Premier League: Fate, romance, the perfect farewell? Who wins the title?

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Matt Oakley and Wes Morgan
Leicester's Matt Oakley lifts the League One trophy in 2009 - and five years later Wes Morgan holds aloft the Championship trophy. Is the Premier League next to be added to the trophy cabinet?

Leicester City were left convinced it was a case of two points lost when they drew with West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, but 24 hours later they were celebrating one point gained.

A Premier League season that has become predictable only by its unpredictability delivered new twists as the three closest members of the chasing pack lost to leave the Foxes three points clear.

Spurs missed the chance to go top by losing at West Ham United, Arsenal suffered arguably the most calamitous reverse of all at home to Swansea City, while Manchester City were comfortably beaten at Liverpool.

With 10 matches remaining, who wants to claim the top prize in the best and craziest Premier League season of all?

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Top of the Premier League table

Is destiny taking Leicester to the title?

All of the top four will have a romantic tale to tell if they win the title - but a Leicester triumph would be the greatest story in Premier League history and one of the greatest in British sporting history.

And are they receiving a helping hand from destiny as they attempt to complete the journey from Premier League escape artists to champions in the space of 12 months?

Leicester were struggling to break down Norwich City on Saturday as they attempted to rebound from only their third league defeat of the season - until bit-part player Leonardo Ulloa's 89th-minute winner.

It was followed by the initial disappointment of the 2-2 draw with West Brom - only to see their pursuers fall around their feet to leave Foxes boss Claudio Ranieri last man standing, and smiling, on Wednesday.

No negatives despite a draw - Ranieri

On a day when the Premier League's elite clubs were linked with a European breakaway league, the homespun and unfashionable Foxes bucked the trend again, with every neutral without a title interest willing them on in these last 10 games.

Go back 12 months and what do we have? Leicester City rooted to the foot of the table after losing 2-0 at Manchester City - where they won so brilliantly this season - and after their 28th game, a goalless draw at home to Hull City, they were seven points adrift of safety on only 19.

This team built on a budget, with the defensive backbone of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, have defied every piece of logic.

N'Golo Kante has been the bargain of the season at £6.5m, while the transformation in "the pinnacle of the iceberg" - as Ranieri calls potent strikeforce Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy - has been nothing short of stunning.

At this stage last season, Vardy had scored just one Premier League goal and had four assists - fast forward a year and the amount of assists is the same, but the goals tally is 19.

Mahrez had two goals and three assists this time last year. The improvement has been spectacular - now he has 14 goals and 11 assists.

With a little help from the fates, and their stumbling rivals, Leicester City could yet write the most remarkable chapter in Premier League history.

What sort of effect is Leicester City's success having on the people of Leicester?

Can Tottenham end 55-year wait?

The last time Spurs headed the top flight in March was in 1964 - and they must wait to repeat that feat after missing the chance to overhaul Leicester with defeat at the Boleyn Ground.

They did not win a game in March 1964, and 19 days into the month they were knocked off the perch when eventual champions Liverpool beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at Anfield to replace them on goal difference.

'The Mersey Sound' was top of the charts when Spurs hit those lofty heights - Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas at number one with 'Little Children'. Golden couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had just got married for the first time on 15 March. They even had another crack at marrying each other in the 70s, but Spurs still could not land a title.

Spurs finished fourth in 1963-64, despite the great marksman Jimmy Greaves scoring 35 goals in 41 league games.

Legendary manager Bill Nicholson was rebuilding after the Double-winning side of 1961 - but no-one at White Hart Lane would have believed they would still be without another title 55 years later, not helped by losing at home to Everton, Manchester United and Liverpool in that key month of March 1964.

Pochettino reflects on 'bad night'

It would please many traditionalists to see Spurs reclaim the title after so long, but there will be further tests of nerve ahead before this great old club can contemplate that new glory.

Harry Kane is now the main striker with 16 league goals, but he had a rare off night as Spurs were outplayed by West Ham, Michail Antonio's goal full reward for Slaven Bilic's side.

Spurs looked jaded from their recent FA Cup, Premier League and Europa League exertions, but they need to recover before Saturday lunchtime's north London derby against Arsenal at White Hart Lane.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino demands much of his players physically, but they have youth on their side with the youngest average age for a starting XI across the Premier League this season at 24 years 294 days.

And they are only second behind Bournemouth with kilometres in their legs this term. The Cherries have run 3,273km while their Tottenham counterparts have clocked up 3,245.4km. Spurs also have the highest number of sprints this season with 15,074.

It may account for the lacklustre showing at West Ham - but they will have to be prepared to run the extra mile to end that long wait.

Tottenham team

Is it title or bust for Wenger?

For many of football's purists, the perfect farewell to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal would be to add one more title to his honours board. The Frenchman has won three Premier Leagues, the last with 'The Invincibles', who went 38 league games unbeaten in 2003-04.

Wenger could then walk away fulfilled after years of frustration.

After the week from his nightmares, there must now be the growing possibility the 66-year-old may have to consider his position after another title failure.

Arsenal statistics from March to May
Statistics show Arsenal have struggled to gain any momentum past March in recent seasons

In many respects, this was the season Arsenal have been waiting for - the season when the flaws of their rivals might just cover up the Gunners' own problems, that have always surfaced at the title pressure points.

Champions Chelsea imploded under Jose Mourinho, Manchester City have stumbled to a succession of poor results while Manchester United have barely been in the reckoning.

And yet Arsenal's home defeat by Swansea City, coming after the Champions League loss to Barcelona and being beaten 3-2 by a youthful and injury-hit Manchester United leaves them six points behind Leicester and at their low point of the season.

Arsenal have no great track of late-season surges to give their fans cause for optimism. In the past 13 seasons, their points-per-game tally has dropped off seven times after 5 March - the crucial part of the campaign.

It is a trend Wenger must hope can be reversed for his own sake as well as Arsenal's.

Wenger still has the FA Cup to aim for - which would complete a hat-trick of successes in that competition - but this has arguably been his best chance to take the title since 2004, and Arsenal's nerve has failed them once more.

There has been an undercurrent of criticism about Wenger's inability to mount a title challenge. If he misses out this season, when all of the Gunners' main rivals have been flawed, it may be one failure to much for the man who has put his imprint on Arsenal since September 1996.

Thierry Henry and Robert Pires
Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were key figures in Arsenal's last title success

No fond farewell for 'This Charming Man'?

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has the Capital One Cup in his locker this season after Sunday's shootout win over Liverpool, but will the dignified Chilean add another before he is replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer?

Many inside and outside Etihad Stadium would be happy for 'This Charming Man' - taken from the song by The Smiths for a banner brandished by City fans - to round off a successful spell at the club with his second Premier League.

It looks ever more unlikely after a poor performance in the 3-0 loss at Liverpool left them 10 points off the top and now, almost inconceivably, level on points with arch-rivals Manchester United and much-lampooned manager Louis van Gaal, though the Red Devils have played a game more.

City simply lose their edge too often, such as in home defeats by Leicester and Spurs. Those wanting to be champions rarely get away with losing eight games, twice as many as Pochettino's side and five more than the Foxes.

Manchester City fans hold aloft a banner for Manuel Pellegrini
Manchester City fans have always taken kindly to Manuel Pellegrini

Their lethargy is reflected in the statistic that reveals they have run less than any other side in the Premier League - 2,901.1km. It is not a deal breaker, but perhaps reflects a lack of physical intensity.

And only West Brom have a squad with a higher average age. City's is 28 years 236 days - the Baggies' exactly a year older.

The pace may need to be increased if City are to do what they have done twice in recent seasons and mount a late surge to win the title.

And what of the rest?

'Very important' win delights Van Gaal

Suddenly an orderly queue is forming to threaten the top four. It may be stretching credibility to breaking point but imagine a scenario where Guardiola arrives at a Manchester City side getting ready to compete in the Europa League?

Manchester United are suddenly a serious threat to the top four, despite the speculation Van Gaal is marking time until the end of the season and Jose Mourinho's arrival.

And what about West Ham? Developing at a rate of knots under Bilic, roared on by Hammers fans loving the last days of the Boleyn Ground and inspired by the brilliant Dimitri Payet, they are now only one point behind City and United after beating Spurs.

Where will it all end? No-one can even guess.


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