There will be a returning sense of normalcy in the Premier League this weekend, as we welcome back another week of Premier League action with all the teams finally set to feature in the coming days. The stakes are now higher than ever as the season edges closer to its conclusion – and with some cracking games ahead, we can hardly wait.
The story of a team without strikers and a team struggling to score
Saturday’s early kick off sees Jose Mourinho returning to Stamford Bridge, a hunting ground that he once saw so much success. It is 4th against 5th in the table – with one point separating both sides – although a victory for either side will still leave the race for the last Champions League spot wide open, such is the inconsistency of the teams involved.
Both teams are not exactly firing on all cylinders coming into the London derby either: Tottenham Hotspur have not got a senior striker available, while Chelsea struggling to put away their key chances has been their theme for the entire season.
Question marks have been raised over the Portuguese manager ever since his arrival, and his past four months at Tottenham Hotspur have done little in terms of providing those answers.
Spurs still look like a side struggling to cope with the loss of Mauricio Pochettino, whose sacking still divides the fan base today. They might have risen steadily in the standings, with hints of all the good Mourinho’s hallmarks slowly surfacing in the past few matches – perhaps most evident in their 3-2 victory over Aston Villa which involved not much pretty football, but a whole lot of plugging away and ultimately three important points.
However, fans are still far from convinced, having find their team being bossed around in games by opponents with clearly lesser quality, no thanks to Mourinho’s often pragmatic approach.
With Pochettino’s remaining influence ebbing away as weeks go by – especially with the departures of long-time servants Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen – and new signings in the likes of Giovanni Lo Celso and Steven Bergwijn slowing stepping up, it is a conflicting time for Spurs fans, who cannot exactly afford to be patient with so much at stake.
Missing out on the Champions League could see the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele Ali wonder if there are greener pastures, while a disappointing end to the season can result in a more divisive, toxic fan base – something their arch rival Arsenal is recovering from.
If there is any good news for Mourinho and his hairline though, it is that Frank Lampard’s side has been on a wretched form of late – one win in the last six league matches – and their grip on the final Champions League spot looks increasingly vulnerable.
In truth, no one other than the Blues fans would have expected them to finish in the top four this season – the arrival of a new and relatively inexperienced manager, the transfer ban and the departure of Eden Hazard meant that it was never ever fair to judge Lampard based on this campaign, and it’s not even absurd to suggest that he might actually be over performing.
But football is a cruel sport and when you are managing a club like Chelsea, the former Derby County manager is bound to face increasing scrutiny with each poor performance. He has a couple of important decisions to make this weekend that will surely be put under intense examination as well: the goalkeeping dilemma trudges on and Tammy Abraham’s injury means that he will be almost forced to play Olivier Giroud – whom he clearly feels does not fit his system – as Michy Batshuayi struggles to impress. That’s not all, as N’Golo Kante’s injury leaves Lampard with another setback.
Both London clubs will probably feel that there will not be a better time than right now to actually face each other, considering the mounting problems they each face – and while the source of goal in this game remains a giant question mark (for both managers as well), we are putting our money on a wild, wild game with a surprising flurry of goals.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
One last shot at second spot?
Leicester City hosts Manchester City in the final game on Saturday, in a top of the table clash that strangely involves pretty low stakes. Leicester City currently sits comfortably in third place, with a healthy nine-point lead over Chelsea.
Barring a pretty huge slipup, the Foxes are almost guaranteed Champions League football next season – with Manchester City’s potential ban providing further (likely unrequired) assistance.
So with Liverpool virtually running away with the title, that leaves the silver medal for Brendan Rodgers to realistically fight for – and a victory at the Etihad this weekend can see a four-point lead reduce to just a solitary one. With Pep Guardiola’s men shifting their focus to the European exploits as well, Rodgers will be determined to finish the season on a high – especially after being knocked out in the semi-final of the EFL Cup.
So perhaps that is still a lot left to play for, especially for Jamie Vardy and co., and that extra bit of motivation could see the Foxes nick a victory and put together a much needed run to cap off a wonderful season.
Leicester City 2-1 Manchester City
Jurgen Klopp’s men: Superheroes or mere mortals?
Liverpool’s recent loss to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League is far from the end of the world – but it surely did raise a slew of questions, some borderline justifiable while most of them being outright ridiculous.
Are Liverpool really that good? Does their poor win ratio in the Champions League perhaps tell us about how poor the Premier League really is? And are Liverpool just relying on luck to get to where they are right now?
The answers for the above are plain and simple: Liverpool are a very, very good team – they are smashing records after records because of the quality they possess; it is definitely not luck that they finished champions and runner-up in the Champions League for the past two seasons; English teams made up three of the past four finalists in the same competition; while being crowned World Champions should at the very least afford Liverpool some credibility – and a half-time deficit should hardly signal any imminent disaster.
It is perhaps fair to say that the Reds have not been at their free-flowing best since the dominant performance in the 4-0 victory over Leicester City all the way back in December, but to rack up a 22 point lead at this stage has to be one of the most incredible feats achieved in the history of the league.
They have a chance to right the tiny bit of wrong with a strong performance against West Ham this weekend, and no one will be betting against that.
The Hammers are six games without a win and despite a spirited performance against Manchester City earlier in the week, we are afraid they will serve as unfortunate punching bags for the Reds, who were clearly seething after the first leg tie in Spain.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 West Ham
Odion Ighalo to open his account against Watford?
There are so many things about football we love – the spectacular goals, the flicks and tricks or the mazy dribbles... the list goes on, but almost nothing beats watching a player score against his former club.
Do they wheel away in celebration Adebayor-esque? Or do they smile sheepishly and summon every ounce of restraint in their bodies to not celebrate? Or do they come across as someone who looked like his pet kitten just died?
It is fascinating stuff, and we are hoping to witness it when Manchester United faces Watford at Old Trafford this weekend. Ighalo already featured in the victory over Chelsea, missing a golden opportunity to break his duck.
We feel like that it is a sign that the gods of football are granting our little wish, as we are hoping the Nigerian forward scores against the Hornets this week, rips off his shirt and wheels off to the both the home and away fans to celebrate – not as a sign of disrespect, but really just so we can add yet another romantic chapter to the beautiful game.
In terms of the actual action on the pitch though, it is only expected that the Red Devils show the kind of inconsistency that sees them sitting in a disappointing seventh place – dropping points against Watford after securing a hard-fought victory over Lampard’s team.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Watford