Will battle of the red giants produce a winner?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

It was nine years ago this week that Manchester United and Liverpool met at Old Trafford as the top two in the Premier League. While both teams’ title ambitions for 2018 have faded, not since that 2009 epic have they been so similarly placed in the table, making this perhaps the biggest clash of the two most successful clubs in England in almost a decade. They’ve been impossible to separate in their last four meetings in all competitions across the past two years and a win for either on Saturday would be a huge step towards Champions League football for next season. Both teams go into the match in good nick, too, with Liverpool flying domestically and easing through their European tie in midweek, while United came from behind in their two most recent fixtures to claim six points. There’s very little between them ahead of this weekend’s showdown.

Those United victories came against Chelsea and Crystal Palace respectively and the London duo have contrasting priorities ahead of their meeting at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. Two defeats in Manchester in eight days, the latter an insipid surrender at the Etihad, leave Chelsea up against it to finish in the top four and the vibe in the champions’ camp does not seem to be a happy one, with players openly critical of some of Antonio Conte’s recent calls. Also, Palace have won this fixture in each of the last two seasons, although the Eagles must still be wondering how they blew that two-goal lead against Manchester United to end up with nothing. They will cross to the west of the capital in the relegation zone, too, with form deserting them since Wilfried Zaha’s injury.

Tottenham looked like they had Juventus beaten in midweek, only for a fateful two-minute spell to see the tie turned on its head. Their reaction to that hammer blow will be telling and they are the last of the top four pursuers to take to the field this weekend, travelling to Bournemouth on Sunday. Spurs will be fourth going into that game irrespective of what happens on Saturday, but should it end all square at Old Trafford and Chelsea slip up again, opportunity will knock for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Bournemouth have been on both ends of dramatic late equalisers in their two previous outings and their record against Tottenham is less than stellar, but the pressure is off them here and another draw would be seen as a positive result.

If their two closest ‘chasers’ draw on Saturday, Manchester City will have the chance to move 20 points clear on Monday night with victory at Stoke with only 24 more left on offer. The league leaders suffered their first home defeat in 15 months in midweek, but it will barely register having come in a Champions League tie that was settled in the first leg. The likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne will come back into the starting XI refreshed after sitting it out against Basel, which can only be bad news for the relegation-threatened Potters. Paul Lambert’s men looked toothless against a struggling Southampton side last week; they will need to find several extra gears to get anything from the champions-elect.

The Europa League might not enthuse Arsenal fans a whole lot, but Thursday’s win in Milan was most welcome after a nightmare few weeks for the Gunners. Their domestic campaign is in danger of fizzling out completely, with their cup involvement over and the top four realistically beyond reach, but they will hope to take the pluses from their San Siro triumph into Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Watford, who won at the Emirates last season and have been in good form of late. They also got the better of Arsene Wenger’s men back in October, after which Troy Deeney publicly called out Arsenal’s defensive frailties. Will the outspoken striker be the scourge of the Gunners again this weekend?

There had been speculation that Alan Pardew could have been sacked following West Brom’s defeat at Watford last weekend, but the embattled manager remains in charge of the ailing Baggies ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash against fellow Midlanders Leicester, who are sitting comfortably in eighth and enjoying a stable season. West Brom weren’t lacking in effort at Vicarage Road, but their attacking players need to capitalise on their chances if they are to have any hope of reeling in the eight-point gap between them and Premier League survival.

Everton and Brighton occupy the middle two positions in the table going into the final two months of the season, and while neither can feel absolutely confident that survival is ensured just yet, the mood around both clubs is wildly contrasting. Poor results combined with a less than fluid playing style leaves Sam Allardyce bearing the brunt of Everton fans’ ire, whereas Brighton’s superb form of late saw them climb into the top half last week and has led to Chris Hughton getting some overdue recognition for the fantastic job he is doing with the Seagulls. They are the team with all the momentum heading to Goodison Park on Saturday.

A pair of 4-1 defeats in the last fortnight have seen West Ham dragged right back into trouble and their defensive issues will not be helped by the knee injury incurred by Winston Reid at Swansea last week. On Saturday they are back at London Stadium to take on Burnley, who picked up their first league win in 12 matches against Everton a week ago and, with only five points separating them from sixth-placed Arsenal, a late tilt at Europe is not out of the question. Theirs is a position that some optimistic Hammers fans might have expected to occupy heading into the home stretch of the season, but instead the Londoners are occupied with a battle for their Premier League future.

Newcastle and Southampton are both just the right side of the relegation zone dividing line ahead of their clash at St James’ Park on Saturday. The Geordies were by no means disgraced in their defeat at Anfield last week, but with their next three league matches all at home, the onus will be on them to adopt an attacking mindset and hoover up as many points from that trio of games as they can. They are unlikely to be too afraid of a Southampton side that barely laid a glove on Stoke last week and who remain a meek, uninspiring outfit. Their best results of late have come on their travels, though, and they could just prey upon any nerves that might gather among the home side. It’s set to be a tense afternoon on the Tyne with so much at stake for both teams.

Huddersfield and Swansea have both had a good month and, with the two facing off at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday, both will feel that victory would take them to the brink of Premier League survival. Huddersfield were beaten by Tottenham last week but gave a good account of themselves at Wembley, while their home form has been the bedrock of their expectation-surpassing debut season in this league. Swansea had slipped back into the bottom three at the end of February but the 4-1 thrashing of West Ham hoisted them up to 13th and they have been prolific since Carlos Carvalhal’s arrival. Both will feel they have a good chance of taking all three points in this clash.

Manchester United and Liverpool will feel the same ahead of Saturday’s showdown, although the fear of defeat for either team may result in another tepid affair like October’s goalless draw at Anfield. The incentive of victory and the potentially disastrous consequences of defeat are equally acute. After four consecutive drawn version of this fixture, will Saturday see a definitive verdict either way? Tottenham and Chelsea will certainly hope the north-west duo cancel each other out again.

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