Top 5 Premier League Storylines: North London Derby and the clogged title race
A week ago, the Premier League title race appeared to be headed towards the closest finish ever. And then it got closer. Going into Matchday 11, three teams are tied at the top of the table with 23 points, while one sits back at 22, another at 20, and one lurking at 18. Almost all of those teams are in good form. So who will take control?
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Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 7:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)
One of these teams is on a roll, the other is reeling. One of these teams has weathered the injury bug, the other is seeing it scuttle their season.
Arsenal welcomes the hated Spurs to the Emirates for an early Sunday kick with the Gunners on an incredible 15-match unbeaten run across all competitions, with their only loss of the year coming in league play on the opening game of the season. Since then, they’ve won 12 times including seven of their last eight in Premier League play. They won a dicey yet gutty one over Ludogorets in Champions League play midweek and are in fantastic form.
Tottenham, meanwhile, is in the dumps. The club looks completely lost in the absence of Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose, with Eric Dier forced from his usual holding midfield role back into defense. While the defensive record hasn’t faltered during the Belgian’s injury layoff, the build-up has, with Dier not there to provide link-up to feed the attack. Rose’s loss has compounded that problem, and now with Moussa Dembele limping off midweek in the disappointing loss to Borussia Monchengladbach that left Spurs looking likely to fall out of the Champions League, matters look even more dire.
Manchester City vs. Middlesbrough — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)
It wasn’t that long ago that Pep Guardiola faced the longest winless run of his career and the questions seemed to prod Manchester City from all directions. Now, after a demolition of lowly West Brom and a famous win over Barcelona in the Champions League, fortunes have drastically turned and City appears to be a title favorite yet again. They will be challenged against a defensively stout Middlesbrough side that held Arsenal scoreless two weekends ago and may have found its shooting boots last time out. Will City falter after the big win on Wednesday, or will they channel that momentum into a serious title hunt?
Desperate to Win
Swansea City vs. Manchester United — Sunday, 10:00 a.m. ET (CNBC/NBCSports.com)
Two managers enter Liberty Stadium in desperate need of a win. Only one can emerge victorious. Bob Bradley is under enormous pressure at Swansea City given the circumstances of his hire, and having taken a step back in last week’s comprehensive loss to Stoke, the need for a statement win - and the resulting three points - grows even greater. Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, has taken charge of lackluster performance after lackluster performance, and with Manchester United stuck in eighth in the Premier League table, the Red Devils needs points now to gain a foothold in the table’s clogged top half. Just one win in their last seven has Mourinho struggling for options up front; the 37 shots without a goal against Burnley last weekend was particularly infuriating. Which side - if any - will grab a win?
Establishing a Bottom 3
With Swansea taking on Manchester United, the other two clubs that make up the relegation zone have tough tests. Sunderland must hit the road to take on a Bournemouth club that’s yet to pick up a marquee win but has also taken care of business against the bottom third. Meanwhile, Hull City hosts a Southampton side sitting ninth in the table and has picked up points against better sides. The Tigers have lost six in a row and seven of eight, and any further of a slide could condemn them to the drop even before Christmas.
Should these floundering teams all falter again, they are in serious danger of establishing an early bottom three, leaving them with lots of extra legwork to pull themselves out. At the moment, it’s hard to envision anyone else falling far enough to leave the door open, and it’s on the clubs in the drop zone to change that.
Chelsea vs. Everton — Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET (NBC/NBCSports.com)
Chelsea is arguably in the best form of anyone in the Premier League, but that will be put to the test this weekend with a featured matchup against Everton at Stamford Bridge. The Toffees began this season with a bang, but had slumped from their fast start before a convincing 2-0 win over West Ham last weekend turned things back in their favor. Ross Barkley looks to be set for a stellar season as Everton could challenge for a European place, but with the Chelsea machine officially whirring at full capacity, three points for the Blues could see Antonio Conte capitalize on a slip-up by any of the three clubs tied just a point ahead of them.