The cities of Manchester and Liverpool are about 35 miles apart but they could be in different continents because nobody likes each other. An area of the country that could join forces to be a true northern superpower to rival London is all about rivalry in music, economics and most importantly football. Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday and the atmosphere will be toxic, especially if United win.
In the Midlands Aston Villa and Birmingham City have a similar relationship but Leicester do not create the same kind of love to hate feeling. A win at Villa Park on Sunday will keep the visitors in the mix for Champions League qualification but will be another nail in the Villa coffin. The 1982 European Cup winners are facing the nightmare scenario of relegation to the Championship.
Swansea and Sunderland are also in the mire and need wins at home to Watford and at Tottenham respectively to begin the process of maintaining their Premier League status. With the next huge TV deal already in the bag the financial implications of moving down a division are immense. Villa appear to have given up the ghost so it looks like any two from five to fill the other relegation spots.
Arsenal are in good shape to win the Premier League for the first time since the 2003-04 season. However, they tend to throw in a poor effort on the road from time to time and Stoke away looks a difficult proposition. In an unpredictable season you never know Tottenham could win the title and Leicester could qualify for the Champions League. Liverpool and Manchester United fans won’t care if their side wins on Sunday.
Liverpool and Manchester United can both claim to be the most successful clubs in the history of English football. United have the edge in terms of top division titles won but Liverpool have won two more European Cups or Champions Leagues. The rivalry is bordering on bigotry and despite a more sanitised atmosphere the Munich and Hillsborough chants will get an airing on Sunday.
In terms of the football neither side has consistently impressed this season so a low scoring draw looks the most likely outcome. United’s 3-3 draw at Newcastle this week is not typical of a season during which they have failed to score in the first half in their last ten home matches. Jurgen Klopp is still adjusting to the match schedule in England and didn’t realise that the Capital One Cup semis are played over two legs.
The fixture on Sunday is the 221st meeting of which Liverpool have won 74, United 86 and there have been draws 61 draws. Over the last ten there has not been a draw with United winning seven, scoring 16 goals in total and conceding 11. The away side on Sunday have won the last three meetings including the last fixture at Anfield when Steven Gerrard was sent off after being on the field for less than a minute.
Liverpool were just four points behind United ahead of their midweek home game against Arsenal. Two wins in these massive fixtures would get them in contention for a top four finish but two defeats would leave them in mid-table and well off the pace. This is a pivotal week for Klopp because results have not improved since he became manager of the club but avoiding defeat against United is feasible.
Tottenham and Leicester are embroiled in a run of meetings in the league and Cup. The first match in the FA Cup resulted in a 2-2 draw but Leicester would have been worthy winners but were undone by a controversial late penalty. Both sides play with a pattern and plan that seems to be beyond the imagination of Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford. Tottenham have the stronger squad so can emerge from the series of fixtures with Leicester in better shape in both competitions.
Arsenal need to avoid defeat at Stoke as potential champions generally cannot afford to lose than more than four or five games. Manchester City have a winnable home match against Crystal Palace and should not drop points. Once the dust has settled bragging rights in Liverpool and Manchester could be shared while Tottenham can have emerged as genuine potential champions.