Chelsea will face a resurgent Manchester United on Saturday in what could be the the first big hurdle in its way to English Premier League title. On the other hand, United’s resurgence will be given the ultimate test at Stamford Bridge.
The league trophy is looming into view for Chelsea, which is seven points clear with a game in hand and needs 12 points from its last seven games. That seemingly is a formality given Chelsea is unbeaten since Jan. 1 and has developed a knack of winning games without playing at its best.
Chelsea’s next two games are against United and Arsenal, the nearest challengers to the leaders and the two in-form teams in the country. For those looking for a late twist to the title race, it’s now or never.
United has won its last six games — including victories against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City — so is playing well enough to cause an upset this weekend, when two of football’s great tacticians go head to head. Jose Mourinho was given his break in management by United manager Louis van Gaal when he worked as an assistant to the Dutchman at Barcelona from 1997-2000.
If United becomes the first team to beat Chelsea in the league at Stamford Bridge this season, it would move Van Gaal’s team above Arsenal and into second place. Arsenal is playing in the FA Cup semifinals against second-tier club Reading in a game at Wembley Stadium that runs concurrently to Chelsea-Man United.
The other semifinal match sees Liverpool take on Aston Villa, also at Wembley on Sunday.
MAN CITY vs WEST HAM
In another big games of premier league this weekend, Manchester City will take on West Ham.
City was level on points with Chelsea on Januray 1 and perfectly placed for a shot at defending its title. Three and a half months later, the champions are stuttering in fourth place with four losses in its last six league games and doubts growing over whether they can even stay in the Champions League places. City is four points above fifth-place Liverpool heading into a home match against West Ham on Sunday.
Another loss — against a side with just one win since mid-January — could have dire consequences for City manager Manuel Pellegrini, whose position is under even greater scrutiny following Juergen Klopp’s announcement on Wednesday that he will be ending his seven-year spell with Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season.
Aggrieved at the club’s lack of ambition and dismayed at the team tumbling down the league, Newcastle fans have had enough. Supporters of the northeast team are planning to boycott Sunday’s match against Tottenham at St. James’ Park, with a fans’ group expecting as many as 16,000 people to take part.
Newcastle has lost five straight league games to drop to 13th place and many fans have been critical of owner Mike Ashley’s refusal to spend much money to strengthen the team. It was revealed this week that the club made a profit of 18.7 million pounds ($27.9 millions) in the last financial year and had more than 34 million pounds ($50.9 million) of available funds.
“The idea of a boycott has been building for a long time and you can’t blame the fans,” said Mark Jensen, editor of Newcastle’s fanzine.