- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

LONDON (AP) - In less than two weeks, Chelsea has damaged both its Premier League and Champions League chances. After a triumphant 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal last month, Jose Mourinho’s team looked set for a strong finish and was expected to fight toe to toe with Manchester City and Liverpool in a three-way battle for the league title.

But Chelsea then slumped to a surprise 1-0 loss at the hands of Crystal Palace before poor defending led to a 3-1 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinals. The Blues are facing a tricky domestic encounter on Saturday as a resurgent Stoke side travels to Stamford Bridge on the back of three consecutive wins.

Ahead of Sunday’s match at West Ham, Liverpool leads second-place Chelsea by two points while Manchester City is four points off the pace, with two games in hand.

Here are five things to know about this weekend’s Premier League matches:



Chelsea is slowing down, having lost three of its last five games after just one defeat in the previous 17 matches. The defeats against Crystal Palace and PSG have exposed Chelsea’s defensive weakness and the lack of quality in Mourinho’s current strike force.

Following his poor display against Palace, Fernando Torres did not start the match in Paris as Mourinho picked Andre Schurrle to play in a central role rather than Demba Ba. On the other half of the pitch, PSG coach Laurent Blanc displayed a lineup featuring Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who scored the opening goal.

“I’m not happy with my strikers’ performances, so I have to try things,” Mourinho said. “With Andre at least I know we have one more player to have the ball, we have one more player to associate with the other players. Football is also about scoring goals. That is for strikers, for real strikers. I had to try.”



Tenth-placed Stoke is seven points from equaling its best Premier League points tally and is aiming to finish in the top half of the table for the first time since gaining promotion in 2008.

“We can go to Chelsea with their confidence knocked and ours sky high, and we have to take advantage of that,” said in-form midfielder Stephen Ireland. “Hopefully we can capitalize and win there as well.”

Stoke has not lost since a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City at the end of February and Mark Hughes’s team beat the Blues 3-2 last December.

“Looking at the games we have left, it’s a real opportunity to pick up as many points as we possibly can,” Ireland said. “We can’t take our foot off the gas and hopefully we can break the records we have been set out to do.”



Manchester City’s hopes of winning the title is in its own hands. But before wrapping up a second Premier League crown in the space of three seasons, Manuel Pellegrini’s team is facing two hard tests. The first comes on Saturday at home against Southampton before a trip to Liverpool for the most crucial match City faces until the end of the season.

City has lost only one game at the Etihad this season, scoring 43 goals and conceding only nine, but Pellegrini will be wary after his side was held to a 1-1 draw by the Saints in their first clash this season.

“We have eight games more, so there are a lot of points to fight for, so the most important thing for us is to win the next match against Southampton,” Pellegrini said.

According to the Manchester Evening News, City striker Sergio Aguero is set to return to the squad against Southampton after three weeks out with a hamstring injury. Aguero is unlikely to start against the Saints but Pellegrini is hoping to put him on the bench before including him in the starting lineup at Anfield.



West Brom striker Saido Berahino has ruled out legal action against teammate James Morrison after being punched by the midfielder during a dressing room brawl.

The England Under-21 striker considered pressing charges after the row which followed their 3-3 draw with Cardiff last weekend but the Baggies said Berahino is now focusing on Saturday’s match at Norwich that could prove crucial in the fight against relegation. No disciplinary action has been taken by the club but the fight left Berahino with facial injuries.

West Brom is currently one place above the relegation zone, trailing Norwich by three points.



Former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll can ruin his former club’s title ambitions as the Reds travel to West Ham on Sunday. Carroll will be playing against Liverpool for the first time since he signed a a six-year deal with the Hammer last summer after spending the previous season on loan in east London.

Carroll is enjoying a good spell of form and scored the opening goal with a powerful header in a 2-1 win over Sunderland on Monday.

“Andy gives you an alternative. As a player, he is unique in many ways,” West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said. “There’s not too many who can receive a ball or head a ball as good as he does. There’s a lot more about him on the deck than people gave him credit for.”

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