Premier League questions: Will Leicester be able to break West Brom down?
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 01/03/16 12:20pm
The Premier League fixtures are coming thick and fast as the season enters its finale, with five games taking place on Tuesday night, including leaders Leicester's home clash with West Brom.
Will Claudio Ranieri's side be able to break the Baggies down and continue their title charge? And will Cesc Fabregas continue his upturn in form for Chelsea against Norwich?
With Aston Villa, Everton, Bournemouth, Southampton, Sunderland and Crystal Palace also in action, we look at five key questions for the games ahead.
Can Everton rediscover their rhythm? (Aston Villa v Everton, 7.45pm, Tuesday)
On Tuesday, it will be have been 10 days since Everton faced Bournemouth in the FA Cup and 17 days since their last Premier League encounter. Roberto Martinez might see the break as a boost ahead of the last few weeks of the season, but it has also left them to stew on a bitterly disappointing 1-0 loss to West Brom on February 13.
How will they respond? The good news for the Toffees is that their opponents are bottom side Aston Villa, who look doomed after their 2-1 defeat to Stoke on Saturday. Remi Garde's men will not be overly enthused about another meeting with Romelu Lukaku, either. The Belgian scored twice in Everton's 4-0 win over the Villans in November, and in total he has scored five times in his last four league appearances against them.
Everton have been plagued by inconsistency this season, and taking three points from the Premier League's whipping boys is imperative if they are to finish the season on a high.
Can Southampton bounce back from Chelsea defeat? (Bournemouth v Southampton, 7.45pm, Tuesday)
Southampton's six-game unbeaten streak was brought to an abrupt end by Branislav Ivanovic's 89th-minute winner for Chelsea on Saturday as Ronald Koeman's side conceded their first goals since a 1-0 defeat to Norwich on January 2.
Such a late defeat was tough to take for the Saints, who had gone ahead through Shane Long's first-half strike, but their next task will be to bounce back against south-coast rivals Bournemouth. Southampton beat Eddie Howe's side 2-0 at St Mary's Stadium earlier this season, and a similar result would help them keep their European challenge alive.
Will Leicester be able to break West Brom down? (Leicester v West Brom, 7.45pm, Tuesday)
Leonardo Ulloa's 89th-minute goal broke Norwich's resistance on Saturday, but up until then the Canaries showed exactly how to stop the high-flying Foxes. Claudio Ranieri's side are at their most effective when given opportunities to counter-attack, but Alex Neil negated that threat by sitting deep with three centre-backs and ceding possession.
Leicester consequently had almost 60 per cent of the ball, well above their average of 41 per cent this season, and they struggled with the unfamiliar task of breaking down a packed defence. Meanwhile, Norwich gave them a taste of their own counter-attacking medicine at the other end and they should have been 2-0 up at half-time.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis, who prides himself on defensive solidity and organisation, is likely to adopt a similar approach. In Riyad Mahrez Ranieri possesses a player capable of moments of match-winning magic, but it will be fascinating to see how they adapt to teams who sit back and let them have the ball.
Will Cesc Fabregas continue his Chelsea resurgence? (Norwich v Chelsea, 7.45pm, Tuesday)
Chelsea's steady climb up the table continued with Saturday's 2-1 win over Southampton, a game which featured another impressive performance from Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard endured a miserable 2015 under Jose Mourinho, but his improvement has been key to Chelsea's upturn in form under Guus Hiddink.
His equalising goal against the Saints owed a lot to Fraser Forster's error, but he was at the heart everything for the Blues and completed 110 passes across the 90 minutes. It came after a similarly influential display in Chelsea's FA Cup demolition of Manchester City, and his total of two goals and three assists in his last nine games represents a significant improvement.
Against relegation-battlers Norwich, who have lost six of their last seven games, Fabregas will be aiming for more of the same.
Will Crystal Palace slide into a relegation battle? (Sunderland v Crystal Palace, 7.45pm, Tuesday)
With 31 points from their opening 19 games of the season, it was unimaginable that Crystal Palace could be drawn into a relegation battle at the turn of the year. Alan Pardew's men sat just four points off the Champions League spots in fifth, and all the talk at Selhurst Park was about whether they could qualify for Europe.
In eight games since then, however, Palace have taken a solitary point from a possible 24. Their wretched winless streak in the league stretched to 10 games with Saturday's 3-2 defeat to West Brom, and another defeat at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday could pull them right into the mire.
Sunderland will certainly fancy their chances. Sam Allardyce's men were narrowly beaten by West Ham on Saturday, but they have taken points off Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, and their form has markedly improved since January. For Pardew and Palace, another defeat would be a serious cause for concern.