GW35 Preview: Liverpool’s Luis Suarez is facing Norwich. You know what to do.

luis Suarez goals video vs Norwich City 2013

After the drama of last weekend, Liverpool’s title challenge rolls on to Norfolk this time around, and there’ll be at least one man who’ll be pleased it does.

Luis Suarez (£13.3m) has scored a staggering 11 goals in his last four matches against the Canaries, including hat-tricks on his only previous two visits to Carrow Road and four goals against the same opposition at Anfield in December.

The Uruguayan’s often jaw-dropping goalscoring rate might not be at the same level it has often been at the moment, with just one strike in his last four games, but as the Reds chase what would be a remarkable title success he is certain to be determined to fire them there.

You could argue that Suarez is fortunate to be facing Norwich at all after narrowly escaping a red card against Manchester City, but he could be coming up against them without his strike partner Daniel Sturridge (£10.4m) in tow after the forward limped off in the same game.

At the time of writing the extent of Sturridge’s injury isn’t known, but if he doesn’t play then that will only add extra attacking responsibility to the shoulders of Philippe Coutinho (£8.5m) and Raheem Sterling (£5.7m), but as both have shown in recent weeks they are more than capable of handling the pressure.

One man who definitely won’t be playing for Liverpool is the suspended Jordan Henderson (£6.5m), with his three-game ban for the red card picked up against City now ruling him out for until the final game of the season.

 

 

Speaking of City, they can’t be counted out of the title race at all just yet, especially now they’ve got Sergio Aguero (£12.2m) back from injury, a return which has soften the blow of losing the injured Yaya Toure (£10.5m) for a couple of games.

As they showed at Anfield though, the inspiration behind all of their good work at the moment is the brilliant David Silva (£9.9m), a player who has really found his form in the closing weeks of the season and one who should really have a higher Fantasy ownership percentage than 14%.

He’ll be vital as City host West Brom on Monday night in a match they simply have to win to stay in the title race, whilst Chelsea also face a similar must-win (and probably will win) match at home to Sunderland on Saturday.

As usual, the attention is on Chelsea’s forwards ahead of the contest, with that baton now passed to Demba Ba (£7.4m) following his crucial goals against Paris-Saint Germain and Swansea.

Elsewhere, perhaps the game of the weekend sees David Moyes return to Goodison Park with Manchester United, a match which Everton will fancy their chances in as they continue to chase the Champions League.

Young defender John Stones (£4.2m) has kept his place in the team despite the return to fitness of Phil Jagielka, whilst Steven Naismith (£4.7m) continues to make his presence felt upfront. United remain largely friendless in the Fantasy game, although at least Juan Mata (£9.1m) has started to shine.

Cardiff’s latest attempt at climbing out of trouble sees them host Stoke in what is simply a must-win game, and whilst Peter Odemwingie (£5.5m) will fancy getting one over the club he started the season at, the hosts will be looking to Jordon Mutch (£5.0m) to inspire them to a much-needed three points.

Fulham, another club in relegation trouble, may have picked up important points lately through the goals of Hugo Rodallega (£5.0m), but they face a tough visit to a Tottenham side who will be inspired by the recent performances of Christian Eriksen (£6.8m).

@Mark_Jones86

Off the Mark: Demba Ba deserves moments in the spotlight, now he needs to leave Chelsea to find more

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group E - Chelsea v Steaua Bucharest - Stamford Bridge

Less is more, some say. It’s why there were only ever 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers and 14 of The Office. As another well-worn saying goes, always leave them laughing.

Sometimes though, just leaving them full stop is the best option.

Up until the past week, Demba Ba has been Chelsea’s best-paid supporter this season, the Senegalese forward afforded one of the best seats in the house as he got to watch Eden Hazard, Oscar and the like strut their stuff and make prolonged assaults on winning both the Premier League and Champions League.

Sure, Ba would get a chance to get onto the pitch occasionally – a few minutes here, a couple of touches there, two goals against Tottenham Hotspur, you know, the usual stuff – but he wasn’t really part of the team. He wasn’t really part of Jose Mourinho’s plans. He was just there. Another name, another number, another pay cheque to a club who can afford to dole out as many as they want.

Mourinho, utilising that special ability he has to put himself at the front and centre of each and every thing that his team does, has often been critical of his forwards this season, but you got the sense that he was never really singling out Ba. Doing so would be like blaming a weatherman for global warming, or Brazil for the Cuban Missile Crisis. It would just look out of place.

Coming off the back of his priceless strike against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, the winning goal that Ba scored against Swansea in the Premier League last weekend was absolutely vital to Chelsea’s title hopes. It has put those hopes back in their own hands, with logic now dictating that a win at Liverpool in 11 days’ time would see them become favourites again.

The Liberty Stadium saw what was only Ba’s third Premier League start of the season, whilst he scored his fourth goal. It was a big goal, but if Chelsea are to overhaul Liverpool and win the league, then how much of a part has he actually played?

