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Big Midweek: Man Utd, Giroud, Spurs at Brighton, Hughes

Game to watch – Brighton v Tottenham It’s slim pickings this week, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday providing this weekend’s FA Cup semi-finalists the opportunity to squeeze in the Premier League matches that were scrubbed to make way for a visit to Wembley. That could be good news for Brighton, who will hope Tottenham have one eye on their weekend meeting with Manchester United. The Seagulls appear to be on safe ground in 13th place with 35 points, seven above Southampton in the final relegation place. But Chris Hughton will certainly feel more secure with another three points. He may be a little concerned, though, when he wonders where that security might be found. Albion have fallen into another poor run of form just in time for what rivals Huddersfield’s as the Premier League’s most difficult-looking run-in. After hosting Spurs on Tuesday night, Hughton’s men have only one more home match – against Manchester United – with trips to Burnley, Manchester City and Liverpool still to come. Prior to that, they’ve lost three of their last four, including the grudge match at Crystal Palace on Saturday. Tottenham also suffered defeat this weekend and while Mauricio Pochettino might now be coming around to the idea that the FA Cup isn’t the waste of time and effort he once thought, the Spurs boss will be looking closely to see how his men recover from having their 14-match unbeaten run ended by the champions. Chelsea chipped three points off their advantage in the race for the Champions League spots and the AmEx offers the opportunity not only to put 10 points between themselves and the Blues once more, but a victory also mathematically confirms that Arsenal cannot catch them this season and cancels St Totteringham’s Day for another year.   Player to watch: Olivier Giroud If the centre-forward doesn’t start for Chelsea at Burnley on Thursday night, then he probably never will. Giroud came off the bench at Southampton on Saturday lunchtime immediately after the Blues had allowed Saints a 2-0 lead, with the France striker scoring twice to rouse Antonio Conte’s side from their slumber to achieve what appeared the most unlikely comeback. It’s hard to quantify the difference on Saturday between Chelsea with Alvaro Morata as their front man, and the team led by Giroud through the last half-hour. Before Conte chucked on Giroud, his side were utterly abysmal, barely concealing their distaste at being made to run around in the sunshine. Morata typified that performance, with the Spaniard seemingly preoccupied and entirely at odds with everyone around him. Giroud, though, had the bit between his teeth and a point to prove. He did exactly that, not only by scoring his first Premier League goals for Chelsea during his longest appearance of six off the bench, but his energy lifted the team behind him – in direct contrast to the effort of the man he replaced – and destroyed the spirit of the Saints, who surrendered their advantage in weirdly meek fashion. If he hasn’t completely zoned out already, then Conte will be well aware that such willingness will be required again at Turf Moor. Morata already has a face like a slapped arse but Giroud has an opportunity to rub it in the dirt by condemning him to the bench at Wembley on Sunday too.   Team to watch – Manchester United Jose Mourinho said too many of his players were “on the moon” last week after they delayed the inevitable and took City’s tables in the derby last week. The performance and subsequent defeat to the Premier League’s worst team eight days later should certainly return them to earth with an almighty thud. But, with some of these players in this squad, you have to wonder… Having criticised United’s mental consistency following the 1-0 loss to West Brom, Mourinho would no doubt like to kick a few backsides back into space before they land in Bournemouth this week. But it is so hard to tell exactly what motivates this Manchester United. The squad, individually and collectively, is clearly capable of more than they offer, but too often they fail to deliver. The manager’s tactics are usually the first fault to be identified but there is only so much any coach can do. Mourinho has got it wrong on a number of occasions but, as he is often quickest to point out, how can he carry the can when his players don’t follow their instructions or perform the basic tasks demanded of their roles? Paul Pogba is the obvious culprit in that respect but he is by no means alone. The entire team faced West Brom with an arrogance they have yet to justify. Perhaps a midweek trip to the south coast holds similar appeal to a battle with the rock-bottom Baggies in the pouring rain, but Sunday’s more fundamental flaws need correcting before Saturday, when they have another wrong to right against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.   Manager to watch – Mark Hughes “We’ve got a soft underbelly which we’ve had all year, apparently,” admitted Hughes after seeing Southampton capitulate once more, all the while trying to excuse himself from the blame for their longer-term failings. But in the month Hughes has had to sort out the Saints, they have conceded three goals in all three Premier League games he has managed. Hughes pointed to a series of intangibles – “intent, understanding and confidence” – when asked what he had improved since he arrived but the manner of their surrender when Chelsea finally put up a fight on Saturday firmly contradicts that. The manager would likely point to the fact they have scored four goals against Arsenal and Chelsea, ignoring the obvious defensive flaw. That has to be a huge concern for Saints fans. Prior to the 3-0 defeat at Newcastle that proved to be Mauricio Pellegrino’s last stand, they had not conceded three goals in a game in 12 matches. Now it is four on the trot, and Hughes has offered no evidence that he can mend a leaky backline. He was sacked by Stoke with the Potters having the worst defence in the division and since taking over from Pellegrino, no side has conceded more than the sliding Saints. If Hughes is capable of organising a defence – in whatever shape he prefers – then the four days on the training ground before Thursday’s trip to Leicester is the time to prove it.   One-on-one battle to watch – Riyad Mahrez v Ryan Bertrand...


Published By: Fottball 365 - Tuesday, 17 April

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