Wed. Aug 5th, 2020

Man Utd

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The best of the weekend’s football action with FA Cup, Premier League and LaLiga finale

10 min read

Typically we’d be seeing a smattering of pre-season friendlies around this time of year with the big clubs jetting off to the United States or the Far East on their summer tours.

But these aren’t normal times and so this upcoming mid-July weekend takes on a crucial importance in deciding the winners and losers of the season.

From the FA Cup semi-finals to the National League play-offs and some important fixtures right across Europe and beyond, Sportsmail takes a closer look at the best this weekend has to offer.

Manchester City and Arsenal are set to renew acquaintances in the FA Cup semi-final

Manchester City and Arsenal are set to renew acquaintances in the FA Cup semi-final

Manchester City and Arsenal are set to renew acquaintances in the FA Cup semi-final

Two titanic semi-finals… but nobody to watch them

You couldn’t wish for two better FA Cup semi-finals with four of England’s most prestigious clubs involved and the grandest stage in the game set to host them.

But there will be an eerie feel around Wembley this weekend as Manchester City play Arsenal and Manchester United meet Chelsea for a place in the Cup final on August 1.

Traditionally, semi-finals have come dripping with drama but unfortunately Covid-19 has stripped away any sense of occasion.

Instead of 90,000 expectant fans, just a few hundred club officials and media personnel will be inside the national stadium. The FA haven’t even bothered printing a match programme.

The two FA Cup semi-finals will be played out to the backdrop of 90,000 empty Wembley seats

The two FA Cup semi-finals will be played out to the backdrop of 90,000 empty Wembley seats

The two FA Cup semi-finals will be played out to the backdrop of 90,000 empty Wembley seats

Raheem Sterling was on target as Man City defeated Arsenal 3-0 on the first night post-restart

Raheem Sterling was on target as Man City defeated Arsenal 3-0 on the first night post-restart

Raheem Sterling was on target as Man City defeated Arsenal 3-0 on the first night post-restart

At least the teams involved should ensure the watching TV audience a couple of exciting games with the leading clubs really hitting their stride now a month post-restart.

Of the four, it’s Arsenal with the most unenviable task as they come up against a City side that pumped them 3-0 in their first match back last month.

Set to finish a distant second to Liverpool in the Premier League standings, Pep Guardiola’s side will be fully focused on retaining the FA Cup and also preserving momentum ahead of their Champions League tilt next month.

But Arsenal will take heart from their 2-1 extra time win over City at this very stage of the competition three years ago before they went on to beat Chelsea and lift the trophy.

Alexis Sanchez scored the extra time winner when Arsenal beat City in their 2017 semi-final

Alexis Sanchez scored the extra time winner when Arsenal beat City in their 2017 semi-final

Alexis Sanchez scored the extra time winner when Arsenal beat City in their 2017 semi-final

Marcus Rashford was on target when Man United knocked Chelsea out the Carabao Cup

Marcus Rashford was on target when Man United knocked Chelsea out the Carabao Cup

Marcus Rashford was on target when Man United knocked Chelsea out the Carabao Cup

Sunday night’s second semi-final between United and Chelsea looks to be more well-matched as the two sides take a breather from fighting each other for the top four.

Frank Lampard is probably sick of the sight of United, however, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer getting the better of him home and away in the league and also in the Carabao Cup.

For both these managers, winning the FA Cup would represent an enormous step forward in their careers so there’s certainly plenty riding on the contest for all the absence of atmosphere.

Manchester City vs Arsenal at Wembley, Saturday 7.45pm, Live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate

Chelsea vs Manchester United at Wembley, Sunday 6pm, Live on BBC One

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard's teams are set to meet for the fourth time in 2019-20

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard's teams are set to meet for the fourth time in 2019-20

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard’s teams are set to meet for the fourth time in 2019-20

But it would be rude to forget the Premier League

The Premier League will very much be in the FA Cup’s shadow this weekend but there are matches of real significance both in the relegation battle and the top four chase.

While Saturday’s sole game between already-relegated Norwich and a Burnley side safely ensconced in mid-table doesn’t fire the imagination, the other games fanned across the weekend do.

Friday night sees a classic six-pointer when the two clubs just above the relegation zone – West Ham and Watford – meet at the London Stadium.

If there’s a winner, they’ll move six points clear of danger and can justifiably breathe a massive sigh of relief.

Troy Deeney (left) scored two penalties as Watford earned a crucial win over Newcastle

Troy Deeney (left) scored two penalties as Watford earned a crucial win over Newcastle

Troy Deeney (left) scored two penalties as Watford earned a crucial win over Newcastle 

Michail Antonio scored four times in West Ham's win at Norwich to ease relegation concerns

Michail Antonio scored four times in West Ham's win at Norwich to ease relegation concerns

Michail Antonio scored four times in West Ham’s win at Norwich to ease relegation concerns

But the loser would be very much in the sights of Bournemouth when the Cherries host their south coast neighbours Southampton on Sunday afternoon.

