Second-placed Tottenham are hot on the heels of Leicester City in the Barclays Premier League while the Manchester Derby may decide European qualification
By Lester J Wan
With most Barclays Premier League teams having just eight or nine matches left to play, the title chase is at its nail-
Meanwhile, in the sideshow of the “Battle of Manchester”, sixth-placed Manchester United’s extremely poor form looks likely to continue against its city neighbours in fourth place.
Crystal Palace VS Leicester City, 19 Mar
Will Riyad Mahrez continue to inspire Leicester’s attack and help the Foxes overcome their final hurdles in the title chase? (Photo: mooinblack / Shutterstock.com)
After defeating relegation-threatened Newcastle United (who recently fired manager Steve McLaren and appointed Rafa Benitez) on Tuesday, Leicester travels to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace. Although Palace has had a poor run of form in the league, it has made it to the FA Cup semi-finals with the 2-0 win against Reading on Mar 11. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that Palace will be able to stand against decent opposition, and the Foxes are likely to overcome the Eagles even though a fight is to be expected.
More recently, the Foxes have had to eke out results but the bottom line is that Leicester is still top of the Premier League table and the team has shown that it’s not over-reliant on its two top scorers, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, such as with Shinji Okazaki’s wonder-strike against the Magpies and Leonardo Ulloa’s late winner against the Canaries (Norwich).
At this stage, unless a surprise crops up, most punters would expect that Leicester’s dogged determination — as well as a fairly comfortable set of remaining fixtures — will clinch it the Premier League title.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Leicester
Manchester City VS Manchester United, 20 Mar
How long more can Sergio Aguero carry Manchester City, which has been suffering from poor form for a long time? (Photo: photo-oxser / Shutterstock.com)
Manchester City’s standing in the League and form are deceptive. Apart from the 4-0 thrashing of bottom club Aston Villa and the win over Dynamo Kiev on Feb 24 in the Champions League — Capital One Cup win on penalties aside — City has been thrashed 3-0 by Liverpool on Mar 2, 5-1 by struggling Chelsea on Feb 21, 3-1 by Leicester on Feb 6, and also lost to Tottenham 2-1 on Feb 14.
City’s run of form has been quite appalling, and it is uncertain how much the pedigree of players such as Sergio Aguero — who has been carrying the team with his goals — will help City remain among the cream of the crop of the Premier League, or even come out the winner in the “Battle of Manchester”.
Fortunately for City, United’s poor run of form doesn’t evoke much confidence either. In the League, United has lost to West Bromwich Albion on Mar 6 and to Liverpool on Mar 10.
A late goal from Anthony Martial to force a draw and replay in the FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham did little to inspire confidence, and the Old Trafford faithful showed loss of patience by expressing their sentiments on various managerial decisions.
Between the two inconsistent teams of Manchester, the red half looks set to bleed goals, and along with it the dream of European competition will ebb away.
Manchester City 2-0 Manchester Utd
Tottenham Hotspur VS AFC Bournemouth, 21 Mar
Harry Kane has been a revelation and will hope to lead Spurs to its first top-flight English league title in 55 years. (Photo: CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com)
Tottenham may have made a big deal of its 2-0 win over bottom-dweller Aston Villa but — let’s face it — Villa only has 16 points this season so far. The win was not a significant result.
In the past month, Tottenham has lost to Crystal Palace at home and to West Ham, drawn with Arsenal, and been thrashed by Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League. Unlike Leicester, its inexperience at the top appears to
Don’t get me wrong; Spurs might end up with the title after all. White Hart Lane is home to many a quality footballer, such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli.
On the other hand, since the start of March, AFC Bournemouth has scored two goals or more in each of its league matches. Steve Cook and Joshua King especially have been in scoring form, while Benik Afobe, Matt Ritchie and Charlie Daniels have also been key contributors.
This should be a close fight but one expects Spurs to nick the Cherries with greater impetus in the title challenge.
Tottenham 2-1 Bournemouth
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 148, March 18 – March 31, 2016, with the headline ‘Red Devils fizzle while Spurs on heels of Foxes’.