CUP interruptions mean there are a few big names missing from week 26 of the 2016-17 English Premier League season.
Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have all had their matches postponed, which will give Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur a chance to get a leg-up in what is a fascinating top-six tussle.
Perhaps the match of the round is Burnley’s trip to Hull City, which could have significant consequences in the relegation fight.
Premier League match odds
Chelsea -400 – Draw +450 – Swansea +1200
Crystal Palace +110 – Draw +225 – Middlesbrough +260
Everton -250 – Draw +350 – Sunderland +700
Hull +120 – Draw +220 – Burnley +240
West Brom +105 – Draw +230 – Bournemouth +275
Watford +150 – Draw +230 – West Ham +180
Tottenham -277.78 – Draw +360 – Stoke +800
Leicester +450 – Draw +300 – Liverpool -166.67
Chelsea vs. Swansea City
3pm local time – Saturday, February 25, 2017 – Stamford Bridge
- Chelsea 2-1 correct score – +600
- Pedro Rodriguez first goalscorer – +400
The champions-elect dropped a couple of points away at Burnley last time out, but they are not alone there.
With their lead down to eight points, another trip-up would make things very interesting indeed.
The Blues were hardly dominant against a spirited Wolverhampton Wanderers side in the FA Cup, although they did enough for a 2-0 result.
Thibaut Courtois has been battling illness, but the Belgian goalkeeper is expected back in action this weekend.
Thus, Antonio Conte should have a full roster to choose from when Swansea come to visit.
The Swans have improved out of sight since Paul Clement took the reins, winning three of their last four.
Only goal difference was keeping them off the bottom at Christmas, but now they are four points clear of the drop zone after beating Leicester.
The Welsh side is getting some real value from its key defenders at set pieces, with Alfie Mawson – scorer of the first against the Foxes – netting three goals in his last six games.
Swansea have a few outs, with Leon Britton (back), Nathan Dyer (Achilles), Ki Sung-yeung (knee) and Jefferson Montero (thigh) out injured.
Whether any of those guys would feature in Clement’s best XI is a matter for debate.
Recent history suggests Swans fans should be quietly optimistic, as they beat Chelsea at the Bridge last season and have not lost to the Pensioners in three meetings.
Hull City vs. Burnley
3pm local time – Saturday, February 25, 2017 – KCOM Stadium
- Hull to win by one goal – +260
- Adama Diomande first goalscorer – +550
The Tigers might have lost their last one, but they are tracking in the right direction.
That is all the more remarkable given they have just come off consecutive dates with Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Marco Silva’s men took four points from that stretch, nicking a draw at Old Trafford and conquering the giants of Merseyside at the KCOM.
Despite a gargantuan injury list, Hull are playing as well as they have all season and will fancy their chances against Burnley.
The Clarets came crashing back to earth last weekend when Lincoln City knocked them out of the FA Cup to become the first non-league team in the quarter-finals for over a century.
They could fall through the crust on Humberside if their away form holds steady.
While Burnley have made Turf Moor an absolute fortress in EPL play, they have yet to find a winning formula on the road.
With one point from a possible 33, their away record is easily the worst in the division.
Yet the Lancastrians have a surprisingly dominant historical advantage over Hull.
They have never lost to the Tigers in the Premier League, winning four of their five meetings in the top tier.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City
1:30pm local time – Sunday, February 26, 2017 – White Hart Lane
- Spurs to win both halves – +230 at Sportsbet
- Dele Alli first goalscorer – +500
Spurs must be kicking themselves.
With Chelsea stumbling at Burnley, even a point at Anfield would have been a decent result.
But Liverpool ran them off the park and would have scored many, many more goals if not for the heroics of Hugo Lloris between the sticks.
Jan Vertonghen is on the park at last, which will bolster a back line that was sorely exposed by a rampant Reds attack.
It also means Eric Dier – perhaps the weakest link in that 2-0 defeat – can return to his favoured role in midfield.
Deli Alli and Harry Kane had no joy on Merseyside, but they rediscovered their mojo in last week’s win over Fulham in the FA Cup.
Stoke’s mission will be to prevent those two from finding any space.
With only one defeat in six games, they have edged unassumingly into the top half of the Premier League table.
January signing Ramadan Sobhi enjoyed a strong EPL debut against Crystal Palace, making a number of eye-catching plays from the wing before teeing up Joe Allen for the winner.
The Potters would love even more output from their Egyptian recruit when they tackle Spurs, who have beaten them 4-0 in their last two clashes.
Leicester City vs. Liverpool
8pm local time – Monday, February 27, 2017 – King Power Stadium
- Liverpool half-time/Liverpool full-time – +150
- James Milner first goalscorer – +800
What else is there to say about the Foxes?
Five losses on the bounce, one win in nine games, one point from the relegation zone – it’s a hell of a title defence.
They weren’t dreadful in midweek at Sevilla in the Champions League, but their weak points – namely a slow, poorly shielded defence – were exposed nonetheless.
Jamie Vardy scored at the Pizjuan, while both Leonardo Ulloa and Islam Slimani could return to bolster Leicester’s attacking stocks.
As poor as the defending champs have been, this is exactly the kind of game Liverpool tend to lose.
Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull, Swansea, Wolverhampton – it is the serious underdogs that have troubled the Reds this season.
As attractive and entertaining as their all-action football can be, they struggle to break down teams that stick to a plan and defend for their lives.
Leicester have not shown an inclination towards that manner of play all season, so Jurgen Klopp’s men should be angling for a big victory.
They were terrific against Spurs a fortnight ago, with Sadio Mane in scintillating touch after missing a big chunk of fixtures due to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Another standout that night was Lucas Leiva in the heart of defence, but the Brazilian stalwart is a big doubt after limping off with a muscle strain late on.
Dejan Lovren is half a chance to return from a knee injury, while Daniel Sturridge should be given the green light after missing the club’s training camp in Spain with a bout of the flu.