Manchester United's season could hinge on derby with Man City
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights five key points to keep an eye on.
Everton vs. Arsenal
Chelsea vs. West Ham
Crystal Palace vs. Leicester
Watford vs. Stoke
West Brom vs. Norwich
Swansea vs. Aston Villa
Newcastle vs. Sunderland
Southampton vs. Liverpool
Man City vs. Man Utd
Tottenham vs. Bournemouth
1. Can Manchester United afford to lose against City?
Manchester United can probably kiss goodbye to their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League if they lose to City in Sunday's derby. Defeat would leave Louis van Gaal's side seven points behind fourth-placed City, with eight matches of the season remaining. Very little of what United have done this season has suggested they could turn around such a deficit. A 1-0 loss at West Brom, albeit with 10 men, last time out in the Premier League was another disappointment to chalk up on Van Gaal's wall of woe. Sure, United remain in the FA Cup by virtue of their upcoming replay at West Ham, but overall their 2015-16 looks set to be categorised as very poor.
They can, however, take some comfort from Manchester City being not that great, either -- or certainly nowhere near as good as they should be. Manuel Pellegrini's side have been in dreadful form of late -- winning two of their past nine -- so much so that they have fallen out of the title race and their concern is now securing a top-four finish. Incoming head coach Pep Guardiola would be forgiven for casting nervous glances in the direction of the Etihad Stadium amid the threat of not being in Europe's premier competition next season. Furthermore, yet another injury sustained by Vincent Kompany during midweek means even United's uninspiring attack (the splendid Anthony Martial aside) could hurt their rivals.
2. Is Rafa Benitez the right man to save Newcastle from relegation?
Rafa Benitez can be forgiven for losing his first game in charge of Newcastle United because it was at leaders Leicester, and also because he had so little time to work with his players. He will, though, have had a full week to prepare for Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby against foes Sunderland. In that case it can be expected the Magpies will have a proper game plan, as is the Benitez way. The match also would be an opportune time for Newcastle to benefit from the so-called new manager bounce, for losing would see them second from bottom and four points behind Sam Allardyce's side. Speaking of whom, Benitez and Allardyce have history, so this should be especially fun.
3. Will Arsenal's disastrous form continue at Everton?
The cold and ugly fact is that Arsenal have won just four times in their past 15 games in all competitions. That's appalling form. Certainly, you can ignore the two legs against superhuman outfit Barcelona, but that does not excuse the remaining sequence of ineptitude. Having departed the FA Cup and the Champions League, all that remains is the Premier League -- yet being 11 points behind Leicester means that dream is almost dead. For manager Arsene Wenger, the calls for him to move on after 20 years in charge are getting louder. Play like they did against Barcelona on Wednesday, only with better finishing, and maybe they'll leave Everton with three points -- but even then it'll be too little, too late.
4. Is the Premier League title already Leicester's?
Can we just give Leicester the title already? Claudio Ranieri's men have the chance to go eight points clear on Saturday when they travel to Crystal Palace, with second-placed Tottenham not in action until Sunday and possibly also jaded after their Europa League exertions. Barring a monumental collapse, the Foxes will be Premier League champions and it will be hard not to be happy for them. For all the talk of the Premier League being the most exciting division in the world, the top four has tended to have a similar composition. Leicester, however, have upset the elite and it's hugely refreshing. Expect Palace, winless in the Premier League since before Christmas, to offer little resistance to Leicester's rampage.
5. Why aren't Bournemouth getting more credit?
Bournemouth's 3-2 win over Swansea last weekend all but secured their top-flight status for another season. This is a club who were playing in League Two just six years ago. Manager Eddie Howe has done a fantastic job, this a man who is coaching in the Premier League at 38. Arguably, he is a victim of Leicester and West Ham's success, for attention has largely, and understandably, been on their respective performances. However, to oversee a survival bid in your first campaign in the Premier League is no feat to be sniffed at -- and this has been achieved following a potentially damaging injury list earlier in the season. The future certainly looks bright for Howe and the Cherries, who host Tottenham on Sunday seeking a fourth straight league win.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.