Premier League reaches title-defining stage of the season

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Some people like to spend Valentine’s Day going on romantic walks or dining out at expensive restaurants.

But if you’re a football fan, there’s only one place to be. The sofa.

That is because this crazy Premier League season is set for yet another dramatic turn. And it’s all on the telly.


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In case you didn’t know, the top four face off with each other in a pair of crucial match-ups, with Arsenal facing league leaders Leicester City at lunchtime before Spurs visit Manchester City.

Oh, and there’s also Villa v Liverpool (which is only optional, of course).

The weekend’s main games will provide us with the next chapter in the incredible story that has gripped the nation.

Leicester’s rise from certain doom to increasingly certain glory has been unprecedented, unbelievable, and, before last week’s win over City, improbable.

But they go into their trip to Arsenal as newly-installed title favourites, as their ‘inevitable’ dip in form has failed to materialise, giving them the opportunity to actually go and win the whole thing. Incredible.

The Gunners, on the other hand, are just getting back into some form of their own after their 2-0 success at Bournemouth halted a run of four winless games.

This is their big chance for the title but they are in real danger of blowing it – again. A draw will feel like a defeat because sitting in third, they won’t be first in on a Leicester slip-up – which they need.

It will almost undoubtedly be the biggest game of each side’s seasons. Defeat for the Gunners will put eight (eight!) points between them and their opponents with 12 games to play.

Even the joys of a Leicester-esque triumph in the Champions League would be dampened by Arsene Wenger’s world-class squad being pipped to the title by little old Leicester.

If Leicester’s fade does eventually come later down the line, there’s also the small matter of City or Spurs waiting to crash the party for the Foxes.

If it weren’t for Leicester’s heroics, Spurs would surely be the success story of the season. With missing out on the top four looking less likely every week, Mauricio Pochettino has seemed to have timed his side’s transformation perfectly – well, almost.

Suddenly, the title is a distinct possibility for Tottenham and it’s the surprise packages that are currently outshining the pre-season favourites.

Spurs’ goal difference – the best in the division – will mean that Manchester City won’t have it easy as they look to bounce back from their embarrassment at the Etihad last Saturday.

With the Citizens starting to fall behind in fourth place, they are as close to the summit as they are to fifth-placed Manchester United. A win is, therefore, essential.

The visitors, meanwhile, are under no pressure. And having kicked on from last season and found another English gem in Dele Alli, Spurs are slowly but surely building something special for the future.

It seems to be a clear vision of Pochettino’s philosophy which is already starting to pay dividends for Tottenham. Whisper it quietly – this could be the year they finally break their hoodoo over Arsenal.

So in what state will Sunday leave the title race?

Only one thing is certain: Leicester will be top of the league come Monday morning. Even with a defeat, they will be looking down on everyone with a kind run of games ahead of them.

Six of their next nine matches are against teams in the bottom half and only three of those come away from home. With a potential eight-point gap, they could afford to bin a game or two and still be firm favourites.

If Leicester defy the odds and beat Arsenal, the title is theirs to lose. Arsenal’s dream goes up in smoke and paves the way for one of the other contenders to pull ahead.

But you’d expect the Gunners to put up a fight at their own ground and winning will set up a chance to knock Leicester off their lofty perch in a fortnight against Manchester United.

With trips to Spurs and Barcelona to come, getting through March unscathed will be the primary target for Arsenal in their quest for a first championship in 12 years.

There’s also a meeting at the Etihad on the penultimate weekend, which could be anything from a title decider to a dead rubber.

A Man City victory would put them in a position to make a dart for the finish line like they did during their unforgettable 2011/12 campaign. Sergio Aguero will be bearing down on Jamie Vardy in the scoring charts and with City needing goals, who better to rely on?

Their main problem is their run-in. With a fixture list full to the brim, City are still fighting on four fronts and may rely too heavily on their star Argentine. But if he stays fit and in form, they’ve got a chance.

Trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge and a crucial Manchester derby will shape City’s season – it is just a question of how the outgoing Manuel Pellegrini handles the heavy workload.

Meanwhile, Spurs are under the least pressure. Winning means their rise continues, but they are still yet to sit atop the Premier League this season while they are six points ahead of the dreaded Europa League places.

They would have bitten your hand off for a top-four finish and they will probably accomplish that. For now, they can dream and enjoy the ride.

And so can everyone else. This is set to be one of the most unpredictable seasons in Premier League history that no Hollywood scripter could even dream of writing.

And in some sort of American TV mid-season finale, the next episode is unmissable: the one at Valentine’s that is destined to end in heartbreak.

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Leicester City
Premier League
Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur

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