Premier League title a win away for Chelsea; Spurs bid adieu to the Lane
W2W4 previews the weekend's Premier League fixtures and highlights five key storylines.
Friday night lights out?
Last Friday, Tottenham's loss to West Ham handed Chelsea the task of collecting six points from four matches to win the Premier League title. On Monday, Chelsea collected three of those points by blasting Middlesbrough away 3-0, as Cesc Fabregas' master class in passing took centre stage. This Friday, a win at West Brom will seal the deal and allow Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to let his hair down.
Tottenham remain in second place, and if any hugely optimistic Spurs fans are hoping for a favour from West Brom, they might be heartened that Tony Pulis' Baggies -- who have been in eighth place since New Year's Eve -- broke a five-match goal drought with a 2-2 draw at Burnley on Saturday. Another grain of comfort is offered by Chelsea's rather poor record at the Hawthorns. They last won at the jewel of the Black Country in April 2011, a 3-1 win when Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard were the scorers and Carlo Ancelotti was the manager.
So perhaps the title party might need to wait. Beyond that, Chelsea have the none-too-difficult assignments of Watford and Sunderland to welcome back at Stamford Bridge. They might even prefer to win the title in front of their home fans. In any case, this title race is all over bar the shouting.
Farewell to the Lane
Spurs are on their way to Wembley next season as a temporary home. That means Sunday will be a tearful farewell to White Hart Lane and almost 118 years of history. Who better to invite to such a sentimental occasion than Jose Mourinho, the jovial life and soul of any party?
Manchester United have Stockholm in mind and a Europa League final with Ajax, so much so that their hunt for a top-four position has been abandoned. It certainly looked that way last week, when United played so passively in losing 2-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates. Last year, United were the last-ever visitors to Upton Park and lost 3-2, before a Cockney carnival took place afterward.
Spurs, fighting for a title and having delayed a decision on moving to Wembley until late last month, have been rather less showy about the big farewell than their East London cousins were. After all, they'll be moving back in next door to the new stadium come August 2018.
If microscopic dreams of the title are terminated by Chelsea winning on Friday, it's likely this match will take the shape of a glorified friendly. Neither team will have anything to play for.
Liverpool walking a tightrope
In recent weeks, a worrisome pattern of play has emerged for Liverpool. It appears that opponents have worked them out. Having lost Sadio Mane to a knee injury and with captain Jordan Henderson struggling with an ongoing foot problem, Liverpool are lacking speed in attack and guile in midfield.
Sit deep, and Liverpool do not have the tools to break down massed defences. Southampton held them 0-0 at Anfield last week, where two weeks previously Crystal Palace won 2-1. Liverpool are third in the table, but Manchester City are a point behind with a game in hand. And Arsenal, in fifth place, suddenly believe too. Liverpool cannot rely on freak goals such as Emre Can's overhead kick at Watford to bail them out each time.
Slipups have to be avoided. Perhaps Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp might be glad of playing away from home, where an anxious atmosphere has developed of late.
West Ham might prove ideal opposition, having booked safety by beating Tottenham last week. Or perhaps the London Stadium has at last found its teeth. There was a bear-pit atmosphere last Friday, and maybe the Hammers are now fighting for manager Slaven Bilic, whose future is by no means secure.
Hull stare down the barrel
Middlesbrough followed Sunderland into the Championship on Monday, leaving just one place left in the trapdoor. If Hull hadn't lost their nerve last week and lost 2-0 to Sunderland at the KCOM Stadium, Sunday could have been their chance to put themselves out of reach of Swansea. Just at the point Hull stopped being underdogs and were expected to win, they lost the run of themselves.
Instead, if Swansea -- a point ahead after beating Everton last week -- win at Sunderland on Saturday and climb four points clear, then Hull would need to win at Crystal Palace on Sunday to stay alive with one match to go. Lose and they are all but down. Hull manager Marco Silva has augmented his CV by reviving a seemingly lost cause, but blowing it now could make potential suitors question his candidacy
Barkley to be banked?
Everton manager Ronald Koeman is not sentimental. He is not in football management to make friends. And he is playing hardball with Ross Barkley, still yet to sign a new Everton contract. "Either he accepts the contract or we sell the player," Koeman said Thursday.
Barkley has just a year left on his current deal, so Everton must cash in now. Friday's fixture against Watford could be his final Goodison bow.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.