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Monday 22 May 2017

Premier League talking points

Chelsea could start feeling the heat in the title race
Chelsea could start feeling the heat in the title race

A full programme of midweek Premier League fixtures sees leaders Chelsea face Manchester City, Spurs head to Swansea, Arsenal host West Ham and Everton travel to Manchester United.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the main talking points.

BLUES BRUISED?

From seemingly strolling towards the title Chelsea suddenly face a major test of their credentials. Saturday's shock home defeat by Crystal Palace, and Tottenham's win at Burnley, cut the Blues' lead from 10 points to seven. Now seven points is still a pretty healthy advantage in anyone's book, but next up for Antonio Conte's side is a visit from Manchester City, while Spurs head to lowly Swansea. Come 10pm on Wednesday night the gap could well be just four points, and then we might just have a title race on our hands again.

NO WAY, JOSE

So Craig Shakespeare joined an elite group when he became only the fifth boss to win his first four Premier League matches in charge. But with a home game against a truly woeful Sunderland side next up, it's hard to see anything other than a fifth straight victory. And membership of the five-win club is even more exclusive. Jose Mourinho does not get in, as his fifth game in charge of Chelsea was a goalless draw at Aston Villa. And Guus Hiddink is denied entry after losing to Tottenham with the Blues. Which leaves just Pep Guardiola, who won five on the spin, and Carlo Ancelotti with victories in his first six Chelsea games.

ZLATAN'S BACK

News that might even cheer Mourinho up is the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from his three-match ban for elbowing Bournemouth's Tyrone Mings. Manchester United lost in the FA Cup to Chelsea without the Swedish striker, and could not break down West Brom in Saturday's frustrating goalless draw. Mourinho's testy response to a question from a BBC interviewer afterwards underlined the heat the Portuguese is finding himself under. Ibrahimovic, with 15 Premier League goals to his name this season, will hope to ease some of that pressure against Everton.

BILIC BOOST

Slaven Bilic received a vote of confidence of sorts from West Ham owners David Sullivan and David Gold following their latest defeat, 2-1 at lowly Hull. It's four losses on the spin for the Hammers and the games do not get any easier with a trip to Arsenal on Wednesday night. The Gunners thrashed West Ham 5-1 at the London Stadium in December and will be confident of ending their own winless run. How Bilic could do with a repeat of last season's surprise 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium to give him some breathing space and ease any fears of getting dragged closer to the relegation battle.

CLOUD NINE

Let's be honest. Chelsea will probably still win the league. The current top four are likely to finish in the top four. Sunderland and Middlesbrough are going down, with either Hull or, more likely, Swansea. So where do we look for some excitement over the closing weeks of the season? Fear not, the race for ninth place is starting to hot up. No, really. Current holders Stoke have suffered back-to-back defeats and if Burnley beat them on Tuesday they'll move to within a point. Southampton, with two games in hand, are also waiting to pounce along with Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester, West Ham and even Crystal Palace. Hold on to your hats.

Press Association

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