Sunday, February 14, 2016 8:13 am
A quirk of the fixture list has pitted the top four against each other and although there are still 13 matches to go, this weekend could prove pivotal.
Against all the odds, Leicester have sustained their push for a first-ever English top-flight title, and their magnificent 3-1 win at Manchester City last time out finally convinced bookmakers to install them as favourites.
Tottenham’s odds for a first English title since 1961 also shortened after they eased into second spot, five points behind Leicester, with a narrow victory over Watford last weekend.
While Arsenal and Manchester City, third and fourth respectively, are familiar with the home stretch of a title chase, once described by former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as “squeaky bum time”, Leicester and Tottenham are entering unfamiliar territory.
Leicester spent most of the past decade outside the Premier League, while Tottenham’s target is usually a top-four finish, something they have achieved only twice since 1992.
With the pressure mounting, Arsenal, who are also five points behind the leaders, will probe for mental cracks having inflicted one of only two league defeats this season on Leicester.
That was a 5-2 hammering at the King Power Stadium in September — a result many expected would precipitate a return to the lower regions of the table.
Instead, it sparked a 10-match unbeaten run that was halted by Liverpool in December, since when Leicester have scaled the summit on the back of another seven-game stretch without defeat.
Arsenal are chasing a first title since 2005 but have stuttered since the turn of the year and victory at Bournemouth last week was their first in five games.
With a huge Champions League tie looming against Barcelona, beating Leicester would give Arsene Wenger’s side momentum with which to attack the final months of the season.
Manchester City, six points adrift of Leicester, plundered 10 goals in Tottenham’s last two league visits to the Etihad Stadium with Sergio Aguero scoring six of them.
They also won 5-1 at Tottenham in 2014, but have already experienced Tottenham’s rapid improvement this season, going down 4-1 at White Hart lane in September.
The third match of the day is between Liverpool and Aston Villa. The match comes in between the two major ones, that have the possibility of defining the leadership of the League.