Eddie Howe’s side have looked doomed for a while yet conjured a stunning 4-1 win over Leicester last week to keep their Premier League pulse beating.

While there was little surprise in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Man City, Bournemouth aren’t mathematically doomed quite yet but will need to take three points against the Saints.

Later on Sunday, attention turns to the race to qualify for the Champions League, a situation made all the more dramatic for the overturn of Man City’s European ban.

Bournemouth gave themselves some hope by beating Leicester but need to beat Southampton

Bournemouth gave themselves some hope by beating Leicester but need to beat Southampton

Bournemouth gave themselves some hope by beating Leicester but need to beat Southampton

Leicester beat Sheffield United on Thursday to remain on track for the Champions League

Leicester beat Sheffield United on Thursday to remain on track for the Champions League

Leicester beat Sheffield United on Thursday to remain on track for the Champions League

Just one point splits third-placed Chelsea and fifth-place Man United with Leicester sandwiched inbetween. On Sunday, Leicester make the trip to Tottenham knowing they really cannot afford to slip-up.

Jose Mourinho with the Champions League destiny of his former club within his direct influence. You couldn’t script it!

West Ham United vs Watford, Friday 8pm, Live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event

Norwich City vs Burnley, Saturday 5.30pm, Live on Sky Sports Premier League, Sky Sports Main Event and Pick

Bournemouth vs Southampton, Sunday 2pm, Live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate

Tottenham vs Leicester, Sunday 4pm, Live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event

Leeds poised to end the years of hurt

The Championship season is enduringly fascinating and this weekend’s penultimate set of fixtures will help to decide the plethora of outstanding promotion and relegation matters.

Leeds United are the headline with their promotion to the Premier League after 16 years in the wilderness and their win over Barnsley on Thursday leaves them on the brink of glory.

They could go up as early as Friday night if West Bromwich Albion, in second, fail to beat Huddersfield Town. Or it could happen on Saturday lunchtime if third-placed Brentford fail to win at Stoke.

Patrick Bamford celebrates the Barnsley own goal that earned Leeds a vital win on Thursday

Patrick Bamford celebrates the Barnsley own goal that earned Leeds a vital win on Thursday

Patrick Bamford celebrates the Barnsley own goal that earned Leeds a vital win on Thursday

Failing all that, Leeds will seal promotion by taking a point or all three from their match at Derby County on Sunday afternoon. Given it was Derby who smashed their ambitions in the play-offs last season, perhaps Leeds fans want to get over the line in this way.

Any slip-up by West Brom at Huddersfield on Friday will leave them at the mercy of Brentford, who are just one point behind having won all seven of their games post-restart.

The scramble for the play-offs is also offering excellent entertainment. Fulham are assured of their place, while Nottingham Forest are nearly there.

Beneath them it’s anyone’s guess for the final spot – currently occupied by Cardiff but with Millwall and Swanseas breathing down their necks.

Brentford are hot on the heels of West Brom for the second automatic promotion place

Brentford are hot on the heels of West Brom for the second automatic promotion place

Brentford are hot on the heels of West Brom for the second automatic promotion place

On Saturday, Cardiff visit Middlesbrough, Millwall head to Queens Park Rangers and Swansea host Bristol City all at the same time.

At the bottom of the table, it’s last chance saloon for Barnsley when they play Forest on Sunday, while Hull and Luton in the other two demotion spots above them both have two points to make up to Charlton.

But the situation is further complicated by Wigan and their impending 12-point deduction for entering administration. The Latics, who battered Hull 8-0 in the week, are precisely 12 points above danger.

Charlton vs Wigan is the key match on Saturday lunchtime before Hull play Luton at 3pm.

Huddersfield vs West Brom, Friday 5.30pm, Live on Sky Sports Football

Stoke City vs Brentford, Saturday 12.30pm, Live on Sky Sports Football

Derby County vs Leeds United, Sunday 2pm, Live on Sky Sports Football

Hull's players need to lift themselves and escape relegation after an 8-0 thrashing at Wigan

Hull's players need to lift themselves and escape relegation after an 8-0 thrashing at Wigan

Hull’s players need to lift themselves and escape relegation after an 8-0 thrashing at Wigan

Shot at glory for non-league clubs

Nowhere was the confusion over football’s post-Covid restart greater than in the English non-league.

Three-quarters completed divisions down the pyramid were completely expunged from history, while the National League clubs were left in limbo for months while the authorities waited on the EFL to make a decision.

Players and staff were placed on furlough in many cases, with training impossible and revenue from paying crowds – an absolute lifeline – out of the question for the foreseeable future.

Yet out of all this has finally come an opportunity for some teams to finish a long and difficult season by winning promotion.

