Premier League leaders Chelsea can be pulled into a true dogfight for the title if they slip up at home to Manchester United.
A win for the Red Devils would not only leave the door ajar for the Old Trafford club, it would also benefit Arsenal who will be on FA Cup semi-final duty, bizarrely at the same time Chelsea and United will lock horns.
At the other end of the table, suddenly revived Leicester City will look to climb off the bottom by taking three points off Swansea City. Meanwhile, slumping West Bromwich Albion could find themselves dragged into the mess if they suffer another defeat at Crystal Palace.
When first meets third, you may be thinking fireworks. But Chelsea’s tussle with United will be more like flickering sparks than anything else.
Managers Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal are both pragmatic tacticians. The latter generally tries to play the more expansive game but also knows how to restrict the opposition when he has to.
Meanwhile, Mourinho will point to Chelsea being the first Premier League team to score 100 goals in all competitions this season as proof of his side’s expansive style. Yet no manager is as ruthlessly dour in the big games than Mourinho.
He’s mastered the art of frustrating illustrious opponents and getting results that see his teams over the line in tight title races. This race isn’t exactly tight considering Chelsea hold an eight-point advantage over United and have a game in hand on both the Red Devils and Arsenal, who trail the leaders by seven.
But Mourinho will know a United win will blow things wide open. The key to pulling off a victory at Stamford Bridge will be on the left side where Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini will be without the injured Daley Blind.
United’s main problem will be shackling terrific wing wizard Eden Hazard. The Belgian trickster is a stronger candidate for PFA Player of the Year recognition, per Eurosport.com’s Pitchside writer Ben Lyttleton.
If Hazard is consistently afforded space against the vulnerable right side of United’s defence, Van Gaal’s men will be in trouble.
Ultimately, count on Mourinho and Van Gaal cancelling each other out with endless tactical manoeuvring the way they did when the two teams drew 1-1 at Old Trafford, back in late October.
Another score should be expected when Leicester host the Swans. The Foxes haven’t been short of goals recently, thanks to a pacy front line.
Jamie Vardy is the form man and quick enough to stretch powerful Swansea centre-back Ashley Williams. But Williams and the rest of the back four should be equally concerned by Andrej Kramaric.
he Croatian is mobile and intelligent. He has both the strength and technique to create chances and drag defenders out of position.
Yet Garry Monks’ Swansea are also adept at creating chances, usually via crafty moving and stylish passing combinations. That same formula will match Leicester’s efforts in front of goal and cost the Foxes a pair of invaluable points.
While Leicester will miss an opportunity at the bottom, Chelsea will be guilty of the same at the top of the table. The Blues’ slip will offer a slither of faint hope for the Gunners.
Source: James Dudko, bleacherreport.com