Premier League talking points: Salah return, Rolls-Royce Rodri, Pochettino problems

We pick out the big issues ahead of this weekend's English top-flight fixtures

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah returned from injury in the Europa League match against Sparta Prague on Thursday. Getty Images
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Will Salah return inspire Liverpool?

Relief on Merseyside this week when Mohamed Salah returned to training ahead of Sunday's top-of-the-table clash with Manchester City.

The reigning champions will arrive at Anfield just one point and one place behind Jurgen Klopp's men who will welcome back their Egyptian top scorer who has notched 19 goals in all competitions this season, including 15 in 21 league games.

Salah has barely figured since returning early from his country's Africa Cup of Nations campaign due to a hamstring injury before being sidelined again with muscle fatigue.

Not that his absence seems to have hindered Liverpool who, in the four games he has been missing, have beaten Chelsea in the League Cup final, Southampton in the FA Cup as well as secure Premier League wins against Luton Town and Nottingham Forest.

Salah made his comeback as a substitute during Thursday's Europa League thrashing of Sparta Prague. He almost marked his return with a goal, but a VAR review disallowed his strike for offside.

Is Rodri best midfielder in world?

Manchester City, meanwhile, appearing to be hitting top gear at just the right time once again. Pep Guardiola's side eased into the Champions league quarter-finals on Wednesday after beating FC Copenhagen 6-2 on aggregate.

City are looking to repeat last season's treble – they take on Newcastle in the FA Cup quarter-finals later this month – and also become the first side to win the Premier League four times on the spin.

Midfielder Rodri has now gone 60 games since he tasted defeat for City and the Spaniard is now on the longest unbeaten run in all competitions of any Premier League player.

Guardiola says the 27-year-old is “the best midfield player, currently, in the world by far” adding that “all teammates and staff, they all know how important and decisive he is”.

Luton captain Tom Lockyer said on BBC Radio 5 Live this week: “When you're on a pitch with him you're just thinking 'what can't this guy do?' He's just a Rolls-Royce … It is very rare he gets caught on the ball and he just dictates everything that Manchester City do.”

How low can broken Blades go?

At the other end of the table, beleaguered Sheffield United's season continues to hit new levels of disaster. The Blades were thumped 6-0 at home by Arsenal last week who were 3-0 up inside 13 minutes and five goals to the good at half time.

The defeat meant home fans at Bramall Lane had watched their team concede a staggering 21 goals in their last four games across all competitions – baring in mind none of those batterings were as bad as the 8-0 humbling by Newcastle earlier in the season.

The worrying stat for the Yorkshire club is that their away form is even worse. They have picked up only five points on their travels – as opposed to eight at home – having won the fewest games (one), earned the fewest points, fallen to the most defeats (10), scored the fewest goals (10) and conceded the most (30) of any side.

Chris Wilder's side sit joint bottom of the table alongside the equally hapless Burnley and are 11 shy of safety with just 11 games to go ahead of Saturday's match at Bournemouth.

“I'm struggling personally,” Wilder said last week. “It has been a painful season. There are a lot of broken and damaged players out there. This is what the league can do to you.”

Can Pochettino win over Chelsea fans?

There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Maurico Pochettino in what has been a troubled first season as Chelsea manager.

When his team went 2-1 down at local rivals Brentford last weekend, the Chelsea fans made their feelings clear as for the first time in his short reign, they chanted for the Argentine coach to go while also singing the name of former manager Jose Mourinho, putting somewhat of a dampener on Pochettino's 52nd birthday celebrations.

Defender Axel Disasi did manage to grab a late leveler to earn a 2-2 draw but winning a fan base that appears to have turned toxic is going to be a real test for Pochettino, whose side take on Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.

The Blues are now 19 points outside the top four and six points off West Ham in seventh. “Of course, we need our fans,” Pochettino told reporters on Thursday. “We hope the fans will be behind us on Monday to help us win the game. That is so important for our players. Maybe if I was a fan, I would behave the same as them because it's Chelsea, we are not matching the expectation.”

Can Dubai trip inspire Arsenal to title glory?

Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal's winter training camp in Dubai was the inspiration behind their recent blistering form that has seen them win seven games on the trot, scoring 31 goals along the way.

The trip came after Arsenal had suffered successive league defeats to West Ham United and Fulham before being knocked out of the FA Cup by title rivals Liverpool. They now sit two points behind leaders Liverpool and can temporarily go top if they beat out-of-form Brentford at home on Saturday.

“We had a tough period before where we played so many games and had some defeats,” said Arteta of their week-long spell in the UAE. “It was really good and it came at the perfect time for us. We built the chemistry around the place. The amount of time we spent together – we enjoyed the time on the field and off the field. It was a really positive trip.”

Updated: March 10, 2024, 6:46 PM