With 18 of the 20 clubs in action on Saturday and Sunday, there are just 11 rounds of Premier League fixtures left in the 2017/18 season.
Every point, every goal, every inch at this stage of the campaign is invaluable, and every game between now and the end of the season in May will have increasingly strong repercussions.
Here’s a look at six things we learned from gameweek 27….
6. Relegation Battle Fiercer Than Ever
Results this weekend ensured that the developing relegation battle remained just as dramatic and unpredictable, with just three points separating 13th place Newcastle and 19th place Stoke, effectively a single win.
Swansea won, Brighton and Stoke took points off each other, Crystal Palace and Southampton both lost, while Huddersfield and Newcastle were also victorious.
West Brom are somewhat cut adrift at the bottom, but even the Baggies could be back in the fight should they pull off a big shock against Chelsea on Monday night.
5. Fine Margins at St James’ Park
Defeat for Manchester United and a long a overdue home win for Newcastle hinged on fine margins at St James’ Park on Sunday, with Matt Ritchie’s well taken finish the only thing that ultimately separated the teams.
Jose Mourinho’s side had gone behind in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford earlier in the season, only to come storming back and win 4-1. It was perfectly feasible the same could have happened this time, with Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez both seeing good chances go begging, while debutant Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was in inspired form.
Mourinho claimed his team could have played for 10 hours without scoring and it just seemed to ‘one of those days’ for the visitors. Newcastle, meanwhile fought hard, held on and arguably deserved their luck in the end.
4. Man City Don’t Need Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez should ask himself how much he would actually have been playing had he been successful in forcing through a deadline day move to Manchester City last month.
Given that Bernardo Silva has come into the team since Leroy Sane’s injury, with Sane himself now back in training ahead of schedule, the answer is probably not much.
But the Algerian, who ended his self-imposed exile and returned to the Leicester team during the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of City on Saturday, is very much needed by his current team.
It comes back to the issue that has long plagued professional footballers. As attention now turns to summer, does Mahrez continue to be a superstar in a middling team, or push yet again for a big move, but with all the risk of being little more than a fringe player?
3. Arsenal’s Striker Conundrum
It was supposed to be ‘LMAO’, a perfect harmony of Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Ozil tearing opponents to shreds and readily laughing in the process.
Instead, the Gunners may actually have issues after fans witnessed Lacazette, a player who Arsene Wenger admits may have had his already fragile confidence dented by the big money arrival of Aubameyang last month, missed two late chances in the North London Derby that cost the team the chance to snatch a draw from the jaws defeat.
With Aubameyang disappointing against Spurs, fans are also learning why Manchester United were willing to let Mkhitaryan go – sensational one week and a virtual no-show the next.
2. Who Else But Kane?
Harry Kane has long been Tottenham’s go-to star, especially in North London Derbies, so it was little surprise to see the Spurs talisman net the crucial decisive goal in front of more than 80,000 fans at Wembley in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Spurs are far more than a one-man team, but every side needs a star and he is theirs.
What’s more, after going unbeaten in nine Premier League games and dropping just two points in a run of three fixtures against direct rivals (Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal), Spurs are coming into form at precisely the right time.
1. An Incredible Golden Boot Battle Is Emerging
There are still 11 rounds of games left to play this season and Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero are well on their way to making it one of the best Premier League Golden Boot races ever after scoring 23, 22 and 21 goals respectively.
All three added to their tallies this week, with Aguero netting four in his team’s win over Leicester, and it remains plausible that all three could get to 30 by the end of the campaign.
Only twice in the last 10 seasons has the Golden Boot winner scored 30 or more, while the last time two players reached 30 in the same season was 1993/94. That was Andrew Cole (34) and Alan Shearer (31) back when the Premier League season was actually 42 games long.
Never have as many as three players reached the milestone in a single campaign.
How the GFA intervened to avoid a CAF Champions League disaster for Aduana
Libyan side Al Tahidi have finally agreed to play Ghanaian champions Aduana Stars in the second-leg of their CAF Champions League clash after rejecting Dormaa Ahenkro as Wednesday’s venue for the game.
An intervention by the Ghana FA with full assurances of a police motorcade on their journey from Kumasi to Dormaa and back ensured the Libyan reversed their threat of not playing the match.
The Libyan had threatened not to play the match in the Brong Ahafo region citing the road travelling distance from Kumasi to Dormaa Ahenkro of more than 200km violating CAF rules.
