Weekend Review: Drastic measures
Our football team look back at the weekend's talking points, including Norwich's decision to sack Chris Hughton.
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Norwich made the decision on Sunday night to get of rid of Chris Hughton and promote Neil Adams to manager. A knee-jerk reaction or justifiable last throw of the dice?
Simon Crawford: You can only assume that the powers-that-be think Chris Hughton has lost the dressing room or they have bowed to 'fan power', otherwise it appears to be a very big roll of the dice to me. The Canaries are in a wretched run of form and perhaps Neil Adams can ignite some kind of spark - only time will tell. Having said that, if they win at Fulham on Saturday then that will be a giant stride towards safety regardless of that daunting run-in which sees them have to play Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. Hughton is a good manager but spent a lot of money last summer and his side have seriously under-acheived. However, I do think he should have been given the chance to see the season out.
Nick Hext: Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring! This is clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the defeat at home to West Brom as there have been plenty of times this season when Chris Hughton could have been sent on his way. The fans have never taken to Hughton and the 'run-in from hell' has been on the fixture list since the summer so they can't pretend to have been taken by surprise. It might just galvanise them for the crunch clash with Fulham on Saturday but there are no guarantees. Neil Adams is an unknown quantity at Premier League level but his work with Norwich's youngsters is hugely impressive. He will have the backing of the fans so at least there won't be the infighting that seems to have been a feature of the Canaries' recent troubles.
Matt Brocklebank: Simon has hit the nail on the head with his final line. All along the Norwich board have claimed he will remain in the post unless they drop into the bottom three and to remove Hughton now, as the side sit five points 'clear' of the drop, seems crazy. Granted, the Canaries faithful vented furiously after the defeat at home to West Brom but I'm not sure what good will come of promoting the youth manager in his place, with so few games remaining.
Everton's 3-0 victory over Arsenal has put them within a point of the fourth-placed Gunners and they have a game in hand. Are Arsene Wenger's men set to let a place in the Champions League slip away or will the Toffees start to feel the pressure?
MB: Last week my suggestion was that Arsenal will just about do enough to repel in-form Everton, given their respective run-ins. But I was bitterly disappointed with the Gunners on Sunday as there just appeared to be a complete lack of desire until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin's introduction well into the second half. Everton were sharper in possession, worked harder without the ball and have a couple of red-hot strikers in Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku. Six straight league wins could easily become seven when they head to Sunderland and there's no doubt Roberto Martinez's side has the momentum. I'll just stick with the Gunners for now, though, as Arsene Wenger will do everything to earn yet another top-four finish and he knows exactly what's required.
SC: Arsenal were simply woeful on Sunday and on that kind of form then Everton look like they have got the upper-hand in the battle for that fourth spot, even though their run-in appears to be more tricky. I can't believe they are being distracted by next weekend's FA Cup semi-final but they are a team lacking confidence and self-belief. They have no leader, someone that can rally the troops on the field and I can see them fading badly. I'll even stick my neck out here and say that if the Gunners fail to qualify for the Champions League, then Arsene Wenger will not be at the helm next season.
NH: I don't think Everton will be felled by the pressure but the harder run-in will do for their chances. The Toffees host both Manchester clubs and have a tricky trip to Southampton sandwiched in-between so a perfect points return is incredibly unlikely. Arsenal, however, end the campaign with every match against sides in the bottom half bar a clash with hideously out-of-form Newcastle. That gives the Gunners the edge even though Everton have a game in hand. It was an awful display from Arsene Wenger's side at Goodison and there are still plenty of questions to be asked even if they do qualify for the Champions League. Too many decent sides have beaten Arsenal with ease this season and that just isn't good enough if you have aspirations of mixing it with the best. Everton though have created a very good base to work from during Roberto Martinez's tenure.
Leicester have won promotion from the Sky Bet Championship and Burnley are well on the way to joining them. Who is your tip to be the third new side in the Barclays Premier League next season?
NH: I'd expect the four sides currently in the play-offs - QPR, Derby, Wigan and Reading - to remain in those positions and make the R's my pick for promotion. Harry Redknapp has been given plenty of stick as Leicester and Burnley pulled away but there is a quality squad at his disposal and the return of Charlie Austin to provide goals. Ravel Morrison is the wildcard in the Loftus Road ranks and his loan move was delayed so it runs until the play-off final at Wembley. The midfielder should be performing in the Premier League and can use the end-of-season stage to show Sam Allardyce and others just what he has to offer. Wigan look the main threat but QPR get my vote.
