Chelsea could be as low as 16th in the Premier League if results this weekend pan out in a certain way. Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in a competitive match so it would be ironic if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the second live match on Sunday now that the Special One has departed. Guus Hiddink is overseeing a potential relegation battle rather than qualification for the Champions League.
Manchester City will benefit most from a stalemate in the London derby and winning at West Ham would consolidate their position as the favourites to win the title. However, their form on the road is not good enough to make them the away bankers of the schedule. Changes in playing personnel and in the manager’s office means the current regime has one more chance to win the Premier League for the third time under the new ownership. Manuel Pellegrini and Yaya Toure could leave in the summer.
Liverpool and Everton have potentially winning fixtures against sides in the relegation mire and facing the nightmare scenario of a drop down to the Championship. With massive TV revenues imminent this is the worst season possible for Norwich and Swansea respectively to be relegated. Both Merseyside clubs are consistently inconsistent in the context of results and any one of three outcomes is feasible in these fixtures.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the live TV match schedule is the fixture that brings together the two biggest teams in London. Arsenal are 13 places and 19 points ahead of their opponents in this meeting. Chelsea are just four points above the relegation places and if Norwich and Bournemouth both win they would end the weekend just two spots above the drop zone. The defending champions have never been relegated in the Premier League era.
It all went pear shaped for Mourinho at Chelsea this season and playing the blame game will not change the fact that the club are in a mess. Despite getting rid of Jose Chelsea and their players are not equipped to move up the league and now even qualifying for the Europa League is a fanciful notion. Chelsea have improved under Hiddink but only marginally and it’s still the same team.
Chelsea are unbeaten since Mourinho was asked to leave but have won just three of seven matches and two of those were at home to Scunthorpe and Sunderland. The improvement required to finish in the top four is unprecedented in the history of the top division. Chelsea have lost ground on potential Champions League qualifiers in picking up just two points from two home fixtures. Chelsea have a better chance of playing in the competition next season by winning this time than their league position.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are steadily going about their business and despite some aberrations are top of the table, though with Leicester and Manchester City breathing down their neck. In Mesut Ozil they have arguably the best player in the league this season who is set to break all records for assists. Wenger may have finally found the formula to manage his team to be champions for the first time since 2003-04, the season of the unbeaten Invincibles.
When Petr Cech signed from Chelsea some pundits were saying he could save Arsenal 10 points a season. That may be an exaggeration but having a solid keeper behind them has certainly given their defenders more confidence. Arsenal have conceded just six goals in 10 home league fixtures and only Manchester United have a better defensive record on their own ground. Conversely, four teams have scored more goals at home and Arsenal’s home fixture average 2.2 goals.
Manchester City have only the ninth best record on the road this season after winning four of ten away fixtures, scoring 10 goals and conceding 9. However, West Ham have failed to win 6 of their 10 matches at Upton Park so on balance City can pick up three massive points, especially if Arsenal draw against Chelsea. Leicester City could be the league leaders on Sunday evening as they have a winnable home match against Stoke.
After the so called northern powerhouse Classico between Liverpool and Manchester United Leicester and Tottenham will be more confident of qualifying for the Champions League. The north-west derby was an excuse for a football match which was won by a poor team beating an average team. Surely only Louis Van Gaal is happy that United had one shot on target and scored the winning goal.
Liverpool and Everton are both heading for mid-table safety and their opponents this weekend threatened with relegation may be hungrier. Arsene Wenger always had a hunger to put one over Jose Mourinho but it never happened and Hiddink and Chelsea can avoid defeat against Wenger’s Arsenal this Sunday.