The title race couldn't be any tighter. The battle for the fourth spot in the league is being seriously contended. As many as 11 teams remain embroiled in a fierce relegation battle.
There literally isn't a team with nothing to play for at this point in the season. In a year with so much parity, each and every point has become vital for every single team. What's more fun than that?
Keeping those stakes in mind, let's preview this week's action, offering a prediction for every fixture on the schedule. With just 12 games remaining, there isn't a game this week that doesn't matter for one of the Premier League's three important races down the stretch.
|Week 27 Fixtures and Predictions|
|When (All Times ET)||Home||Away||Prediction|
|Saturday, February 22 at 7:45 a.m.||Chelsea||Everton||Chelsea win, 2-1|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||Arsenal||Sunderland||Arsenal win, 2-0|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||Cardiff City||Hull City||Draw, 1-1|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||Manchester City||Stoke City||Manchester City win, 3-0|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||West Bromwich Albion||Fulham||West Brom win, 1-0|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||West Ham United||Southampton||Southampton win, 2-1|
|Saturday, February 22 at noon||Crystal Palace||Manchester United||United win, 2-0|
|Sunday, February 23 at 8:30 a.m.||Liverpool||Swansea City||Liverpool win, 3-1|
|Sunday, February 23 at 8:30 a.m.||Newcastle United||Aston Villa||Newcastle win, 3-2|
|Sunday, February 23 at 11 a.m.||Norwich City||Tottenham||Spurs win, 2-1|
Key Storylines and Biggest Matchups
Chelsea will have a major test holding onto the top spot in the Premier League, hosting a dangerous Everton side. Even though Romelu Lukaku couldn't play in this game even if he was fully healthy—and Chelsea have yet to lose at Stamford Bride in Premier League play, with 11 wins and a draw—the Toffees still pose a major threat.
They will be bolstered, at least in spirit, by the news that their star striker should return to action shortly, as manager Roberto Martinez mentioned in a press conference via Sky Sports:
Romelu Lukaku is fully fit now and it's just a matter of making sure that we get him back to his level of match fitness that he needs. From a medical point of view, he's fit.
It helps in a way that he's not available for this weekend because this game may have been a little bit too early for him to be involved with the team.
But now we've got nearly two weeks to make sure that he's fully fit for the next home game and that's very much a realistic target.
With 12 games remaining, the Blues hold a one-point lead on the table over Arsenal, a three-point advantage over Manchester City and a four-point lead on Liverpool. Things have gotten tight, and the Blues come into this game knowing that the three teams chasing have favorable home matchups this week and will likely win.
If the Blues can't earn all three points against Everton, it's likely they'll cede the top spot on the table to Arsenal, as the Gunners will be expected to handle Sunderland. The Black Cats have played better of late, but Arsenal has dropped just four of a possible 45 points against teams outside of the Premier League's top nine this year.
Of course, the subtext to the battle for first place is the mind games Jose Mourinho has launched against the other contenders, namely Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger. Mark Worrall of ESPN provides a glimpse into the war of words that has taken place:
Wenger's Valentine's Day gift to Arsenal's title rivals was to suggest that a 'fear of failure' was the reason they were playing down their title chances. A direct dig perhaps at Mourinho and his suggestion that Chelsea were akin to a 'little horse' in the race for the title.
Perfectly scripted for the media, Mourinho's response was provocative and truthful in equal measures. 'If supposedly he is right and I'm afraid to fail, it's because I haven't failed many times,' said the Portuguese forthrightly. 'Maybe he's right. Maybe I'm not used to failing. The reality is he is a specialist. Eight years without a piece of silverware, that's failure.'
With Mourinho cast as the villain, the BBC stoked up the fires of controversy by trotting out their former presenter, the venerable one-time custodian of Arsenal's goal, Bob Wilson, to add his unbiased thoughts that the Chelsea manager's comments about Wenger were at best 'disrespectful' and 'at worst despicable.'
There has been more between the two, of course, but that's the gist. Mourinho is perhaps trying to sow seeds of doubt about Wenger's ability to lead this team after years of no hardware in the minds of the players and supporters, while Wenger is trying to keep the pressure solely placed on Mourinho and Chelsea in the title race.
It's all a bit silly, of course, though that doesn't change the fact that the dispute between the two has also been wildly entertaining, and will add a layer of intrigue to the March 22 showdown between these teams.
Meanwhile, Manchester City will surely take out their disappointment over a 2-0 first-leg loss to Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on Stoke City, while Liverpool will be looking to punish Swansea City after the Reds were eliminated in the FA Cup by Arsenal.
Speaking of Liverpool, the Reds are currently a less-than-comfortable three points ahead of Tottenham in fourth place, while Everton (eight points back) and Manchester United (11 points back) are still gunning for fourth.
It seems infeasible that United could get back into the Champions League race at this point, but they certainly have the talent to get back into the conversation. With winnable matches against Crystal Palace and West Brom before facing the Reds at Old Trafford, United have the opportunity to sneak their way back into top-four contention.
But it will certainly be a long and arduous road, and they'll need to be nearly perfect in the final 12 games to pull off the feat.
Of course, there is the extremely tight relegation battle to consider, as 11 teams are within eight points of one another. The biggest match will be 20th-placed Fulham traveling to 17th-ranked West Brom, though Hull City taking on Cardiff City will also have major implications on the relegation zone.
It's going to be another great week of Premier League action, folks.
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