Points 59, goal difference +13

Sunday’s fixture Chelsea (A) What they need A win if Spurs win or draw

The joust at Stamford Bridge will be Wolves’ 57th match of the season. Few people expected their relatively small squad to cope with such a workload, even with a three-month pause, so they have excelled to reach sixth place in the Premier League with one game to go. A win at Chelsea will ensure they are competing again in the Europa League – unless they win this season’s edition, which would gain them admission to the Champions League instead. They are well placed to advance to next month’s quarter-finals thanks to a 1-1 draw in the away leg of their last-16 tie against Olympiakos.

Qualifying for the Champions League would help them to keep players such as Adama Traoré and Raúl Jiménez, whose outstanding performances this season have attracted the attention of most of Europe’s biggest clubs. Both are happy at Molineux and may not be enticed away if convinced they can fulfil their ambitions with Wolves.

Nuno Espírito Santo uses Traoré in various positions depending on the opposition. One of the manager’s best skills is to nurture versatile players who allow him to keep the squad small and united. In recent weeks he has made more changes to his lineups than usual, taking account of the hectic post-lockdown schedule and the impact made by Daniel Podence, the January recruit who has looked tricky and sharp in the last three matches and scored his first goal for Wolves in Monday’s victory over Crystal Palace.

Europa League football might help convince striker Raúl Jiménez to stay at Wolves.

Europa League football might help convince striker Raúl Jiménez to stay at Wolves. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/NMC pool

Chelsea inflicted Wolves’s heaviest defeat of the season when they won 5-2 at Molineux in September but two key members of Nuno’s defence – Willy Boly and Matt Doherty – were unable to play full parts that day. Sunday’s clash is likely to be much tighter. Paul Doyle

Points 58, goal difference +14

Sunday’s fixture Crystal Palace (A) What they need A win, or a draw if Wolves lose

Until the Sunday before last, when Tottenham were preparing to host Arsenal in the derby, José Mourinho was feeling the heat. His team was infuriating the fans, lacking direction and incision and grinding to the results they had got since football’s restart rather than gliding. The pre-shutdown form had been poor and there were a lot of gloomy predictions, although not from the man himself.

What a difference a week makes. Having found a way past Arsenal, Spurs played well in comfortable wins over Newcastle and Leicester – with Harry Kane scoring four times – and, if they can beat a Crystal Palace side on a seven-game losing streak, a traumatic season would end with a flourish and, possibly, Europa League football.

Mourinho, the master of the humblebrag, would like that. As he pointed out after the Arsenal game, he has played twice in Europe’s second-tier knock-out competition and won it both times, first with Porto (2003) and then Manchester United (2017). A glorious hat-trick surely awaits. “Two more victories to win the Europa League,” Mourinho had said before last Sunday’s Leicester match to gee up his players for the challenge.

Tottenham have enjoyed a good run of form since Toby Alderweireld’s winner in the derby against Arsenal.

Tottenham have enjoyed a good run of form since Toby Alderweireld’s winner in the derby against Arsenal. Photograph: Martin Dalton/Shutterstock

Mourinho says Europa League football is better than no European football at all, possibly because Europa League revenues are better than no European revenues at all. Spurs are in a financial hole due to the Covid-19 crisis and they will grab what they can – a statement that will doubtless apply to how they approach the transfer window.

Mourinho’s numbers have come to look good – 44 points from 25 Premier League games – and he is a guy that deals only in the hard currency of results. It remains tricky to see the masterplan. David Hytner


Sunday’s fixture Watford (H) What they need To win the FA Cup

Mikel Arteta has made it perfectly clear: winning the FA Cup should not fool anyone into thinking Arsenal have had a successful season. But anything bar victory at Wembley would render it a disaster and, potentially, put severe barriers in front of the rebuilding project their head coach has planned.

Books will be written about the decline that has led to Arsenal ending up here, scrabbling around for a Europa League spot and piling enormous pressure on an occasion when the stakes are already high enough. Arteta has done well to lift Arsenal from the derelict performance levels seen towards the end of Unai Emery’s reign and, for a time, a push towards the top six seemed realistic.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has improved performance levels since taking over from Unai Emery.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has improved performance levels since taking over from Unai Emery. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool/PA Images

By Sunday night he may regret that an inert display at Villa Park meant Arsenal’s chances of reaching Europe via the league were nixed, but it hammered home the obvious: Arsenal are nowhere near good enough to control games consistently and bring home the results they need.

That does not necessarily make them outsiders for the final. Eye-catching wins against Wolves, Liverpool and in the semi-final against Manchester City showed Arteta can set them up intelligently in a more reactive, counterattacking guise and there is plenty to suggest Chelsea can be exposed that way.

One of Spurs and Wolves will face an anxious wait to see how that turns out, because if Arsenal lift the trophy it will mean they steal Europa League football from the team in seventh.

Doing so would hardly effect the kind of financial transformation that winning another shootout against Chelsea, in last season’s Europa League final, might have wrought. The riches of Champions League qualification are incomparable. But Arteta appears convinced it will have a major impact on his plans and it would, at least, keep Arsenal on the map. A loss of bearings come Saturday could be welcomed especially warmly elsewhere in north London. Nick Ames

source: theguardian.com


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