Can Liverpool March on after almost flawless February?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

Aside from Harry Kane’s 94th-minute penalty, February was a perfect month for Liverpool. The Reds have taken a firm grip on a place in the top four and look odds-on to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, while the fixture list for March doesn’t look overly taxing, save for a visit to Old Trafford. Jurgen Klopp’s men welcome Newcastle to Anfield on Saturday evening, although the Magpies have proven very thorny opposition for Liverpool in recent times. The Reds’ last win against the Geordies was almost three years ago and, on their last visit to Merseyside, Newcastle came from 2-0 down to rescue a point. Then, as now, they were under the management of Rafael Benitez, who remains a firm favourite at his former club. He brought unthinkable glory nights to a new generation of Liverpool fans and while Klopp is on course to do the same, Benitez will want to ensure that the Reds’ frustration against the men from the north-east continues this weekend.

Manchester City could extend their lead at the top to 19 points on Sunday if they beat Chelsea at the Etihad, an outcome that would leave them requiring just 12 more points from nine games to clinch the title that has long seemed destined to make its way to them. With Pep Guardiola’s first trophy at the club in the bag after last weekend, City could conceivably wrap up the title by Easter if they keep winning and the teams behind them slip up. Chelsea won 3-1 in this fixture last season en route to claiming a fifth Premier League crown, but in the intervening 15 months the balance of power has certainly shifted to the north-west. Antonio Conte’s men tasted defeat in Manchester last weekend and, with City quickly putting the FA Cup aberration against Wigan behind them, it could be deja vu for the Blues.

A recent run of poor results has seen Crystal Palace slip right back into trouble and they lie just outside the bottom three ahead of Monday night’s visit of Manchester United. The Eagles’ downturn of form has coincided with the loss of Wilfried Zaha to injury and it’s plain to see just how much they are missing the talismanic winger, who would surely have given his former side plenty to think about had he been available. Palace could well be in the relegation zone by the time they take to the Selhurst Park pitch, while United had a morale-boosting win over Chelsea last week which silenced their growing band of critics. Romelu Lukaku has taken his share of flak this season, but his performance against the Blues made all the difference and this is the type of fixture in which he could be United’s trump card once again.

Tottenham have the chance to move into third place and overtake Liverpool when they take on Huddersfield at Wembley on Saturday. Last week’s visit to Crystal Palace looked like being a frustrating one for Spurs before Kane popped up with a last-gasp winner, the type of intervention which suggests that Mauricio Pochettino’s men have learned to win games the hard way, in addition to blowing teams off the park. Victories in their last two league outings have lifted Huddersfield up to 14th after they had dropped into the bottom three, while they return to the scene of the greatest day in their recent history, that play-off final win over Reading last May which sent them into the Premier League. They shipped four to Tottenham in their league clash earlier in the season, though, and if Spurs are properly in the mood, a repeat might be on the cards.

Brighton have yet to take a significant scalp in their debut Premier League season, but they may well think that Sunday is their chance as they welcome Arsenal to the Amex Stadium, where the Seagulls’ recent results have been impressive. They still have a lot to do to feel secure, but a positive February has seen them take a couple of steps towards safety and they certainly won’t fear an Arsenal side who have lost their last three matches coming into this weekend. There seems to be a real air of apathy about the Gunners right now and, with the top four effectively gone, they could struggle for motivation in the league for the rest of the season. Will it get even more grim for Arsene Wenger and co on Sunday?

It isn’t all that long since Southampton and Stoke had made a habit of steady top half finishes, but their meeting at St Mary’s this Saturday could be pivotal in both clubs’ fight to stay in the Premier League after prolonged stays. The Saints looked like slipping to defeat at Burnley last week before Manolo Gabbiadini’s last-minute equaliser, an overdue goal for the Italian which could yet prove a turning point. Stoke earned a decent point at Leicester but, with the Potters still second from bottom, they’ll need wins soon enough if they’re to beat the drop. This one certainly falls under the ‘must-not-lose’ category for both managers and it’s one of those where the fear of defeat could make for a gritty, nervy afternoon on the south coast.

Watford’s season had been in danger of falling asunder until fine home victories over Chelsea and Everton last month steadied the ship. The Hornets will expect to make it three Vicarage Road wins on the bounce this Saturday when they play host to West Brom, who could soon find themselves cut helplessly adrift of everyone else at the foot of the table. Seven points is by no means an insurmountable gap to make up over the final 10 games, but morale is nonexistent in the Baggies’ ranks at the minute and another defeat here could bring an end to Alan Pardew’s less than stellar reign at the club. They need to start winning soon, but would probably take a draw in this one if offered it now.

The concession of that aforementioned Gabbiadini goal denied Burnley a first league win in two and a half months last week against Southampton, yet their record before mid-December was so impressive that they still hold on to seventh place despite their extended winless run. They’ll fancy their chances of ending that unenviable streak this weekend when they welcome Everton to Turf Moor. The Toffees remain ninth despite some poor results of late, including defeat at Watford in their last outing. Sam Allardyce has bemoaned the lack of firepower in his ranks, with January signing Cenk Tosun making a slow start to life on Merseyside. This is the type of game where one goal may be enough to swing it in either team’s favour.

Barring an extremely brilliant or disastrous run, Leicester will most likely remain in or around the eighth place they currently occupy to the end of the season. On Saturday they host Bournemouth at the King Power Stadium with survival more or less secure, whereas their opponents are still peering nervously over their shoulders, despite lying 12th and having five points of a buffer between the drop zone. The desire of both teams to play an open game should make this a decent spectacle, especially with no real pressure on Leicester given their healthy position. Claude Puel will also be pleased to see Riyad Mahrez performing near his best after the transfer window farce a month ago. The Algerian on form could lead the Cherries a merry dance.

A couple of poor results have seen Swansea fall back into the relegation zone after performing excellently for the first six weeks of Carlos Carvalhal’s reign. They have a crucial home game this Saturday against West Ham, who remain only three points clear of the bottom three and could be surpassed by their opponents this weekend. Andre Ayew is likely to feature against the club he left to re-join Swansea at the end of January, while his brother Jordan was on target in the midweek FA Cup replay win over Sheffield Wednesday. If the Swans lose this one, the honeymoon period for Carvalhal will be over and the Spaniard will face a real slog over the next two months.

Just as they did for 24 hours last weekend, Liverpool have the chance to go second on Saturday if they can maintain their impressive recent form and put Newcastle to the sword. Should Klopp’s men take the full complement of points and Chelsea lose on Sunday, they will have a seven-point gap on the Blues in fifth, a tantalising prospect of which they should at least uphold their part of the bargain. Benitez and Newcastle, though, have previous when it comes to frustrating Liverpool.

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