Having just watched Spurs draw 1-1 at home to West Brom in a game they needed to win to keep pressure on Leicester, I sit here knowing the Foxes are just one win away from the most unlikely title win in the history of the English game. From narrowly avoiding relegation last season, to being on the brink of Premier League champions the next, is virtually unheard of, especially in an era where wealthy clubs tend to monopolise trophies. Leicester could clinch the title next Sunday if they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford – it won’t be easy (Utd have improved in recent weeks and are still fighting to qualify for the Champions League), but Leicester have defied expectations all season, and with the finish line now tantalisingly close, they are bound to give it everything they’ve got to get over that mark.

Truly incredible.

Having just watched Leicester City thrash Swansea 4-0 to reopen an eight point lead at the top of the Premier League table (Spurs host West Brom tomorrow), I can only continue to marvel at a season that has defied convention almost every step of the way.

Leicester are already guaranteed Champions League football next season – this time last season they were fighting to avoid relegation. Their transformation is the most meteoric surge upwards that I can think of in any sport, and Claudio Ranieri deserves every bit of credit and praise that comes his way for overseeing this incredible journey. His side are now at the stage where they need five points from their last three games to clinch the title – assuming Spurs win every one of their remaining games. Should Tottenham fail to beat West Brom on Monday, a Leicester win at Manchester United would see them crowned champions (what an atmosphere that game would have).

Tottenham themselves would be worthy champions in their own right, and with Harry Kane blasting in the goals and Dele Ali proving to be a dynamic dynamo in midfield, they have played very well all season. The prospect of finishing above hated local rivals Arsenal for the first time in 22 years would be powerful motivation enough, but they are not out of the title fight yet (indeed, they are realistically the only ones who can stop Leicester). In any other season, they’d be roared on by most neutrals, given the style of football they’ve played.

Arsenal slipped up yet again at Sunderland, outplaying the home side in the first half but lacking the composure to score, whilst in the second half they were very much under the cosh, and might be grateful for the point they got. The possibility of missing out on Champions League football still very much exists for Wenger’s men; they need to sharpen up quickly if they are to avoid not only seeing Spurs finish above them, but also missing out on Europe’s premier competition.

So, will Leicester hold their nerve? Can Spurs catch them? Will Manchester United yet snatch a top four place? And who will join Aston Villa in the Championship next season?

It’s been a difficult past couple of weeks for Arsenal and their manager, Arsene Wenger. Defeats to Man Utd and Swansea, plus a draw with Spurs, have eradicated the momentum they might have gained from beating Leicester. A reprieve, in the form of thrashing Hull in their FA Cup replay, offered some form of optimism, but that too has now been dashed, with Watford putting the Gunners out of the competition with a 2-1 win at the Emirates.

I didn’t watch the game, so I can’t pass comment on whether Arsenal were unlucky, or lacked a killer edge, but with their title campaign in serious trouble and their Champions League campaign likely to come to an inglorious end this week, Arsenal needed something to give them cause for hope, and that has now been dashed. Even worse for them, Spurs won 2-0 against Aston Villa to move six points clear of the Gunners.

Arsenal have a game in hand, so the gap may shrink pretty quickly, but Wenger’s record of having Arsenal finish ahead of Spurs every season he’s been in charge has never looked more in jeopardy, and this may hurt his reputation among the fans more than anything else.

Speaking of Spurs, Kane and Ali were the conspirators in both Tottenham’s goals against an almost certainly doomed Villa. Roy Hodgson, if you’re reading this, those two need to be on the plane to France. Again, I didn’t see the game, but given Villa’s woeful performances this season, it’s not difficult to imagine Spurs having a relatively straightforward night. The only certainty I can say about this season is that Villa will be relegated – the only question is when.

Van Gaal Under Fire

Elsewhere, Man Utd were held to a draw at home against West Ham in their FA Cup tie, meaning a replay at the home of the Hammers, who have been impressive this season – they will fancy their chances! For Utd, it’s the latest in a string of underwhelming performances.

