Top 5 Premier League Story Lines ahead of Matchday 22
The Premier League gives us another battle of Top Four hopefuls, while other competitors will see a key chance to either gain or make up ground.
[ MORE: Man United back atop money table ]
Down in the relegation zone, however, is another story. Tough matches await the four lowest sides, with three sides on the road and a fourth hosting Everton.
All that and more, below.
Make or break at the Etihad Stadium?
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC
If 10 points back of Chelsea isn’t enough for Man City boss Pep Guardiola to concede the PL title -- and it shouldn’t be -- 13 could do the trick. And Spurs’ seven point gap would feel dire should it dip to 10.
With the Blues expected to handle Hull City at Stamford Bridge, both Spurs and City are facing extreme damage to their title hopes when the London club looks to complete a season sweep of Guardiola’s side.
Time has proven that electric talent doesn’t mandate instant success in the Premier League, but many eyes will be trained on Gabriel Jesus should he debut for City. The Brazilian wonderkid has already made an impact in the Olympics, World Cup qualifying, and the Brazilian top-flight. The PL is next on his list.
Relegation candidates sweating bullets
Liverpool vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Crystal Palace vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC
West Brom vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League ExtraTime
Chelsea vs. Hull City — Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
It’s getting to be that time of year, when being more than three points above the drop zone feels like the freshest possible air.
No one in this batch of four knows that feeling well at all.
Crystal Palace and Hull City are level with 16 points, one ahead of Sunderland and Swansea City. Only the Black Cats will truly fancy their chances at a win this weekend.
That said, Hull supporters will feel confidence anew after a couple of transfer buys and a healthy Abel Hernandez joined new manager Marco Silva at the KC. A win over Bournemouth will buoy their confidence, but a trip to Chelsea is a tall task.
Right about now Palace fans are putting their hopes in goal differential and weak fellow relegation candidates rather than “never been dropped” Sam Allardyce. Their goal-leaking side welcomes an Everton side that hung four on Man City.
Sunderland simply needs to find a way to break down Tony Pulis’ Baggies at the Hawthorns. Given the chance to put heat on the three other candidates, a win would serve much more than a few moments outside the drop zone.
Gunners need to avoid pitfall
Arsenal vs. Burnley — Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN
The first of two home matches against middle or lower table sides, Arsenal needs all three points against Sean Dyche’s cagey and well-oiled Clarets. They sit in the top half of the table, and would relish added a big-name to its list of defeated PL sides.
Simply put, Arsenal’s title hopes rest as much on the points it needs to claim as massive encounters like Feb. 4’s trip to Chelsea.
Mourinho’s Red Devils go for 17
Stoke City vs. Manchester United— Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN
It’s been 16 matches since Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat as Manchester United boss, and Stoke’s recent dates against top sides haven’t gone well. All three were on the road, but the Potters have fallen to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal by a combined score of 11-4. Does this make it fait accompli? No, but like Arsenal vs. Burnley, you like to think a true title fighter finds a way to three points.
Slumping Saints and Foxes
Southampton vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Perhaps Saints and Leicester supporters figured their sides might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics, with European competition on the docket and key pieces leaving this offseason from either the dugout or the playing field. But 13th and 15th? Unlikely. Leicester can take another step toward righting the ship by heaping misery on the home side, who sits three points clear of the Foxes and eight ahead of the drop zone.