Liverpool and Tottenham Aim to Put Squeeze on Chelsea
The fixture schedule has been kind on Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur this weekend with both clubs having the opportunity to put the squeeze on Chelsea in the battle to finish the season in the Premier League's top four.
Antonio Conte (image: Reuters)
London: The fixture schedule has been kind on Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur this weekend with both clubs having the opportunity to put the squeeze on Chelsea in the battle to finish the season in the Premier League's top four.
Antonio Conte's outgoing champions look vulnerable in fifth place and by the time they kick off against runaway leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday a worrying gap could have opened up immediately above them.
Juergen Klopp's Liverpool take on Newcastle United on Saturday after fourth-placed Tottenham, in equally impressive form, host Huddersfield Town at Wembley.
Should they both win Liverpool would have 60 points, temporarily going ahead of Manchester United into second, and Tottenham would have 58. Chelsea have 53.
United are at injury-hit Crystal Palace on Monday when victory would give them 62 points.
So the pressure could be on Chelsea when they take on a City side playing their second game in four days after they face sixth-placed Arsenal in a re-arranged match on Thursday.
Victory for City over an Arsenal side they outclassed in third gear in last week's League Cup final would restore their 16-point lead at the top of the table and leave the finishing line clearly in sight with 10 games remaining.
With the Champions League title a huge target for City this season he will demand his players keep their foot firmly on the gas to sew up the domestic title as soon as possible, allowing them the luxury of concentrating on Europe in the Spring.
Such has been the dominance of Pep Guardiola's side this season that the greater interest is now on which of the top six will be frozen out of the top four come May 13 and who will avoid the trapdoor at the other end of the table.
"It could well be that this is the hardest season ever, in terms of quality, to qualify for the Champions League via the Premier League placings," former Chelsea player Pat Nevin told the club's website.
"It is still three from five. I think we accept that Man City might just get one of those top-four positions now! I will give Arsenal the benefit of the doubt in being in the chase but it is a long shot for them.
"So either United, Liverpool, Spurs or Chelsea will miss out. It is going to be a monumental run-in, but Chelsea now have to go on a run, starting with something, even a point against Man City at the weekend."
While Liverpool and Tottenham should have little trouble recording home wins -- the fact Newcastle and Huddersfield are fighting for their top-flight lives should not be taken lightly.
Newcastle are on a four-match unbeaten run including a win over Manchester United while Huddersfield won their last two games to nudge out of the relegation zone.
Huddersfield are 14th and Newcastle 15th with 30 and 29 points respectively with third-from-bottom Swansea on 27, the same as Crystal Palace and Southampton above them.
So compact is the bottom of the table that the relegation places are in a constant state of flux with teams often rising or falling above the dreaded line each time a goal goes in.
This weekend looks like being no different with Southampton hosting second-from-bottom Stoke City and Swansea playing a West Ham United side who, though apparently comfortable in 13th spot, are only three points above the relegation zone.
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