When it comes to the final six weeks of the Premier League season, most teams will have that one game which routinely they would win but, in the pressurised environs of the run-in, seems fraught with danger. That game arrives for Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime when they travel to Selhurst Park to take on a Crystal Palace team in the thick of a relegation battle. The Reds know just how punishing this fixture can be after the gut-wrenching 3-3 of May 2014, although wins on their last three visits to the south London venue offer proof that they can tough it out against the Eagles. The home side’s hopes will rest largely on Wilfried Zaha, who could be missing for this game after he went off injured against Huddersfield two weeks ago.
Once his own team’s result has been digested and discussed, Jurgen Klopp will then be keeping a close eye on Saturday evening’s tussle between Everton and Manchester City, Liverpool’s next two opponents. An away win at Goodison Park would take City to within one win of being crowned champions, but Pep Guardiola will have very unpleasant memories of his only previous visit to the blue side of Stanley Park, where his team lost 4-0 last season. City are a very different proposition now, though, and have shown an ability to eke out hard-fought wins in fixtures such as this. Also, with Everton now all but mathematically safe, this might not be as dangerous an assignment as it usually has been for the league leaders.
Chelsea and Tottenham have established quite an intriguing rivalry in recent years, with both teams regularly competing near the top of the league, and their duel on Easter Sunday could be crucial for both teams’ top four ambitions. With Chelsea five points behind their opponents, defeat for Antonio Conte’s side would make it very difficult for them to reach next season’s Champions League, but completion of a league double over Spurs would haul them right back into contention and put considerable pressure on Mauricio Pochettino’s men. The encouraging sign for Spurs is that even with Harry Kane injured, they have not been found wanting for goals. Sunday could be a real test without their leading scorer, though.
If Liverpool were to drop points on Saturday, Manchester United would have the chance to place a vice-like grip on second spot should they beat Swansea at Old Trafford a few hours later. The shadow of their Champions League exit to Sevilla still looms, but an FA Cup win over Brighton has seen that storm abate somewhat. The Swans, meanwhile, still have plenty to do to secure top flight survival despite their fine form so far in 2018, while their tame cup exit to Tottenham a fortnight ago will have given Carlos Carvalhal cause for concern. They have troubled United on their own turf in the past, though, and got a valuable draw at Old Trafford last season when their Premier League future was very much on the line. This might not quite be a home banker.
The international break came at the wrong time for Arsenal, who had seemed to be turning the corner after emphatically dispatching AC Milan from the Europa League. The Gunners are likely to follow Manchester United’s lead of last season in prioritising the continental tournament over domestic duties in the closing weeks of the campaign, although a home win over Stoke on Sunday would keep the feelgood factor going ahead of Thursday’s meeting with CSKA Moscow. If there isn’t a huge amount riding on this game for Arsenal, the same certainly can’t be said for Paul Lambert’s Potters, who have won just once since the Scot took charge and would need a strong finish of their own, along with favours from elsewhere, if they’re to claw their way out of the drop zone.
West Ham are back in action, and at the London Stadium too, for the first time since the anarchic 0-3 thrashing by Burnley three weeks ago. You can’t help but feel that Saturday’s meeting with relegation rivals Southampton could be pivotal in how the season concludes for both teams, with the Hammers still reeling from the shocking scenes of 10 March and the Saints into an FA Cup semi-final after appointing Mark Hughes earlier in the month. A win for either side could prove to be a turning point in their season, but defeat would leave a real air of despondency, even with both having seven more matches to play after this weekend.
At least those two teams have genuine hope of beating the drop; that’s something which disappeared for West Brom several weeks ago. They have lost their last seven and have only won once in the league since defeating Saturday’s opponents Burnley at Turf Moor on the second weekend of the season, after which they had two points more accumulated than Manchester City! While the Baggies look dommed, the Clarets retain some hope of an unlikely passage to the Europa League next season after winning their previous two games. That we are at Easter time and talking of Burnley possibly playing in Europe is a testament to how marvellous a job Sean Dyche and his players have done this year.
Many pundits thought at the outset of the season that Huddersfield would have been essentially relegated by now, but the Terriers have not been in the bottom three since beginning their first Premier League campaign. However, two poor home results of late mean that they’re hovering just above the dreaded dotted line ahead of Saturday’s trip to Newcastle, whose form at St James’ Park in recent weeks has been quite impressive. Another home win for the Geordies would see them nearly safe, but defeat would result in Huddersfield climbing ahead of them in the table.
Brighton and Leicester both gave gallant performances in their respective FA Cup quarter-finals two weeks ago and both have been in reasonably good form in the league prior to their meeting at the Amex Stadium on Saturday. The Seagulls will feel that another couple of wins would banish any threat of relegation and their home form has been crucial in them obtaining a mid-table position at Easter. Leicester’s cup exit means that they will probably just be playing out the season from hereon, with the Foxes safe from the drop and unlikely to sneak a European spot.
Watford and Bournemouth came up together three years ago and, barring a spectacular collapse in the next six weeks, both will have a fourth successive Premier League season to anticipate in 2018/19. The pair meet at Vicarage Road on Saturday slap-bang in the middle of the table and with the pressure pretty much off. The Hornets will be keen to get back on track after their 5-0 hammering at Anfield two weeks ago, while the Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom last time out. With both teams favouring an enterprising mindset, this might not be a bad spectacle, albeit one which may lack in intensity.
Liverpool would go second with a win on Saturday and ramp up the pressure on Manchester United and, in particular, the London duo of Chelsea and Spurs. Indeed, victory would take them 10 points clear of the fifth-placed Blues, who admittedly would have two games in hand. It’s improbable that the Reds will win their last seven league matches of the season, though, and this looks like being one of the games where they could easily slip up. Their only 1-0 win so far this season came against Palace back in August; a gritty repeat this weekend would do just fine.