With speculation around Van Gaal’s future refusing to go away, I for one am struggling to work out what his plan is. Utd are not lacking in attacking talent, yet LVG routinely plays key men out of position and seems to discourage the sort of fast-paced, attacking football that Utd built so many title challenges upon. Only by the grace of David De Gea, their ‘keeper, have Man Utd avoided having a much worse season than they’re already having – if Real Madrid (who have been sniffing around) should poach him, Utd will struggle, even if they get Mourinho in to replace LVG.

Is Pellegrini Gone Already?!

Pellegrini may not be literally out the door until the end of the season (indeed, his future is ironically secure – he is definitely leaving), but it would seem he may be gone in spirit. Manchester City’s title chances took yet another blow with a draw away against relegation-threatened Norwich, leaving them 12 points off the pace. It’s hard to figure out why City are playing so poorly – if nothing else, the players should be looking to impress their incoming manager, Pep Guardiola, as he will be aware of who is (and who isn’t) playing well, and will be making plans accordingly. The lack of fight and spirit for a side that was a few years ago winning titles has to be a worry to Guardiola, and if the players have any sense, they’ll start fighting.

Leicester March On

I watched most of Leicester’s game against Newcastle and it would be fair to say that Leicester were not at their fluent best. Newcastle were perhaps buoyed by the arrival of their new manager, Rafa Benitez, and actually played reasonably well, but a moment of magic from Okazaki (a brilliant, opportunistic overhead kick in the first half) was enough to separate the two sides, and move Leicester back to being five points clear of Spurs with eight games to go. It seemed that at times Leicester were trying to be too intricate with their play, and maybe nerves were also beginning to show, but the home side held on to claim a vital three points.

For Arsenal and Man City, they now must win their game in hand if they are to consider a title challenge even remotely possible. For Newcastle, their relegation worries have only deepened, but Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s improved performance. For everyone else, there is still a lot to play for.

It seems that every week Leicester are expected to fail, or fall short, or drop points. Watford, away from home, was billed as a banana skin, yet on a weekend where Leicester’s two closest challengers drew with each other, the Foxes once again claimed 3 points to move five points clear at the top (meaning they are guaranteed top spot for at least one more week).

Tottenham vs Arsenal was billed as vital for both sides and whilst Spurs remain three points ahead of their North London rivals, it must gall them to have failed to take maximum points from a winning position, especially with a numerical advantage. Arsenal will be the happier team, but not by much, as they are now eight points adrift of Leicester.

Two points behind Arsenal come Manchester City, who thumped a listless Aston Villa side who must now be wondering when, rather than if, they’ll be relegated. City needed a good result after their Anfield hammering, and Villa (who have been fodder for most teams this season) dutifully provided one. City’s win moves them three points clear of Man Utd once more, after Utd limped to defeat at West Brom.

Utd’s loss means West Ham move a point above them into fifth, and the Hammers may yet even fancy Champions League qualification, not something to be ruled out in this insane season.

Liverpool won for the third successive time, albeit somewhat fortunately, away to Crystal Palace. That result moves them three points behind Utd, with a game in hand. Liverpool and Utd go head to head in the Europa League in midweek, in the first leg of a game that could define their seasons – if either side goes on to win the Europa League, they get a berth in the Champions League next season.

Whilst Leicester City grab the headlines for continuing to top the league table, their two biggest rivals for the title are going head to head this weekend, in a clash that runs much deeper than a pair of title contenders battling it out.

Tottenham vs Arsenal. The North London Derby. A match that always gets hearts racing and passions soaring (not to mention the news feed on my Facebook turning decidedly heated). Arsenal have not finished below Spurs since the mid 90s (1995, if memory serves me right), but Tottenham are looking a much better side than they have in years, so much so in fact that they have earned the right to be taken seriously as title challengers. Arsenal have drawn one and lost three in all competitions – Spurs may have lost to West Ham in midweek, but prior to that had won their last six league games.

As a Liverpool fan I am for the most part neutral in this one, but with my dad, mum, brother, father-in-law and brother-in-law all supporting Tottenham (and my wife is somewhat fond of them too, as are numerous friends), I would not begrudge them a win at the weekend and even the title. I would prefer Leicester to win it (on the grounds that, unless it’s Liverpool I favour the underdog), but Spurs would be a good alternative.

