Chelsea and Spurs in top four crunch, Everton face Arsenal test - GulfToday

Chelsea and Spurs in top four crunch, Everton face Arsenal test


Olympiakos’ Mohamed Mady Camara (right) heads the ball under pressure from Arsenal’s Joe Willock during their UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

All eyes will be on Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League this weekend as the battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League heats up, while runaway leaders Liverpool can take another step towards the title.

With the league’s first winter break done and dusted, it is full steam ahead for the clubs fighting to secure the lucrative Champions League berths behind champions-elect Liverpool.

Any London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham is a feisty occasion, but there is an extra spice to the rivals’ latest meeting as they are in direct competition for a European place.

Fourth placed Chelsea are just one point ahead of fifth placed Tottenham and a victory for Jose Mourinho’s men would take them above his former club.

Chelsea are reeling from a lacklustre 2-0 home defeat against Manchester United on Monday, but injury-hit Tottenham were beaten 1-0 by Leipzig in the Champions League last 16 first leg on Wednesday.

Hampered by their continued failure to turn possession in tangible rewards, Chelsea have won one of their last six league games, and none of their last four.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard denied on Friday reports of a rift with the club’s board over his decision to drop Spain goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Kepa cost a world-record transfer fee for a keeper when he joined Chelsea for £72 million ($92 million) in August, but the 25-year-old has fallen out of favour with Lampard after some error-filled displays this term.

Veteran Willy Caballero has featured in Chelsea’s last three games and is likely to remain between the posts when Tottenham visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Reports this week suggested Chelsea’s hierarchy were unhappy with Kepa’s demotion and had questioned whether it could damage his potential to be sold for a profit in future.

“Certainly not. That fills a lot of headlines for people,” Lampard said when asked by reporters about the rift on Friday. “I’m absolutely together with all the club and the board, because we all want the best. And I’m paid to make decisions.”

It is the kind of delicate and potentially damaging issue Mourinho had plenty of experience negotiating during his two spells as Chelsea manager. Tottenham have won their last three league games to close the gap on Chelsea, but injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have left Mourinho without a senior striker.

Arsenal and Everton, who meet in north London, are further behind in the race, but the possibility of Manchester City losing their appeal against a two-year Champions League ban means a fifth place finish could be enough to reach Europe’s elite club competition. Everton sit four points behind Tottenham after a five-game unbeaten run featuring successive wins over Watford and Crystal Palace.

Carlo Ancelotti has masterminded Everton’s revival since taking over from the sacked Marco Silva, but he has yet to secure a statement win over one of the league’s bigger clubs.

Agence France-Presse

English Premier League fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
On Saturday: Burnley vs Bournemouth, Chelsea vs Tottenham (1230 GMT), Crystal Palace vs Newcastle, Leicester vs Manchester City (1730 GMT), Sheffield United vs Brighton, Southampton vs Aston Villa
On Sunday: Arsenal vs Everton (1630 GMT), Manchester United vs Watford (1400 GMT), Wolves vs Norwich (1400 GMT)
On Monday: Liverpool vs West Ham (2000 GMT).

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