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Sunday 21 January 2018

Premier League talking points

Antonio Conte's Chelsea are in sparkling form
Antonio Conte's Chelsea are in sparkling form

This weekend the Premier League convenes for the final time before Christmas. There will be gifts and merriment for some and lumps of coal for others.

Here, Press Association Sport assesses five key issues.


The race for the Premier League title has swung emphatically in Chelsea's direction in recent weeks, with Antonio Conte's winning run now standing at 10 matches and counting. Crystal Palace look unlikely candidates to stop the Blue juggernaut but the Eagles are an unpredictable side and Conte is not a man to take these things for granted. Chelsea have the defensive power to blunt Palace and the kind of depth that sees a player of Cesc Fabregas' standing emerge from the shadows to see off Sunderland in midweek. Eleven in a row does not seem fanciful.


Manchester City and Arsenal are separated by only one point heading into their meeting on Sunday and the game feels like a big test of both side's mettle. Defeat for either would probably see them shunted down the list of title challengers and questioning their own approach. City have been patchy for for an extended period but appeared to resolve some of their issues - most notably by playing four at the back and keeping a clean sheet - in victory over Watford on Wednesday. Arsene Wenger's men have been considerably better for most of City's stuttering run but blotted their copy book at a bad time by allowing Everton to run over them at Goodison Park.


The Black Cats have never been far from a must-win match in the past three or four years and Saturday's game against Watford certainly seems to fit the bill. Things had just started to look up for manager David Moyes when relegation rivals Swansea delivered an almighty gut punch last weekend. The Black Cats fought hard in their narrow defeat to Chelsea but in their last home match of the year, something more tangible is required. Another loss could leave morale in an unsalvageable state.

SMALLING RETURN England defender Chris Smalling is ready for his Manchester United comeback, a first appearance since October 23, and Jose Mourinho appeared to confirm he would at least make the matchday squad at West Brom. But will he be forced to bide his time for a starting spot? Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones have manned the breach in the absence of Smalling and Eric Bailly and earned their manager's trust in doing so. Smalling, meanwhile, appears not to have fully captured Mourinho's ear and his place in the pecking order could be about to become clear.

CHAMPIONS CHASING CONSISTENCY After Jamie Vardy's season-long party, 2016-17 has been a dreadful extended hangover for Leicester. The 4-2 win over Manchester City looked for all the world like a turning point - a return to the fast-paced counter-attacking style that brought them to the summit, goals for the previously barren Vardy and bright, relieved smiles for Claudio Ranieri. Then? A 1-0 loss a Bournemouth. The Foxes badly need a run of form to banish fears of a relegation fight. Can they do it on a cold winter afternoon in Stoke? They need to.

Press Association

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