MB: QPR, Derby and Wigan look pretty solid play-off propositions already, with perhaps just the fourth place still up for grabs, and I like County's chances. Derby boss Steve McClaren has his critics, mainly due to a miserable spell as England manager, but there's no doubt he's a quality coach and he helped the Rams reach the Premier League during his four-year spell as assistant boss before moving to Manchester United in 1999. They've been a bit in-and-out of late after charging up the league following McClaren's appointment, but when they're on song they are very good and there's enough depth to the squad to suggest they'll still be going strong into the month of May.
SC: I agree with Matt that QPR, Derby and Wigan look home and hosed, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone pipped Reading to that final spot. The Royals still have Bournemouth, Leicester, Wigan, Middlesbrough, Doncaster and Burnley to play and that is going to be testing, plus there is usually a side that makes a late run. If you put me on the spot, I would say that could be Bournemouth. But my tip to win the play-offs is Wigan who have been immense under Uwe Rosler. They have lost just once in their last 10 games and even though their FA Cup semi-final could be a distraction, their run-in is decent and they are the team in form.
Both Manchester United and Chelsea face tough tasks in the second legs of their Champions League ties. Will either of them be able to reach the semi-finals?
SC: I think we'll see a much more fluent and expansive Bayern so I think they will comfortably see off United. As far Chelsea, I genuinely think they will get through as I believe the loss of talismatic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to a thigh injury is a massive blow for PSG. The Blues have kept clean sheets in all of their last eight home matches, while the return of forward Samuel Eto'o could swing the tie in their favour.
MB: I fancied Man United to be out of the tie after the first leg but David Moyes did what he did best and got the defensive tactics spot-on against Bayern. The goal from a set-piece teed United up perfectly and although it was a shame they couldn't hold on to take a narrow advantage to Germany, there was no disgrace in the 1-1 draw. The second leg will be played in the same manner, with Munich having all of the ball, but one suspects the home side will be a shade more clinical. I don't fancy Chelsea at all as that late third goal in Paris looks to have ended their Champions League hopes.
NH: I think we'll be saying goodbye to both Premier League clubs. I can't see Chelsea keeping out PSG on Tuesday night and the French side scoring makes it even tougher for the Blues to progress given the away goals rule in operation. Expect plenty of entertainment at Stamford Bridge with Jose Mourinho forced to go for it but there is too much to do after that late Javier Pastore goal in the first leg. United are still in it for the trip to Munich but this will be their last hurrah in the Champions League for a little while. Bayern are the better side by far in this contest and the possible loss of Wayne Rooney would be absolutely key for the Red Devils. Robin van Persie is already out, Juan Mata is cup-tied and we have seen all season that David Moyes' squad just isn't good enough.
Liverpool and Manchester City both picked up another three points at the weekend. Who is in better shape heading into next Sunday's massive game between the sides at Anfield?
MB: This mouthwatering match has been built up for weeks now and it's very hard to see it turning out to be a damp squib. The atmosphere inside Anfield will be something else, especially given there will be a minute's silence before kick-off to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. City will know what to expect but a lot will depend on how they deal with the first spell of pressure from the Reds. An early goal will open this up dramatically but if City can withstand that immediate pressure then I expect them to gradually assert their authority and take at least a point from the game. Having top scorer Sergio Aguero back fit would be a huge boost and a positive result at Anfield would leave Manuel Pellegrini's men in a very strong position heading into games against Sunderland, West Brom and Crystal Palace.
SC: I was at Anfield for the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea in 2005 and I have never known a crowd as loud - and I expect Anfield to be that same cauldron of noise on Sunday. It can make a difference - just ask Mourinho, John Terry et al about that night nine years ago. The Reds have all the momentum and City skipper Vincent Kompany admitted at the weekend that Liverpool are the 'strongest' side they have faced this season. Brendan Rodgers' side were unlucky to lose 2-1 at the Etihad in December and I just don't see City being able to handle Suarez and Sturridge. City will offer more room than West Ham did and if Liverpool can get off to another flying start, then I think they will win the game.
NH: Liverpool are the side to back at the moment. The 2-1 win at West Ham on Sunday showed they can win ugly and there isn't a better attacking duo about than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton have all been dispatched with ease since the turn of the year so the Reds are from flat-track bullies. City are of course better than those four sides but I reckon Liverpool still have enough about them to get the home fans celebrating another three points at Anfield. That won't end the title race though as there are sure to be more twists and turns to come.