Football: Crucial weekend for Premier League's top four sides

Leicester City's Marc Albrighton (right) holds off a tackle from Tottenham Hotspur's Nabil Bentaleb. With 13 more rounds to go this season, league leaders Leicester will do their utmost to continue to hold off any challenges from the teams below them
Leicester City's Marc Albrighton (right) holds off a tackle from Tottenham Hotspur's Nabil Bentaleb. With 13 more rounds to go this season, league leaders Leicester will do their utmost to continue to hold off any challenges from the teams below them in the table, including Tottenham.PHOTO: REUTERS

Title chase heats up as leading contenders go head-to-head separated by a mere six points

LONDON • Come Sunday, the top four will meet on the same day for only the sixth time in Premier League history.

It will be the most defining day of this season's title race yet, with leaders Leicester City travelling to third-placed Arsenal, while Manchester City, in fourth, host second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

Leicester can all but end Arsenal's title hopes by going eight points clear of the Gunners with a win. And they will be full of confidence after ripping City apart at the Etihad Stadium last weekend, when Manuel Pellegrini's men boasted the best home record of the campaign.

"We have not feared anyone we have played this season," Leicester winger Marc Albrighton said.

"We are confident. There is no reason why we can't go there and cause another upset."

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has stopped Arsene Wenger in the big games before.

NO FEAR

We have not feared anyone we have played this season. We are confident. There is no reason why we can't go there and cause another upset.

MARC ALBRIGHTON, Leicester winger, on facing Arsenal.

When the Italian was in charge of Chelsea in the 2003-04 season, his side prevented Arsenal's Invincibles from progressing into the Champions League semi-finals. It was arguably the Gunners' best chance of winning Europe's elite club competition, even though they subsequently made the final in 2006. Now, pundits believe this is Arsenal's best chance to win their first league title since those Invincibles lifted the trophy in 2004.

Arsenal have already beaten Leicester once this season - a 5-2 hammering at the King Power Stadium in September.

It was a result many expected would precipitate a return for the Foxes to the lower regions of the table. Instead, it sparked a 10-match unbeaten run that was halted by Liverpool in December, after which Leicester have scaled the summit on the back of another seven-game stretch without defeat.

Still, former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva believes the Gunners can stop the league leaders.

"I think Arsenal can win the league but that depends how well they do in the crucial games," the Brazilian, who was part of the Invincibles squad, told 888sport. "Leicester is one of them and from now on every point Arsenal drop will make Leicester believe more.

"It's important for Arsenal to have a very defensive mind considering what Leicester can do. They must mark well throughout the whole field from the guys up front to the midfield protecting the back four."

Indeed, winning games involving your nearest rivals is key. It is something City need to improve on. They have so far played current top-six sides in seven matches, losing four and drawing three.

But they can take heart from Spurs' last two visits to the Etihad Stadium.

City plundered 10 goals, with Sergio Aguero scoring six of them.

"I'm not sure why I've scored so many goals against Spurs, it's just happened that way," Aguero told City's website.

"I hope I can keep up that form on Sunday and hopefully help us win this match, but we know it won't be easy.

"Last week we had Leicester who had only lost once away from home this season and now we face a Spurs team who have the same record. We were disappointed to lose last week but we will learn from it and use it positively."

They also won 5-1 at Tottenham in 2014, but have already experienced Tottenham's rapid improvement this season, going down 1-4 at White Hart Lane in September.

"We earned a lot of respect after that game and people started taking notice," Spurs midfielder Eric Dier told the club's website.

Come Sunday, fans and neutrals alike will wait to see whether Spurs can take another huge step towards their first English title since 1961.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Crucial weekend for top four'. Print Edition | Subscribe