Chelsea or Liverpool? The battle to finish in the top four
Chelsea need to win and hope for a big upset at Merseyside
The top four race is, more or less, done. Chelsea's unexpected capitulations against smaller teams and Arsenal's inability to do a job away from home means that Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool are likely to finish in the top four, unless Liverpool somehow manage to bottle it against fourteenth-placed Brighton that is.
Unlike other teams the Redmen have dropped points against lately, Brighton are not fighting for survival. This means that Brighton won't defend for their lives; actually, it opens up the possibility of them experimenting, playing squad players, and looking at next season. Still, as a Chelsea fan, I will hope that Brighton do the unimaginable, the unexpected, the extraordinary. And I hope for and expect us to defeat Newcastle in what could be Antonio Conte's final Premier League game for a while.
First, let's look at the Chelsea game. Newcastle away: always a hard fixture. But, similar to Brighton, Newcastle have nothing to play for. They will be sans Kenedy, who is on loan from Chelsea, and that could disrupt the flow of their team. Needless to say, however, Newcastle have still got great talent, which is what kept them up for a second season after a rather surprising relegation.
Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie can come up with moments of magic when you least expect them to, Jonjo Shelvey knows his ways around the Premier League and against tough opposition, Jamaal Lascelles's impressive performances have seen him linked with Chelsea a fair few times now, and Martin Dubravka, like almost all keepers, will probably turn into Lev Yashin against us.
But Chelsea are still, by far, the better side. After being needlessly rested against Huddersfield, Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard will be raring to go against the Magpies, both of them being truly concerned about Champions League places and ready to do all they can. If Tiemoue Bakayoko finds his rhythm, he is the best possible partner for the ever-energetic N'Golo Kante.
And this could be the perfect game for him to start, find his rhythm, play with confidence, earn a start in the FA Cup Final, and outdo Nemanja Matic and show the world what he's capable of. Victor Moses will make a return; he was crucial in the last Premier League outing against the Magpies. Thibaut Courtois will also return to fitness, however, it is uncertain whether he or Willy Caballero will start, both against Newcastle and in the cup final.
Gary Cahill, who is likely to return, has been a key figure at the back. With Azpilicueta maturing very well and taking all the leadership duties (bar the armband) from Cahill, the big Englishman will be more focused on his game, and that has really helped the team.
The match will all go down to which Chelsea will turn up tomorrow. This season, we have seen multiple shades of the same team. On one hand, we have seen a team which could go out there and win the Champions League again. On the other hand, we have seen the players play as though they have just met each other and have no idea what to do. Personally, I see the former coming out at Tyneside.
They will be eager to prove themselves worthy of a start in the FA Cup final, or a place in their national teams for the World Cup. If nothing else, they will be aiming to give their boss Conte a fitting send-off. I see us taking this, 4-1. Giroud to score a brace, Bakayoko and Willian to chip in with a goal apiece. Probably Dwight Gayle for them.
And now, a bit about why we can feel hopeful that Liverpool will slip up. One, Brighton are in a good run of form, having beaten Manchester United and scored at the Etihad stadium, something Chelsea haven't managed at all this season. Two, Klopp will have one eye on the Champions League final, and could possibly rest the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. Another important thing to notice is how Salah is bent on breaking the record of most goals scored in a season. If Liverpool's game plan is to try and help him achieve this, it might not work out too well, especially if the Egyptian is man-marked or just in bad form.
Chelsea player Isaiah Brown was supposed to be on loan at Brighton until the end of the season, but an injury ended his run. However, he probably would have informed Chris Hughton about the importance of their fixture.
Finally, a top half finish means a lot more than a fourteenth placed one, especially for a team everyone expected to be relegated. So there is hope. While I will be hoping for an away win, I see this one finishing 1-1, with Salah getting on the scoresheet and possibly Glenn Murray for Brighton.