After a chastening two weeks in the UEFA Champions League, the tussle to qualify for next season’s tournament takes priority in the Premier League this weekend, with Manchester United’s trip to Liverpool topping the bill.
Manchester City’s 1-0 loss at Barcelona on Wednesday ended English interest in this season’s Champions League and the champions are one of six clubs now apparently vying for three berths in the 2015-2016 competition.
Leaders Chelsea, six points clear of second-placed City with a game in hand, already appear guaranteed to qualify, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side’s place in the top four is no longer as secure.
Consecutive away defeats to Liverpool and Burnley have seen City’s lead over third-placed Arsenal eroded to a single point, with United a point further back in fourth place and Liverpool two points further back in fifth.
Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, are only six points below the top four, and with home games against strugglers Burnley and bottom club Leicester City respectively on their agendas this weekend, will be confident of making up ground on the teams above them.
Three days after a defeat at the Camp Nou marked by Lionel Messi’s brilliance and Joe Hart’s heroics in the visitors’ goal, City return to league action with a lunchtime game at home to West Bromwich Albion today.
City captain Vincent Kompany is wary about ruling his side out of the title race, but he acknowledged that he and his teammates owe the club’s supporters a rousing run of performances.
“Forget about Chelsea. We owe it to ourselves, to our fans, to have a good end to this campaign,” the Belgium centerback said. “Then again, if we finish this campaign as good as we can, maybe there is still something in it. We will have to see. It is not in our hands by any means, but we just have to go back and work hard, and improve.”
Chelsea visit Hull City tomorrow in need of a spark after following up their Champions League elimination at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain with a 1-1 draw at home to Southampton last weekend.
Arsenal travel to Newcastle United, where they will be bidding to record a sixth consecutive league victory.
Arsene Wenger’s side tumbled out of the Champions League in the round-of-16 despite winning 2-0 at AS Monaco on Tuesday, but they have been in fine form, with the 3-1 first-leg loss to Leonardo Jardim’s side the only time they have failed to win in their past nine matches.
However, no team can match Liverpool’s current form, with Brendan Rodgers’ side approaching tomorrow’s showdown against old foes United on the back of a 13-game unbeaten run in the league.
United were the last team to beat Liverpool, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford in mid-December last year, but Rodgers’ men have rediscovered their swagger in the three months since then and would leapfrog their rivals if they win at Anfield.
“Psychologically, it’s massive for us, because if we win we go above United and we get a foot in the top four, but it’s not all decisive on this game. There are still another eight games after,” Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana told talkSPORT radio. “There are constantly going to be twists and turns, I’m sure. Tottenham and Southampton are still in and around the fight as well, so they are going to want to be picking up points to make it almost three teams out of six getting into the top four.”
After weeks of patchy performances, United blew off the cobwebs by beating Spurs 3-0 last Sunday and winger Ashley Young has encouraged his teammates to put Liverpool on the back foot.
“We will go there looking for the three points,” Young said. “We are going there to win. You don’t go to a place to try and draw. The performance against Tottenham was brilliant, but we have a tough game coming up at Liverpool.”
Dick Advocaat begins his tenure as Sunderland manager with a trip to West Ham United, as the experienced Dutchman looks to increase the one-point gap that currently separates the northeast club from the relegation zone.
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