Arsenal vs. Leicester, Man City vs. Tottenham: Five key questions
Sunday sees the four sides that will contest the Premier League title race face each other, as Leicester visit Arsenal and Tottenham travel to play Manchester City. We look at what will decide these crucial games...
1. Will Leicester find it as easy to play Arsenal as they did Man City?
Arsene Wenger has a reputation for not really adapting his tactics to counter different opposition teams, the arch aesthete who prefers to concentrate on his own team's strengths rather than his opponents' weaknesses. It's a fairly admirable approach, but actually not one that Wenger is quite so wedded to these days, often tweaking things with respect to who Arsenal are playing.
One wonders if Wenger will learn anything from how Manchester City played against Leicester last weekend and were picked off, overrun and thoroughly beaten by this rapid, marauding Foxes side. Leicester were obviously terrific, but they were helped out by an insipid City, full-backs pushed high and labouring centre-backs presenting a team who seemed tailor-made to be torn apart by Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez et al.
Assuming Leicester adopt the same high-pace, counter-attacking approach as they did last weekend (and there's little to suggest that Claudio Ranieri will alter his tactics), it will be interesting to see how, if at all, Wenger adapts his side to deal with the considerable threat posed by this most unlikely and thrilling of title challengers and league leaders.
2. Who will Arsenal play up front?
Speaking of sluggish centre-backs, while they have been generally excellent all season, Leicester's central defensive pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth aren't exactly fleet of foot either.
With that in mind Wenger might consider leaving Olivier Giroud out and putting a slightly nippier forward in his central attacking role particularly as, like his team in general, the Frenchman hasn't exactly been prolific recently. It's also worth noting that a similar approach worked well for Arsenal in the previous game against Leicester (admittedly before they had established themselves as challengers), when Wenger's side won 5-2 at the King Power Stadium.
The obvious candidate to provide some more speed up top would be Theo Walcott, but he has only one goal in his last 18 games and just three in the league all season.
An alternative could be Alexis Sanchez, and while playing the Chilean through the middle is not a perfect solution as it negates many of his most threatening attributes, it would give Arsenal that pace in a central role that could hurt Leicester. It would also have the added benefit of opening a place up out wide for Aaron Ramsey, where he could help his defence cope with the Foxes' considerable wide threat.
Francis Coquelin should be fit enough to start, which would be a significant boost to Arsenal's midfield and help their shape as they attempt to counter Leicester.
3. Will Tottenham's 'animals' be too much for Manchester City?
Manchester City, it seems, are not a team that like to be rushed. Given time, space and the correct mood, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and pals will pick you apart and cleft you in twain. But if you hurry them, as Leicester did last week, then not only is their creativity diminished but their defence is in some trouble.
A few hours after their spanking by Leicester, Quique Sanchez Flores was gushing in his praise of a Tottenham side that had just beaten his Watford.
"For me, Tottenham is the best," said Flores. "We know perfectly what we want to do when we recuperated the ball, we try to play, when we recuperate the ball, we try to put the ball far away -- but it was impossible.
"It was impossible because they are like animals there, trying to beat and recuperate the ball as quick as possible."
A team of animals against a City side that appears to creak under such pressure. It could be a long old afternoon for Manuel Pellegrini's men.
4. Could Yaya Toure be dropped?
It would, of course, be a significant gamble to leave Yaya Toure out of a game of this magnitude for Manchester City, but it wouldn't be the most outrageous decision Pellegrini will ever make.
Toure is, quite clearly, past his best, as you might imagine would be the case for a 32-year-old with plenty of miles in his legs, which is a simpler and frankly better explanation than the ironically lazy assertion that he is, well, lazy.
The Ivorian still has moments which remind you of what a brilliant player he was, but the problem is that he's now basically in the team in the hope that he will produce enough of those moments to turn the game. It's true that Toure's poor performances are perhaps over-emphasised because of who he is, but the primary argument for keeping him in the team at the moment is that there isn't an especially convincing alternative available, particularly as David Silva is likely to be missing with an ankle injury.
Toure probably will start on Sunday, but that's not necessarily because he's fully deserving of a place in the team.
5. Will anything be decided this weekend?
The short answer to that question is, literally, no. Of course any of the teams that could lose on Sunday will not be absolutely out of the title race, but it's clear that defeat would be a significant blow from a psychological perspective.
Should Leicester beat Arsenal they will move eight points clear of the Gunners with 12 games remaining: not an insurmountable gap, but one that will take the sort of mental fortitude that Arsenal have traditionally lacked to overcome.
Equally, should Tottenham beat Manchester City, it might properly convince them, if they were not convinced already, that they genuinely could win the whole thing.
By Sunday evening the top two of Spurs and Leicester could have clear water between them and the two sides that will feel they should have this title in the bag. What an extraordinary season.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.