Premier League week 34 preview: Liverpool back to domestic duties after epic European display

Premier League Preview Liverpool

After emphatically defeating Manchester City to reach the Champions League semi-finals and firmly enhancing their place in the top four, Liverpool appear to have a straightforward run-in to the Premier League season and are on a real high ahead of the visit of Bournemouth on Saturday evening. The Cherries drew on their last visit to Anfield and have troubled Liverpool in the recent past, but the reverse fixture was a 4-0 romp for the Reds on the south coast and, if Jurgen Klopp opts to field a full-strength team on Saturday, they will be clear favourites to take another step closer to ensuring a second successive season of Champions League football. Bournemouth are well clear of the drop zone and will either go through the motions or take advantage of the absence of pressure to halt the gallop of their thriving opponents.

Manchester City had only lost four matches in all competitions all season prior to Easter, but three defeats since have seen them crash out of Europe and blow the chance to wrap up the Premier League title. With Pep Guardiola and his team coming in for some hard questioning, the last thing they need now is a trip to in-form Tottenham on Saturday night, but that’s what awaits the league leaders. Spurs have a very good home record against City, although this is the first league meeting of the pair at Wembley, where Guardiola’s men swept to victory in the Carabao Cup final in February. It’s still very likely that City will be champions, but after their horror start to April they will just want to get it done and dusted as soon as possible. They could be in for more hardship this weekend, though, especially with Harry Kane back among the goals thanks to the inexplicable charity of the Premier League’s pompously-named Goal Accreditation Appeals Panel.

Both Southampton and Chelsea are entering the last chance saloon in their respective end of season battles. The Blues know that anything less than victory would surely end any faint hopes they still have of finishing in the top four, while the Saints are three points from safety and have won just one of their last 17 league matches. Mark Hughes certainly has them playing with heart and purpose, but they remain feeble at the back and less than clinical up front. Both sides will feel that they have a decent chance of a good result on Saturday, but the wrong result for either would serve only to heighten the gloom around their respective camps.

Having won away to the league leaders last week, Manchester United flip to the other extreme on Sunday when they host bottom side West Brom, who despite ending an eight-game losing streak last time out could have their impending relegation finally sealed this weekend. United have won their last five league matches and the likely extension of that sequence would all but secure a second-place finish. The Baggies gave their illustrious opponents a very competitive game in the reverse fixture four months ago, but it would be a surprise if the Old Trafford faithful witnessed anything other than a comfortable, comprehensive home win.

Two teams in good form meet at St James’ Park on Sunday, with Newcastle welcoming an Arsenal in the meeting of 10th versus 6th. The Geordies have been superb over the last couple of months and can observe the relegation quagmire from a distance after doing their share in recent weeks. The Gunners, meanwhile, overcame an uneasy spell in Moscow to advance to the Europa League semi-finals and they have also given themselves a very good chance of usurping fifth place from Chelsea. Newcastle will feel that they could take advantage of any fatigue from their opponents after playing in Russia on Thursday night, although Arsenal are on the type of run which makes you think they will get a result from every game from now to the end of the season.

With both domestic cups likely to have be won by teams in the top five, seventh place is likely to be good enough to secure a passage into next season’s Europa League qualifiers. Burnley and Leicester are the teams vying for that prize and the Clarets hold a six-point edge ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Turf Moor. Sean Dyche’s men come into the game on a four-match winning run and another victory would effectively clinch seventh, an achievement of which not even their most optimistic supporters would have dreamed at the season’s outset. The Foxes can still be pleased with their efforts in 2017/18, although there have been whispers within the squad of some unrest towards manager Claude Puel, primarily concerning his abundantly changing team selection.

When the fixture list decreed that Crystal Palace and Brighton would play each other with a month of the season remaining, it was always likely to be a high-stakes grudge match and so it has proven, with both teams still involved in a battle for top flight survival. The need for victory is greater for the Eagles, whose habitual concession of late goals leaves them in 17th and within three points of the relegation places. Their performances of late have not been those of a team in major trouble, but they would gladly take ugly victories over gallant draws or defeats in their current situation. Brighton know that one more win would probably seal their Premier League safety, but they have just one point from the last 12 available and still must face each of the top four. It’s the not-so-local derby that neither dare lose.

Remember a couple of weeks back when all was doom and gloom around West Ham? Two superb results since the international break have put a totally different complexion on their fortunes and if they can win at home to second from bottom Stoke on Monday night, the threat of relegation is almost certainly banished. The Hammers will be very confident of collecting the points against opponents who are fast running out of games to get out of the bottom three. Paul Lambert still has only one win in nearly three months in charge of the Potters and they could find themselves as much as seven points from safety by the time they kick off if their relegation rivals all win, which is not an unthinkable scenario. Form points to a home win, but the opposite outcome could spark a dramatic change in fortunes for both teams in the run-in.

Swansea looked more or less safe a month ago but some disappointing results of late have left them with work to do if they’re to pull clear of trouble. They host Everton on Saturday and it’s a fixture which Carlos Carvalhal’s side will be targeting for three points, given the Toffees’ lack of any true incentive for the rest of the season. It was clear from Everton’s display in the derby last week that they are just playing out the remainder of the campaign, a luxury that their opponents would like to have and could be much closer to enjoying if they repeat last season’s 1-0 home victory in this fixture.

There is a similar dynamic in the fixture at the John Smith’s Stadium this weekend, with Huddersfield still chasing survival at home to a Watford side with no such worries. The Terriers won the reverse fixture 4-1 in December, but Steve Mounie’s goal at Brighton last week was their first in five matches. If David Wagner’s men do the double on the Hornets, they would climb to within two points of their opponents, although Huddersfield don’t have much momentum going into this clash. With Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal still to face, the Terriers will no doubt target Saturday’s game as perhaps the most winnable of the five they have left.

In all probability, Liverpool have done enough to ensure a second successive top four finish, but a win on Saturday coupled with Chelsea potentially dropping points would surely eliminate any lingering doubts. That said, there is the possibility of the Reds taking their eye off the ball domestically with the small matter of a Champions League semi-final on the horizon – understandable certainly, but momentum is worth maintaining and it would be ideal to close off the top four loop as early as possible.

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