After a damaging loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Chelsea will seek to resurrect their creaking title challenge in the Premier League against Stoke City on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho’s side went down 3-1 at the Parc des Princes in the first leg of their quarterfinal on Wednesday and they have also conceded the initiative in the Premier League after two defeats in their last three games.
Last weekend’s shock 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace saw them knocked off the league summit by Liverpool, who they now trail by two points, while third-place Manchester City are two points behind with two games in hand.
Mourinho declared Chelsea’s title challenge over after their defeat at Selhurst Park, but with Liverpool not in action until Sunday, victory over Stoke would at least take the London club back to the top of the table.
Stoke, however, are in excellent form, having taken 13 points from a possible 15 to climb to 10th place, and manager Mark Hughes has challenged his players to maintain their momentum until the end of the campaign.
“Now we have put ourselves in a really strong position to achieve what we set out to do at the start of the year,” the Welshman said on Thursday.
“It is about making sure we capitalise on the position we have put ourselves in for these last six games.”
While top spot remains within reach for Chelsea, the closeness of the title race means that they could kick off against Stoke in third place if City win at home to Southampton earlier on Saturday.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Arsenal brought a run of four straight victories to an end for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but they remain favourites for the title ahead of next weekend’s showdown at Liverpool.
City could have top scorer Sergio Aguero back from a hamstring injury for the game at the Etihad Stadium, but Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino says that his side will not be cowed.
“We always have the belief that we are going to win,” said the Argentine, who has not lost against the 2012 champions in two previous encounters.
“We know we are going to be facing a very tough side in Manchester City, a side that is definitely a candidate to win in the Premier League and are one of the best teams in England and Europe.
“Despite that, we are still going with the belief that we are going to play our game and we are going to get something out of that game.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Manchester United travel to Newcastle United buoyed by a vastly improved performance in their 1-1 draw at home to defending champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Bayern remain the favourites to reach the semifinals ahead of next week’s return leg in Munich, but manager David Moyes has urged his players to build on their performance against Pep Guardiola’s side.
“We are hoping we will continue,” said the Scot, whose team go into the weekend 10 points below the top four.
“We have shown some good form at times and some inconsistent form. There have been some good signs in games and hopefully we will see that in the next game at Newcastle.”
Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to West Ham United on Sunday afternoon, the battle for fourth place will take centre stage when fourth-place Arsenal visit fifth-place Everton.
Five straight wins have taken Everton to within four points of Arsenal and they also have a game in hand, while last month’s FA Cup defeat at the Emirates Stadium will be a further source of motivation for Roberto Martinez’s side.
“Arsenal at home is going to be a big one,” Everton midfielder James McCarthy told the club website this week.
“I’m sure the fans will come out in their numbers. Hopefully we can put things right from last time we played them and push for that Champions League spot.”
“They put us out of the cup and it is never nice to get beat. It’s going to be a big ask, but we will give it our best shot.”