Premier League Week 26 Preview
The Fantastic Four
When Premier League week 26 was thrown up by that ever reliable fixture computer somewhere in the darkest depths of Premier league headquarters, no collective gasps of breath would have been audible, as quite simply, no one could have predicted that the weekend in question would set up meetings between the top four teams in the division. Yet that is exactly what has transpired as Sunday 14th February, Valentine’s Day no less, has more than a slight look of football romance as the Premier League’s four best-performing sides of the season thus far fight it out in two lip-licking contests. In any eventuality, at least two teams will be dropping points, leaving fifth-placed Manchester United in particular (providing they win their game at Sunderland) looking on in glee. Here’s what the football gods have generously given us this coming weekend.
Arsenal V Leicester City, Sunday 14/02/16 at 12.00 GMT
Whatever happens, come Sunday night, Leicester City will continue to be atop the Barclays Premier League thanks to their current five-point advantage, achieved in spectacular style with their 1-3 demolition of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last weekend. The Foxes displayed a combination of counter-attacking flamboyance, steely determination, and perhaps most importantly of all, title-winning ruthlessness in their dismantling of a City side who entered the contest as short-odds favourites with the bookmakers. Yet was anybody truly surprised after what has been witnessed of Claudio Ranieri’s loveable underdogs this remarkable season? In Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester possess the two stand-out attackers of the year, but with the performances of N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and Wes Morgan, among many notable others, starting to gather the praise long overdue, the side from the East-Midlands are displaying all the credentials required of a league-winning side. Write them off at your peril. On Sunday the league leaders face one of only two teams to have defeated them this season – at home no less, and by the convincing scoreline of 2-5 – so Arsenal should enter the game on Sunday confident in their ability to overcome their opponents. Yet Leicester’s counter-attacking style is particularly effective against teams who dominate possession at home, so this trip to the Emirates could well turn out to be another highlight in a truly unbelievable season. Arsenal will enter as favourites, as the majority of teams have done against the Foxes, and will be boosted by the return to fitness of key players such as Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin – even Danny Welbeck is nearing a return. Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere remain sidelined, however. The visitors continue to be rather injury-free, meaning Claudio Ranieri can once again pick from a settled squad – a key factor in the team’s success this season. All eyes on the Emirates on Sunday lunchtime.
Manchester City V Tottenham Hotspur, Sunday 14/02/16 at 16.15 GMT
If the aforementioned game doesn’t provide enough excitement for one lazy Sunday, then an afternoon visit up to the Etihad is surely enough to cap off what promises to be a truly exceptional day of Premier League football. Fourth-placed Manchester City entertain second-placed Tottenham, who if not for Leicester City, would surely have taken the prize for biggest surprise-package in this dramatic league season. Tottenham, of course, possess rather more recent success than the Foxes, but Spurs are usually candidates for a fourth or fifth placed finish, not the mantel of champions. With 13 games still to play, it remains to be seen whether Tottenham or indeed Leicester can continue their assault on the title, but at this moment in time, the high-tempo play of this young Tottenham team has not only been a joy to watch, but brought great success with the side only having lost three times in the league this season. Tottenham defeated City 4-1 back at White Hart Lane in October, and will be buoyed by the performance of the league leaders at the usually impenetrable fortress that is the Etihad Stadium last weekend. But at the same time, Mauricio Pochettino will be wary of a scolded City seeking redemption for their limp defeat. Manchester City’s play has been lethargic at times, symptomatic of an aging squad, yet Manuel Pellegrini’s big spenders still possess unrivalled quality all over the park, and the form of Sergio Aguero – seven goals in his last six league games – will be of particular concern to the visitors. City boast a rather depressing injury list at present, which was recently added to due to an ankle knock picked up by David Silva, but again, a side with the resources of the Manchester giants should be expected to cope with such eventualities. Tottenham, meanwhile, have a much lighter injury load but the loss of Jan Vertonghen, potentially out for the season with an medial ligament knee injury, could well be felt in a game of such magnitude as the untested Kevin Wimmer comes in for his biggest game as a Spurs player so far. We will all need a lie down after this one completes a jaw-dropping day of Premier League action.
Full list of Week 26 fixtures
Sunderland V Manchester United, Saturday 13/02/16 at 12.45 GMT
Bournemouth V Stoke City, Saturday 13/02/16 at 15.00 GMT
Crystal Palace V Watford, Saturday 13/02/16 at 15.00 GMT
Everton V West Bromwich Albion, Saturday 13/02/16 at 15.00 GMT
Norwich City V West Ham United, Saturday 13/02/16 at 15.00 GMT
Swansea City V Southampton, Saturday 13/02/16 at 15.00 GMT
Chelsea V Newcastle United, Saturday 13/02/16 at 17.30 GMT
Aston Villa V Liverpool, Sunday 14/02/16 at 14.05 GMT
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 12.00 GMT on 012/02/16
By: Steven Paget