Can they best Arsenal at the weekend? On the basis of pure form, I’d say yes, but the nature of derbies is such that teams play differently under the unique pressure of such a game, and this one is all the bigger, seeing as the loser’s title hopes could take a serious knock. It’s Arsenal who are under the greater expectation, and coming off the back of two poor performances, they sorely need a win to get their charge back on track. Tottenham are playing with confidence and might well fancy their chances, but history is not on their side.

My prediction? 2-1 to Spurs.

A busy couple of nights in the Premier League has yielded yet another shift in momentum for various teams all chasing various goals. On Tuesday, Leicester City were held to a draw at home against West Brom, having actually gone behind to begin with, before going 2-1 up at one stage. Their failure to win opened the door for Tottenham to go level on points and ahead on goal difference at the summit – but Spurs fluffed their lines and lost 1-0 to West Ham at Upton Park – a result that keeps the Hammers firmly in the mix for Champions League football (yes, you read that right).

Arsenal meanwhile suffered their second successive Premier League defeat, crashing 2-1 at home to Swansea. Swansea came from behind to beat an Arsenal side that started brightly but were unable to finish their relegation-threatened opponents off. The Gunners are back to being five points behind Leicester, and questions have been asked about their mental strength as the season edges closer to its finale.

Manchester United moved level on points with rivals Manchester City after a 1-o home win over Watford – but United’s ongoing problems were nearly exposed several times, with only ‘keeper De Gea preventing Watford from actually taking what, from the sound of it, would have been a comfortable win.

City meanwhile, went to Anfield on the back of beating Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday. One has to wonder if they would have traded their cup win for a league win last night – Liverpool eased to victory, running out 3-0 winners to keep their own Champions League hopes alive. It was as sharp and incisive a performance as Liverpool have managed all season, achieved ironically without two key players – Sturridge and Coutinho.

In the midst of the chaotic battles going on at the top, the relegation battle is beginning to narrow down to a small handful of sides. Bournemouth’s 2-0 win over Southampton eased their relegation worries – they are now eight points clear of the drop zone, whilst Swansea’s win over Arsenal moved them six points clear. Norwich were roundly beaten at home by a resurgent Chelsea side (who have been marching steadily up the table and may yet fancy their chances of landing European football), whilst Sunderland ideally needed more than a point against Crystal Palace, but that point did move them above Norwich on goal difference.

Aston Villa look doomed. A resounding 3-1 home defeat against Everton means they are eight points off safety with ten games to go – not a fantastic place to be. They have been struggling for some time and if I were in charge there, I’d have one eye on next season, with a view to preparing for life in the Championship.

Newcastle’s defeat at Stoke leaves them level with Sunderland and Norwich – but behind both on goal difference. Stoke’s win puts them only five points off European football themselves, and with the frankly absurd results going on this season, anything is possible as we approach the final run-in.

At this stage, I wouldn’t dare predict anything!

Will their wait go on? Arsenal succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford against Man Utd earlier today, putting them five points behind leaders Leicester with the same number of games played. Having won their previous league fixture (against Leicester), Arsenal might have been expected to gain momentum, but a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup with Championship side Hull, a 2-0 home defeat against Barcelona in the Champions League and now a loss against one of the most average Manchester United sides of modern times will have surely stalled that momentum.

With a potentially painful trip to the Nou Camp looming for the Gunners (the only saving grace they can take from it will be fewer fixtures) and a Cup replay they could frankly do without, Arsenal need to rebound quickly and find form.

They will be doubly sore after their north London rivals Spurs won against Swansea at White Hart Lane, to move three points clear of the Gunners. Tottenham have been quietly impressive all season, and they are only two points behind Leicester as the title race enters its sharp final phase. Spurs haven’t finished ahead of Arsenal since 1995, but they may yet do so – and do so by winning the league title.