The CAF rules state that home teams must ensure that visiting teams travel by air from the capital of the country if the road journey is more than 200km.
With no airport in Dormaa Ahenkro, it is impossible to fly the team by air from Kumasi.
Al Tahidi insisted on playing the match in Kumasi or Accra where their travel would fall in line with CAF requirements or would refuse to play the match and file a protest.
The threat of not playing the match forced the Ghana FA to dispatch two of its top officials Alex Asante and Osei Tutu from Accra to Kumasi where the Libyans are based to make overtures.
The mediation by the GFA yielded results with the Libyans now agreeing to travel to play the match in Dormaa Ahenko as the home side spent millions in putting their stadium in shape.
Al Tahidi will be driven to Sunyani on Tuesday at 9am by bus in the company of a dispatch rider full with police security.
They will stay at Sunyani and train at Dormaa on Tuesday evening and come back to Sunyani from where they will travel to play the game on Wednesday.
The police dispatch rider and bus will take the Al Tahidi to Kumasi after the game from where they will be flown to Accra by African World Airlines so that they connect to Tripoli on Thursday morning at 11:30am.
This intervention by the GFA ensured that the Libyans changed their minds as the rules were stacked against Aduana. The millions spent by the owner of the club to put the stadium in shape of the match would have gone to waste and most importantly they could have lost the match in the board room.
Aduana will be seeking to overturn their 1-0 deficit from the first leg at the refurbished Nana Agyemang Badu Park with the full support of their teeming fans.
Asante Kotoko chief increases travelling allowance for players to US$ 400 each ahead CARA Brazzaville clash
Asante Kotoko players have had their travelling allowance upped from US$ 300 to US$ 400 ahead of their CAF Confederation Cup qualifier against CARA Brazzaville on Wednesday.
The team arrived in the Congolese capital on Monday and according to the club’s Twitter handle, Executive Chairman Dr Kwame Kyei paid the allowances after breakfast.
This is huge financial motivation for the players to punch above their weights to advance to the next round.
Kotoko managed a slim 1-0 win in the first leg.
Sleepless nights for Chelsea coach
Chelsea boss, Antonio Conte, says he had had trouble sleeping as his side prepare for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have won just four of their past 12 games in all competitions.
Barcelona are in contention to win the treble, and are unbeaten in La Liga, which they lead by seven points.
“This team is one of the best in the world – maybe they are favourites to win this competition,” said Conte.
“On the other hand, we must be excited because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team and to show which is our level,” the Italian added. “We have to try to have the perfect game.”
Chelsea lost their EFL Cup semi-final against Arsenal in January, followed by Premier League defeats by Bournemouth and Watford.
They have started to turn their poor form around, with a league win against West Brom on 12 February, followed by Friday’s FA Cup fifth-round win against Hull.
Conte’s future has been the subject of debate this season and following the Barcelona match, his side face a key game against Manchester United in the league on Sunday.
“In these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest… it was a bit difficult to sleep well,” said Conte.
“When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.”
Chelsea last beat Barcelona in 2012 in the Champions League semi-finals and went on to win the competition for the first time.
Barca’s top scorer this season, Lionel Messi, is yet to score in eight appearances against the Blues.
“We are talking about the best player in the world,” added Conte. “Messi has the capacity to solve situations, create a chance when you are not seeing the chance to score. This means we are talking about a fantastic player.”
Marcos Alonso and Ross Barkley, who have missed Chelsea’s last three games, trained on Monday, but David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko were absent.
Barcelona centre-back, Thomas Vermaelen, has travelled to London, but Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, after playing for Liverpool in the group stages.
. Chelsea and Barcelona are facing each other for the 13th time in the Champions League, the fifth-most played fixture in the competition.
. The London club are unbeaten in their last seven Champions League games against Barcelona (won two, drawn five).
. Barcelona have won only one of their six away games against Chelsea in the Champions League and they have never kept a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge.
. Chelsea will attempt to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2013/14 – they are winless in their last six knockout games.
, Barcelona have reached the Champions League semi-finals only once in the last four seasons.
. Barcelona were one of four teams to remain unbeaten in this season’s Champions League group stages, alongside Besiktas, Liverpool and Tottenham.
. They also have the best defensive record in the Champions League this season, conceding only one goal in six games.
. Luis Suarez has failed to score in the last 791 minutes of play in the Champions League, his longest drought in the competition.
. Eden Hazard has scored three goals and delivered two assists in his last five Champions League games.
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