Brighton (P29, Pts 32)
Reasons to be cheerful Crucial victories against Southampton and Newcastle before the international break have significantly eased the pressure on Graham Potter after a disastrous streak that yielded one point from five games. Newcastle’s 3-0, Brighton’s fourth win at Amex since December 2019, was particularly important as it helped establish a six-point cushion with nine games to go and proved that this team can have an advantage.
Before their loss to Crystal Palace in late February sidetracked them, Brighton had been undefeated in the Premier League for six games and looked like a team in progress. The challenge is whether they can pick up where they left off against Newcastle.
Reasons to be afraid A daunting showdown that, starting Sunday, includes trips to Old Trafford and then Stamford Bridge before hosting Manchester City at home on the final day means Brighton’s Premier League status is far from assured. The breakup came at the worst possible time for the Potter players given the momentum they had gained and it is up to the coach to make sure his team is prepared to dig in one more time. Home games against Everton, Leeds and West Ham could be vital if Brighton’s two rivals can catch them, although Amex form has hardly been a strong point for this team.
Key player Leandro Trossard doubled his Premier League goal tally for the season in the space of six days against Southampton and Newcastle, and the Belgian forward also scored two goals in his country’s 8-0 rout of Belarus in a qualifying match. for the World Cup, the first time he started for the senior team. Signed from Genk in 2019, the 26-year-old has shown glimpses of his talent for Brighton and Belgium without reaching his obvious potential. But a developing understanding with Neal Maupay and Danny Welbeck has helped Trossard thrive at the club level as he tries to make his way into the star-studded team of Roberto Martinez. Not scoring consistently has been a regular criticism and surpassing last season’s total of five goals and helping Brighton up the table would certainly draw the attention of the Belgian manager. SHE
Newcastle United (P29, Pts 28)
Reasons to be cheerful Allan Saint-Maximin’s impending return to physical form represents a ray of sunshine in the middle of an otherwise prohibitive leaden sky. His long-awaited reunion with Miguel Almirón in Steve Bruce’s attack offers hope for goals and points, pace and creativity, although Callum Wilson’s return has been delayed. Maybe, just maybe, they can plug the cracks in other areas and make sure the descent is prevented.
Reasons to be afraid Where to start? After winning two of their last 20 games in all competitions, Newcastle have distanced themselves from victory. Worse still, Isaac Hayden, their midfield anchor, will be out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury and the locker room is fraught with problems. Some players have lost faith in Bruce and there was astonishment that the coach was not fired after the abject 3-0 loss at Brighton last month. Around 95% of fans surveyed by the Newcastle Evening Chronicle want him out, but a 60-year-old who is owed a £ 4 million reward in the event of dismissal will continue to limp.
The confusion on the field is compounded because Bruce apparently harbors a different tactical vision than Graeme Jones, the coach parachuting to help him in January. Then there’s the last game of the season – the trip to Fulham at Craven Cottage is precisely the kind of game Newcastle specializes in losing. Mike Ashley, the club’s owner, has a reputation as a player but, even by his standards, the retail mogul is taking a huge risk by refusing to do without Bruce.
Key player They say that nobody is indispensable but, without the contribution of Callum Wilson, Newcastle would have long ago reserved a place in the Championship. Bruce’s team has not been able to win a single league game this season without the 29-year-old and has missed him desperately since he suffered a hamstring problem in early February. The former Bournemouth striker has scored 10 of the team’s 28 league goals and tops the assist charts after creating another five. It is no exaggeration to say that Newcastle’s hopes of survival depend on their physical condition. LT
Fulham (P30, Pts 26)
Reasons to be cheerful Fulham are unrecognizable for the shoddy outfit that reeked of naivety at the start of the season. They looked certain to fall again when they surrendered at home to Aston Villa in September, but Scott Parker has never been one to shy away from a challenge. The manager was determined not to endure a repeat of Fulham’s miserable relegation two seasons ago and has improved his team’s durability, tactical intelligence and passing.
The transformation owes a lot to Parker’s cunning training. The 40-year-old has made some smart additions. Joachim Andersen has been a leader in central defense since coming on loan from Lyon, assisting the inexperienced Tosin Adarabioyo, and Harrison Reed has formed an effective partnership with André-Frank Zambo Anguissa in midfield.
Zambo Anguissa is no longer seen as an expensive failure. Parker has given everyone the opportunity to impress and has built a united team. Unbeaten in eight away games, Fulham does not rebound easily. They fought to draw 1-1 at Tottenham, played Everton out of the park when they won 2-0 at Goodison Park and were bold when they beat Liverpool at Anfield. Two points behind Newcastle, they can escape.
Reasons to be afraid Look at their position. Despite all the positives, Fulham remains in the bottom three and time is running out. Frustratingly for Parker, they didn’t build on that memorable win over Liverpool. While it was understandable to be thrashed by Manchester City in their next game, losing 2-1 at home to Leeds United before the international break could prove costly. Faced with the opportunity to climb over Newcastle, Fulham was paralyzed, defending poorly and not taking advantage of their opportunities. They are not ruthless enough in attack. Their deficiencies in the final third leave the defense under a lot of pressure and they have squandered many winnable games, wasting leads in draws with West Brom and Burnley and enduring boring draws with Brighton and Crystal Palace.
Fulham has to be more clinical. They need more from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ivan Cavaleiro, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Josh Maja, who has not scored since a double against Everton after signing on loan from Bordeaux in January. A better finish is imperative.
Key player Ademola Lookman has often been an inspiration since her failed penalty against West Ham in November. Fulham need him to torment the full-backs with his pace and his wiles. JS
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism