Alex Keble returns with his regular analysis of four key tactical battles ahead of the weekend action in the Premier League, including why Norwich could cause Leicester problems, and how Cesc Fabregas could put Chelsea back into contention for a top six finish...
"Although most assume Chelsea’s season is over a victory against Southampton would take them to within four points of Ronald Koeman’s side and place them firmly back in contention for a top six finish."
Wasilewski v Brady/Naismith
This is arguably the most important game of the weekend, a must-win match for Leicester City after the disappointment of the Arsenal defeat and a vital chance for Norwich City to halt the slide. Claudio Ranieri will expect his swashbuckling team to score freely against a team that have conceded 21 goals in their last seven games, but he should be concerned about Norwich's threat down their left.
More than three quarters (77%) of Norwich's attacks are down the wings (second most in the league behind Crystal Palace) and these have become heavily focused on the left wing since Steven Naismith's arrival; as a left-footed central attacking midfielder he naturally drifts this way, and in fact played on the left wing in Norwich's last match against West Ham.
In Naismith's four games for the Canaries, Wes Hoolahan has scored twice and assisted once, while Robbie Brady's performances (on the overlap) are improving. As a trio, their movement is causing problems on this flank and increasing the number of crosses they throw into the box (55% of Norwich's goals are from crosses).
This is a worry for Leicester. The last five goals they conceded (stretching back to Boxing Day) have all come from crosses into the box, and Danny Simpson's suspension means that they will be vulnerable on the Brady/Hoolahan/Naismith flank. Marcin Wasilewski (4.0 tackles, 2.5 interceptions per match) is a strong, slow centre-back who will most likely struggle to cope with Brady's overlapping runs. N'Golo Kante will play a crucial role as ever, shuttling across to help out on that wing when Riyad Mahrez is recovering from a counter-attack.
Back both teams to score at 17/20
Romeu v Fabregas
Although most assume Chelsea's (league) season is over a victory against Southampton would take them to within four points of Ronald Koeman's side and place them firmly back in contention for a top six finish. Cesc Fabregas is unrecognisable from the sluggish, undisciplined player who was dropped by Jose Mourinho and he will be the key to breaking through a defence that has not conceded in 524 minutes but is without key midfield destroyer Victor Wanyama.
Fabregas was magnificent against Newcastle and Manchester City, floating behind Diego Costa and threading delightful one touch passes reminiscent of that period in autumn 2014 when the Spaniard amassed a flurry of assists to take Chelsea to the top of the table. However, more impressive was Fabregas's assured, defensive performance in the 2-1 defeat to PSG; he sat alongside John Obi Mikel and held his ground nicely while bursting forward at the correct moments.
Wanyama's suspension means that Oriol Romeu will start against his former club this weekend. He will be tasked with tightly marking Fabregas, and ensuring that he is not given enough time on the ball to pick out Costa. Romeu averages 2.5 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game; he will need to boast far better statistics than this if he is to help preserve Southampton's clean sheet streak.
Back Chelsea to win either half at 4/5
Mata v Ramsey
Live on Sky Sports 1
This is the biggest match of Louis van Gaal's Man United tenure; a defeat that in any way resembles the embarrassing 3-0 loss to Arsenal in October and Ed Woodward will make the call to Jose Mourinho. This is likely to be an open, end-to-end match given that Arsenal will press high and Manchester United's defence is somewhat erratic, and thus the discipline shown in central midfield will be a key feature.
Aaron Ramsey has been in excellent form in central midfield for Arsenal, although he is still prone to rashly committing to attack and leaving Francis Coquelin with too much to do. This could be a problem against Man Utd, since Juan Mata is finally returning to form and - with Anthony Martial up front - will have somebody to thread through balls to should he find himself in space between the lines of defence and attack.
Mata has not recorded an assist in the league since September but his goal against Shrewsbury on Monday night should further build his confidence. The Spaniard's crisp first touch and driven passing has returned in the last month as Manchester United quietly regain some of their attacking dynamism. If Ramsey over-commits to attack then Mata will most likely flourish; it is the most important area of the pitch.
Back both teams to score at 19/20
Mason v Ayew
Tottenham will expect to record a comfortable victory at White Hart Lane but Mousa Dembele's injury could leave them light in midfield against the drifting runs of Andrew Ayew. If Spurs are caught roaming too far forward then the Swans, via set-pieces, have a chance of snatching a point.
Tottenham commit more fouls (12.7 per match) than any other Premier League side, most likely because of their hard pressing tactic, while Swansea are the third most fouled team (11.9 per match). Ayew is fouled 2.2 times per game, more than anyone else in the Swansea squad, because he drifts into unexpected central areas from the left wing and thus draws clumsy tackles from opponents.
Ryan Mason, who is likely to replace Dembele whilst Tom Carroll remains injured, is less adept defensively than Dembele and thus is at risk of ensuring Swansea's counter-attacks are successful by conceding fouls deep in his own half. The away side may have only scored three set-piece goals this season, but with Jefferson Montero (4.7 crosses per match) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (4.0 crosses per game) they are still dangerous from these scenarios.
Back both teams to score at 23/20