Hopes of a suspenseful conclusion to the Premier League title race rest this weekend on Manchester United, who take their six-game winning streak to champions-elect Chelsea today.
Chelsea looked set to drop points at Queens Park Rangers last weekend, only for Cesc Fabregas’s 88th-minute goal to earn a 1-0 win that restored their seven-point lead over second-place Arsenal with a game in hand.
As things stand, Jose Mourinho’s side require only 12 points from their seven remaining matches to secure a first league title since 2010.
While a collapse seems unlikely, victory for United would present Arsenal with a chance to trim Chelsea’s lead to just four points when Arsene Wenger’s team tackle their London rivals at the Emirates Stadium on April 26.
With United only a point behind Arsenal, a win might also nourish their own title ambitions, but for Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill, both matches simply represent obstacles that must be checked off.
“They’re good games, they’re mouth-watering games and everyone is looking forward to them,” said the England international. “We’ve chalked another one off against QPR and we’re taking those steps.
“We’re playing against an in-form Manchester United team, but we’re playing at Stamford Bridge and they’re playing against a very good team. It should be a great game.”
Chelsea won their first 10 home games in the league this season, but Stamford Bridge has become less forbidding in 2015, with Manchester City, Burnley and Southampton having all recorded draws there.
They were also beaten at home by third-tier Bradford City in the FA Cup fourth round and crashed out of the Champions League on away goals after a 2-2 draw at home to Paris Saint-Germain.
United have won on only two of their last 16 trips to Stamford Bridge, but they approach the game with confidence higher than at any previous point in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
Last weekend’s 4-2 demolition of Manchester City in the derby gave Louis van Gaal’s side a four-point advantage over the defending champions in third place, bringing a return to the Champions League into sight.
Settled in their new 4-3-3 system and with players like Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera belatedly blossoming in a red shirt, something approaching the belief of old has returned to Old Trafford.
City aside, Van Gaal’s men have also put paid to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool during a defining spell that fans had approached with no little consternation after the slipshod displays of the autumn and winter.
title contenders next year
United are already being billed as potential title contenders for next season, but Daley Blind has warned his team-mates not to look too far ahead.
“I think Manchester United is always a club that is fighting for the title,” said the versatile Dutchman, who is beginning to look settled in the left-back berth.
“Of course other teams are watching us, but we have to watch ourselves this season, our own games, focus on that and then we will see where it ends.
“We don’t have to watch for Chelsea. We have to watch for our own games. We have to look at ourselves. Every game is a final to the end and we have to believe in ourselves.”
There seems little need for Van Gaal to change his starting XI, meaning Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao are likely to remain on the bench, although Michael Carrick went off with a tight calf against City.
Luke Shaw (hamstring) and Robin van Persie (ankle) are expected to return to the squad, but Jonny Evans is still suspended for spitting at Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse.
Chelsea, pegged back by a late Van Persie equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October, will hope that Loic Remy is able to deputise for the injured Diego Costa (hamstring) in attack.
The France international was due to lead the line at QPR, but a minor calf complaint forced him to withdraw, meaning Didier Drogba started up front.
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