Liverpool will look to the past and future this weekend when they commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, before dueling Manchester City for supremacy in the Premier League.
Next Tuesday marks 25 years since a fatal crush that would claim the lives of 96 Liverpool fans occurred during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield, England.
As a mark of respect, all professional matches in England this weekend will kick off at seven minutes past the hour, to mark the sixth-minute abandonment of the fateful game at Hillsborough.
Liverpool’s game against City tomorrow will also be preceded by tributes, with legendary figures from the two clubs exchanging wreaths on the pitch at Anfield before those inside the ground observe a minute’s silence.
The sense of occasion tomorrow will be heightened by the knowledge that victory over title rivals City will take Liverpool closer to a first league crown since 1989-1990.
Brendan Rodgers’ side go into the game four points clear of City at the top of the table and although the visitors have two games in hand, their destiny will no longer be in their own hands if they lose.
However, Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson believes that it is still too soon to view tomorrow’s encounter as a title decider.
“We’ve got five games left. It’s not one, it’s five,” said the England international, whose side are on a run of nine consecutive wins. “We’ve got to take each one as it comes and it is City — it is a big game, but so are the other four.”
City cruised to a 4-1 win over Southampton last weekend and midfielder James Milner says that his side will have no trouble finding focus for the trip to Merseyside.
“We know that if we win all our remaining games we would win the title and the same applies to Liverpool, so it’s definitely one of the biggest games of the season,” Milner said. “It’s still in our hands because if we win seven games, we’ll be the champions, but Liverpool are in the box-seat because they are top and have the points already on the board, so for me they have to be favorites as things stand.”
Second-placed Chelsea visit Swansea City later tomorrow and they are likely to keep an attentive eye on proceedings at Anfield.
Manager Jose Mourinho declared his team’s title challenge over after their recent 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace, but the Champions League semi-finalists will take over at the top if they win and Liverpool lose.
Meanwhile, Everton will look to exploit Arsenal’s inactivity due to their FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic by stealing a march on Arsene Wenger’s side in the race for a Champions League place.
Everton overwhelmed Arsenal 3-0 last weekend and will move above the London club and into the top four if they avoid defeat at bottom club Sunderland today.
With a five-point gap having opened up between the bottom three and the rest of the league, this weekend could also prove pivotal in the battle to avoid relegation.
Fourth-from-bottom Norwich City sacked manager Chris Hughton this week, replacing him with youth-team coach Neil Adams, and they will hope to avoid being sucked toward the drop zone when they visit third-from-bottom Fulham.
“It is a battle of who wants it most,” Norwich winger Robert Snodgrass said. “It doesn’t come any bigger than this.”