Six points ahead of the second-placed team, with a game in hand and with a mere nine games left to play in the season a Jose Mourinho couldna t have wished for a better position to be in at the end of March. His team, however, havena t looked convincing since the 5-0 defeat of Swansea in January, and the last-gasp victory at Hull City did nothing to ease the anxiety of the Bluesa faithful. Perhaps still reeling from the public opprobrium of their Champions League exit at the hands of PSG, Mourinhoa s men have looked extremely suspect defensively, and are struggling to dominate games with an out-of-form pivot of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas at the centre of the park.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are the form team in the league. With Olivier Giroud seemingly scoring at will, the Gunners have registered six wins on the bounce a finding themselves a solitary point behind Manchester City. Manchester Uniteda s season seemed to go from bad to worse with a loss in the FA Cup quarter-finals at home to Arsenal, but Louis Van Gaala s side have recovered admirably to record impressive wins at home against Tottenham, and against an in-form Liverpool at Anfield. The battle for second spot and the chance to capitalize on any slip-ups by Chelsea is very much on, and with several top four clashes left in the season, fans are likely to be on the edge of their seat till the final whistle on the final day.
Leicester destined for relegation with Sunderland in all sorts of trouble
To no onea s surprise, Sunderland announced the end of Gus Poyeta s reign as manager shortly after a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Aston Villa. Interim manager Dick Advocaat is now tasked with pulling off the sort of miracle that Poyet did towards the end of the 2013/2014 season, with the Black Cats winless in six games a drawing two and losing four a the worst form of any team in the league. Hovering just one point above the relegation zone, and with their star player embroiled in a sex scandal, Sunderland are in desperate need of a morale boost, and a victory in the Tyne-Wear derby at home to Newcastle following the international break could provide just that.
Leicester City remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table with 19 points a a full seven points away from safety. With just four wins in the entire season, the Foxes will have to make a comeback of historic proportions to survive relegation this season. After a promising start to the league with star striker Leonardo Ulloa scoring regularly, Nigel Pearsona s side seem to have collapsed a a downward spiral ever since the 5-3 defeat of Manchester United has seen Ulloaa s goals dry up along with the points.
If the Foxes have one thing going for them, it is that they appear to have the easiest run-in of any of the relegation battlers, with the home game against Chelsea their only match against top-six opposition. Their final two games this season see them take on Sunderland away and Queena s Park Rangers at home a a mouth-watering prospect for neutrals, and one that gives Persona s men an opportunity to make the impossible possible.
Manchester United on the rise a at Liverpoola s expense?
It has been a strange season for Manchester United. Unprecedented levels of spending in the summer, along with the appointment of Louis van Gaal (who had just taken his Netherlands side to a World Cup semi-final against the odds) had fans dreaming of a title challenge. A top four finish, at the very least, was taken for granted. The season, however, began very differently for the Red Devils. Whilst always remaining in the vicinity of the top four, United never truly looked convincing despite numerous tactical re-shuffles and changes in formation a or perhaps because of it.
The win against arch-rivals Liverpool at Anfield, then, was something of a surprise. Even more so considering it was Juan Mata who played a key role in what could prove to be a season-defining result for Louis van Gaala s men. Their fourth win on the bounce put them five points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool, offering them much-needed breathing space given their fixture list between now and the end of the season. A couple of weeks ago people questioned whether the Red Devils would finish in the Champions League places; now, there is talk of pushing Manchester City out of second spot. Ita s been that kind of a season for United a underwhelming, yet strangely par for the course in terms of their position in the league. If this is in fact Uniteda s rise a the beginning of a peak a it is extremely well-timed.
For Liverpool, the defeat at Anfield was damaging in more ways than one. Brendan Rodgers’ side went into the game on the back of five victories on the bounce a and with a chance to enter the top four at the expense of Manchester United. Many believed their momentum in the second half of the season would see them finish in the top four a displacing one of Arsenal or United. The derby defeat, however, cost them more than just three points: Steven Gerrard now finds himself suspended for the game against Arsenal, whilst Martin Skrtel, Liverpoola s most consistent centre-back this season, faces a three-game ban for a stamp on David De Gea. With a game against in-form Arsenal at the Emirates on the horizon, and with the news of yet another injury to star striker Daniel Sturridge, the Merseysiders now face an uphill battle to claw their way back into the top four.
Chelsea uncharacteristically jittery in title run-in
Two defeats in twenty-nine Premier League games this season. Top of the table since the end of the first week of fixtures in August 2014. Six points clear at the top, with a game in hand over their closest title rivals. Nineteen points needed from an available twenty-seven. Conventional logic suggests the Premier League title will have dark blue ribbons on it come May. A little seed of doubt, however, still remains. And with good reason.
Chelsea have looked far from convincing in the league of late, with draws at home against Burnley and Southampton, and somewhat fortuitous victories away at West Ham and Hull City. The decline in the levels of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa has been the talk of the media and the fans of late; yet, it is Nemanja Matica s form that should be Jose Mourinhoa s biggest concern. The Serbian has been an ever-present in the Chelsea side, and has enjoyed an outstanding season in the league thus far. Ever since his notorious dismissal against Burnley, however, the midfielder has looked off the pace. An injury sustained whilst celebrating the Bluesa League Cup victory might explain it, to some extent, but it appears as though Matic is unable to cover the same amount of ground he was earlier in the season, and is being exposed as a result.
The Blues have had problems earlier this season with teams bypassing the midfield and exposing the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill by creating one-on-one situations that neither of them is entirely comfortable defending. John Terry is no exception to that, but makes up for it with his positional awareness and all-round intelligent football. The lack of pace in the Chelsea back four, and the midfield pivot, however, continues to remain a concern, and with players tiring as the season reaches its conclusion, it is possible that Mourinho will be punished for his lack of rotation. Luckily for him, Eden Hazard is in untouchable form at the moment, and is almost single-handedly dragging his club towards the finish line.
There has been much discussion about where this Chelsea team would lie in the pantheon of the Premier Leaguea s best a or indeed, if it deserved to be amongst them a and the last nine games of the season (which include Manchester United and Liverpool at home, and Arsenal away) will go a long way towards determining that. Although a points record is now a mathematical impossibility, the Blues could still go on to cross the 90-point mark, and that, if it were achieved, would say a lot about this sidea s greatness.