Week 33 of the Premier League is here and there are plenty of storylines swirling around with six games of the season to go.
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With Leicester City just four wins away from sealing a stunning title win, can the Foxes move one step closer this weekend?
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Let’s take a look at that and more in the top five storylines in the PL.
Defoe holds the key as Black Cats, Foxes clash
Sunderland host champions elect Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light and one man holds their survival hopes in his hands: Jermain Defoe. The veteran striker, 33, is the one player the Black Cats possess who has world class finishing ability. Defoe has scored in two of his last three games for Sunderland, which is all of Sunderland’s goals in their last three encounters. After drawing four-straight games, Sam Allardyce has obviously sorted Sunderland’s defense out but scoring goals has become a real problem for Big Sam’s side who are running out of time. They are four points behind Norwich City heading into this weekend but do have a game in hand over the Canaries.
Defoe has to keep firing and Sunderland must get the supply he deserved if they’re going to get out of the mire. Facing league-leaders and high fliers Leicester is probably not what Sunderland needed right now but given the fact that Claudio Ranieri‘s side have won five of their last six games 1-0, there will be one decisive moment in this match. If it falls to Sunderland’s predtaory forward, chances are that Defoe will take it.
Title and fourth place aspirations collide at the Lane
Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United clash on Sunday at White Hart Lane (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with plenty on the line.
Spurs know they must keep winning and hope Leicester slips up, while Manchester United is locked in a straight battle with crosstown rivals Manchester City and upstarts West Ham United for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot. A report this week from Holland suggested Louis Van Gaal will remain at Old Trafford next season but if United don’t finish in the top four it’s hard to see that happening.
Tottenham has the best defense in the PL and despite United’s host of injuries, they’ll have to keep a close eye on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who’ve struck up quite the partnership in attack in Wayne Rooney‘s absence.
Speaking of goals, Harry Kane is on fire right now with six goals in his last four PL games. He now has 22 for the season to lead the PL and if he’s on form he’ll be the difference. This will be a tight game, just like it was at the start of the season, as the two best defenses in the PL met with plenty on the line for both.
London Calling: Last-ever derby at Upton Park
West Ham United’s famous Upton Park home will host its final London derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as Arsenal arrive.
The Hammers have enjoyed a stellar campaign and led by the mercurial talents of Dimitri Payet, Slaven Bilic‘s first season in the PL could end up with a top four finish as they’re just three points off Manchester City. West Ham believe they can qualify for the UCL and with all the pressure mounting on Man United and Man City, maybe the Hammers will sneak in and shock everyone.
As for Arsenal, they’re also lurking on the edge of a battle. As the title race has seemingly become a two-horse race between Leicester and Tottenham, Arsene Wenger‘s men have the chance to momentarily close the gap with leaders Leicester to eight points on Saturday and have a game in hand. Maybe their title race isn’t over after all. Still, in a week which saw Wenger reveal he rejected the chance to sign Payet, the French international will likely score the winner to all but end Arsenal’s faint title hopes and significantly boost West Ham’s top four chances. That’s just the way this season has gone for the Gunners.
Top six scrap at Anfield
Liverpool and Stoke City have been evenly poised throughout this season and they clash on Sunday at Anfield (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) with plenty on the line.
The Reds have two games in hand of Stoke in the race for the top six but the Potters have caused them problems this season in both the League Cup semifinals and the opening day of the campaign where Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner (how many times have we said that over the past 12 months?) saved Liverpool. This will be a closely fought encounter at Anfield and with Jurgen Klopp‘s men facing Borussia Dortmund in a key Europa League quarterfinal either side of this game, expect some players to be rested and Stoke to have a big chance of winning at Liverpool. Mark Hughes‘ men have been inconsistent in recent weeks but big name players like Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri usually get going when it comes to games like these.
Down and nearly out
Aston Villa could finally be put out of their misery this weekend. Villa face Bournemouth at home on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) and if they fail to better Norwich City’s result against Crystal Palace then they’re officially down. Villa are a massive club but have been poorly mismanaged for years as American owner Randy Lerner has cut corners, sold star players and hasn’t found a buyer for the Midlands club.
Without a manager and soon to be relegated from the top-flight for the first time in the PL era, Villa have made sweeping changes behind-the-scenes as Remi Garde and Tim Sherwood were both fired during this season. When all is said and done, relegation may finally correct plenty of the wrongs at Villa over the past few years. Then again, we may not see them back in the PL for quite some time as the second-tier is a brutal and unforgiving division. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs at Villa Park.