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PL Sunday preview: North London derby; clarity for the top-four?

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There’s Super Sunday, and then there’s this Sunday, when six of the top seven sides in the Premier League will be in action…

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Manchester United vs. Swansea City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Injury crisis — noun: see, also: United, Manchester

With five games to go in the PL season, and a top-four place very much within reach — as well as the Europa League trophy — Jose Mourinho is without a half-dozen players whom would have been considered automatic first-choice starters at the season’s start (see below). Fortunately for him, he’s got players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan beyond anxious for additional playing time.

Following a 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Thursday, Man United have climbed to within two points of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and control their own destiny as far as finishing in the top-four goes. Following three straight defeats to Swansea in 2014 and 2015, order has somewhat been restored with the Red Devils winning the last two meetings between the sides. As badly as United need three points to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the Swans need them more in their bid to stave off relegation from the PL (they currently sit three points back of 17th-place Hull City, with a better goal differential).

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Paul Pogba (leg), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe) | Swansea — OUT: Angel Rangel (foot), Nathan Dyer (achilles), Wayne Routledge (hernia)

Everton vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they are winless in their last two visits (PL and FA Cup), looks to be Chelsea’s toughest remaining fixture as Antonio Conte‘s side seeks to lift the club’s fifth PL trophy (sixth in all eras). After a pair of losses in four games’ time saw their lead cut from 10 points to four, the Blues reasserted themselves as the team to beat with an FA Cup semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur, their last remaining challenger, and a convincing 4-2 victory over Southampton in league play on Tuesday.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (fitness) | Chelsea — OUT: None

[ MORE: Sunderland officially relegated to Championship ]

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Following that 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby, Man City remain fourth in the league table, a single point back of Liverpool (with a game in hand). Given the mathematics involved, their margin for error is greater than any of the three sides fighting for the final top Champions League places. With that said, a loss away to 19th-place Boro would be horrendous, season-defining result — one that would take their destiny out of their own hands and see them rely on results elsewhere to finish top-four in Pep Guardiola‘s first season.

INJURIES: Boro — OUT: Victor Valdes (ribs); QUESTIONABLE: Grant Leadbitter (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (back), David Silva (ankle), Gabriel Jesus (fitness)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It was confirmed on Friday that Sunday’s North London derby would be the very last meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal ever played at White Hart Lane, as the 118-year-old stadium will be demolished this summer as construction on Spurs’ brand new, 61,000-seat stadium continues. As fate would have it, not only can Spurs round out the White Hart Lane era with another famous derby when at the Lane, but Sunday also offers Mauricio Pochettino‘s side the chance to do something the club has failed to do in each of the last 22 seasons: clinch a finish above Arsenal in the league table.

Everything is in Spurs’ favor, too, as they’ve won eight straight league games for just the third time in club history (the first time in the PL era), by a combined score of 23-4. Following back-to-back 4-0 wins, over Watford and Bournemouth, their title hopes were kept alive by a brilliant, late strike from Christian Eriksen on Wednesday at Selhurst Park. At the same time, Arsenal were fortunate to top Leicester City courtesy of a comical own goal scored by Robert Huth. If any of those things — stadium nostalgia, form, or current standing in the league (Spurs sit second, 14 points clear of the Gunners — mattered, we’d hand Spurs the three points now. But, this is still Spurs we’re talking about, and why would we ever skip out on the North London derby?

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle), Michel Vorm (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee)| Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knee)

Five games to go: What remains for Chelsea, Tottenham?

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Crunch time has arrived.

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With five games remaining for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League it is Chelsea who sit at the top of the table, four points clear of their London rivals.

Both teams play on Sunday with Chelsea heading to Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Tottenham hosting Arsenal (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in the North London Derby.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule

The gap could be down to just one point 24 hours from now but both teams have vastly different paths in the final weeks of the season with Spurs facing tough tasks and Chelsea handed a very favorable schedule.

That said, Tottenham are in better form with eight wins on the spin and Chelsea’s shaky defensively displays suggest there could be plenty of twists and turns ahead.

Below is a look at the final run-in for the two title contenders as Jenna Corrado and I predict the outcome of the title race.


CHELSEA

TOTTENHAM

Wenger on Spurs’ stadium; Tottenham’s key chain gesture

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Fresh from the announcement that Tottenham will play all of their home games in the 2017-18 season at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has shared his thoughts on the years ahead for Spurs.

[ MORE: Spurs’ US connection continues

He is far from positive about Spurs temporarily moving across north London to Wembley while their new 61,000 capacity stadium, on the site of their current White Hart Lane home, is finished.

Wenger, 67, spoke about Spurs’ stadium move ahead of the final North London Derby at the old White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and gave his rivals a little advice after he oversaw Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

“Much more [difficult] than you imagine it,” Wenger said. “First of all because you face financial restrictions, like we did. Although it might be less in the future because we have more income. Secondly as well because you don’t feel at home like you were before. And you need to recreate a kind of history to feel comfortable and to feel that you play at home. I would say [it takes] two years.”

With Spurs on the verge of finishing above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years (and the first time since Wenger has been at the club) the power struggle in north London has never been closer. Even if Wenger doesn’t want to admit it…

Yes, it will take them time to adjust to their new stadium when they move in as planned for the 2018-19 season but in the meantime Spurs’ record at Wembley has been appalling this season. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have won just one of the five games they played there with two defeats in the UEFA Champions League as they played their group stage game at the home of English soccer.

Aside from the obvious difficulties of moving from their atmospheric and historic current home at White Hart Lane, there are some pretty cool plans for Spurs to say farewell to their home of 118 years.

Perhaps the coolest is that every season ticket holder this season will receive a key chain which shows off blades of grass from the final White Hart Lane pitch.

“If, if, if” — Wenger won’t quit on catching Spurs

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger may be further from Tottenham on the Premier League table as Sunderland is from safety, but he isn’t quitting on St. Totteringham’s Day — not that he’d use that term — until passing Spurs is impossible.

[ MORE: Pochettino on NLD, title fight ]

Tottenham has flailed in a late season superior position before, but it’s almost impossible this time around. If Arsenal wins Sunday, it will be 11 points back with five matches to play. Spurs will have four.

But Wenger is staying wedded to the almost, not the impossible, even in begrudgingly admitted that his North London Derby rivals are the favorites.

From Arsenal.com:

“If, if, if! If, if! It’s true that always in our press conferences we have to respond [about] if the worst happens what do you do? But let’s make sure that the best happens and give absolutely everything to make sure that we finish in a very strong way to our season.”

Wenger said he expects the game to be played in a fashionable, open manner on Sunday at White Hart Lane. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Pochettino: Derby matters, but this is about title not “Totteringham”

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Mauricio Pochettino is a focused boss, one many of us wouldn’t mind as our manager.

The longtime Espyanol man knows a thing or two about being relegated to second fiddle in town, with Catalan rivals Barcelona enveloping the spotlight 99 times out of 100.

That’s why he’s not even bothering with treating Arsenal and “St. Totteringham’s Day” — the Gunners’ annual celebration of clinching a spot above Spurs in the standings — like anything than a derby date.

“I really don’t think about which position Arsenal are in. My view and focus is to try to win every game and try to win the Premier League.

“For me (finishing above Arsenal) is not a motivation. The motivation for me is to win because it’s a derby and I know what it means to win a derby. My motivation is to try to win some titles with Tottenham, and my players improve every day and show we are better than the opposition.”

Spurs as a club is growing in big ways, and aiming to sit atop the Premier League standings every year. Yes Premier League derbies are important, but aiming to finish above a rival versus above all rivals is short-sighted. Pochettino’s got it right.