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Monday, 21 January, 2019

Kante is crucial to champions' success

Five things we learned

Chelsea's N'Golo Kante
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1 Kante key for Chelsea
Chelsea have played three league games without N'Golo Kante this season and have won them all without conceding a goal.

However, the Blues' 1-0 victory at West Brom on Friday served as an example of how important the Frenchman is to the way Chelsea play.

Rarely have the Blues looked as vulnerable to the counter-attack as they did in the second half at the Hawthorns against an ordinary West Brom side.

Had Salomon Rondon or Nacer Chadli showed better composure in front of goal, Chelsea might have had to wait a further three days to seal their title triumph.

It is too simplistic to say that one player has been the difference between last season's Chelsea, who earned 50 points and this term's team, who have 87 points with two games to go.

But Kante's importance to the their title push has been huge and he fully deserves his PFA player of the season award.

2 City defence needs surgery
Manchester City are on course to finish third – one place better than last season – but they are 15 points behind Chelsea and look a long way short of being title challengers.

When they won the league in 2013-14 they had the second-best defensive record in the division and reliedon Vincent Kompany, who made 28 league appearances.

The Belgian has had a tough time with injuries over the last two seasons and the lack of a leader in the City defence has caused them problems.

Kompany got himself fit for the run-in but lacks the pace he once had and was part of an unconvincing City performance in Saturday's 2-1 success at home to Leicester.

City opened up a two-goal lead but they had Riyad Mahrez's penalty mishap to thank for them hanging onto a point.

Next season they are likely to be an even more fearsome prospect in attack with Gabriel Jesus fully settled into his new surroundings, but City are a commanding centre-back short of being considered serious contenders.

3 Burnley must improve on the road
Burnley are going to play a second successive season in the Premier League for the first time but they need to address their poor away results if they are to avoid a relegation battle in 2017-18.

The strength of the league is likely to be enhanced by promotions for Newcastle and Brighton, two well-resourced, well-coached teams who look ready for the step up.

Burnley will have to find areas to improve and the elephant in the room is their away form.

The 2-0 win at Crystal Palace should have been a springboard but Burnley could have no complaints with Saturday's 2-1 loss at Bournemouth which left them with seven points from 19 away games.

4 Saints are best-placed to join big seven
A big seven has emerged in the Premier League with 16 points separating seventh-placed Everton from West Brom in eighth.

Everton are expected to spend big to try to challenge the teams above them, so it could get even more difficult for the clubs dreaming of pushing for Europa League qualification.

The team with the best chance of bridging the gap could be Southampton, who are better than their points tally of 45 shows.

Europa League and EFL Cup commitments have distracted Southampton this season but they are good side when fully focused and can do much better next term.

5 Uncertainty may halt Wolves' progress
Wolves are just 12-1 with Sky Bet to win the Championship next season but punters should swerve them until the future of manager Paul Lambert is resolved.

Lambert inherited a mess from his predecessor Walter Zenga and did well to steer Wolves to mid-table safety.

However, his summer transfer plans are at odds with those of the club's owners, Fosun International, and there have been reports that a managerial change could be on the cards.

Wolves suffered at the start of last season because their owners tried to change too much in the summer. They are at risk of falling into the same trap.

Europa League and EFL Cup commitments have distracted Southampton this season but they are good side when fully focused
E.W. Terms
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