Leicester are dangerous opponents, and Manchester City should fear them
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights five key points to keep an eye on.
Man City vs. Leicester
Aston Villa vs. Norwich
Liverpool vs. Sunderland
Newcastle vs. West Brom
Stoke vs. Everton
Swansea vs. Crystal Palace
Tottenham vs. Watford
Southampton vs. West Ham
Bournemouth vs. Arsenal
Chelsea vs. Man Utd
1. Will the patronising of Leicester finally end?
It's increasingly difficult to argue that Leicester City won't win the 2015-16 Premier League title, and that's OK. It's about time we all embrace the idea that the Foxes and their manager Claudio Ranieri will lift the trophy in May. Yes, there are still 14 matches of the season to go, but Leicester, as their three-point lead at the top shows, are the best team in the division. Ranieri's men are making a mockery of their peers, playing beyond what was considered to be their maximum.
Tuesday's 2-0 win over Liverpool was another example of their brilliance. Saturday lunchtime's opponents, Manchester City, need to be at their most wary. There was a sequence against Liverpool when Leicester strung together 10 passes on their route to the opponents' penalty area. The speed of thought and execution was ferocious, leading to comparisons with 2011's astonishing Barcelona team. With Leicester's confidence sky-high and the shock of their position meaning they have very little to lose, the Foxes are very dangerous indeed.
2. Have Arsenal thrown away the title?
Arsenal's goalless draw at home to Southampton on Tuesday felt like a defining moment of their season. Manager Arsene Wenger pointed to the several chances created, but a title winner needs to only fashion one opportunity, then convert it, to secure victory. The recent draws at Liverpool and Stoke would have been fine had they not choked at Emirates Stadium to Chelsea and Southampton. Now, with no wins in four and five points between them and leaders Leicester, the dream is slipping from their fingers.
This campaign is Wenger's best chance to win a first title since 2004 for many years. After this summer, when Pep Guardiola arrives at Manchester City and Chelsea get a new permanent boss, the Frenchman may not get another realistic opportunity. The onus to win at Bournemouth on Sunday, ahead of hosting Leicester on Feb. 14, is far more suffocating than it needed to be. Fourth place and the FA Cup just won't cut it this season, Arsene.
3. Have Manchester United finally turned a corner?
Manchester United scored a first-half goal at Old Trafford and then netted a further two more against Stoke City on Tuesday. This actually happened. We are some way off the realms of redemption for much-scrutinised manager Louis van Gaal, but steps have been taken in the right direction. Since being beaten 2-0 at Stoke on Boxing Day, Van Gaal's side have lost one match, with Anthony Martial continuing to be wonderful and Wayne Rooney scoring seven goals. That defeat, at home to Southampton, threatened to be the tipping point for Van Gaal, but advancing in the FA Cup and a genuinely enjoyable performance this week have tempered the siege. Triumphing at Chelsea on Sunday will go some way to ensuring this season won't be a disaster after all.
4. Just how good can Dele Alli be?
What must it be like to have the world at your feet? Tottenham's Dele Alli is 19 (nineteen!) and his potential is pretty terrifying. His strike in the 3-0 win at Norwich this week was his seventh Premier League goal of the campaign. He already has more top-flight goals than a former bright young hope of English football, Jack Wilshere. The Arsenal midfielder's stagnation, largely due to injuries, is a warning to such building up of youthful talent. But it is acceptable to get excited about Alli, especially after that goal against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Sure, there will inevitably be a difficult period on the horizon, but for now his displays should rightly be cherished and lauded. Head coach Mauricio Pochettino will hope for more of the same at home to Watford, for Spurs have a title to compete for.
5. Can Alan Pardew halt Crystal Palace's slide?
Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace have lost their last five Premier League matches and they are sinking down the table. An impressive start to the season saw them in the heady heights of second before a levelling out of form led to them nestling in the Europa League places. But now Palace are 12th, with the aforementioned return doing enough to keep them 10 points away from the relegation zone, for now. Pardew has taken to blaming referees for the results, which is never a good look. Yet it's his side that are making mistakes, with just two goals mustered in their previous seven top-flight outings. For a man who is the bookmakers' second-favourite to be the next England manager, the Pardew brand is taking a battering.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.