Salford City won promotion to the EFL through last season's National League play-offs

Salford City won promotion to the EFL through last season's National League play-offs

Salford City won promotion to the EFL through last season’s National League play-offs

Six teams take part in the National League play-offs with this weekend seeing the ‘eliminator’ matches with Boreham Wood playing FC Halifax Town on Friday night then Yeovil Town hosting Barnet on Saturday.

The winner of the Boreham Wood/Halifax tie will play away to Harrogate Town in the semi-finals next Saturday while the winner of the Yeovil/Barnet match travels to Notts County on the same day.

The National League promotion final is set to be played at Wembley on August 2 for the right to follow Barrow into League Two next season.

There’s play-off action in the National League North and South as well with pay-per-view streaming services available.

Boreham Wood vs FC Halifax Town, Friday 7pm, Live on BT Sport 1

Yeovil Town vs Barnet, Saturday 3pm, Live on BT Sport 1

Matches in National League North and South can be streamed. Details here.

Tying up the loose ends in LaLiga

It’s the final day in Spain’s top-flight on Sunday after what has been a whirlwind few weeks with matches played every single day.

Most of the issues have already been resolved with Real Madrid sealing the title and receiving the trophy after their win over Villarreal on Thursday night. Barcelona’s miserable loss to Osasuna killed any lingering chance they had of denying their rivals a record 34th title.

So it’s dead rubbers for the top two on Sunday night – Real travel to Leganes and Barcelona head to Alaves – before both can refocus efforts on the Champions League.

Real Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title following their win and Barcelona's loss on Thursday

Real Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title following their win and Barcelona's loss on Thursday

Real Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title following their win and Barcelona’s loss on Thursday

Zinedine Zidane is hoisted into the air by his jubilant players following their title success

Zinedine Zidane is hoisted into the air by his jubilant players following their title success

Zinedine Zidane is hoisted into the air by his jubilant players following their title success

On the subject, we already know that Atletico Madrid and Sevilla will be Spain’s other representatives in Europe’s top competition next season, while Villarreal are going to be in the Europa League.

The fight for the other two Europa places will be decided on Sunday with Real Sociedad and Getafe being chased by Valencia and Granada.

Sociedad will play away to Atletico Madrid, Getafe head to Levante, Valencia are at Sevilla and Granada host Athletic Bilbao.

At the bottom, Espanyol and Real Mallorca are already down and they will be joined by either Leganes or Celta Vigo.

Juventus edging towards nine in a row

We still have five round of games to play in Italy’s Serie A, which returned a little later following the country’s nightmarish Covid experience.

And there’s plenty to play for ahead of another packed weekend. Juventus, going for their ninth consecutive Scudetto, were sloppy in their 3-3 draw with Sassuolo on Wednesday, throwing away a two-goal lead.

Juventus will aim to take a step closer to a ninth straight Scudetto when they play Lazio

Juventus will aim to take a step closer to a ninth straight Scudetto when they play Lazio

Juventus will aim to take a step closer to a ninth straight Scudetto when they play Lazio

But Maurizio Sarri and his team, who begin the weekend six points clear at the top, will move to the brink of glory if they beat Lazio, whose title challenge has faded away post-restart, on Monday night.

In the meantime, nearest challengers Inter Milan head to Roma on Sunday night while third-placed Atalanta are at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

Verona vs Atalanta, Saturday 4.15pm, Live on Premier Sports 2

Roma vs Inter Milan, Sunday 8.45pm, Live on Premier Sports 1

Juventus vs Lazio, Monday 8.45pm, Live on Premier Sports 1

Football returns Down Under… but it’s a mess

It’s been something of a slog to get Australian sport back up and running post-coronavirus but following the lead of the rugby codes and Aussie Rules comes the return of the A-League this weekend.

The season was suspended following the Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne City match on March 23 but finally returned on Friday with league leaders Sydney FC defeating Wellington Phoenix 3-1.

That game has fired the starting pistol on a busy schedule of 27 games in 34 days followed by a five-match Finals series. All of the games will be played in Covid-secure conditions in New South Wales.

Sydney defeated Wellington Phoenix 3-1 as Australia's A-League made its return on Friday

Sydney defeated Wellington Phoenix 3-1 as Australia's A-League made its return on Friday

Sydney defeated Wellington Phoenix 3-1 as Australia’s A-League made its return on Friday

But with the schedule already pushed back from what was originally planned, further complications arose when a second wave of infections in the state of Victoria led to three of the teams being consigned to two weeks of quarantine.

And with a spike in cases in south west Sydney in recent days, the whole thing could be uprooted to Queensland next. It’s certainly a precarious situation.

What we do know is that Sydney will be crowned champions of the regular season sooner rather than later. They are 11 points ahead of Melbourne City after their win on Friday.

Perth Glory vs Central Coast Mariners, Saturday 8am, Live on BT Sport 1

Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide United, Sunday 10.30am, Live on BT Sport 1

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