By Niall Clarke
- Five burning questions for match-week 24 of the Premier League season
- Predictions for all the weekend’s games
Chelsea can further stake their claim for the Premier League title with a win against an Arsenal side that prompted the transformation to the 3-4-3 formation. That is one of five things on our minds ahead of match-week 24.
Can Chelsea end Arsenal’s title hopes?
In the reverse fixture back in September, Arsenal defeated Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates with a stunning first half performance. On paper it is a bad result, but it may be the result that wins Chelsea the Premier League title. Every cloud has a silver-lining, and in this case it was a wake-up call for Antonio Conte and his side. The defeat prompted the Italian to switch to a 3-4-3 formation, a switch that sent Chelsea on a 13 match win streak and to the top of the Premier League table. They were eight points off the lead in September, now in February they are nine points ahead – an incredible transformation.
The Blues now face the side that defeated them before the switch, and have the chance to end Arsenal’s slim title chances on Saturday. It is already unlikely that anyone catches Chelsea, they are so far ahead and have too much quality to drop a nine point gap. 12 points will no doubt kill all the slim hopes that Arsenal fans have of their side winning the title.
Conversely, Arsenal can close the gap to six points with a win- that seems much more reachable doe it not? It is make or break for them, just as it was for Liverpool in mid-week, the Gunners need a win and they need it at Stamford Bridge. They already missed the chance to close the gap after a 2-1 loss to Watford on Tuesday, they can ill afford another missed opportunity.
Traditionally, Arsenal’s record at Stamford Bridge is not good, but they are one of the three sides to get the better of Chelsea this season. It will be interesting to see how different this game is now that Chelsea are much more confident and playing with a more suited formation.
Will Leicester City finish the match-week in the bottom three?
Nobody thought that Leicester City would win the Premier League title, even the most diehard fans would have told you that was ludicrous. They went ahead and did it and the story was one of the best of 2016. Six months into the new campaign, they are in another unlikely situation, only this time at the other end of the table.
Not many people would have considered Leicester relegation candidates in August, but fast forward eight months and they could very well end up in the drop zone by the end of match-week 24. This is the worst title defence in Premier League history and it could end up with the Foxes being relegated to the Championship just a year after winning the Premier League. Leicester host Manchester United on Sunday with a loss needing to be avoided at all cost.
If Crystal Palace defeat Sunderland, which is probable at Selhurst Park, and Swansea continue their good form against Manchester City (less likely, but stranger things have happened), then the defending Champions will find themselves in the relegation zone when they take to the pitch at the King Power. A loss would see them stay there, and a great escape will once again be needed.
In other relegation news, Hull City host Liverpool on Saturday, and Middlesbrough travel to Spurs later that afternoon.
Can Liverpool, Tottenham and Man United recover from mid-week disappointment?
It was a less than stellar match-week 23 for these three sides as they were all held to disappointing draws in mid-week and in the process missed chances to close on their nearest rivals.
Liverpool showed signs of improvement against Chelsea, but they failed to take their chances and had to settle for a draw. It is a result that keeps the Reds ten points off the summit, a gap that is unlikely to be closed by the end of the season. Jurgen Klopp’s side have a chance to get back on winning terms when they travel to Hull on Saturday. The Tigers looks like a better side since Marco Silva took charge, but they still welcome Liverpool as the under-dogs. Can Liverpool bounce back? Or will their title chances take another hit?
Spurs dominated Sunderland but failed to break their stubborn defence and as a result missed out on a chance to close the gap at the top of the Premier League. Tottenham face another stern back line in the form of Middlesbrough who are also fighting a relegation battle. With Arsenal and Chelsea playing earlier in the day, this is another golden chance for Spurs to close the gap at the top. Will they take advantage? Or will they be left behind?
Manchester United are not challenging for the title as too many draws have left them too far behind Chelsea to really catch them. It was another two points dropped in mid-week against Hull City that will be seen as a failed chance to close their own gap to the top four. United travel to struggling Leicester on Sunday needing three points. Any less could see them fall further behind the pack, and in the search for Champions League football that can be ill afford.
It is a big match-week for these clubs because of what happened last time out. They all need to win for similar reasons as every point is critical during the season.
Can Manchester City continue their resurgence?
After a tough period for Pep Guardiola that ended with a 4-0 loss to Everton, City have improved their performances in recent weeks, netting nine goals in their previous three games. The Citizens were excellent with their ‘hammering’ (sorry!) of West Ham in mid-week, can they continue this momentum and get back into the title picture?
City host Swansea on Sunday, and it is a more difficult match than it looks on paper. The Swans have their tails up at the moment after some good form since Paul Clement took charge. The Welsh club are fighting for their lives, and any club in that scrap is a dangerous one.
It will be interesting to see if Gabriel Jesus will feature again. The young Brazilian has had an impressive start to his Manchester City career and netted in the 4-0 win at West Ham. Or will Sergio Aguero return to the starting line-up?
A win could potentially send City into second place depending on other results. A loss will put an end to their title challenge, and seriously dents their top four aspirations too.
What else is happening?
There is plenty of mid-table action to look forward to over the weekend. Everton continue their bid for European football at home to an out of form Bournemouth side who lost at home to Palace in mid-week.
Stoke and West Brom have similar aspirations, and they face off in a key match at the Hawthorns on Saturday. Burnley round off the top 10, and they face a Watford side that grabbed a huge win at Arsenal in mid-week.
Southampton host West Ham in the other 3pm kick off on Saturday.
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 2-0 Sunderland
Everton 2-1 Bournemouth
Hull 1-1 Liverpool
Southampton 2-2 West Ham
Watford 1-1 Burnley
West Brom 2-1 Stoke
Tottenham 3-0 Middlesbrough
Man City 3-1 Swansea
Leicester 0-1 Man United
Play begins at 12:30 GMT
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