Other than more prize money which is negligible compared to the wealth of Premier League clubs there is no material advantage from coming second in the table compared to the two places below. The three teams who finish behind Manchester City qualify for the Champions League and the higher placed team do not get any benefits in the draw that the other two teams do not. Therefore, there is very little at stake when Manchester United play Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Well that’s not strictly true because the fixture brings together the two most successful clubs in the history of English rivalry. There is added spice to the occasion because there is no love lost between the fans of both clubs. Geographically the grounds are not very far apart but that’s where any feeling of local loyalty ends because the fans love to hate the fans of the other club. The Mancs and Scousers do not get and that rivalry is reflected on the football pitch.
If second place did mean much this match would be pivotal in the final outcome. After 29 matches United are two points ahead but have an inferior goal advantage by one goal. United could go five points ahead, Liverpool could overhaul them and go a point clear or the status quo is maintained. If there is a draw there will be no change in their relative point’s tally but Liverpool could drop into third place if Tottenham have a high scoring win at Bournemouth and they should win by at least one goal.
When Liverpool were winning the old First Division most years in the 1970’s and 1980’s United were often the bogey team. When United enjoyed their period of dominance from the start of the Premier League era Liverpool regularly put their noses out of joint. United have won 87 of the meetings, Liverpool have won 75 and there have been 65 draws. The last four fixtures have been drawn and a stalemate is the most likely outcome of Saturday’s match.
The match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace later in the day could be a low key affair. Chelsea had no ambition in losing away to Manchester City and Palace managed to lose to Manchester United at home despite leading 2-0 early in the second half. Chelsea are five points off the pace in the race for a top 4 finish while Palace are in the bottom three. A win could take them out of the relegation zone but this match looks like a home banker and Chelsea can pick up three points.
The biggest match in Britain over the weekend is Rangers versus Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. The Old Firm rivalry makes Manchester United and Liverpool fans look like the best of friends. The match brings together religion, identity and football in one melting pot. Celtic are the top dogs in Scotland and that status can be confirmed with a win in the back yard of their great rivals. Celtic will go nine points clear of Rangers with a game in hand if they earn maximum points.
The subplot of Arsenal’s home match against Watford is the future of Arsene Wenger. A defeat at the Emirates would cause a toxic atmosphere and the club may be forced to act. A more likely scenario is that Wenger leaves his post in the summer with his dignity in tact. Arsenal are bereft of confidence so Watford could get a result but that is more likely to be a draw than an away win and that outcome should see Wenger safe until the next inevitable crisis. Meanwhile Manchester United or Liverpool will find themselves in second place but they might as well be third.