Premier League Preview: Gameweek 34

John Carver

John Carver

In the Premier League, Newcastle look to end their dismal run of 6 straight defeats, while Swansea need just a point to secure their biggest Premier League points haul. Liverpool can bounce back from their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa with a win against another West Midlands team, West Bromwich Albion, who are now 8 points clear of relegation trouble.

Newcastle v Swansea

Newcastle United have lost their last 6 games and they are the team everybody wants to play at the moment. Manager John Carver has come under a lot of criticism, but this blog has a degree of sympathy for him, given the circumstances he is working under.

Carver was appointed as manager at the end of January, on a contract until the summer. He, the board, the supporters and the players know that he will not be in charge beyond the end of the season. This open secret has made it difficult for him to truly motivate his squad. Newcastle have been stuck in midtable for so long, that there has been no incentive for their players to put in the extra effort.

Carver has not had the opportunity to sign his own players in the January transfer window, and there are problems with the squad he inherited. Apart from perhaps Jack Colback, Newcastle do not have any players who naturally work hard for the team and who care passionately about the club. When a team is stuck in a losing rut, they need strong leaders characters to fire their teammates up, and Newcastle do not have that.

If Carver thought his job was difficult a week ago, it has been made even more difficult by their supporters boycotting last week’s 3-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. This blog does not disagree with Newcastle fans who decided not to attend the match, and by no means supports Mike Ashley’s running of the club. However, there can be no denying that the boycott had a negative impact on the team. Players are more likely to show true commitment when their supporters get behind them and create an atmosphere, but we have not seen this at St James’s Park. In equal measure, the atmosphere is poor because the players have not performed. It is a vicious cycle. John Carver is not necessarily a good manager, but he is not to be faulted for Newcastle United’s woes.

From one of the worst run clubs in the Premier League, to one of the best. Swansea City will make the 356 mile trip to St James’s Park confident of gaining the point they need to secure their highest ever points tally in the Premier League. The Swans have had an excellent season with some memorable highlights, such as doing the double over Manchester United.

Garry Monk’s attention will turn to his summer transfer targets. Firstly, Swansea will need a left-back, after they lost Ben Davies last year. At the moment they are solely reliant on Neil Taylor, and although his performances have improved steadily in the second half of the season, competition in this area may be needed. They also need at least one more winger, because the likes of Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have not been able to maintain their early season form. Dyer and Routledge’s disappointing performances have tempted Garry Monk to experiment with a diamond system, and this has led to a lack of width.

As poorly as Newcastle have played over the last few weeks, Swansea will struggle to put away their chances without Bafetimbi Gomis, so this blog predicts a draw.

West Brom v Liverpool

West Brom won 1-0 at Crystal Palace last week, and they needed that victory to be sure of Premier League safety. Including Liverpool, West Brom still have to play 4 of the Premier League’s top 5 teams in their last 5 games. A gap of 5 points between them and the relegation zone would have had Baggies fans temporarily anxious, but an 8 point cushion will ensure a comfortable end to the season.

Tony Pulis’s attention can now turn to his transfer targets. Last summer, West Brom brought in 6 players who were capable of playing at full-back, so it is ironic that last week, they had 2 other players at full-back, who were out of position. Chris Brunt, a left sided midfielder by trade, started at left-back for the 8th time this season, and has been kept in the team for his ability from set pieces. Craig Dawson, who has just recovered from a minor knee problem, has been used on the right, even though he is used to playing at centre-back.

Due to the rigid system Pulis employs, he may be content to have a player like Dawson at right-back for extra height and defensive diligence. However, in terms of his options at left-back, he clearly does not value the contributions of Sebastien Pocognoli, who is yet to start a league game in 2015. If Pocognoli leaves as expected, Tony Pulis will look to sign a defensive-minded left-back in the summer. West Brom also need an industrious striker, because as exciting to watch as Saido Berahino can be, he is not the type of forward who can harry opposition defences and hold the ball up. Ideally, Victor Anichebe would fill that role, but he has struggled for fitness this season.

West Bromwich Albion host Liverpool, a side who are out of the FA Cup, and have lost back-to-back games against rivals for Champions League football. Some pundits are saying that this is a period of crisis for Liverpool, that the club needs a new manager, and a complete overhaul of the squad.

This blog would argue that instead, only minor tweaks are required for Liverpool to break into the top 4 next season. The right wing-back area is causing a lot of Liverpool’s problems. Over the course of the season, Brendan Rodgers has played Lazer Markovic, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe there, and none of them have truly made the position their own. As a result, top teams have targeted that area of the pitch.

When Manchester United came to Anfield, 47% of their play came down down the left flank, with Young, Blind and Fellaini causing plenty of problems. When Arsenal faced Liverpool, 42% of their play came down the left flank, and Alexis Sanchez had one of his best Premier League games. Liverpool’s right flank has become an area to exploit and teams are beginning to understand that.

The question is: do West Brom have a player on the left side with enough pace and skill to worry Liverpool? The answer to that is no. The Reds have come under intense scrutiny lately, but they will respond to that with victory at the Hawthorns.