The same can be said of the Champions League run too, as we now have the bizarre notion that Chelsea’s two most important goals of the season were scored by a man who has barely featured.

If, as expected, both Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o depart the club in the summer, with a shiny new £50m+ forward brought in – a Diego Costa or a Radamel Falcao – then Ba might well be put under pressure to stay and play second fiddle again. Chelsea would undoubtedly want him too.

But the forward is far too good a player to be forced into this situation again, and regardless of what the club say to him he should look to escape through the transfer window once it opens.

Ba could take inspiration from the man he effectively replaced at Stamford Bridge, Daniel Sturridge, who sensed an opportunity to leave and join a club and manager who believed in him in Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.

As we saw at Newcastle, a fit, firing and most importantly selected Ba can be one of the best forwards in the Premier League, and he is certain to have more than a few suitors. Everton, should they be unable to secure Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea permanently, and Tottenham, if they are going to give up on the disastrous Roberto Soldado experiment, immediately spring to mind.

Perhaps Ba will decide that he’s had enough of England and leave for pastures new, but that would be a huge shame for Premier League fans if he does.

The forward is a player who deserves to be seen, to be appreciated, and most of all to play.

Come the summer he’ll find himself at front and centre of the shop window, and must hope for a caring buyer.

***

Norwich think it’s all over…

I was at the Fulham v Norwich game on Saturday, and whilst the 90 minutes itself wasn’t the most enthralling, what was perhaps most important was the reaction of the Norwich players come full-time.

Upon the final whistle, the likes of Nathan Redmond, Robert Snodgrass and Martin Olsson looked shell-shocked, with some sinking to their knees. It was as though the club had already been relegated.

With fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to come, many think they already have of course, but is there not the possibility that they could pick up a couple of points somewhere there?

Judging by those reactions, some of the players think they are down already.

***

Fulham can fire at Spurs

West Brom were seconds away from landing our bet last weekend only for Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen to equalise late on, and we’re going to take on Spurs again on Saturday.

Fulham make the trip to White Hart Lane desperate for points, and they can pick up something at a ground they won at last season.

If you’re feeling brave, BetMclean.com have Felix Magath’s side at 5/1 to win, although the 11/8 Draw or Fulham Double Chance might be the way to go. They are also 10/3 to win on the Draw No Bet market.

@Mark_Jones86

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GW34 Preview: Everton pair can make your Double Gameweek a breeze

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It’s a bit of a stealth Double Gameweek, this.

Because of the FA Cup semi-finals, two teams don’t play at all, whilst of the four who play twice, one are away to the current league leaders and two of the others have spent all of their season in the lower reaches of the table. One of them is currently rock bottom.

All of which leads you to one team this week, and luckily they are a team bang in form.

Everton know that over the next week they can cement their claims for a top four finish and Champions League football next season.

Following their sixth win in a row against Arsenal last weekend, Roberto Martinez’s Blues now go to a slumping Sunderland before following that up with a home game against a carefree Crystal Palace who are pretty much assured of their Premier League status for next season.

Because of the opportunity for Everton goals, the eyes are immediately drawn to forward Romelu Lukaku (£9.0m), who is sure to see his ownership rate rise over the coming days.

The Belgian recorded a double figure points score for the fourth time this season and the second time in three games in the demolition of the Gunners, and wherever he ends up playing next season the on-loan Chelsea man appears determined to shoot Everton into the top four during this one.

Lukaku has received strong attacking support from the likes of Steven Naismith (£4.6m) and Kevin Mirallas (£7.6m) in recent weeks, but the Blues’ defence also deserves some attention given that they are facing two of the lowest scorers in the division.

Everyone knows about how well Seamus Coleman (£6.9m) has done this season, but his young teammate John Stones (£4.1m) has come into the team in the last six matches, and it’s no coincidence that Everton have won all of those games.

Stones has been excellent since coming in for the injured Phil Jagielka, and this week it could pay to partner him with Coleman in your defence as the Blues look to keep things tight at the back.

Of the other teams facing Double Gameweeks, Manchester City head into what is surely the match of the season against Liverpool on Sunday and then follow that up with the much more winnable contest at home to Sunderland.

The Anfield meeting will of course be on a knife edge, and whilst you really can’t confidently predict which way it will go, the opportunity of some extra points for City players before they go into the Sunderland game means that they really can’t be ignored.

David Silva (£9.5m) has been excellent since moving into the No. 10 position behind the main striker, usually Edin Dzeko (£7.2m), but after his goal against Southampton it is perhaps Samir Nasri (£8.2m) who warrants the most attention.

The Frenchman will be a key goal threat at Anfield, and will also fancy his chances of impressing against Sunderland, a match which – like Everton v Crystal Palace – takes place now after it was postponed due to high winds in February.

