Apex Football Weekend FOCUS: Chelsea and Liverpool BATTLE out in Wembley in the Carabao Cup FINAL, Man Utd welcomes Watford to Old Trafford, West Ham Utd takes on Wolves as battle for Top-Four INTENSIFIES

The weekend is upon us and that means one thing: the excitement of another Premier League Matchday which returns with a Friday night fixture with Southampton playing hosts to relegation-threatened Norwich City at the St. Mary’s Stadium.

The week had been dominated with happenings in Ukraine as Russian troops under orders from president Vladimir Putin invaded the country. The entire sporting world including football have been swift to condemn the violent action, while some have taken punitive sanctions.

Firstly, the Ukrainian league went on suspension following the attacks by Russia. In a brief statement, the league revealed the suspension was due to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision to impose martial law. It did not give any planned date to resume.

Secondly, European football governing body UEFA moved the venue for the Champions League Final from the Russian City of St. Petersburg to the capital City of Paris in France. The Final will hold on its original date of May 28th at the Stade de France in Paris.

Furthermore, Premier League giants Manchester United cancelled its sponsorship deal with Russian airline Aeroflot, German clubside Schalke 04 subsequently removed the name of Russian energy firm Gazprom as official shirt sponsor.

In other sporting disciplines, Formula One announced that this year’s Russian Grand Prix in Sochi will not hold while the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said it was in talks with sports officials in Ukraine and Russia as their teams prepare to head out to China for the start of the Paralympic Games next week.

Now back to the Premier League, it will definitely be a weekend filled with drama and entertainment, though the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal will not be in action. Chelsea and Liverpool will be involved in the Carabao Cup Final at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday but for the likes of Manchester United, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspurs and Wolverhampton Wanderers, the battle to reach the UEFA Champions League next season via the league continues.

MANCHESTER UNITED VS WATFORD: Remember this fixture? Yes, it was the game that sent erstwhile United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer packing. The Red Devils went down 4-1 to Watford at Vicarage Road which spelt the ned of the Norwegian’s reign at the helm. Watford also have since changed managers, with Roy Hodgson having replaced the sacked Claudio Ranieri.

United got the better of Leeds United 4-2 in the league before going on to earn a 1-1 draw away at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League days later. With their spot in the Top-Four of the Premier League far from secure as Arsenal, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers bear down on them, Man United must endeavour to pick all three points on the day.

The Red Devils boast of a decent record having lost just one of their last 14 in the top-flight and are aiming to make it three league wins on the bounce for the first time since the turn of the year. On the other hand, Watford boasts of a respectable tally of just one defeat from their last four on the road in the top flight, scoring and conceding two apiece.

However, the United have won every single one of their Premier League meetings against Watford at Old Trafford and have only conceded two goals in that time, as well as claiming a 1-0 success in the 2020/2021 FA Cup at the Theatre of Dreams.

WEST HAM UNITED VS WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: This arguably is the match of the week, as both sides continue the hunt for UEFA Champions League football.

The Hammers could only manage a 1-1 draw against Newcastle United last time out, which didn’t help their cause to surge up the table as they bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Meanwhile, Wolves had a disappointing night to forget on Thursday as they let a goal-lead slip, to lose 2-1 to North London side Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

The manner in which they left North London empty-handed will no doubt be on the mind of manager Bruno Lage but they must pick themselves up and try to get a positive result at the London Stadium on Sunday. Prior to the defeat to the Gunners, Wolves had been on an eight-match unbeaten run and could start off another one with a good result against the Hammers. West Ham also will be looking to capitalize on home support to earn the three points on offer.

CHELSEA VS LIVERPOOL (CARABAO CUP FINAL): The Big One indeed! Current European kings Chelsea will take on Merseysiders Liverpool in the Final of the League (or Carabao Cup due to sponsorship reasons) at the famous Wembley Stadium on Sunday evening as Thomas Tuchel faces fellow German Jurgen Klopp in a tactical battle.

Sunday’s Final is a battle of wits between both opposing managers with silverware on the line. Klopp has spent six years at Merseyside but needed four finals to get his hands on his first piece of silverware at Anfield – losing the League Cup Final in 2016, the Europa League Final also in 2016 and the UEFA Champions League Final in 2018 before finally securing the club’s sixth European Cup in 2019, which was immediately followed by a first league title in three decades in 2020. Plus, he also claimed the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in that period.

Thomas Tuchel has had a productive and successful 13-month period where he has won the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup recently. But it seems that he may not be able to land the PL title after having led during the early stages of the 2021/2022 campaign. Nonetheless, he will be looking to take the scalp of high flyers Liverpool when they clash in London.

The Blues come into this fixture after having seen off French Ligue 1 side LOSC Lille Metropole 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League at Stamford Bridge in midweek whilst Liverpool thumped Leeds United 6-0 in the Premier League to close the gap between themselves and table-toppers Manchester City to just three points.

Chelsea and Liverpool are separated by ten points on the domestic scene with both sides having played out stalemates in the league this season. The Blues are on a run of six straight wins in all competitions while Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 12 matches. Their last defeat came on December 28th against Leicester City in the Premier League. 

Chelsea could welcome back Reece James, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi on Sunday after all three were in training ahead of the Final though Ben Chilwell is the only absentee. Much of the talk on Chelsea have centred on Belgian hitman and club-record signing Romelu Lukaku starting in Sunday’s Final, with many fans and several pundits calling for him to be dropped from the Starting XI.

Also, Tuchel has to pick who would be in goal for the Blues with first-choice Edouard Mendy being the preferred man in the league while Kepa Arrizabalaga is the one for cup duties.

For Liverpool, they could be without Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota but they have got enough firepower in attack to do the damage. As expected, the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and possibly new signing Luiz Diaz could all start the showpiece finale on Sunday.

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