As we look ahead to Round 17 in the Premier League, spare a thought for Crystal Palace. They’re probably still seething at the nature of the goals they conceded against Manchester United on Wednesday and now they have to take on a Chelsea team that has won 10 games on the bounce.
It would take something extraordinary from Alan Pardew’s side to stop the Blues opening up a nine-point lead at the top for a day at least. Antonio Conte seems to have the answer to any question. How to replace Eden Hazard and rest Nemanja Matic? It’s easy. Just unleash Cesc Fabregas and Willian and watch them dominate Sunderland.
So much for the early game. At the end of Saturday’s programme, Manchester United can build on an excellent week (two wins in four days) by pulling level with Spurs and within three points of Manchester City in fourth. But first they need to beat West Bromwich Albion and their midweek hat-trick hero Salomon Rondon, who lie in wait at the Hawthornes in what could be one of the games of the weekend.
The most high-profile fixtures come on Sunday and Monday. City and Arsenal will both be eyeing second place when they meet Sunday at the Etihad. Arsenal, the only side in the top six not to win in midweek, suddenly looked defensively vulnerable at Everton on Tuesday. Can City exploit that now that Pep Guardiola has apparently tempered his idealism with a dose of the pragmatism that saw accident-prone John Stones benched and YaYa Toure once again brought in to allow David Silva the freedom to torment teams?
Of late this has been a high-scoring fixture and Sergio Aguero’s absence will be keenly felt if this turns into a shootout with Alexis Sanchez pulling the trigger for the Gunners.
Talking of pragmatism, Jurgen Klopp showed plenty in ditching goalkeeper Loris Karius for the trip to Middlesbrough. Simon Mignolet duly delivered a clean sheet, even if their hosts were really poor on Wednesday.
Adam Lallana and company were stunning both in reclaiming and then using the ball at the Riverside. Although Everton manager Ronald Koeman cajoled his under-performing team into producing the result of the season against Arsenal last time out, Monday’s Merseyside Derby could once again prove testing for the Toffees.
There are already some nerves jangling in the lower reaches of the table where West Ham were the only team in the bottom eight to win in midweek. If they can repeat it against Hull at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon, their nerves will all-but disappear and perhaps they can go about recapturing some of last season’s form.
Elsewhere at the bottom, everyone will take heart from the fact that Burnley and Leicester are away from home again this weekend and their woeful form on the road tends to mean everyone can make up ground on them.