With title rivals playing at different times, Premier League top spot could change hands three times before an outright leader emerges at the end of Saturday’s fixtures.
Spurs have a score to settle with Chelsea
On Saturday, just over six months after that fateful Monday evening, Tottenham will return to the scene of their excruciating title surrender.
It was at Stamford Bridge that Chelsea ended Spurs’ title challenge in an ill-tempered, high-octane clash that produced 11 yellow cards, with eight of them shown to Spurs players.
The visitors had arrived at the home of their London rivals needing to win to keep their title dream alive. There was no room for error.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were 2-0 up going into the break and looked on course for a victory that would keep them on Leicester City’s coattails… until the Blues shredded the script.
Gary Cahill pulled one back early in the second half before Eden Hazard, who had hitherto endured an instantly forgettable campaign as a pale imitation of his imperious self, scored a cracking equaliser to end Spurs’ hopes and hand the title to the Foxes.
Chelsea’s delight at derailing their north London visitors’ title challenge was palpable. The glee found demonstrative expression in over-exuberant celebrations at the final whistle. There was no doubt the Blues revelled in their role as party-poopers.
The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Spurs players. Player accounts say the away dressing room was suitably funereal. Tears were shed as inconsolable players tried to come to terms with what had just happened. The vanquished reflected on the one that got away.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 25, 2016
This immediate history between Chelsea and Spurs provides the backdrop for Saturday’s clash. There is an intriguing undercurrent attendant on this fixture and that bodes well for a feisty contest. The stakes are not as high as they were back in May, but make no mistake about what this fixture means to both teams.
This is a grudge match. It is as much about exacting a measure of revenge as it is about the three points on offer. Spurs, who will be putting their unbeaten record on the line, have the earliest opportunity to get their own back for that soul-destroying defeat six months ago. They will relish the chance to peg back the in-form league leaders.
Antonio Conte’s men have the bit between the teeth at the moment. If, as they say, strong defences win titles, then the Blues are looking like genuine contenders. They will go into the match looking for a seventh successive clean sheet.
A three-way tussle for top spot
Man City can steal a march on rivals by beating Burnley in Saturday’s early kick-off. After relinquishing top spot two weeks ago, a win would see them return to the summit, albeit for a couple of honours pending the outcome of Liverpool’s home clash with Sunderland.
The Reds’ stay at the top lasted just a week thanks to a goalless draw at Southampton last time out. On paper, the hosts should prevail but underestimate Sunderland at their own peril. David Moyes’s men come into this clash buoyed by two successive wins as efforts to rehabilitate a campaign that got off to a wretched start continue.
A win would catapult Liverpool to the top. With their team’s fixture out of the way, Jurgen Klopp and the Reds faithful would then keep a watching brief on proceedings at Stamford Bridge, the day’s late kick-off.
When Pardew meets Bradley
Alan Pardew is a manager under mounting pressure. Crystal Palace are on a five-match losing streak going into the clash with fellow strugglers Swansea City. If the Eagles come a cropper at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday then the manager will have every reason to start worrying about his job. There are signs the Selhurst Park natives are already getting restless.
Pardew’s opposite number, Bob Bradley, is also coming under scrutiny. Bradley would have been encouraged by his side’s draw at temperamental Everton last time out. Only a last-gasp equaliser denied the American his first win since taking over the managerial reins at the beginning of October. He will be desperate to break his Premier League duck, sooner rather than later.