Chelsea will face an in-form Manchester United as they try to move one step closer to the Premier League title at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho’s table-toppers are currently seven points in front of second-placed Arsenal, who are involved in FA Cup semi-final action against Reading this weekend.
Third-placed United are a point further back, having played a game more than Chelsea, but Louis van Gaal’s men will arrive in London on a run of six successive wins.
Chelsea need just 12 points from their seven remaining matches to win their first league title since 2010 and while a defeat on Saturday wouldn’t spell the end of their challenge, it would give the chasing pack a glimmer of hope.
The Blues’ form over the whole season was reflected on Thursday when the Chelsea pair of striker Diego Costa, currently the Premier League’s joint top-scorer on 19 goals with Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, and the gifted Eden Hazard were among the six nominees for England’s Professional Footballers’ Association Premier League Player of the Year award.
Last week Mourinho said Hazard was “by far the best player” in the league and it was a view backed up by Chelsea attacking midfielder Oscar.
“In my opinion he (Hazard) is the best player in the Premier League at this moment,” Oscar told Goal.
“Hazard has been so consistent and he deserves to be considered as the best player in England.”
Meanwhile, former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar said fellow-Dutchman van Gaal was the right man to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford.
Van der Sar, who won four titles at Old Trafford, said his old club would be in serious contention to lift the Premier League trophy next season, even if it was likely to prove just beyond their grasp this term.
“With a little bit of luck, they could have done that this season but for Chelsea winning a lot of those games with late goals — but let’s hope so,” van der Sar told United’s website.
“Believing in the philosophy of Louis, at the start of the new season, I think he can bring the club back to the place where it belongs.”
– Neville backs Pellegrini –
Faltering champions Manchester City, now 12 points off top spot, will look to ease the pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini with victory at home to West Ham on Sunday following last week’s 4-2 derby defeat by Manchester United.
Pellegrini received support from an unlikely quarter on Thursday when former United and England full-back Gary Neville urged City to keep the Chilean at Eastlands.
“I hope they don’t change manager,” Neville said Thursday. “He (Pellegrini) used the term ‘garbage’ in recent weeks when discussing City’s form and four wins in 15 games for a club like Man City is not right and I hope he stays to correct the performances and can complete the job.”
Sixth-placed Southampton will continue their quest for European football — and possibly even a place in the Champions League — away to Stoke on Saturday.
Meanwhile, basement club Leicester are only three points adrift from safety heading into their match at home to Swansea on Saturday.
The Foxes will kick-off buoyed by last week’s 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion and manager Nigel Pearson said: “Our future is in our own hands and if we go into the last game with that we have given ourselves a realistic chance.
“It’s great when results go your way, but they only help if you’ve done your own job.”
Second-from-bottom Burnley travel to Everton on Saturday while Tottenham, looking to qualify for Europe, are away to struggling Newcastle on Sunday.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Chelsea v Manchester United (1630 GMT), Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion, Everton v Burnley, Leicester v Swansea, Stoke v Southampton
Sunday: Manchester City v West Ham (1230 GMT), Newcastle v Tottenham (1500 GMT)