Favourites Chelsea must stay on point
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.
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