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English Premier League: Clear blue sky at top

With title rivals not in action this weekend, win over Spurs will put Chelsea seven points clear.

 

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are unbeaten in 13 league games since the start of December last year (File) Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are unbeaten in 13 league games since the start of December last year (File)

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has spent most of the season downplaying his team’s chances of winning the English Premier League title. One good result this weekend and he may have to revise his opinion.

With Liverpool inactive and fellow title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City in FA Cup action, Chelsea can extend its lead in the Premier League to seven points by beating Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. City’s focus will be on defeating second-tier club Wigan in the FA Cup quarterfinals in a repeat of last year’s final. The other big last-eight match is Arsenal vs. Everton.

Mourinho has labeled Chelsea the “little horse” in the title race, perceiving his squad to be full of young talent with little championship-winning experience. Unbeaten in 13 league matches since the start of December, the team is looking more and more like a thoroughbred.

Boasting the league’s tightest defense, the Blues haven’t been hindered by a shortage of goals from their strikers as at least one of their slew of attacking midfielders, be it Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian or Andre Schuerrle, seems to deliver when it matters. Defeating Tottenham would put Chelsea nine points clear of Man City, considered by many to be the other title favorite, although City would have three games in hand.

A bridge too far

Spurs have a dreadful record at Stamford Bridge — they haven’t won there since 1990, when Gary Lineker was their match-winner — and Mourinho still has never lost a league match at the ground. Twenty four years have passed and 15 managers have come and gone at the north London club since Tottenham last won at Chelsea — a miserable sequence that even the most optimistic Spurs fans would struggle to believe will end on Saturday. Tim Sherwood’s side have picked up 29 points on the road this season, winning nine games out of 14. Chelsea have been strong at home, though, winning 12 and drawing two as Mourinho’s incredible statistic of never having lost a league game at Stamford Bridge rolls on.

West Bromwich Albion claimed its first league win at Old Trafford in 35 years by beating Manchester United 2-1 in September, one of a string of poor results for the champions this season. Another defeat to West Brom, this time on Saturday at The Hawthorns, would surely end United’s faint hopes of finishing in the top four and qualifying for next season’s Champions League. David Moyes’ side heads into the game 12 points behind fourth-place Man City, having played a game more. And its last match was a 2-0 loss to Olympiakos in the Champions League, earning the team widespread criticism.

Arsenal’s last hope

The FA Cup looks to be Arsenal’s best chance of ending a nine-year wait for silverware. A 1-0 loss to Stoke last weekend dented the Gunners’ Premier League hopes, leaving them four points behind in-form Chelsea after leading the standings for much of the season.

And Arsenal has an extremely tough task to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League, having lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the last 16. The FA Cup was the last trophy lifted by Arsenal, in 2005 when it beat Man United on penalties.

Fulham coach Felix Magath will be without winger Damien Duff, who may have played his last match for the club, when his side faces Cardiff City in a must-win Premier League relegation scrap on Saturday.

Fulham, who are bottom of the standings on 21 points with 10 matches remaining, face a Cardiff side who are just one point and one place above them and were thumped 4-0 at home by Hull City in their last home match.

Fulham’s strikers’ block

They have also failed to score in four of their last six home matches and have not scored in any of their last four league games, home or away. Fulham have not won in the league since New Years Day and are four points away from safety.

“It’s the most difficult because now we are behind the other teams. We have developed in the last 14 days and the team is growing together and that is what makes me sure we can avoid relegation,” Magath said.

Magath’s first two matches at Fulham helm have ended in a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion and last week’s 3-1 defeat at home to Chelsea, although Fulham looked an improved side for the first hour.

“The best confidence you can get is if you win,” he said. “We need a win for our confidence. If I look at the schedules, I know we have quite a good schedule in the last 10 games. Everybody has to put in a shift and push the team to give their best.”

However Duff, who has a knee injury is out of the side and may have played his last match for the club.

The 35-year-old former Ireland winger who has been at Fulham since 2009, has made 18 appearances this season but not played since the FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United last month. Duff is out of contract at Craven Cottage at the end of the season and it is unclear whether he will sign a new contract.

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