Chelsea visit Anfield on Tuesday night with the Premier League title on the line. Antonio Conte’s side are eight points clear at the top of the table, with Arsenal occupying second place. Only a few days after their trip to Anfield, the Blues host Arsenal – who can be expected to pick up three points in their midweek fixture at home to Watford.
There are 16 matches left for each club in the Premier League season, including the two next week, but it is hard to see Chelsea relinquishing a lead if they remain undefeated over their next two games.
In fact, in the Premier League era only one team has blown an eight point after 22 matches. That team was Newcastle and the chasing team was Manchester United. It will take quite some choke for the Blues to miss out on the trophy this May, but two more victories against Liverpool and Arsenal would put the title beyond reasonable doubt.
There is a role reversal coming up in these two fixtures. Chelsea last faced Liverpool and Arsenal in a different formation. The humiliation of defeats to their two rivals saw Antonio Conte change system and led to the Blues going on a long winning streak. Those two defeats defined Chelsea’s season as much as any of their victories, it made Conte change his methods and led to their charge up the table. Now they face the same two opponents, within the space of only a few days, and it could confirm their status as champions-elect.
Victory over Liverpool would guarantee that Chelsea are at least eight points clear of second place ahead of their clash with Arsenal. They could, quite reasonably, afford to lose to the Gunners in that scenario. Having played their three nearest challengers twice, the Blues would be five points ahead at the top of the table without the hassle of European football around the corner, something the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Spurs will have to contend with. Simply put, Chelsea must fail to win both of these matches if the title race is to remain alive. Liverpool, as their first challengers, must banish their poor start to 2017 and produce a performance like the one that saw them leave Stamford Bridge victorious earlier this season.
The return of a dominant top six is bemoaned in some corners. It has actually made for a fascinating contest in their own cordoned off part of the league. Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs deserve praise for keeping even an inkling of a race alive to catch Conte’s Blues. We could, however, be left with no more than a tussle for Champions League qualification after the next two rounds of fixtures.
This Premier League season has been a brilliant one to date. The arrival of wonderful managers, a competitive relegation battle and some stellar individual performances have seen the quality at the top of the league improve. Chelsea are leading the way and they could be symbolic of the Premier League’s return to the pinnacle of European football. Conte’s side have overcome several tests over the last few months, but these two games in such close proximity are the greatest of the lot.
Win them, and it would take a 1995/96 Newcastle style collapse to bring them down. Those hoping for late season drama at the top of the table must be supporting Liverpool and Arsenal over the next two Premier League games, and will love it if they beat Chelsea.