Saturday 2/25/17 (7:00 AM PT)
Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough (4)
With just 11 games to go and a stagnating title race, we have officially entered that part of the season in which the bottom-of-the-table matchups become excellent, and with Palace and Middlesbrough both desperately needing points, this should be a cagey match. Palace are obviously in serious trouble in 19th, but even worse than their position is their form, as the Eagles have just one Premier League win in their last 11 games and are
Hull City vs. Burnley (3)
Continuing along with more important bottom-half clashes, Hull need to get a solid result against Burnley this weekend to invigorate their own chances of survival. Yes, Turf Moor has been a fortress for the Clarets, but Burnley are a shocking 0-1-10 on the road and have scored just five times in those 11 games. Hull presents an opportunity to better that record, but for a team that is already pretty safe, they won’t posses the same motivation as the Tigers. Still, the points are very much up for grabs.
Everton vs. Sunderland (2)
It’s amazing how quickly feelings can turn. Two matchdays ago, Sunderland creamed Crystal Palace 4-0, and there was a thought they might be able to actually make a move out of the relegation zone. Then, they were smacked by the same scoreline the next week at the hands of Southampton. The Black Cats might have the ability to do damage against the bottom teams, and they will have to in order to survive, but Ronald Koeman’s Everton side –– which hasn’t lost in its last eight PL games –– is simply too much to handle for Sunderland at the moment.
West Brom vs. Bournemouth (2)
The Cherries appear to be safe sitting six points above the relegation zone, but Bournemouth haven’t won in any competition since December and are falling fast. Meanwhile, West Brom will finish the season in the mid-table and are just looking to successfully see out what’s been a quality campaign. Bournemouth clearly have much more to play for, and they will need to show that urgency down the stretch or else run the risk of getting pulled into a nasty race they were miles clear of two months ago.
Chelsea vs. Swansea (3)
This game certainly has meaning at both ends of the table, but there should only be one winner. Chelsea can continue their title charge with what should be an easy three points at Stamford Bridge, but there’s some hope for the underdogs. Swansea have turned things around under Paul Clement with four wins in their past six games, including an away victory over Liverpool, and the Swans have had success against Chelsea lately, with a win and two draws in their last three clashes with the Blues. Getting anything from this game will be seen as a bonus for Swansea, and that could allow them to play with a bit of freedom and perhaps nick a result against the league leaders.
(9:30 AM PT)
Despite the enticing kickoff time, this game isn’t all that enticing simply because these sides are both just about locked into the mid-table. Watford sit two points and four places behind the Hammers and could move into the top half with a win, while West Ham are on a decent league run with 10 points from their last five games. The saving grace could be that neither team has a solid defense, as they’ve allowed 43 (West Ham) and 42 (Watford) goals, so this may be a high-scoring clash, even if it doesn’t have much bearing on the PL’s interesting races.
Sunday 2/26/17 (5:30 AM PT)
Tottenham vs. Stoke City (3)
Like the above sides, Stoke are relatively comfortable in the middle of the table, but Spurs are certainly in the midst of a dogfight in the Champions League positions. There’s been a bit of a wobble of late for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who lost their last PL game to Liverpool before being unceremoniously dumped out of the Europa League by Gent. That could prove to be a blessing in disguise, though, as Spurs will be able to turn their attentions to the league (and the FA Cup, which they rest in the quarterfinals of). After playing his strongest available squad Thursday against Gent, Pochettino may be forced to make alterations, and that could create some trouble for Spurs, although they are undoubtedly the favorites against an unremarkable Stoke side.
(8:30 AM PT)
EFL Cup final: Manchester United vs. Southampton (Wembley Stadium) (5)
Ok, so it’s the least important trophy available to top-flight clubs in England, but don’t tell United or Southampton fans that the EFL Cup is meaningless (although United fans may argue it is given their historical success). Saints would love to lift a cup in Claude Puel’s first season on the South Coast, and the same can be said for Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils. Both managers will play strong sides with silverware in sight, and the stakes of a cup final always create drama of some sort. It may not matter all that much in the grand scheme of the English football landscape, but this could still be a rousing contest, and both sides will certainly give their all to lift the trophy.
Leicester City vs. Liverpool (5)
After Claudio Ranieri’s somewhat surprising (although not quite stunning) departure on Thursday, the manager-less Foxes immediately turn around for a massive home clash with Liverpool. Last season, Jamie Vardy scored a belter of a volley to lead Leicester over the Reds, but the feelings around the two sides are certainly different this season. Liverpool scuffled through January but looked back to their best two weeks ago in a win over Spurs, while Leicester have lost five league games in a row, are coming off defeats against Millwall in the FA Cup and Sevilla in the Champions League, and haven’t scored in the PL since New Year’s Eve. Liverpool are the sure favorites, but with stakes at both ends of the table, quality on both sides of the pitch, and a late kickoff, this should be a fascinating fixture and is certainly one to tune in for.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona, Sunday 2/26/17 (11:30 AM PT)
Barcelona are in the midst of a terrible stretch, but thanks to Valencia –– who beat Real Madrid in the midweek –– the La Liga title race is suddenly back on. The Blaugrana are just a point behind Los Blancos (with Real holding a game in hand), but they know there might be even more points to be made up this weekend with the leaders visiting Villarreal. However, Barcelona can’t be scoreboard-watching, as they will have their hands full with Atletico Madrid, whose stout defense and star-studded attack is going to make life very difficult for Barca at the Vicente Calderon. Realistically, Atletico would need a lot to go right to make their way back into the title race, but this would be an important start, and it is still a massively important fixture given they are only four points from dropping to fifth and missing out on the Champions League. The La Liga table could look much different come Monday.