Tottenham set for spoilers role in surge to finish
Little movement expected from this weekend's matches, but Spurs could end up being pivotal
The battle for the English Premier League title, which appeared to have been whittled down to a three-horse race, has opened up again after Liverpool's recent surge and Tottenham may have a part to play as well - if not as serious contenders, then at least in helping to decide which one of their rivals emerges on top.
It is difficult to envisage any significant movement at the top of the table this weekend, with all of the leading teams having highly winnable games. Chelsea, on paper, have the most difficult match at home to Everton, but their record at Stamford Bridge should carry them through.
Everton's challenge for a top-four place has faded in recent weeks, with only two wins in six league games since the start of 2014, and on current form they look unlikely to stop Chelsea. The best bet might be over 2.5 goals, which has occurred in seven of Chelsea's 11 home wins, and the fact that the home defence is so prone to conceding is the main concern with backing Chelsea at short odds.
The next three teams in the table also have home games and they are all against opponents from the group of relegation-threatened sides from 10th place downwards. Arsenal may have the biggest problem against Sunderland, who rank sixth in the Premier League on form since Christmas (they have taken 14 points from eight games, while Arsenal have taken 20 points from nine).
The Gunners have been unconvincing in some home games but the big difference in the past year is that they find a way to get the job done - they have won all seven games against the lower group at the Emirates since their shock opening-day defeat by Aston Villa - and they are difficult to oppose on that form.
Manchester City and Liverpool, the heaviest-scoring home teams, look set to continue that pattern against Stoke and Swansea respectively.
One of the fascinating factors in the title race is that Liverpool are the only contenders with just the Premier League to focus on, following last week's FA Cup defeat at Arsenal. As well as fewer games to play than their rivals, Liverpool also have one of the easier run-ins.
The main reason Liverpool fell behind in the title race was that they played most of the best teams on the road in the first half of the season, but that has turned round in their favour. If they can win their big home games, or at least not lose them, and pick up their away form maybe the bigger if) Brendan Rodgers' team have a chance.
Their home statistics are impressive: 11 wins out of 13, only one failure to score, 38 goals scored at an average of almost three per game and just nine conceded. Nine of their last 10 home games in the league have been won by at least a two-goal margin and the same number have had over 2.5 goals.
Tottenham are serious top-four contenders, having taken 23 points out of 30 under new boss Tim Sherwood, and the biggest question mark is how well they will recover from their Europa League match in Ukraine.
On paper Tottenham rank the best-value bet of the top teams for their trip to Norwich, as they have the best away record in the Premier League with nine wins out of 13.
Southampton are another away side that catch the eye, at West Ham. Only one of their away defeats was against a side outside the top six and they look a solid bet on the handicap.
Hull are riskier at Cardiff but worth considering on the basis that they could be open to improvement after buying strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic in January. The upturn in form has yet to happen, which is a worry, but they are a team to watch. Cardiff have gone nowhere under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and this is a match Hull should be able to win.
The longshot to consider are Aston Villa, who are always dangerous on the road and will fancy their chances of exposing Newcastle's fragile confidence. Newcastle have not scored in four games since the departure of influential midfielder Yohan Cabaye and, with the home crowd increasingly restless, Villa's counter-attacking style could cause more problems.