MANCHESTER (AFP): Manchester City and Chelsea will play off for the biggest prize in European club football later this month, but there is plenty on the line for both clubs when they meet in a prelude to the Champions League final on Saturday.
City can wrap up a fifth Premier League title in 10 years with victory, cementing their place as the dominant force in English football over the past decade since money began flowing in from Abu Dhabi to build a dynasty on the field. Chelsea’s transformation under Thomas Tuchel has taken them to a third Champions League final since their own transformational takeover when Roman Abramovich bought the Blues in 2003.
However, the Blues are still paying for a slow start to the season under Frank Lampard with their place in next season’s Champions League far from guaranteed.
Tuchel’s men are fourth in the Premier League, three points clear of surprise top-four challengers West Ham. But should City seal the title in style and lay down a marker for Istanbul, Tottenham and Liverpool are also not out of the running for the top four. Chelsea ended City’s quest for a quadruple of trophies when they last met just three weeks ago in the FA Cup semi-finals.
However, that 1-0 win at Wembley was against a shadow City side as Pep Guardiola prioritised progressing in the Champions League. A key to both clubs’ success has been their strength in depth and both managers could make several changes this weekend after the exertions of seeing off Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in midweek.
CHANCE FOR THE CHASING PACK
A trip to City is only the start of a tough run in for Chelsea, who also face Arsenal and third-placed Leicester in their final four league games of the campaign, with another meeting against Leicester in the FA Cup final in between.
Gareth Bale gave Tottenham a taste of what they have been missing with the Wales forward on the bench for most of the campaign under Jose Mourinho, prior to the Portuguese coach’s sacking, as he scored his first Premier League hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of already-relegated Sheffield United last weekend. Victory for Spurs in Saturday’s early game at Leeds would take Ryan Mason’s men to within two points of Chelsea.
Liverpool are seven points off fourth, but have a game in hand after their clash at Manchester United was called off due to fan protests last weekend. Last season’s title winners host struggling Southampton at Anfield on Saturday needing a win to keep their chances of Champions League football next season alive.
West Ham have arguably the easiest run in of the top-four contenders, which begins with the visit of Everton to the London Stadium on Sunday. “It would be an incredible achievement,” said David Moyes, who succeeded in just keeping the Hammers up last season. “We’re not far away from the Champions League positions. We’ve got to keep believing.”
FULHAM, WEST BROM ON THE BRINK
The battle to beat the drop is far less competitive and could be decided this weekend if Fulham and West Brom fail to win. West Brom boss Sam Allardyce admitted his side need a “magic miracle and some fairy dust” to avoid the drop as they are 10 points adrift of safety with just 12 left to play for.
Allardyce has never previously been relegated from the Premier League in spells with Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Everton, but the great escape has been beyond him at the Baggies.