When Sergio Aguero scored a last minute winner against Queens Park Rangers to win Manchester City the Barclays Premier League title in the 2011/12 season finale, we thought we had seen it all. It was single handedly the most entertaining moment in English Football since its inception. Not for Manchester United fans though. The burning excitement led grown men screaming in the streets and in the pubs.
This weekend perhaps we might see another moment of a different sort, Leicester City as the heir apparent to the throne of the English kings. For the first time since the season started they open the weekend as favourites to lift the title. Who would have thought that at the start of the season, after all they ended last season winning seven of their last ten games for a great escape. Yes it was a great escape because they had been bottom at Christmas and at this same stage last season with 25 games played. Fast forward seven months and they sit atop a pile way ahead of defending champions Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Last weekend proved masterful. The bubble was supposed to burst, the cat let out the bag. They were travelling to the home of the fearsome Manchester City, with Aguero, Silva, Sterling, to name a few. What transcended over 90mins has let us to another of those pure passion moments. They destroyed Manchester City in their own backyard, not by packing the bus but by playing a brand of football likened to the electric car Tesla. They played fast counter-attacking football while stifling the likes of Aguero and Sterling. Yaya Toure had to be taken off early in the second half further proving how bad a day City were having.
Heading into the weekend here is a preview of some of the biggest games.
ARSENAL v LEICESTER CITY
This weekend Leicester take on the Arsenal in a game many have refused to call because of what transpired last weekend. The two games against City and Arsenal were supposed to prove if the Foxes were true title contenders. Well they blew off City and if they do the same against Arsenal this weekend then maybe, just maybe we should not doubt them. Even if they do not win it in the end, they would have proved a point as to the importance of playing to your teams strengths.
Back to the game, Arsenal must learn from City. City made the mistake of isolating Jamie Vardy with Martin Demechilis time and time again. It is arguable that Leicester don’t do anything special in terms of wowing but what they do is put pressure on the ball in numbers while looking for the earliest opportunity to punt the ball up to Vardy. Should Per Mertesacker play tomorrow, that would be Leicester’s plan all the day. Kante pressures the ball with Drinkwater in midfield while Vardy roams around looking for an opportunity to sprint at goal. Arsenal must move the ball with pace while using width to pull Leicester’s midfielders out of position. An important stat is that Alexis Sanchez has scored four goals in his three Premier League games against Leicester City and he was the star player when they faced off earlier in the season in Arsenal’s 5-2 victory. Theo Walcott has scored in both of his Premier League appearances against Leicester City. The Gunners have an impressive record having won 12 and lost none of the last 18 Premier League matches against the Foxes. Arsenal have won their last eight home Premier League meetings with Leicester City.
SUNDERLAND v MANCHESTER UNITED
Over at the Stadium of Light, the match between Sunderland and Manchester United takes on added meaning. There is still endless talk about Louis Van Gaal losing his job to Jose Mourinho at the end of the season while Sunderland just sacked their best player in Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to sex related offences in Court. Sunderland are battling relegation while Manchester United must keep pace with the top 4 to stand any chance of competing in the Champions League next season. Over the last couple of games United have upped the ante by playing faster football which the fans have clamored for.
Rooney is back among the goals and Anthony Martial continues to prove he is every bit of the 36 million pounds spent on him. On every other occasion this would have been a sure fire win for United who have never lost at the Stadium of Light in the premier league era, but not this season, United have been as frail as ever and every team has taken an opportunity to run at them. After all they are not the all powerful Red Devils we used to know. To add to that Louis van Gaal is without eight first-team players for the game at Sunderland.
Long-term absentees Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ashley Young remain sidelined while Phil Jones, Adnan Januzaj and Guillermo Varela all came off with unspecified injuries in the Under 21s’ 7-0 win over Norwich on Monday.
For Sunderland to win they must do what they have failed to do in their last eleven premier league games and that is keep a clean sheet. Without Adam Johnson, the spot light is on Jermaine Defoe to bang in the goals like he did against Liverpool last week.
MANCHESTER CITY v TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS
Smarting from their defeat to Leicester last weekend, Manchester City head into another big match on Block buster Sunday against fellow title contenders Tottenham Hotspurs. The Spurs are second on the log and Man United legend Sir Alex Ferguson labeled Mauricio Pochettino the best manager in the league, he might be right. Tottenham have the best defense in the league (Tottenham have conceded a league-low one goal from outside the box in the Premier League) and have only lost three times all season and continue to be in with a shout at lifting their first premier league trophy.
Harry Kane is also a player in form scoring 10 goals in his last 11 premier league matches. Sergio Aguero has scored 10 goals in eight Premier League appearances against Tottenham which would also prove vital. Vincent Kompany who has played only 9 games from 20 this season for City would be a much needed addition to the team should he pass a late fitness test. His leadership and defensive qualities are needed by Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
BEST OF THE REST
In other matches Liverpool would look to bounce back from their defeat in the FA Cup to West Ham when they take on bottom of the log Aston Villa. The top 4 is still the priority for the Reds but that goal fades away with each passing game. Daniel Sturridge is back fit and playing again but with all the controversy surrounding his injury problems it would remain to be seen if Klopp can get the best out of him for the remainder of the season. Perhaps with one eye on the Capital One Cup there is still something rosy for Liverpool at the end of the tunnel. Aston Villa look resigned to the Championship next season but Leicester performing so well this season, may lead them to look for a great escape story of their own. It is certainly not beyond them to reel of a run of consecutive wins to boost their chances of survival.
Chelsea host Newcastle United in what would have been a big game in any other season and perhaps deserved to be among the matches previewed at the top of this page, but Chelsea have struggled and are resigned to looking to make the Europa League places. They have drawn their last four games at Stamford Bridge which is a club record and with Newcastle themselves struggling another draw might not be far fetched. Newcastle strengthened in the January transfer window bringing in Seydou Doumbia, Jonjoy Shelvey and Andros Townsend. Should they begin to gel and it could be problems for Chelsea and Guus Hiddink. Also Newcastle United have taken more points off Chelsea (13) than any other team in the last five seasons. However with Diego Costa seemingly in the mood to play again Chelsea are definitely in with a shout. Costa has scored six goals in his last seven Premier League appearances, after netting just three in his previous 14 this season
If Leicester win this weekend with 12 games to go till the end of the season, we might have another Sergio Aguero moment on our hands. On the flip side we could have a capitulation just like Liverpool did two seasons ago when the trophy was within their grasps (any one remember Steven Gerrard’s slip?). Either ways we are in for some fun from now till the end of the season. Ciao