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FA Cup, Premier League, Old Firm and WSL: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Football

1) Foden must be as central to England as he is for City

Phil Foden must start. Whether it is Manchester City’s most important matches, or for England at a European Championship, he must start. City’s win over Borussia Mönchengladbach was confirmation of this, and while his midfield mates Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan took the headlines for their goals, Foden put in an imperious performance at the tip of City’s midfield, providing a sumptuous no-look assist to take his goal contributions this season to 20 (from 36 appearances). There are others that could play this position for both City and England, but on current form it would be a huge shame not to see Gareth Southgate deploy Foden centrally during the upcoming international break. City’s domination in the Premier League meansCup matches have become the most vital to further the chance of a historic quadruple. Saturday’s trip to Everton remains a tricky task, with the Englishman surely playing his way into Pep Guardiola’s lineup. MB

Everton v Manchester City (FA Cup): Saturday, 5.30pm (all times GMT)

2) Pérez proving crucial in absence of Maddison

Ayoze Pérez has suddenly become very important to Leicester and Manchester United will probably have to subdue him if they are to reach another FA Cup semi-final. The Spaniard returned from injury last week and helped to pick up the creative slack in the absence of James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. In a system that enabled Brendan Rodgers to deploy both Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, Pérez probed and jinked just behind the front pair, forming an attacking triangle that made mugs of Sheffield United. Manchester United will be a different proposition. Scott McTominay and Fred could shut down Pérez just as they did Maddison when the sides drew 2-2 in the Premier League. Pérez came off the bench that day to create the equaliser from the right wing. Wherever he plays on Sunday, Leicester will be counting on him, and United will need to suppress his influence. PD

Leicester v Manchester United (FA Cup): Sunday, 5pm

Ayoze Pérez caused havoc in the Sheffield United defence during Leicester’s 5-0 win.
Ayoze Pérez caused havoc in the Sheffield United defence during Leicester’s 5-0 win. Photograph: Alex Pantling/EPA

3) Fulham need firepower to boost survival hopes

Fulham can smell survival. They will exit the bottom three, for 24 hours at least, if they defeat Leeds on Friday and it should do them little harm that Brighton and Newcastle face each other the following day. Earlier this season they lost 4-3 at Elland Road in a knockabout encounter, but Scott Parker believes they are “a different animal” this time around and thinks his players have “moved on”. Their consistency of approach and performance should certainly help against opponents whose football is delightful to behold but wildly unpredictable in output. Patrick Bamford may feel he has a point to prove to Gareth Southgate after being pipped for England duty by Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins. Fulham need their own forwards to click given that for all their smart work they have only scored twice in their last nine games at Craven Cottage. NA

Fulham v Leeds United (Premier League): Friday, 8pm

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4) Rüdiger going one step beyond for Chelsea

Ever since Antonio Rüdiger turned up in the stock room of Chelsea’s club shop for his transfer unveiling, the German defender has been something of an enigma. Talented but never the first name on the teamsheet, his future appeared to lie away from the club until recently but a run of games under Lampard and excellent form under Thomas Tuchel has seen him become a fan favourite. That status has been boosted by his winding up of Mario Hermoso during the Blues’ win over Atlético or his Madness-inspired Twitter post afterwards. Rüdiger’s combative style was one of the reasons Luis Suárez was dragged off close to the hour mark and Sheffield United’s front line should cause even fewer problems. With the 28-year-old’s contract expiring next summer, do not be surprised if Rüdiger makes another visit to the club shop soon. MB

Chelsea v Sheffield United (FA Cup): Sunday, 1.30pm

5) Brighton should be neutrals’ choice in six-pointer

Neutrals should want Brighton to annihilate Newcastle on Saturday simply because they are more fun. Mike Ashley’s cynical ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ Premier League strategy wore thin a long time ago, whereas Brighton at least try to put on a show even if they can’t seem to shake off a certain haplessness. They are on to a good thing with Graham Potter and, with a couple of additions, most obviously a reliable striker, should develop into an entertaining top-flight force if they avoid relegation. Newcastle have been reduced to mere irritants and are seldom worth watching. That said, Saturday’s showdown shouldn’t be missed, especially if Fulham crank up the pressure on both teams by beating Leeds on Friday. There will be tension, passion and almost certainly some slapstick blunders. PD

Brighton v Newcastle (Premier League): Saturday, 8pm

Leandro Trossard’s winner at St Mary’s has lifted Brighton above Newcastle in the table.
Leandro Trossard’s winner at St Mary’s has lifted Brighton above Newcastle in the table. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

6) Watkins and Villa to deepen Spurs slump?

