By Ryan Moran
- The Foxes were beaten 5-2 at the King Power Stadium earlier this season.
- Fourth placed Manchester City host second placed Tottenham.
- Adam Johnson sacked by Sunderland.
On a weekend that sees the top four teams go head to head, an opportunity to close the gap arises for the teams below.
Arsenal vs Leicester City
Leicester City travel to the Emirates in hope of strengthening their Premier League title bid. Having run out 1-3 victors at the Etihad Stadium confidence is high in the Foxes’ camp. A brace from Robert Huth, either side of a solo goal from Riyad Mahrez, upset the odds in Manchester with the German an unlikely hero. City’s defeat gave Arsenal the opportunity to move back into third with a 2-0 win over Bournemouth, courtesy of goals from Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Jamie Vardy signed a new contract to keep him at the club until 2019 and although the striker didn’t find the net, his presence was felt among the City defence. His blistering speed had Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi on the back foot on many occasions, and will hope to cause the Gunners’ centre halves the same problems.
A dismantling of Arsenal would be the icing on the cake for a Leicester side fearful of relegation at this point only 12 months ago. A five point deficit already separates the leaders from the chasing pack with the Gunners level on points with Tottenham, it would be hard to look past Claudio Ranieri’s side should three points be their reward in North London.
Ranieri’s record against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal doesn’t make for good reading for the Italian. The Leicester manager’s only win over the Gunners came in the Champion’s League. The return of Ozil and Alexis Sanchez has given the home side more firepower in midfield but with both sides effective on the counter attack, the better tactics may prove decisive.
Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester City are in search of redemption after a disappointing performance against Leicester. The Premier League’s most expensive side fell short against a side costing a tenth of the price of their starting 11. Sergio Aguero’s header was a consolation in a game of rare positives for the Citizens.
Kieran Trippier’s back post finish against Watford earned Tottenham a fourth consecutive league victory. An attacking display was encompassed by the full backs goal, with Ben Davies constantly involved in the attacking third in the win. Davies’ appearance in the final third will be expected less at the Etihad with the sides separated by a single point.
In Aguero City have a proven goal scorer but failed to provide the Argentine with the service needed to overcome leaders Leicester last weekend. With the news Pep Guardiola will be taking charge in the summer, certain players are potentially playing for their careers at the club. Defeat against Spurs could leave the Citizens eight points adrift of Leicester.
Sunderland vs Manchester United
Sunderland claimed a point at Anfield after trailing 2-0 before a 77th minute walk out by Liverpool fans. The good result at the weekend was marred by headlines off the pitch as Adam Johnson was sacked by the club after pleading guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child and one charge of grooming. In addition, Steven Fletcher, on loan at Marseille until the end of the season, opened his Marseille account with a late goal and an assist in the cup.
Manchester United will hope to take advantage of the fact that two of the top four sides will drop points this weekend. United are six points’ worse off than fourth placed Manchester City after their 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Jesse Lingard’s opener being cancelled out by Diego Costa’s stoppage time equaliser.
Sunderland are four points from safety but have shown promise with their January additions adding steel in defensive areas. The Red Devils’ young contingent have stepped up their performances in recent weeks as the senior players have had minimal impact in attack. Impetus from senior players such as Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata will be essential to secure a top four place come the end of the season.
Chelsea vs Newcastle United
The news of John Terry’s departure at the end of the season was followed by Kurt Zouma’s knee injury, suffered in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United. The defender requires surgery on the injury that will side line the Frenchman for six months.
Their climb to 13th place has seen the Blues go unbeaten in nine games, however six of those matches ended in a draw. Newcastle United have been somewhat of a bogey team for Chelsea in recent years, Papiss Cisse’s outside of the foot volley at Stamford Bridge a highlight in a 2-0 win for the Magpies in 2012. A draw in their previous encounter this term leaves the fixture finely poised as the sides won one game each last term in the league.
Aston Villa vs Liverpool
Liverpool hope to turn a week to forget into a week to remember if they can take three points from Villa Park. The Reds squandered a two goal lead at home to Sunderland as the home fans fled the stadium in the 77th minute in protest of plans to increase the highest ticket price to £77. The weekend’s catastrophe was followed up by Jurgen Klopp’s side crashing out of the FA Cup to West Ham in a replay. One bit of positive news softened the blow slightly as ticket prices were frozen with Fenway Sports Group stating ‘message received’, and the price increase scrapped for next season.
One win in five league games doesn’t make for good reading and Aston Villa won’t roll over after recording only their third victory this season. While the Villans are currently far from the great escape, results have improved with only one defeat in their last five games. The gap from safety is still a daunting eight points but not impossible by any stretch of the imagination.
Daniel Sturridge’s return coupled with a goal for Philippe Coutinho meant positives were taken from their FA Cup exit. The pair have struggled with injuries and remain diamonds in the rough as both battle injuries and a decent run of form as both have bags of talent at their disposal.
Jordan Ayew’s return brings another goal threat to a side who have only netted 20 goals this term. At the other end they are proving harder to break down, but the result hinges on the Liverpool team that walk out onto the Villa Park pitch on Sunday afternoon.
Norwich City vs West Ham United
Both sides tasted defeat on their last league outings, to Aston Villa and Southampton respectively. The Hammers redeemed themselves in midweek with victory over Liverpool in an FA Cup fifth round replay, Angelo Ogbonna’s extra time header the difference between the two sides.
While a quarter final awaits, a trip to Carrow Road comes first with the Canaries looking to end a run of five straight league defeats. Their poor run of form has seen them drop into the bottom three because of Newcastle’s win over West Brom.
West Ham missed the chance to go fifth after losing to Southampton, keeping up with United requires victory, starting in East Anglia. As for Norwich, the teams below them are starting to pick up points, only points will stave off the competition.
Everton vs West Bromwich Albion
Everton’s ascent up the Premier League table has seen the Toffees record back to back 3-0 wins, over Stoke and Newcastle respectively. West Brom scraped through to the FA Cup quarter finals on penalties over Peterborough United. Saido Berahino dispatched his penalty to see his side into the last eight.
Roberto Martinez’s side have been criticized for under performing this term. Aaron Lennon and Ross Barkley’s two goals in two games have eased the pressure on the Spaniard. Since their defeat to Swansea, the home side have scored nine goals in three games, including their 3-0 win over Carlisle in the FA Cup.
Berahino’s lack of action has kept the striker’s game time limited but Tony Pulis knows what the striker is capable of. West Brom are a defensively resolute outfit without a prolific striker, a hole Berahino is capable of filling.
Everton’s Europa League ambition isn’t out of the question just yet, another 3-0 victory wouldn’t go a miss by the fans either. The Baggies will hope to prevent that outcome and pinch a victory of their own.
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
Crystal Palace vs Watford
AFC Bournemouth vs Stoke City
Swansea City vs Southampton
Leaders Leicester hope to avoid a second defeat to Arsenal as the Foxes travel to the Emirates in Sundays early kick off. The Stadium of Light plays host to Sunderland against Manchester United for Saturdays early kick off.
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