W2W4 previews the weekend's Premier League fixtures and highlights five key storylines.
Will Jose Mourinho continue to trust Rashford with Ibrahimovic out?
It looks like Mourinho isn't washed up after all. Manchester United's outstanding 2-0 win over leaders Chelsea last Sunday was straight out of the vintage Mourinho back catalogue. So, are he and United back? Maybe not quite yet, but such a result and performance indicate they are on the right path and could be contenders for the title next season -- if they find their shooting boots more regularly, of course. Their triumph was a team display, although Ander Herrera's man-marking job on the usually unstoppable Eden Hazard warrants particular praise. As does Marcus Rashford's starring role as a central striker.
It is hard not to love Rashford. He plays the game with such abandon while there are few more pleasing things in football than seeing a local lad go on to not just represent but star for the team he's supported since childhood. To start the 19-year-old over Zlatan Ibrahimovic, arguably United's player of the season, against Chelsea was a big call by Mourinho. But it was a gamble that paid off and gave United hope of life beyond 35-year-old Ibrahimovic. Now, in light of Ibrahimovic's injury, Mourinho must decide how to use Rashford for the remainder of the campaign, with a trip to Burnley on Sunday next up. The striker scored some vital goals for United during their run-in last season. He can do it again.
Liverpool must continue to show the grittier side of their game
After no wins away in the Premier League in 2017, two come along at once. Victories at Stoke and then West Brom have boosted Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season, with Jurgen Klopp's side in third and six points above fifth-placed United, who have two games in hand. These triumphs were all the more impressive as they achieved them without the injured Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana. Not to mention that goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has made no high-profile errors in two outings, and actually impressed. Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace will put Liverpool's newfound resilience to the test on Sunday.
Is it too late for Middlesbrough to save themselves from the drop?
This weekend marks a stripped back version of the Premier League fixture list as heavyweights Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal are in FA Cup semifinal action. This, however, allows a sharper look at the struggling clubs. On Saturday, relegation-threatened Middlesbrough make the long journey south looking to pull Bournemouth into the dogfight. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said after his side's 4-0 demolition at Tottenham: "The danger is if everyone says: 'You're safe.' We've got to focus the players' minds that we're not." But a victory for Bournemouth would probably be enough to assure them of top-flight football next season, as they are currently seven points above the bottom three. The odds are in their favour, too, for seemingly doomed Boro have not won in the league since Dec. 17 (!)
Will Hull's home form be enough to stave off relegation?
Another side in real danger of falling into the Championship -- admittedly not a huge hardship as it's an excellent division, plus the financial cushion is significant -- are Hull City. Manager Marco Silva has overseen an upturn in form since replacing Mike Phelan in January, but it might not prove to be enough. Hull were in the drop zone when Silva was appointed and they now reside a place and two points above the bottom three. Silva has overseen five of Hull's eight Premier League wins this campaign, but all of those have come at home. While that reliance on home comforts could be enough, it's a gamble. Fortunately for Hull, their next game is at the KCOM Stadium against midtable Watford, who might have their flip-flops on.
Can Swansea rediscover their scoring touch in the run-in?
"The next one is a must-win game for us. It's the biggest game the club has had in years. We will probably need three wins out of the last five to stay up. And I'm not even sure that would be enough." Swansea City manager Paul Clement, there, with what started out as a rallying cry but ended in a bleak whimper. Clement was speaking after his side's 1-0 loss at Watford made it six games without a win, with five of those ending in defeats. In those fixtures they've scored twice, making it clear where the problem lies. Fernando Llorente (11) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (eight) are Swansea's leading goal scorers this season, but they have not found the back of the net in the Premier League since March and February respectively. It's now or never for the talented duo to drag the Welsh side away from danger at the last.