Manchester City v Leicester City
Saturday February 6, 11:45pm
This most surprising of top of the table clashes sees Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester face the biggest test of their remarkable season as they travel to the Etihad looking to maintain their three point lead over City, and perhaps even extend it. City remain 2.32 favourites for the title while Leicester are now as short as 6.00, with various 5000/1 slips from the start of the season doing the rounds this week, and if the Foxes can avoid defeat here then their holders will be a big step closer to a massive payout.
City stole the headlines on transfer deadline today, not with a big money signing, but the announcement that Pep Guardiola would be taking over from Manuel Pellegrini at the end of the season. The Chilean has every right to feel aggrieved as his side are competing on all four fronts still and have been in decent form, unbeaten in their last seven whilst keeping four clean sheets. Their home record this season is W9-D1-L2, with defeats against Liverpool and West Ham and a draw against Everton. They’ve averaged 2.8 goals at home but they’ve only kept four clean sheets and as a result 10 of their home games had at least three goals. Their home record against top-four sides since Pellegrini took over in 2013/14 is W3-D1-L2 with the defeats coming against Arsenal and Chelsea and their only clean sheet coming against Man Utd last season.
Leicester’s only defeat in their last 17 matches came at Anfield and they’ve been excellent defensively recently. They’ve kept five clean sheets in their last six meaning that Claudio Ranieri’s had to buy plenty of pizza. Their away record this term is W7-D4-L1, with their most impressive win coming against Spurs, the only top-six side they’ve travelled to so far. Their record at top-half sides is W2-D2-L1, though the majority of those games were earlier in the season and the trips to Spurs and Liverpool, which saw just two goals in total are probably more relevant as Leicester were much more open in the early parts of the season.
All three of City’s home games against fellow-top four sides last season had fewer than three goals and this one could be a tight affair as City have improved at the back themselves recently despite Kompany’s continued absence. Leicester will feel that a point would be an excellent result here and they’ll no doubt be difficult to break down, as Liverpool, Spurs and City themselves found in recent times, all failing to find the net against the Foxes. Though City have only failed to score in one of their last 20 at home, we can’t see them running riot here.
Chelsea v Manchester United
Monday February 8, 3am
In the not so distant past this fixture used to be a key indicator as to where the title would end up, but both these sides are far from where they’d like to be this season. Chelsea maintained their unbeaten record under Guus Hiddink at Vicarage Road on Wednesday night and they were probably unfortunate not to come away with all three points in that one as Heurelho Gomes turned in a man of the match performance. The Blues are now up to 13th, with the top half very much in sight and Man Utd’s 3-0 home win over Stoke means that the top-four is now only five points away for them, as Louis Van Gaal looks to continue to defy his critics.
Though Chelsea are unbeaten since Hiddink relieved Jose Mourinho of his managerial duties, they have drawn five of these eight games and only won once at home, against Sunderland in Hiddink’s first game in charge, though he was in the stands that day at Stamford Bridge having only been appointed hours before kick-off. Watford, West Brom and Everton have all since managed to pick up a point at the Bridge, as Chelsea have conceded seven goals in these three home matches. Mourinho’s excellent career home record took a battering as Bournemouth, Liverpool, Southampton and Palace all won at Chelsea this season and three of their four wins this season have come over current bottom-four sides, the other being their customary victory over Arsenal earlier in the season.
Having gone through a spell of failing to win in six, United have since won three of their last five, including a 1-0 win at Anfield in their last away game. United’s away record this season is a mixed W5-D3-L4, with wins at Watford and Everton but defeats at Bournemouth and Swansea amongst their results. They picked up a draw at the King Power Stadium but suffered a heavy defeat in their only trip to a top-six side this season, a 3-0 loss at the Emirates as they were blown away in the first 20 minutes.
United seem to have learnt their lesson when playing the top teams since then as their record against top-eight sides at home and away is W1-D3-L1 as they only conceded two goals in these games and four had Under 1.5 goals, the other a 1-1 draw at Leicester. Furthermore, Van Gaal’s trips to top five sides last season also tended to be cagey affairs as three of these four games had Under 1.5 Goals and indeed three of the five meetings between these sides since 2013/14 also had Under 1.5 Goals.
Chelsea have improved defensively recently, keeping clean sheets in their last two but scoring just once, against 10-man Arsenal. In David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois we have probably the two best of a very good current crop of Premier League goalkeepers and we don’t see either of them picking the ball out of the net regularly in this one.