Time to deliver
A chance to see how far United have come recently and Liverpool have come this season, whilst Arsenal need to stave off any talk of a battle for the top four...
By Daniel Storey - @danielstorey85
Last Updated: 14/03/14 11:09am
Old Trafford Showdown
A Manchester United manager should never want to be judged on his performances against the likes of West Bromwich Albion or Crystal Palace (nor too Olympiakos, Fulham and Sunderland, as it happens).
Instead, David Moyes should pride himself on his performances against the biggest and the best in the league, and on that basis he is still falling woefully short. United have taken just 10 points from their 12 matches against top-half opposition this season, putting them 11th in the league on points per game. That is an absolute abomination, taking 0.83ppg as oppose to 1.77ppg last season, the highest in the league.
United and Moyes do not need reminding that Liverpool are very much one of those top teams. Nor too does Wayne Rooney, who this week bemoaned the success of others in relation to United. "To see City doing well, and particularly Liverpool, is really difficult. It is not nice when we know we are capable of being up there challenging and we have not been doing that this season."
Sunday provides United with the chance to demonstrate just how much consecutive expected victories matter when the tougher assignments arrive. Win and the talk of resurgence will grow louder, lose (or even draw) and the mood will yet again have been dampened ahead of Olympiakos next midweek.
The common consensus appears to be that Arsenal's title bid is over, and that may well be the case. With a tough run-in to come, including Sunday's North London derby - live on Sky Sports 1HD from 3.30pm - however, there are vultures circling to suggest that the battle for the top four may yet not be.
Should Spurs, Manchester United and Everton all win at home this weekend, not an unthinkable treble, they would be three, eight and eight points behind Arsenal, respectively, with the likelihood that only one would need to overtake Arsene Wenger's side to leave them without a top-four finish for the first time in 18 years. With Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h) and Everton (a) to come in the four matches following Sunday's North London derby, such a lead could quickly diminish.
Of course, such concerns would soon vanish with victory at White Hart Lane, and following Tim Sherwood's outbursts of the last seven days and a Thursday night humbling for the home side against Benfica, one cannot envisage a better time to face Spurs.
What's Happening To City?
It is far too premature to declare that Manuel Pellegrini's job is in danger. This is a man given the task of leading City out of the Roberto Mancini era, with a much-publicised remit of five trophies in five years. And, technically, he is up with the pace in achieving that.
However, it was just the Capital One Cup. Under Pellegrini this season, City have gone one stage further in the UEFA Champions League, been knocked out two rounds earlier in the FA Cup and are, according to the bookmakers at least, favourites to finish in exactly the same position as last season in the league. It is not the improvement many would have envisaged, nor too matching the presumed ambitions of the owners.
Of course there are caveats. City's improvement in the Champions League group stage was marked, and they will have put up a better fight in the Premier League than last season whatever their results from now on in. Some of their attacking displays have been wonderful to watch, and there is a real sign that Fernandinho is the bite missing in midfield.
It is just that it all suddenly has an anti-climactic feel. A month ago they still had genuine hopes of a quadruple but now the Premier League remains the only front on which to fight. Anything less than three points at the KC Stadium on Saturday lunchtime and a season may suddenly feel as good as over by mid-March.
Now we will see just how serious this title bid really is. Anything but a victory at Old Trafford will feel like the wind being taken out of sails, and that is the perfect measure for just how far Brendan Rodgers has taken Liverpool this season.
After defeat at the home of their bitterest rivals last season, Liverpool were 14 points behind United. Fourteen months later, and they travel there 11 points ahead. Win on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D from 12.30pm, and there will be some serious perch-climbing going on in the away end of Old Trafford.
The Right Man?
No wins, four draws and four defeats from eight matches in charge, and only once scoring more than one goal in a game. There has been no new manager lift, no seeming improvement in results or performance and no sense whatsoever that the Spaniard appears to be the right man to steer West Brom away from danger.
It really does look very grim for Mel indeed. Talks of grumbling within the camp may have been given the 'shush shush, there's nothing to see here' by the West Brom camp but it is clear that certain players are not entirely comfortable with the way the club are limping their way towards relegation, especially after Steve Clarke was sacked over concerns he might do just that.
If West Brom lose again on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium, it would seem probable that West Brom chairman Jeremy Peace may roll the dice again in the desperate hope for survival.