Both Harry Kane and his new England colleague, Ollie Watkins, will be eager to end droughts at Villa Park. Kane has not scored in Spurs’ last five league away games, while Watkins’s first call-up technically comes amid a six-game barren run – his deflected header against Newcastle went down as a Ciaran Clark own goal. Both strikers will hope their key creators are back from injury, although Jack Grealish’s chances look better than Son Heung-min’s. This fixture was held back from January, meaning the two teams have not met for 13 months, when Son’s last-minute winner decided Villa’s final home game before lockdown. Spurs are a real bogey team for Villa, who have beaten them just once in 19 meetings, and not at Villa Park since New Year’s Day 2008. This looks a great chance to end that run and boost faltering European hopes, with Spurs reeling from their Europa League embarrassment in Zagreb. NMc

Aston Villa v Tottenham (Premier League): Sunday, 7.30pm

7) Hammers and Gunners are both looking up

When Arsenal last turned out at the London Stadium, they were under Freddie Ljungberg’s temporary charge and heaved themselves out of an almighty funk with a 3-1 comeback win. The bigger picture looks altogether happier nowadays and a repeat outcome would heighten the impression that Mikel Arteta’s careful revolution is gathering momentum despite the second-leg slip against Olympiakos. Sunday’s game is huge for both sides, though: last weekend’s narrow reverse at Old Trafford did not do enormous damage to West Ham’s top-four hopes but Arsenal, boosted by their derby win over Spurs, are the kind of opponents they need to beat at home if they are to squeeze in. There is plenty at stake, with Arsenal feeling they can look towards the comfort blanket of a Europa League spot, and it feels novel to anticipate a meeting between these two when both feel so upwardly mobile. NA

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Michail Antonio scores for West Ham at the Emirates in September.
Michail Antonio scores for West Ham at the Emirates in September. Arsenal won the game 2-1. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

8) Saints can march to Wembley with strongest side

Southampton have not won a major trophy in 45 years, with the club’s 1976 FA Cup triumph now a yellow-tinged haze. The Saints have arguably been given the kindest quarter-final draw this season as they face Bournemouth, the only side left from outside the top flight. In recent years, Southampton have been guilty of fielding second-string sides in the cups in order to protect their best XI for the league – see the defeat by Derby in 2019 – even when their league form has not required them to do so. Even if the fear of relegation is increasingly an issue this season, Ralph Hasenhüttl would be foolish not to select his strongest lineup, especially with an eight-day rest before the Easter Sunday visit of Burnley. Saints are 90 minutes away from a trip to Wembley, and Hasenhüttl would do well to remember that. MB

Bournemouth v Southampton (FA Cup): Saturday, 12.15pm

9) Celtic seek long-term plan as Rangers pull away

Whether Sunday’s Old Firm derby goes ahead as planned remains in the balance; Celtic might prefer to skip the fixture altogether. Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side will arrive as champions, having won the last three derbies. The power balance in Glasgow has shifted dramatically this season and Celtic’s caretaker manager, John Kennedy, has urged his team to stop the pendulum swinging any further. “It is not a nothing game, it is a derby match and one in which we want to put things right,” Kennedy said. In truth, it will take much more than a win on Sunday as Celtic adjust to the task of keeping their bitter rivals within sight. Speculative reports suggest structural change is on the cards, with a new sporting director to be joined by a manager willing to invest in youth and build from the ground up. If it is not Kennedy, the club could do worse than tempt Chris Wilder or Eddie Howe to Scotland. NMc

10) Big battles at the top and bottom in WSL

It is approaching crunch time in the Women’s Super League and Friday night’s game is a big one. Champions in 2018-19, Arsenal have slipped some way off the pace set by Chelsea and Manchester City and are in a battle for the third Champions League berth with Manchester United. Casey Stoney’s ambitious side visit Meadow Park knowing a win would give them a nine-point lead over the Gunners, and potentially mark the end of the “big three” era. At the other end, Bristol City can climb off the bottom with a win at Spurs, whose own relegation worries have eased after they were handed a default win over Birmingham. Bristol City have conceded 60 goals this season but are mounting an unlikely escape bid, and have a game-changing star in Ebony Salmon. The Vixens’ 6-0 loss to Chelsea in last Sunday’s League Cup final demonstrated the gulf between top and bottom in the WSL, but drama and surprise can be found at both ends of the table. NMc

  • Arsenal v Manchester United (WSL): Friday, 6.30pm

  • Tottenham v Bristol City (WSL): Sunday, 2pm

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