How the Premier League title race and top-four battle will be decided
After playing a game more than Manchester City, leaders Liverpool have just seven matches left in their bid to win the English title for the first time since 1990.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, two points ahead of second-placed City, return from the international break with their two hardest domestic tests looming in the next three Premier League fixtures.
On Sunday, they host third-placed Tottenham, who will pose arguably the biggest remaining danger to Liverpool’s title ambitions, despite having failed to win on their past eight visits to Anfield.
Then, after a trip to struggling Southampton, top-four contenders Chelsea arrive on Merseyside looking to repeat their League Cup success at Anfield earlier this season.
If Liverpool can emerge with six points from the Tottenham and Chelsea games, they will fancy their chances of holding off City.
In their last four games, Liverpool head to relegation-threatened Cardiff, entertain rock-bottom Huddersfield, travel to Newcastle and then host Wolves on the final day of the season in what could be the long-awaited title party.
“First is the best position you can be in. City don’t look as if they drop a lot of points, so we have to win and win. Nothing is decided,” Klopp said.
Pep Guardiola’s team will be guaranteed to retain the title if they win their final eight games.
Their challenge is unlikely to capsize on the banks of the River Thames against second-bottom Fulham on Saturday.
After that, City host lowly Cardiff and travel to Crystal Palace, with the journey to south London in the middle of the two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham.
Tottenham loom large for City in April as they also visit the Etihad Stadium for a crucial league match just days after the conclusion of their European bout.
In a period that will define City’s season, four days after hosting Tottenham, the champions play their game in hand in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
An away day at Burnley is followed by City’s final home league game against Leicester before the season concludes at Brighton.
Sitting only three points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, the closing weeks of the season could be an uncomfortable period for Tottenham.
After blowing their outside chance of a title challenge with three defeats in their past four games, the north Londoners are desperate to salvage a top-four finish.
To do that they will have to run the gauntlet of trips to Liverpool and Manchester City.
Mauricio Pochettino will hope the morale boost of finally opening their long-delayed new stadium against Crystal Palace on April 3 provides the momentum to carry them through a run-in that includes four more league games in their new abode.
One point behind Tottenham and two ahead of Manchester United, the fourth-placed Gunners have their fate in their own hands as they eye a return to the Champions League after a two-year absence.
Unai Emery’s men can qualify via a top-four finish or by winning the Europa League.
Their domestic finale is not daunting on paper, with no matches left against their top-six rivals.
Instead, they take on a succession of mid-table foes before finishing against Brighton and Burnley.
Revitalised by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United have battled back into contention for a top-four finish after sitting 11 points adrift when Jose Mourinho was sacked in December.
Trips to Wolves, who recently knocked United out of the FA Cup, and Everton will not be easy as Solskjaer juggles the demands of his club’s Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
But even tougher tests follow as United host Manchester City and then Chelsea in the space of four days in late April.
Finishing the season against Huddersfield and Cardiff is a soft landing but United need to make it that far with their hopes still alive.
Trailing three points behind the top four at present, sixth-placed Chelsea have no margin for error at the conclusion of a turbulent first season for boss Maurizio Sarri.
Winning the Europa League might be Chelsea’s best chance of making the Champions League, given they face trips to Liverpool and Manchester United in domestic action.
Before that they have must-win matches against Cardiff, Brighton and West Ham, with Burnley, Watford and Leicester on the schedule in the final weeks.
No comments yet