Manchester United and Arsenal will be looking to take advantage of Chelsea’s absence from Premier League action this weekend by leapfrogging the Londoners at the top of the table.
Chelsea have sat on top of the pile for much of the season but come Saturday night, they could even find themselves slipping down to third, if results go against them.
Champions United, one point behind in second, can go two points clear if they win at Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Arsenal, two points further back, could go above them on goal difference if they beat Burnley by a big margin at the Emirates.
When Wolves travelled to United in December, they had just beaten Tottenham but manager Mick McCarthy caused controversy when he fielded a largely second team, preferring to keep his better players for the more winnable challenges ahead.
This time, striker Kevin Doyle believes his manager will play his strongest possible team as they continue their fight against relegation, with the club sitting outside the relegation zone, but only on goal difference.
“For that game at Old Trafford we had three games in a week and that was the reason for the changes,” Doyle said: “Obviously that’s not the case this weekend and I’d love to play.” Doyle believes Wolves are not without a chance of an upset victory. “We’ve got points against big teams this season and we could have got something against Chelsea two weeks ago,” he said.
“It’ll be the same against Manchester United. There have been lots of shock results this season — you can’t predict any results. United play a huge number of games and no matter how good a player you are, that is bound to take its toll. You just never know what might happen.” United assistant manager Mike Phelan believes the experience of title run-ins mean United may have the edge over their rivals as they chase a fourth consecutive Premier League title.
“No one team has pulled away this year, so it’s difficult to even say it’s between us and Chelsea, because a lot of teams could finish the season strongly,” he said.
“But it is a race and it’s a battle at times. You’ve got to make sure you’re in it, and then it can swing your way or against you at the last minute.
“We’ve the experience and tradition of being in these races to draw upon and it will be important that we know how to handle the run-in this season.”
Arsenal entertain Burnley at the Emirates on Saturday knowing that if either of the top two slip up, they can overtake them and snatch the title.
On paper, their fixture list is much easier than that of either Chelsea or United and full back Bacary Sagna believes they are better equipped than ever to take advantage, should the opportunity arise.
“We have grown up and are wiser than last year and two years ago,” Sagna said. “We have learned a lot and now I think we can deal with the pressure.
“Having experienced players like Sol Campbell and William Gallas is massive because they know what it means and they know how they felt at the moment when they won.
“They can help us to imagine what we can do and what we can achieve all together. It is very important for them to talk a lot to the team and make us calm.” Liverpool have the chance to go fourth if they can win at Wigan on Monday night, while bottom side Portsmouth will have to wait until midweek to continue their fight against seemingly inevitable relegation.
In the FA Cup, Chelsea host Stoke City while Aston Villa are away to Reading. Fulham meet Tottenham and Portsmouth welcome Birmingham City to Fratton Park.