The race to finish in the top four in the Premier League is down to any three from seven and the fixture between Manchester City and Liverpool could be key. Everton are now in the mix but with Chelsea home and hosed Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United are the other teams in contention. The latter two have winnable away fixtures this weekend, against West Brom and Middlesbrough respectively.
The most significant televised match brings together the teams that are currently third and fourth in the Premier League. City are a point ahead of Liverpool with an inferior goal difference of just one goal. A win for City gives them a four point advantage and Liverpool will be two points clear if they win this fixture on the road. City have an excellent record at their own stadium and can enhance that by picking up maximum points against Liverpool.
Before Christmas Liverpool were seen as the team most likely to give Chelsea a run for their money. However, a disastrous January now sees them 11 points off the pace despite a better February. Jurgen Klopp seems to have not fully realised the effect of the schedule around the turn of the year and his model is more suited to football in Germany where there is a mid-winter break. Klopp has a similar record to Brendon Rodgers and he eventually got shown the door.
In theory City could still win the double as they are through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and third in the league. However, Chelsea have only lost three league matches this season and won’t do the same in the 11 matches that complete their programme. City must keep winning but realistically they are playing for second place because Chelsea will win the Premier League. Some bookmakers have already paid out and there are still more than two months of fixtures before it all ends.
Tottenham are playing confidently and look nailed on for a top four finish so Arsenal are then under pressure to make the Champions League places. They were outclassed and humbled by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and the 5-0 victory over non-league Lincoln in the Cup has only papered over the cracks. Arsene Wenger is under pressure and the fans are not happy and want his era to end. Losing at West Brom on Saturday would intensify the opposition to the French manager.
West Brom are having a fine season and are currently eighth in the league so free of relegation issues. Before losing their last two matches West Brom had lost just once in their last 10 league fixtures. In theory they have little to play for but things don’t always pan out in this way. Arsenal can’t afford to lose but the pressure is off West Brom and they should avoid defeat. The Londoners can get out of trouble and take a point back to the capital after their day in Birmingham.
Manchester United look one of the away bankers of the weekend at Middlesbrough. The home side are in the relegation places and looked destined for a drop down into the Championship. They have not won once in their last 10 league matches and hosting United is not the right match to get their season back on track. United are now out of the Cup but played Rostov in the Europa League on Thursday night. Jose Mourinho has a squad that can compete on both fronts and should have enough to beat Boro.
Bournemouth’s home match against Swansea could be pivotal for both sides. They are just above the relegation places and a win in this fixture would take them further out of trouble. A defeat for either would damage confidence and they could get dragged into the mire. There are three inferior teams but one could find some form when it matters most and an apparently safe team could drop into the bottom three at just the wrong time.
Titles and relegation issues are not decided in March but if Chelsea win at Stoke the league is theirs. There is much more pressure on other teams at both ends of the table and this could be a critical weekend in particular for Arsene Wenger. Arsenal can avoid defeat and Manchester United can beat Middlesbrough while City are too good not to beat Liverpool at home. Bournemouth and Swansea will have a scrap which the home team can win and take them closer to safety.