Elsewhere, the big relegation battle between Fulham and Norwich at Craven Cottage could see Steve Sidwell (£5.3m) impress for the home side, whilst Stoke City look like being the latest team to profit from the fact that Newcastle United appear to have packed up for the season. Marko Arnautovic (£5.1m) and Peter Odemwingie (£5.4m) could impress at the Britannia Stadium.

West Brom’s Morgan Amalfitano (£4.2m) has rediscovered some of his early season form in the past few weeks and he could be worth a gamble as the Baggies host Tottenham, whilst after he returned from the bench in dismal circumstances at Goodison Park last Sunday, Arsenal could give Aaron Ramsey (£6.9m) a start in their match against West Ham.

@Mark_Jones86  

Off the Mark: Liverpool must seize the moment, because who knows when it’ll come around again?

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As you’re probably aware by now, Liverpool haven’t won the league title for 24 years, with their most recent success confirmed with a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers on April 28th 1990.

Raheem Sterling wouldn’t be born for another four-and-a-half years, Jon Flanagan for three, Philippe Coutinho for two and Jordan Henderson for another two months. Joe Allen was six weeks old, and Daniel Sturridge seven months.

No-one back then would have thought that Liverpool would still be waiting for another league title 24 years down the line, but then the same thing would have been said about Manchester United when they won the league in 1967. They had to wait until 1993 for their next one, and then it seemed like they never stopped winning for 20 years.

United have had a poor season by their standards this time around, but no-one is suggesting they’ll disappear from the title picture for the next two-and-a-half decades. Football works in cycles though, and Liverpool will be aware of that too.

Put simply, it is incredible that the Reds are in this position, top of the Premier League table and five games away from ending that 24-year wait.

The club’s supporters can often get ridiculed for their fanatical and devoted nature, but you wouldn’t have found one who believed that this was possible back in the summer.

Brendan Rodgers, for all of his positivity, was still viewed with suspicion, Luis Suarez had stayed but was just one more meltdown away from being shipped out – and plenty wanted him gone. Steven Gerrard was too old, the rest of them were too young, the new signings weren’t good enough, the best players had chosen to sign for someone else, and Kolo Toure had rocked up. Apprehension ruled over expectation.

But then the football started, and what great football it was.

Sturridge, in isolation at first, couldn’t stop scoring. Suarez hit the ground running and never stopped. Gerrard imperious, Henderson metronomic, Coutinho, Sterling relentless. They couldn’t defend their way out of a paper bag, obviously, but that only added to the fun.

Whenever someone scored against them (and I think a paper bag actually managed it at one point) you just got the sense that they were setting themselves up to be breached twice, three times at the other end.

More recently though, and as emphasised by the win at West Ham, there seems to be a steeliness added to Liverpool’s game, a ruthless streak has kicked in. They’ve won nine games in a row and they are aware of the consequences of what happens if they get to 14.

It is these qualities that they’ll need to show against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday.

They aren’t going to blow City away like they have done the vast majority of visitors this season – although if they do? Wow – and so instead it is going to be grim determination which gets them through.

Every team who has gone through a long title drought has matches such as these.

For United it was the victory over Sheffield Wednesday 21 years ago this week which ended with a last gasp Steve Bruce winner and Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd leaping onto the pitch. More recently, Manchester City beat United 1-0 thanks to a Vincent Kompany header in April two years ago. This is the game where suddenly everything crystallises and it all becomes real.

The current City vintage will head to Anfield with confidence. They are still the title favourites and rightly so. A draw would put them firmly in the driving seat and in charge of their own destiny.

But there’s a feeling that this is the game, this is the time for those Liverpool players. And if they’re not going to do it now then will they ever?

Two-and-a-half decades worth of footballers have gone before them, and none of them won the club a league title.

If that run is going to end, then it ends here and now. Well, on Sunday anyway.

But what’s a few days when you’ve been waiting 24 years?

 

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Play the name and shame Arsenal game

I’ve got a game for you to play.

I want you to look through the Arsenal teamsheet from Sunday’s non-performance at Everton and choose how many of the XI you’d keep at the club next season. Given who was out injured and that Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were only on the bench, when in a particularly ruthless mood I’ve ended up with two.

It’s clear that the Gunners need an overhaul, and it is probably time that it comes from the very top.

Arsene Wenger has been a fantastic figure at the club and deserves immense respect, but you just wonder if a parting of the ways is now what’s best for everyone.

 

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Back the Baggies to boing

West Bromwich Albion are just starting to show a little bit of the fight they needed to demonstrate much earlier in the season, and suddenly look a lot more likely to stay up.

That escape act can continue on Saturday when they host a Tottenham side who managed an impressive win over Sunderland but have been disappointing on the road of late, with the Tim Sherwood situation hardly helping.

Back West Brom to beat Tottenham at 2/1 with BetMcLean.com.

@Mark_Jones86

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