The highlight of the weekend TV schedule is the EFL Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton. Jose Mourinho understands the importance of winning trophies and he even counts the Community Shield as a genuine honour. United will be motivated and have more than enough quality to beat Southampton and win their first proper trophy in the Mourinho era. The match is covered in another article so we will focus on the three televised Premier League matches this weekend.
Tottenham are 10 points behind Chelsea but have rarely played with the intensity that took them close to winning the Premier League for the first time last season. In any normal year they would have been in a great position to take advantage of issues at the other major clubs that had a genuine chance of winning the title. However, last season was far from normal and Leicester won the title as 5,000/1 outsiders. Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd were off the pace. Tottenham really were the best team in the league but Leicester ground out a most unlikely title winning season.
Tottenham can stay in third place at worst by beating Stoke at home on Sunday. Harry Kane scored a hat-trick in the Cup win at Fulham and he has scored 14 goals in the league. Tottenham look on course to qualify for the Champions League again and that process can continue with a home win against Stoke. The visitors are again producing a solid season with no European qualification and relegation issues on their mind and they are unlikely to be involved at both business ends of the table.
At the turn of the year Jurgen Klopp’s side were the leading scorers with a mobile forward line doing most of the damage. However, Liverpool looked nowhere near as slick during Philippe Coutinho’s absence. January was a disaster and Liverpool now have no chance of winning the top division in England for the first time since the 1989-90 season. That’s 27 years which is a year longer than Manchester United had to wait from winning the league in 1967 to their first title in the Premier League era under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Leicester story has become even more remarkable as the side are now in the midst of a relegation battle. In fact they could be in the bottom three by the end of their Monday night fixture at home to Liverpool. Hollywood would be even more interested if Leicester win the Champions League and get relegated to the Championship the year after winning the Premier League. There are rumours that Claudio Ranieri has lost the support of the players and there was no fight in the Cup loss at Millwall last weekend.
The fixture between Watford and West Ham could turn out to be an insipid game as both sides are in a relatively comfortable position. They are now established in mid-table safety, unlikely to get dragged into relegation issues or qualify for Europe. Watford have only won five of 12 league matches at home this season, scoring 17 and conceding one more. Their form has been solid and they look set to stay in the Premier League unless there is a dramatic down turn in form.
West Ham are 10th in the league but are performing slightly better on the road. The decision to move to the Olympic Stadium has angered some fans but a few home wins should appease those supporters who are missing Upton Park enough to get behind the team. This fixture could be tailor made for a low bookings count. Matches towards the end of the season with not too much to play for often produce less than the average number of yellow and red cards from the fixture when there is more at stake. The logical, conclusion is that a draw is the most likely outcome.
Chelsea are champions in waiting and even some bookmakers have paid customers who backed then to win the Premier League. Chelsea will still be at the top of the table after this set of fixtures but Leicester could be in the bottom three for the first time this season. They could be bottom if Hull, Crystal Palace and Sunderland all win.