Like Leicester’s underwhelming but ultimately victorious performance yesterday, Tottenham showed champion qualities when they battled back from going behind against a stubborn Swansea side that frustrated them in the first half. In years gone by Spurs might well have lost today – instead they were tenacious and didn’t stop pushing, taking a vital win.

Tottenham are, like Arsenal and Man City, still involved in European football, so face more fixtures than Leicester (at least in the short-term), but their steady displays should give them cause for optimism.

In the absolute short-term, it’s still advantage Leicester.

Having lost so narrowly (and in such heartbreaking circumstances) to Arsenal in their last league fixture, Leicester’s title ambitions might have been expected to take a knock. In the face of such a setback, and without title-chasing experience, could Leicester rebound from their Emirates defeat?

The answer? Yes. In beating Norwich today they showed two qualities needed by champions. The first is the aforementioned post-agonisingly-close-defeat in circumstances like at Arsenal. Victory means Leicester remain top of the Premier League for at least one more week, having reestablished a five-point gap over Spurs and Arsenal (who both play tomorrow). The second key quality shown today is that they won without being very good – they dug deep to beat Norwich, ultimately snatching a win that was probably undeserved – but they won’t care about that.

Next up for Leicester is another home game, against West Bromwich Albion. West Brom are having a mediocre season but shouldn’t be underestimated, and after that the Foxes travel to Watford, who are having a pretty good season in their own right. Whilst the league leaders have the easier run-in (and no other commitments to distract them), things are by no means certain. I hope they can continue to win – we shall see.

This morning I pondered the situation that Leicester City FC find themselves in, and I touched upon their remarkable season. Tonight, I’m looking at the other big story of the 2015/16 Premier League season – Chelsea.

It’s not unheard of for reigning champions to experience a downturn in fortunes, but the scale of Chelsea’s decline is unlike anything that I can think of in in, especially in the modern Premier League era. When David Moyes oversaw the collapse of Manchester United from champions to 7th, it was seen as a shock, but one with extenuating circumstances – Sir Alex Ferguson’s sabotage of Moyes (and yes, I consider that to be the case), and Moyes’ own ineptitude, led to that particular failure. With Chelsea, the circumstances are quite different.

Jose Mourinho, who has led teams to success across three countries and who had under his command a strong squad of well-drilled players, was somehow unable to motivate his team this season, losing his job after a dismal run of 9 defeats in 16 games. For a side as wealthy as Chelsea, with the same, talented manager who had won them several titles (and indeed, the previous season’s title) and the same squad of strong players, to collapse so completely, is remarkable – it is unprecedented.

Since Mourinho was dismissed and Gus Hiddink stepped in as caretaker, Chelsea’s results have gradually improved but not significantly so. Their chances of European football next season are now gone, and if I am honest, Chelsea’s miserable season is a source of great comedy to almost every neutral fan up and down the country.

This is certainly a season of incredible contrasts!


As the 2015/16 season rumbles on, this remarkable season took another twist on Saturday with league leaders Leicester City (yes, you read that right) beating challengers and fancied favourites Manchester City in their own backyard, moving six points clear of the blue half of Manchester (they are five points clear of Spurs and Arsenal, who both went ahead of Man City with wins of their own over the weekend).

It wasn’t simply that Leicester defied expectations by winning – it was the manner of their victory. They were at one stage 3-0 up, comfortably dealing with City’s attacks whilst playing with such energy and purpose that their own efforts proved too much for City to handle. A consolation goal for the home side did nothing to dent the impression of a dominant performance and result.

Leicester have been there or thereabouts since before Christmas, and everyone (myself included) has expected them to drop off as the pressures and strains of a title campaign begin to mount. Claudio Ranieri, their manager, has talked down ideas that Leicester are contenders, much less the favourites that some media sources are now suggesting.

Yet the fact remains, they are top, they cannot be deposed even if they lose their next game (away to Arsenal), and they have arguably an easier run in than their rivals.

So, it begs the question, could they do it? Winning the title, given their comparatively shallow resources, would have to go down as the biggest shock in modern English football, and what would make it all the more remarkable is that this time last year, they were mired in a relegation dogfight. I for one want them to win it – at what point do we say they can?