Premier League picture becoming clearer as final run-in looms
As the final run-in to the season looms, the picture at both ends of the English Premier League table has suddenly become a lot clearer.
While Manchester City’s procession to the title suffered a surprise bump in the road in a shock 2-1 defeat at home to ten-man Leeds United, Fulham’s fate may have been all but sealed after a dramatic last-gasp defeat at home to Wolves.
Adama Traoré struck a goal deep into added time to fire Wolves to victory and coupled with Newcastle United’s timely 2-1 victory away at Burnley; the Cottagers find themselves six points adrift of the Magpies having played a game more than them.
While many tipped Scott Parker’s side to climb out of the drop zone in recent months, it could actually prove to be Sam Allardyce’s upwardly mobile West Brom, who could prove the only remaining side to threaten the likes of Newcastle, Burnley and Brighton; all of whom hover above the bottom three.
Despite sitting two points adrift of Fulham, back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Southampton have galvanised the Baggies and given fans renewed hope that Allardyce can pull off another great escape.
Everton v Tottenham Hotspur
Two teams whose top four aspirations remain under serious threat meet at Goodison Park.
Seventh-placed Tottenham travel to Merseyside aiming to get back to winning ways having started the month by following up a disappointing 2-2 draw with struggling Newcastle with a 3-1 defeat at home to Man United. That has left Spurs six points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham with seven games remaining.
Everton, one place and point behind today’s visitors also find themselves on a disappointing run of form. The Toffees are winless in four and come into the encounter on the back of successive draws against Crystal Palace and Brighton.
Defeat for either could all but end hopes of Champions League football next season.
Newcastle United v West Ham United
Victory could go a long way for either side achieving their contrasting goals at opposite ends of the table.
With relegation rivals Fulham slipping to back-to-back defeats this month, Newcastle enhanced their hopes of retaining their league status by scoring a late equaliser against Spurs before sealing a vital 2-1victory over Burnley last time out.
West Ham have proved the surprise package this season with the Hammers occupying the final Champions League spot, a point ahead of Chelsea and three clear of Liverpool.
A third successive victory could see David Moyes’s men leapfrog third-placed Leicester City, who they incidentally beat 3-2 in their previous outing.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sheffield United
Wolves will be aiming to build on the momentum of their dramatic victory over Fulham last time out and make it back-to-back wins.
Having endured a frustrating campaign, Nuno Espírito Santo’s twelfth-placed side could still find their way into the top ten come the end of the season but will need to string together a run of wins, something they have failed to do up to now.
Sheffield United’s fate has long been sealed with the Blades resigned to finishing bottom and back in the Sky Bet Championship. Propping up the rest of the table, the club find themselves on just 14 points, ten adrift of West Brom one place above them.
Arsenal v Fulham
Arsenal will be aiming to further cement a place in top ten and in doing so, heap more pressure on Fulham in their battle against the drop.
The ninth-placed Gunners brushed aside strugglers Sheffield United in a convincing 3-0 defeat last week with an Alexandre Lacazette brace being added to by impressive youngster Gabriel Martinelli.
Manager Mikel Arteta will be confident of building on that momentum against a visiting Fulham side, whose players were visibly dejected after the late defeat to Wolves last time out.
A fifth straight defeat could all but seal Fulham’s fate.
Manchester United v Burnley
Man United remain one of the most in-form sides in the league and will be hoping to stretch their unbeaten to twelve games.
An impressive 3-1 victory away to Spurs last time out cemented their position as Man City’s closest challengers in the standings; however, it appears only a matter of time until their neighbours lift the title with an 11-point advantage at present.
Burnley, in sixteenth meanwhile, arguably require two more victories to all but confirm their league status. Sean Dyche’s side make the short trip to Manchester on the back of consecutive defeats to Southampton and Newcastle in recent weeks.
Leeds United v Liverpool
Can Leeds United pull off another shock success and build upon their four-match unbeaten streak?
Marcelo Bielsa’s charges shocked champions-elect Man City last week, snatching a last-gasp 2-1 success despite having ten men for the entire second half and only two shots the entire match, as Stuart Dallas’s brace sealed a dramatic three points. That left them in tenth, just three points adrift of Everton in eighth.
Meanwhile, Liverpool will be desperate to maintain their aspirations of a top-four finish, with victory possibly enough to see them replace West Ham in the final Champions League qualification spot.
Jürgen Klopp’s side have won their previous three league matches and will be out to make amends after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage against Real Madrid.
Chelsea v Brighton & Hove Albion
Chelsea are another team desperate to maintain their push for Champions League qualification.
Thomas Tuchel’s side bounced back from a humbling 5-2 defeat by relegation-threatened West Brom in emphatic style by brushing aside Crystal Palace in a thumping 4-1 victory last time out.
That win left the Blues in fifth, a point adrift of West Ham ahead of welcoming struggling Brighton to Stamford Bridge.
Having ended last month with back-to-back victories, Brighton remain winless this month, following up a 2-1 defeat by Man United with a drab goalless draw with Everton.
Another victory could arguably see Graham Potter’s side safe for another season, with the Seagulls presently in fifteenth, seven points clear of the drop zone.
Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton
In their second scheduled fixture of this gameweek, Tottenham take on out-of-form Southampton.
Heading into the encounter, the Saints should be all but safe from danger, sitting in fourteenth, ten points clear of Fulham in the final relegation spot.
Despite not having a great deal to play for, manager Ralph Hasenhüttl will be desperate to end the campaign on a high and improve on their second half of the season, which has seen his side drop down the table. They head to North London on the back of a woeful 3-0 defeat away at West Brom.
Aston Villa v Manchester City
Manchester City will be aiming to take another step closer to the title in what could prove a tricky trip to Aston Villa.
Having suffered a shock defeat against Leeds last time out; Pep Guardiola will be demanding a response from his champions-elect to ensure their charge to glory is not slowed any further.
Villa have demonstrated the threat they pose throughout this season, with Dean Smith’s side sitting comfortably in eleventh position just a point adrift of ninth-placed Arsenal.
Leicester City v West Bromwich Albion
Survival with West Brom would surely top Sam Allardyce’s list of previous great escapes!
While the odds remain firmly against the Baggies, their recent upturn in form will haven given everyone connected to the club a glimmer of hope of dragging themselves clear of danger. Back-to-back victories leave them on 24 points, eight adrift of Newcastle in seventeenth.
However, they will be wary of a backlash from Leicester, who will aiming to get back on track after successive defeats. While still in third, the dip in form will come as concern to manager Brendan Rodgers, particularly with fifth-placed Chelsea now within just two pints of his side.
Victory may prove crucial to both sides in their quest to achieve their differing ambitions.
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