Premier League Playback: Straight two-horse race for the title

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And then there were two…

With Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur both winning in Week 30, the Premier League title race is now between those two teams.

Arsenal and Manchester City have gone. They are out of it. Adios.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

They both have a game in hand on Leicester and Spurs, but after drawing at Norwich this weekend Man City trail Leicester by 12 points and Arsenal is 11 points behind. At this point of this season, that’s insurmountable.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Leicester lead Tottenham by five points with eight games to go and Spurs are the only team who can realistically catch the high-flying Foxes.

Below is a look at five reasons why each of the two remaining contenders can win the Premier League.


WHY LEICESTER CAN WIN THE LEAGUE

1. Vardy and Mahrez: With 37 of Leicester’s 53 goals coming from these two, there’s no need to talk about their importance. Must stay fit.

2. The lead: The Foxes need just 20 points from their remaining eight games to win the PL. Simple.

3. Kante: Mahrez and Vardy may get the plaudits but this man is the heartbeat of Leicester’s midfield. Tough to single out individuals but he’s superb.

4. Easier run-in: Compared to Spurs, they have an easier run-in. They face Man United, Everton and Chelsea in the final three games.

5. Momentum: Claudio Ranieri was seen urging the fans and players on in the final minutes against Newcastle. They are on a roll and must keep grinding.

WHY SPURS CAN STILL WIN THE LEAGUE

1. Kane: With another two goals at the weekend, Kane is now the joint-leading goalscorer in the PL. If he stays hot, Spurs will sweep all before them.

2. Defensive solidity: Spurs have the best defense in the PL by some margin and they’ve been missing perhaps their best defense for a while. So solid.

3. No Europe: They will likely bow out in the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund this week and that’s a very good thing for their PL hopes.

4. Belief: Mauricio Pochettino and his young squad have a strong belief in themselves and what they’re doing. Come crunch time, that could be the difference.

5. Offensive options: If Pochettino has to switch things up, he has some decent options. Heung-Min Son and Nacer Chadli can add something different off the bench.


Virgil Van Dijk COMING OF AGE

Many PL teams such as Sunderland, Arsenal and Manchester United contemplated buying Virgil van Dijk in the past but for whatever reason, they passed. Perhaps it was because he was too much of a risk taker on the ball or had only flourished in Holland and Scotland.

Premier League Schedule – Week 30

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-2 Swansea Recap, watch here
Leicester 1-0 N’castle Recap, watch here
Norwich 0-0 Man City Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-2 Southampton Recap, watch here

Nevertheless, Southampton bought him for $18.5 million last summer and the flamboyant Dutch center back is fast becoming one of the buys of the season. His manager at Southampton, Ronald Koeman, was, and still is, the greatest flamboyant defender in history.

If anybody had to take a chance on Van Dijk, it was Koeman. During Southampton’s 2-1 win at Stoke City on Saturday, Van Dijk shone in the absence of the suspended Jose Fonte and he is really coming of age. He blocked Giannelli Imbula‘s shot superbly, won everything in the air and seems to be improving every game.

Speaking as a special guest on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football in the UK, he is obviously happy with what he’s seeing from the 24-year-old.

“He is very important and is a really good defender,” Koeman said. “He is strong, fast and also important in the way we like to build up. He is a good short passer and a good long passer and also has a good tandem with Jose Fonte. Last Saturday he was in good tandem with Ryan Bertrand. He is a good header and has a great shot and is also a good free kick taker. He’s a very good center back.”

“One of our philosophies is playing from the back and you really need center backs who like to be involved and confident in playing football from the back. My only worry with Virgil was that we signed him out of the Scottish league from Celtic and that is different than the Premier League. That makes him a little but trickier but he had the experience of playing against the likes Barcelona in the Champions League.”

Van Dijk’s performances for Saints has seen him called up to the Dutch national team for the first time and big clubs will surely come calling for the man who loves to stream out of the back with the ball. He has three goals in his debut season in the PL and could have had more. He is comfortable playing in a three-man defense or a 4-4-2 system and is truly adaptable and is so comfortable on the ball. Plus, playing under a manager like Koeman he is only going to improve as the legendary Dutch center back passes on his vast knowledge.

That said, despite making a name for himself with his performances, someone at Stoke struggled with how to spell his name…


FA CUP EQUALITY; END FOR WENGER?

The draw for the FA Cup semifinals has been made and if the madness in the PL hasn’t clearly highlighted the equality present in England’s top-flight this season, then the FA Cup’s final four does.

Both semifinals will take place on the weekend of Apr. 23-24:

  • Everton vs. Manchester United or West Ham
  • Crystal Palace vs. Watford

One of Palace or Watford will be in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 21. That will be the biggest game in decades for whichever team makes it. In this season of the underdog, the theme is continuing.

[ MORE: Is this the beginning of the end for Wenger?

In the quarterfinals Chelsea lost at Everton with Diego Costa losing the plot, but the absence of Arsenal on that list is the most surprising as the side who won the FA Cup the last two seasons crashed out at home against Watford last weekend.

Manager Arsene Wenger is under increasing pressure and scrutiny from the fans with Arsenal’s wait for a PL title set to continue. They last won the PL in 2003-04 and this season did represent their best chance yet of winning it again, but the Gunners are likely to finish below both Tottenham and Leicester and will not have the FA Cup as consolation silverware. That, plus their impending elimination from the UEFA Champions League against Barcelona this week, is why Wenger is under so much pressure.

After two decades Wenger could be heading for the exit door this summer, whether he wants to or not. It seems unthinkable but the situation is becoming toxic.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.