Premier League week 31 preview: Can Reds seize golden opportunity to strengthen Champions League ambitions?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

It’s a rather light Premier League programme this weekend, with the FA Cup quarter-finals reducing the league schedule to just four matches, but Liverpool are among the teams in action and, with their other top four rivals all on cup duty, the Reds’ home game against Watford on Saturday evening represents the perfect chance to steal a march on the others and move back into third place. Not for the first time, Jose Mourinho choked the life out of Liverpool last week and thwarted the Merseysiders, although the Hornets are surely less likely to be as defensive-minded. These two played out a chaotic 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road on the opening weekend of the campaign, a day when Liverpool’s defence was at its screen-door worst. The men at the back were handed some tough lessons by Manchester United last week so let’s hope those have been heeded and the front three, who were uncharacteristically shackled at Old Trafford, can get back doing what they do best.

The other three Premier League matches this weekend all concern teams who are preoccupied with trying to stay in the division for 2018/19. The least likely to do that are West Brom, who still have eight games to salvage an eight-point gap to safety but have looked like a team resigned to their fate in recent weeks. On Saturday they go to Bournemouth, whom they beat in the reverse fixture that must feel like a lot more than seven months ago for despairing Baggies fans. The Cherries are not out of the woods just yet but gave Tottenham a better game than the final score of 4-1 would suggest and, on that display, they would certainly have too much for Alan Pardew’s men. The hammer is in Bournemouth’s hands; can they drive another nail into West Brom’s Premier League coffin?

Stoke’s performances have improved under Paul Lambert but, two months after the Scot was appointed, they still find themselves 19th in the table and running out of games. There was no shame in losing 0-2 at home to Manchester City on Monday, but the visit of Everton to the bet365 Stadium this Saturday comes with a trade description of must-win for the Potters. It’s getting to a point where draws don’t really so Stoke any favours, so three points are essential here, especially with the Toffees’ away form being so abysmal. Everton are all but safe at this stage but the fans have not been impressed with Sam Allardyce’s reign and the ex-England boss can expect further heckling if Stoke collect the win they badly need this weekend.

Huddersfield’s introduction to the Premier League was a glorious one as they thumped Crystal Palace 3-0 at Selhurst Park. The Terriers welcome the men from south London to the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday with the harsh realities of life in the top flight very much set in. Huddersfield are three places and four points better off than the Eagles going into this weekend and a win could send them as high as 12th, which would be a formidable position going into the final six weeks of the season. Crystal Palace have lost their last three matches but all were against teams in the top five and they gave a good account of themselves each time. They could also have Wilfried Zaha back in the starting line-up for the trip to Yorkshire and if they can avenge their opening day defeat, they would move out of the relegation zone.

It’s a weekend of real opportunity for the teams in Premier League action on Saturday, especially for Liverpool, who will play twice more in the league before any of the other top four contenders kick a ball in this division. Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea might have games in hand come the closing weeks of the season, but Liverpool now have the chance to put the points on the board and throw down the gauntlet to their rivals. They let victory slip from their grasp in stoppage time against Watford earlier in the season. They absolutely cannot make that mistake again if in a similar position this Saturday evening.

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