April 2, 2017

Is The Title Race Back On?  (Sky Sports)

Diego CostaThe Premier League title will be up for grabs if Chelsea lose at home to Man City in midweek, according to the Sunday Supplement panel.

The league leaders suffered a shock 2-1 loss to struggling Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, the Blues' first top-flight defeat since going down 2-0 to rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on January 4.

That setback, coupled with Tottenham's own 2-0 victory at Burnley on the same day, has now seen Chelsea's lead at the top cut to seven points with nine matches left to play this season.

But with high-flying City due in west London on Wednesday, and Mauricio Pochettino's team travelling to relegation-threatened Swansea City on the same night, that advantage could be reduced even further were results to go Spurs' way.

"If City were to win in midweek, then it [the title race] is definitely back on," Steve Bates, the Sunday People's chief football writer, told the Sunday Supplement.

"The interesting thing here is that it has been pretty much plain sailing for Antonio Conte so far. The last big significant defeat they had was against Tottenham and they really came back strongly from that and went on another huge winning run.

"Can they do that again at a time of the season when it is notoriously squeaky-bum time, as Fergie famously called it? Conte has never been in the situation all season where the pressure is beginning to bite now.

"And although they have that cushion of seven points, it is certainly his job now to make sure it does not get in the players' minds that, if we lose against City, it [the lead] is down to four points….

"Then everything goes out the window and it would be up for grabs if City do manage to beat them."

One parallel for Spurs to draw on could be City's first-ever Premier League title win in 2012, when Roberto Mancini's side hauled in Manchester United.

"I look back to Man City's first Premier League win when Man Utd were eight points ahead with six games to go," said The Sun's northern football writer, Neil Custis. "And you could never see that crumbling, particularly with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge.

"If results go the right way, it could actually be down to one point before Chelsea play again next weekend and that is when the nerves come in.

"I actually think Chelsea are a far better team than Tottenham and will actually see it out, but what it has created is something we were hoping for some time now, a little bit of excitement.

"And you do not know how the nerves are going to affect them, it certainly affected Tottenham last season. But I think that Tottenham are a mentally stronger side this time."

All of which now makes Wednesday evening's clash with Pep Guardiola's team a huge test of the Chelsea players' character, according to Sam Wallace.

"Wednesday is the big one now, it is a real test for Chelsea," said the Daily Telegraph's chief football writer. "I think in all title run-ins, there is always a hiccup. And if they lose to Man City at home, then it will be four points.

"And then it really would be back on then. I am not sure it is yet. I thought in the aftermath of it, Conte was pretty calm. Since the Liverpool defeat, which was the last home defeat before this one, it has been pretty much plain sailing for him.

"So this is a really interesting test of how he rallies those players and whether they can come back. But whether it is back on or not, I think we will find out on Wednesday.

"It was not a terrible performance, they created lots of chances, they just could not put them away.

"One thing that was really noticeable was that a few times when [Wayne] Hennessey made saves, he pushed the ball out into the area to a Palace player. And I think on another occasion it would not have done.

"He brought on a [Michy] Batshuayi, who we do not see much of at Chelsea, and you ask yourself: 'If [Diego] Costa does not score, then who else comes through for them?'

"But in terms of their performance, it was not a terrible performance, it was just a very bad result."

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