With 15 points separating the top five teams in the English Premier League, the race for a top four place is well and truly on. If you bet on football, you’ll know that Manchester City are still favourites for the league title but with a tough set of fixtures ahead of them, things can change very quickly.
The UEFA Champions League group stages have been wrapped up with Chelsea and Arsenal content, and the Manchester clubs distraught, but domestic commitments take centre stage this weekend. Games at Stamford Bridge, the Emirates Stadium and the Britannia will shape the balance of the top spots going into the festive season, and test the resolve of England’s biggest clubs.
Chelsea vs Manchester City
Monday night’s game between Chelsea and Manchester City is undoubtedly the pick of the round, with much on the line for both teams. A defeat for the home team would see an almost unassailable gap open between them and their table-topping opponents, whilst the chasing pack would be given hope should the visitors be subjected to their first defeat of the season.
Chelsea have put an autumn blip behind them, and 3-0 victories over Wolves and Newcastle domestically and Valencia in Europe have stabilized the London outfit. Andre Villas Boas has given himself some breathing room by qualifying for the Champions League knockout rounds, but the pressure would be piled back on the Portuguese coach with a defeat on Monday. The Blues are currently ten points behind City; a win would bring them back into title contention, whilst a loss may rule them out of it.
City were eliminated from Europe’s top club competition on Wednesday despite beating Bayern Munich, and will have to re-focus on their top priority of winning the Premier League. The only team still unbeaten in the division, the side from the Etihad Stadium could lay a real marker down with a win away to one of the top teams in the land, or see their advantage at the summit rescind to two points with a defeat.
Arsenal vs Everton
Arsenal have well and truly put their shaky start to the campaign behind them, as summer signings have settled in at the Emirates Stadium and started to get performances for the club. A solid run of domestic form over the last two months has lifted The Gunners up to fifth place, two points behind Chelsea and five adrift of North London rivals Tottenham. The side’s home form has been good in the resurgence, and a 4-0 win against Wigan at the DW Stadium in their last domestic fixture will be sure to add confidence. Arsene Wenger rested his key players for the Champions League game at Olympiakos in midweek, but expect Robin van Persie and co to return on Saturday.
Everton’s inconsistency comes as a frustration to the Goodison Park faithful, and David Moyes team have struggled to put a run of form together this season. Consecutive victories over Wolves and Bolton were cancelled out by a disappointing home defeat to Stoke last time out but on their day The Toffees can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league.
Mikel Arteta’s first appearance against his former employers will add spice to this one; Paddy Power have the Spaniard at odds of 9/1 to get the first goal.
Stoke vs Tottenham
Spurs are being touted as surprise title contenders after an excellent run of unbeaten form has taken them to third place, whilst Stoke have held their own domestically and in Europe this term; the pair meet on Sunday at the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke have embraced their first season in the Europa League, and have qualified for the knockout rounds with a game to spare. Although at times inconsistent, especially after European games, Tony Pulis’ men have beaten Liverpool at home this term, and drawn with Manchester United and Chelsea. Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios will face their former club, and the English striker will pose an all too familiar aerial threat to the visitors.
10 wins in 11 games sees Spurs as one of the form teams in the league, and leaves them only seven points off the leaders with a game in hand. Harry Redknapp’s men would most likely be delighted with a top four finish, despite the title challengers tag of late, but will face a stern test in the Midlands this weekend. Much has been spoken of the side’s attacking players, who admittedly are in great form, but Scott Parker must win the midfield battle and the Kaboul/King partnership deal with Crouch for the White Hart Lane club’s run to continue.