The Premier League offers little respite as we head into Week 26, as midweek football once again encapsulates England.
Liverpool's thrashing of Arsenal combined with Manchester City's draw with Norwich saw Chelsea ascend to top spot after a dramatic last round of fixtures. A slip-up for any of the title-chasers could be fatal, highlighting just how important each match is at this stage in the campaign.
Let's take a look at the table as it stands:
|2013-14 Premier League Table (After Week 25)|
|15||West Ham United||25||6||7||12||-7||25|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||25||4||11||10||-8||23|
Here's the upcoming schedule, complete with predictions and television information:
|Premier League Week 26 Schedule and Predictions|
|Cardiff vs. Aston Villa||Feb. 11||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||BT Sport 1||2-1|
|Hull vs. Southampton||Feb. 11||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||1-2|
|West Ham vs. Norwich||Feb. 11||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||2-0|
|West Brom vs. Chelsea||Feb. 11||8 p.m. GMT/3 p.m. ET||0-3|
|Arsenal vs. Manchester United||Feb. 12||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||BT Sport 1||3-0|
|Everton vs. Crystal Palace||Feb. 12||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||2-0|
|Manchester City vs. Sunderland||Feb. 12||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||4-0|
|Newcastle vs. Tottenham||Feb. 12||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||1-2|
|Stoke vs. Swansea||Feb. 12||7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET||2-2|
|Fulham vs. Liverpool||Feb. 12||8 p.m. GMT/3 p.m. ET||1-3|
West Ham 2-0 Norwich
Many onlookers may give Sam Allardyce a hard time for West Ham's physical style of play, but the Hammers currently lead this season's clean sheets table, per ESPNFC.com. The Claret and Blues have stopped their opponents from scoring in 12 matches—one more than Arsenal—to give themselves a chance in most matches.
"Now we are starting not only to keep clean sheets but we are scoring goals as well," said Allardyce, as reported by Richard Jolly of The Guardian. "Really, it is about not making silly mistakes the opposition capitalise on."
Norwich have scored just 19 goals in 25 matches this season, per WhoScored.com. Only Crystal Palace have fewer strikes, suggesting Chris Hughton's team will struggle to break down a powerful West Ham defence at the Boleyn Ground.
While the home side's barrage of January signings are yet to make an impact, the form of Kevin Nolan will have Canaries fans most worried, as hinted by OptaJoe:
With a solid back line and a midfield star in scoring form, few would bet against Allardyce's team building on their one-point advantage over Hughton's strugglers.
Everton 2-0 Crystal Palace
Roberto Martinez has seen Everton's hopes of a fourth-place finish evaporate across recent weeks. A draw with West Brom was followed by losses against Liverpool and Tottenham, dropping the Toffees into sixth.
Still, Goodison Park remains a fortress. Only Sunderland have escaped with a win this season, while the three aforementioned teams are the exclusive trio who have nicked draws.
Everton are reliable at home and, despite Palace's three wins from their last six games, will have more than enough to overpower their improving visitors.
Tom Ince and Joe Ledley netted during their debuts for Palace, but Martinez's side are drilled to move the ball quickly and penetrate with attacking runs, and they are built to flood the box—something Tony Pulis' defence will struggle to contain.
Perhaps Martinez will provide Lacina Traore with his first appearance for the Blues. Everton lacked any focal point against Spurs and need someone who can hold the ball up. At 6'8", Traore is the perfect spearhead for players such as Kevin Mirallas to buzz around.
Manchester City 4-0 Sunderland
Top teams always provide a response. Manchester City's loss to Chelsea and draw with Norwich have dented their hopes of capturing the title, but they are only two points behind Jose Mourinho's side.
City's defeat to Chelsea ruined their 100 percent record at home, but this is not a team who will get blown away by the Premier League's lower clubs. Unlike Manchester United, there's a sense that teams will get punished when City play in their own backyard.
Manuel Pellegrini's side average 2.72 goals per game this campaign and notched seven against Norwich back in November. Two sixes against Spurs and Arsenal followed, but it would be optimistic to suggest they will do the same against the Black Cats.
City need a response, but, ultimately, three points will do. Expect the hosts to keep that ball pinging around in order to make Sunderland chase. When this happens, gaps will open up.