In the good old days league matches were never televised live and the most you got was the FA Cup Final which was a huge occasion. This weekend is typical of the current era of dedicated sports channels when half the Premier League programme can be watched as it happens over three days of the weekend. The best has been saved for last when the fixture between Leicester and Chelsea brings together the league leaders and a team six points above the relegation places.
At the start of the season Leicester were one of the favourites for relegation and Chelsea were backed to retain the title. One year ago the roles were reversed because Leicester were looking at the nightmare scenario of a drop into the Championship and Chelsea were well on course to win the title for the first time in the second Jose Mourinho era. Playing staff at each club has not changed too much and the teams selected for Monday would have been first choices this time last year.
Form in football is hard to rationalise at times but in theory Leicester should beat Chelsea at home on Monday. However, some results are hard to fathom such as Newcastle beating Liverpool last weekend. Newcastle were a club in shambles while Liverpool started the fixture on the back of beating Southampton 6-1 in the Capital one Cup. The fixture produced a comfortable win for Newcastle against all the odds.
Claudio Ranieri was known for tinkering with team selection when managing Chelsea. It’s ironic that he has led Leicester to the top of the table mainly working with players he inherited. He does not have the luxury of a big squad and the Leicester side almost picks itself. Jose Mourinho must decide how many flops who played against Bournemouth will start in the trip to the league leaders.
Leicester City will not win the league so the fans must enjoy the moment which contrasts totally with the struggles against relegation last season. However, during the last matches of the Nigel Pearson era they produced top 6 form and got out of the mire. That manager was moved on for off the field matters and left the foundation of a good team for the next man in charge. Ranieri has fitted in but beating the club he managed in the past looks beyond his current charges and a draw is predicted.
Bournemouth and Manchester United embark on Saturday’s live tea time match on the back of different outcomes. The Cherries beat Chelsea in a match described by their manager as the best in the history of the club. United were dumped out of the Champions League after a shambolic performance against Wolfsburg which was more about panic than the measured, controlled Louis Van Gaal approach. It would be ironic if he lost his job because his team could not defend when it mattered most.
The vagaries of form at this level mean any result is possible and attitude will be key. If the United stars are not playing for the manager Bournemouth can build on their last result by taking another major scalp. Van Gaal is under pressure and may return to type which means his players defending for their life and not being too interested in scoring goals. The most likely outcome is a low scoring draw which will not impress the purists but get United’s season back on track. They are currently only three points off the pace in the Premier League and could be the leaders on Tuesday morning.