Things couldn't be much tighter in all three major races in the Premier League.
Arsenal hold two points over Manchester City and Chelsea. Liverpool are fending off Everton by two points and Tottenham by three in the race for the final Champions League spot. And the relegation battle is a huge, muddled mess.
For another perspective on just how tight things are at the top of the league, check out this tweet from Paul Carr of ESPN:
Updated SPI odds for PL top four. After weekend, Liverpool down a bit, Chelsea up a bit: pic.twitter.com/gYCBd7WAPw— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) February 3, 2014
The race to the end of the season is going to be fun, folks. And this weekend, the Premier League will have several huge matches with serious implications for the table. Below, we'll take a look at those fixtures, offering predictions and a preview of the top matches to watch for.
|Saturday, February 8||7:45 a.m.||Liverpool||1-1||Arsenal|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Aston Villa||1-0||West Ham|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Chelsea||2-1||Newcastle|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Crystal Palace||1-1||West Brom|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Norwich City||0-4||Manchester City|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Southampton||1-0||Stoke City|
|Saturday, February 8||10 a.m.||Sunderland||1-0||Hull City|
|Saturday, February 8||12:30 p.m.||Swansea City||1-0||Cardiff City|
|Sunday, February 9||8:30 a.m.||Tottenham||1-1||Everton|
|Sunday, February 9||11 a.m.||Manchester United||3-0||Fulham|
What to Watch For
Without question, the top matchup this weekend is Liverpool hosting Arsenal, a clash between the Reds' second-ranked offense (58 goals) and the Gunners' second-ranked defense (21 goals conceded).
Of course, Arsenal will tip their defensive superiority to win the day. If you take away the six goals they conceded to Manchester City, the Gunners have allowed just 16 goals in 23 matches while keeping a clean sheet against Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium.
And according to ESPN, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 32 Premier League games when Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny start and finish a game together at centre-back. As Mertesacker told Mark Irwin of The Sun, he's really enjoying his football next to Koscielny:
We know each other much better now and we complement each other well. Laurent is more mobile and I have more height. It fits together perfectly because these days centre-backs are more than just tall defenders whose only job is to head away the long balls.
Laurent is one of the quickest players I've ever partnered and he anticipates things so well, and we feed off each other's strengths and that is the main key to our success this season. The statistic seems unreal to me. When someone first told me about our record, it sounded very weird. It's a good statistic but now we have to build on that.
Of course, dealing with Luis Suarez (23 goals, seven assists) and Daniel Sturridge (14 goals, three assists) is no easy task. But Arsenal should have Jack Wilshere back for the match, according to Jack De Menezes of The Independent, a huge boost the Gunners should he be fit enough to start.
Expect a tight, entertaining match.
Everton and Tottenham on Sunday should also be an excellent contest. While Romelu Lukaku remains out with an ankle injury, the Toffees have relied on a strong defense (25 goals conceded) and the bright play of 20-year-old Ross Barkley this season.
Tottenham, meanwhile, are a team still searching for an identity (and a top-four finish) this season. All season long, they've played like a squad that was hoping someone could fill the void left by Gareth Bale, but no one has quite stepped up to the challenge. New manager Tim Sherwood has breathed some life into the squad, but Spurs need to start consistently winning games to get back into the Champions League race.
A match against a tough, disciplined Everton side is a difficult place to start.
Chelsea against Newcastle could be an intriguing contest. Or it could be an utter blowout by Chelsea. It's hard to say with this Magpies side, who have really seemed to miss the departed Yohan Cabaye in the midfield.
They did beat Chelsea, 2-0, when last these teams met in the Premier League, however, so this one could get interesting.
Manchester United and new man Juan Mata should be able to get back to their winning ways against hapless Fulham, while all three points are ripe for the taking for Manchester City against Norwich following the Citizens' home loss to Chelsea.
And West Brom and Crystal Palace will both hope to gain some ground on the relegation zone when they face off.
All in all, expect another fun and wild weekend in the Premier League.