Liverpool and Manchester City can consolidate their claims for Champions League qualification with winnable home games this weekend while Manchester United could fall off the pace following their tough fixture at Arsenal. If Tottenham fail to beat West Ham away on Friday evening Chelsea can just about nail the title by beating Middlesbrough on the road on Monday night. It’s decision time and there is now little scope for twists and turns so Chelsea can take a step closer to winning the title.
The top six sides in the Premier League are all live on television this weekend and Tottenham get the ball rolling in a London derby at the Olympic Stadium on Friday. West Ham are now becalmed in mid-table safety, free of relegation concerns and too far off the pace to qualify for Europe. This is a classic example of a fixture that brings together a side with little to play for and opponents desperate to pick up maximum points. Tottenham cannot afford to drop points while West Ham don’t need them, barring freakish results elsewhere.
There are conflicting theories about how these fixtures pan out. On the one hand the side that have the incentive are more motivated and the other side drop a level and that difference in focus is the key to the outcome. Another way of looking at these fixtures is that one side may feel the pressure of no margin for errors and their opponents are relaxed and can play their natural game. However, Tottenham are not feeling the strain and can get the job done.
They are four points behind Chelsea at the top of the table with three matches remaining. They have a better goal difference than Chelsea by six goals so a draw would not end matters. However, if West Ham win this fixture and Chelsea win at Boro Chelsea are the champions. A more likely scenario is wins for the top two which takes the matter to the penultimate fixtures of the season. Chelsea are just too efficient and focused to mess things up now but it has happened.
Tottenham are the form team in the division having won their last nine Premier League fixtures. Chelsea have lost two of their last six to give Spurs a glimmer of hope but the buffer established over the first six months of the season made those reverses not ultimately critical. Even so there is now less room for error and if Tottenham beat West Ham the gap is one point. That part of the equation looks like happening ahead of Chelsea’s trip to the north east for Monday Night Football.
In theory Chelsea will be too good for Middlesbrough but they are fighting for Premier League survival, A defeat would just about consign them to the Championship for next season. In adversity teams can be inspired and the crowd will be massively behind the home team for their last throw of the dice. As in fixtures of this nature the first goal will be crucial so Chelsea can score that to set up a narrow victory and take maximum points back to London.
Manchester City should have too much for Crystal Palace and Liverpool can pick up three points against Southampton in their respective home fixtures. Palace are not quite safe but Southampton are free of relegation issues so the City home fixture has more potential for an upset. However, City are too good not to falter and subconsciously Palace know they have points in hand over the other sides that are still facing the nightmare scenario of relegation.
Arsenal are five points behind Manchester United with a game in hand so this fixture really is a six pointer. The gap could be two or eight points in favour of United and if it is the former Arsenal’s spare fixture takes on massive importance. United have the Plan B of getting into the Champions League by winning the Europa League and that could still be their best route. Jose Mourinho is complaining about fixture congestion but surely he will play his strongest 11 against Arsenal. However, he is down to the bare bones with defenders and winning this fixture looks beyond United.
Both Manchester clubs dropped points last weekend and Liverpool beat Watford to take advantage. At the end of the schedule on Monday City and Liverpool should be in better shape and Chelsea can be one win away from winning the Premier League.