London: Chelsea have a gilt-edged opportunity to open up a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League this weekend and there is nothing their main title rivals can do about it.
With second-placed Liverpool having a week off and Arsenal and Manchester City in FA Cup action, all the chasers can do is hope Tottenham Hotspur can end one of the longest jinx’s in English football and upset the odds at Stamford Bridge.
Twenty four years have passed and 15 managers have come and gone at the north London club since Tottenham last won at Chelsea — a miserable sequence that even the most optimistic Spurs fans would struggle to believe will end on Saturday.
Chelsea are gaining momentum in ominous fashion as the home straight to the title race looms and while Manchester City will have three games in hand after the weekend, a nine-point deficit to Jose Mourinho’s side would leave them precious little margin for error.
Perhaps a glimmer of optimism for Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and City’s Manuel Pellegrini is that Tottenham have the best away record in the top flight and are still harbouring top-four hopes themselves.
Despite not playing fluently, they are fifth and victory at Chelsea would leave them just a point behind City and three adrift of arch-rivals Arsenal who they host next week.
Tim Sherwood’s side have picked up 29 points on the road this season, winning nine games out of 14.
Chelsea have been strong at home, though, winning 12 and drawing two as Mourinho’s incredible statistic of never having lost a league game at Stamford Bridge rolls on. Champions Manchester United have the chance to edge a little closer to the top four with a Saturday kickoff at West Bromwich Albion who earlier in the season won at Old Trafford for the first time in 35 years.
Albion fans mocked United manager David Moyes that day, suggesting he would be “sacked in the morning” but it was their manager Steve Clarke who was cast aside and West Brom are now hovering just above the relegation zone with new boss Pepe Mel under pressure.
Defeat for United would surely end their remote hopes of finishing in the Champions League places, leaving their best route back into the competition to win it, although with a 0-2 deficit to overturn against Olympiakos in the last 16 that scenario looks unlikely too.
Midfielder Juan Mata said March could be a make or break month for United.
“We have five Premier League games against important rivals such as Liverpool and Man City,” he told United’s website.
“We do know it is a crucial month to climb up positions on the league table and we are going to give our best to try and win every single match.”
United have won just one of their last five games in all competitions, a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, having drawn two and lost two. Wayne Rooney will be key to their fortunes. The striker has scored six goals in his last five Premier League starts against Albion and will be expected to deliver again on Saturday. The weekend’s other matches all involve teams battling to avoid the drop.
The bottom two clubs meet with Cardiff City hosting Fulham in a match where for once the description “a six-pointer” is not out of place. Defeat for either in the Welsh capital would see the trapdoor open a little wider. “This Saturday is now the biggest game for us, Fulham at home,” Cardiff’s Ben Turner told the club’s website.
“We’ve been saying for a few games at home that they are ‘must win’ recently, and this game more than fits that description.