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Premier League title contenders assessed

Rob Parrish analyses the Premier League title credentials of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City going into the final run-in.

Last Updated: 07/03/14 at 15:01 Post Comment

Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City are battling for Premier League

Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City are battling for Premier League

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"It's getting tickly now - squeaky-bum time, I call it."

Sir Alex Ferguson's description of the 2002/03 Premier League title race offers the perfect summary of the 2013/14 contest as Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City battle for glory.

The legendary Scot can now look on from a much more relaxed and detached viewpoint, with his retirement only soured by the fact that Manchester United's defence of his final top-flight crown has ended with barely a whimper.

With 10 games to go - 12 for City after their Capital One Cup exploits and a weather-induced postponement - a mere six points separate the leading four clubs.

With respective managers Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini all eager to play down their chances, and with the former indulging his carefully planned attempts to unsettle his opponents, further verbal sparring can be expected.

Away from the trash talk and purported mind games, the final third of the season promises to unfold in spectacular fashion on the field.

Here, Rob Parrish looks at the four clubs who remain in the frame to lift the Premier League trophy at 5pm on Sunday, May 11.

Chelsea

Points: 63 Sky Bet odds: 6/5

Form: Chelsea have been close to flawless since the turn of the year, with only the frustration of a home stalemate against West Ham and a below-par display in a 1-1 draw at West Brom seeing them drop points. Everton, Manchester United, Liverpool and - most critically - Manchester City have all been beaten in their last 10 matches to lift Jose Mourinho's men into top spot.

Fixtures: The first key test comes on Saturday evening, live on Sky Sports, when Tottenham travel to Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal then make the trip across London on March 22, before what could prove to be a pivotal meeting in the season is scheduled for Anfield on April 27 when the Sky Sports cameras will be in attendance.

The Blues' remaining games are all against sides currently in the bottom half.

Prospects: As the odds reflect, Chelsea are now in pole position to claim their first Premier League crown since 2010 and their third under Mourinho after his back-to-back triumphs in 2005 and 2006.

A favourable fixture list, in-form players and a manager with title-winning experience are a potent cocktail, but continued involvement in the Champions League may test even the deepest of squads.

Mourinho's view: "If I win every game until the end of the season, all 10 - which we won't - maybe we are not champions. If they (Man City) win all 12 games they have, they are champions. They have their destiny in their hands."

Liverpool

Points: 59 Sky Bet odds: 5/1

Form: Since their narrow defeat to Chelsea on December 29, Liverpool have matched the leaders stride for stride, with seven wins and two draws in their last nine games.

Brendan Rodgers' side have been in blistering form in front of goal, averaging three a game over their last 10 matches and have now outstripped the much-heralded Manchester City forward line, albeit having played twice more.

Fixtures: A trip to Manchester United on March 16, live on Sky Sports, is next on the agenda for Liverpool, and while the fading champions are not the force of old they remain a potent foe.

The Reds' other key tests will come at Anfield, against Tottenham (March 30), Manchester City (April 13) and Chelsea (April 27), with the Sky Sports cameras in attendance for every game.

Prospects: A lack of European action has clearly aided Liverpool's cause, with a reduced fixture list enabling Rodgers to select his strongest side throughout the top-flight campaign, although City and Arsenal are likely to be only 90 minutes away from being in the same position.

Liverpool's defence remains a concern, with just three clean sheets in their last 10 and 14 goals conceded.

Rodgers' view: "We just want to keep winning games. There are 10 games to go now and we'll just see where it takes us. Everyone speaks about Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, and rightly so. They're the three teams that have been up there for a number of years."

Arsenal

Points: 59 Sky Bet odds: 20/1

Form: The weakest of the top four. After being blown away by Liverpool's four-goal blast in the opening 20 minutes of their 5-1 defeat at Anfield, Arsene Wenger's men have been held at home by Manchester United, thrashed a Sunderland side who had one eye on the Capital One Cup final and then lost in limp fashion at Stoke.

Prior to that, though, the Gunners had won six and drawn one.

Fixtures: The next four Premier League matches will determine if Arsenal's title challenge can recover from their current blip. The north London derby with Tottenham at White Hart Lane on March 16, live on Sky Sports, is followed by a trip to Chelsea (March 22), a home meeting with Man City (March 29) and then a clash with Everton at Goodison Park (April 6), with the latter two matches also live on Sky Sports.

All of which come after their FA Cup quarter-final against Everton and the Champions League second leg away to Bayern Munich.

Prospects: Given the manner of their recent defeats to Liverpool and Stoke, where defensive vulnerability was followed by attacking impotence, and their forthcoming schedule, it is easy to see why the bookmakers are offering such generous odds on Arsenal ending their trophy drought.

A recovery is not impossible, though, and the Gunners have proved the critics wrong before this term.

Wenger's view: "March is the month: we play Spurs, City, Chelsea, Bayern, Everton in the cup. We have a great opportunity to show that we are strong, which is what I think. At the end of March we will know much more."

Manchester City

Points: 57 Sky Bet odds: 11/8

Form: One defeat and two draws in 15 Premier League games is hardly cause for concern, but a run of just one goal in three top-flight matches did raise eyebrows, particularly after the previously devastating displays from Manuel Pellegrini's men.

One piece of silverware has been secured after a Capital One Cup triumph over Sunderland based on two moments of individual brilliance, rather than a composed team display, but a Champions League exit to Barcelona seems likely.

Fixtures: City's critical spell comes in late March and early April when back-to-back away games against Manchester United (March 25) and Arsenal (March 29) are swiftly followed by a trip to Liverpool (April 13), with all three games live on Sky Sports.

Pellegrini's men have two further top-flight matches to fit into their schedule, while their continued FA Cup involvement could add further congestion in the closing weeks.

Prospects: As Mourinho is so keen to point out, City have their fate in their own hands, but every manager in the world would prefer to have six points on the board over the promise of two games in hand, regardless of a superior goal difference.

With one trophy banked, some pressure is off Pellegrini's shoulders, but the Etihad hierarchy will have their eyes on more significant prizes.

Pellegrini's view: "We will evaluate the season when the season ends in May. I don't think top players or an important group can be satisfied with one trophy. We are the only club that has the chance to win all the competitions. If you have the chance to do the first, you must do it."

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