola, Joachim Andersen, Ademola Lookman, Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mario Lemina and Josh Maja returning for a stint in the Championship. The first three, in particular, should find new top-flight clubs with little problem. Parker’s own situation is up in the air too and it all makes for a painfully slow march to the end of the season when, only a few weeks ago, everything seemed geared towards a do-or-die final day against Newcastle. Given Fulham’s lineup will inevitably look different next season there must be a temptation to blood some new talent: Fabio Carvalho, a hugely exciting 18-year-old attacking midfielder who came off the bench at Chelsea earlier this month, could receive more minutes as the Cottagers visit Southampton with an eye on the future. NA

10) Palace more interesting off the pitch than on it

Ten members of the Crystal Palace matchday squad that lost to Southampton in midweek are out of contract at the end of this season, as are three more currently sidelined with injury. In total, Palace have 16 senior players – many of them first-team regulars – and their management team hurtling towards the end of their current deals, while speculation abounds that Roy Hodgson may call time on his career following Palace’s final game of the season at Liverpool. With so much uncertainty surrounding the futures of so many, their Sunday afternoon game against Villa is unlikely to rank particularly highly in anyone’s priorities. While we can only speculate as to what kind of conversations and negotiations are taking place behind the scenes, Palace are shaping up for a close-season that promises to be far more interesting than much of what has unfolded on the pitch during a campaign in which they became a byword for often uninspired and at times welcome mediocrity. BG



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