Favourites Chelsea must stay on point

CityPress - - Sport - PETER AUF DER HEYDE sports@city­press.co.za

West Bromwich Al­bion (h) With six matches to play and four points ahead, Chelsea are the over­whelm­ing favourites to lift this sea­son’s English Premier League (EPL) ti­tle.

How­ever, if re­cent form is any­thing to go by, the Blues’ fans have some­thing to worry about.

Hav­ing lost to Crystal Palace and Manch­ester United in re­cent weeks, the Lon­don-based club have seen their lo­cal ri­vals Tottenham Hot­spur win seven matches in a row, which has cut the lead at the top from 10 points down to four.

Liver­pool are a fur­ther five points be­hind Hot­spur, and for them or fourth-placed Manch­ester City to win the league, both Chelsea and Spurs would need to have a melt­down of epic proportions while their ri­vals em­bark on a run of vic­to­ries.

But, as they say in the movies, that ain’t gonna hap­pen!

An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea team, who last won the league in 2015, have an easy run-in to the end of the sea­son, fac­ing the bottom two clubs and none in the top six.

Ar­guably more im­por­tant is the fact that, of their last six games, four are at home. Of all the top leagues in Europe, the EPL is the only one in which such a sit­u­a­tion ex­ists – that two teams chal­leng­ing for top hon­ours can be in a sit­u­a­tion where one plays their last two games at home, while the other plays away.

Serie A, Bun­desliga, La Liga and most others en­sure “fair play” by mak­ing sure that, in the run-in to the end of the sea­son, teams al­ter­nate be­tween home and away matches.

Spurs’ fi­nal matches are much tougher – not only are they away from home for four of the six games, their home matches are against Arse­nal and Manch­ester United, who are both still chal­leng­ing (and hop­ing) for a place in the Cham­pi­ons League.

To achieve that, Arse­nal and United need to fin­ish in the top four. A vic­tory at White Heart Lane will be a dent – al­beit not nec­es­sar­ily a de­cid­ing one – in their as­pi­ra­tions to achieve that.

The race be­tween Chelsea and Spurs got an added twist when the two faced each other in an FA Cup semi­fi­nal at Wem­b­ley yes­ter­day.

The man gen­er­ally cred­ited with turn­ing Spurs into real ti­tle chal­lengers is Ar­gen­tine man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, who ear­lier this year ex­tended his con­tract un­til 2021.

“I would love to be here for as long as pos­si­ble be­cause [Tottenham Hot­spur] is a club with a his­tory. A club that is the most pop­u­lar in Lon­don, more so than Arse­nal and Chelsea,” he said.

“Three years ago, when I started this project, the idea was to re­duce the dif­fer­ence be­tween us and the top four. But now we are ahead of our project,” he said.

At the wrong end of the ta­ble, the sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar.

Sun­der­land and Mid­dles­brough have a moun­tain the size of Ever­est to climb if they want to avoid rel­e­ga­tion – they are nine and six points, re­spec­tively, from safety, while Swansea City and Hull City are in­volved in a tight tus­sle to fin­ish 17th.

Both have five matches to go, with sim­i­larly dif­fi­cult op­po­nents. Hull are two points ahead of Swansea, but face Spurs at home in their fi­nal match and will be ea­ger to avoid a must-win sce­nario.

But with Spurs chal­leng­ing Chelsea, it could well be that the fi­nal match is a de­ci­sive one – both for the top and the bottom of the Premier League.

Manch­ester United (a) Ever­ton (h) Sun­der­land (a) April 26 April 29 May 6 May 13 May 16 May 21

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