Niall: Anfield plays host to one of the biggest games of the season on Sunday as both the title and the top four race take centre stage when Liverpool host Chelsea. For the Reds, Chelsea possess on paper the biggest challenge in the run-in. Three bottom half clubs follow before ending the season at Anfield against Wolves. Liverpool fans will be clinging on to the unlikely hope to have won the title by then, but they also know they are in for a dog fight and so do the players.
Jurgen Klopp’s men found themselves 1-0 down against a Southampton side that was really up for the match last time out, but they managed to turn it around to earn a 3-1 win that sent them back to the top of the Premier League. The Saints provided a stern test for Liverpool that night, but the visitors again proved that they are ready to fight to become champions and that could be key as we continue down the home stretch.
Chelsea were once considered challengers themselves, but after a poor run of form over the Christmas and New Year period, they slipped into the battle for the top four. With three other teams competing for the final two Champions League places, this is just as intense and exciting as the title race and every point is vital. The Blues have improved with the additions of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi into the starting XI in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see if they continue to feature in the upcoming weeks.
The reverse fixture between these two sides was a fun affair that Chelsea were minutes away from winning until Daniel Sturridge’s long range effort salvaged a point for the league leaders. That was a Chelsea side that was well in the title race and full of confidence under their new manager.
Since then they have dropped off the pace and undergone problems on and off the field. Liverpool have only grown more and more into the season and the home advantage presents a different challenge for Chelsea this time around. There are threats for the Liverpool defence to worry about, not least Eden Hazard who has found form in recent weeks, but with Anfield rocking and Chelsea’s issues, I expect Liverpool to come out on top.
Neil: For the hosts, this will be another big test of the Premier League title mettle. With little room for error for Klopp’s men, Liverpool will feel the psychological factor more than ever as the Blues arrive on Merseyside. Let us not forget that this was the scene five seasons ago, when Steven Gerrard infamously slipped in the middle of the park to gift Chelsea an opening and crucial lead via Demba Ba that led to the downfall of the Reds’ title tilt back in 2014.
This however does feel a little different and the case could very much be argued that fortune is now favouring the home side, after a run of late wins in the top flight. Mohamed Salah finally ended his wait for his 50th goal in the Premier League against the Saints, and to me that is huge to the his side’s chances of ending the league trophy drought.
They face a side who continue to pay the role of Jekkyl and Hyde this campaign, and having beaten West Ham last Monday night and grabbing a away goal in Prague in the Europa League, now set fair to end a difficult season in good fettle.
Hazard’s late term form has been indirectly responsible for that and the Belgian’s sensational solo goal against the Irons, stamped his mark on the game at Stamford Bridge. Hazard will be keen on putting a spanner in the works this weekend.
This could indeed be a battle of Salah and Hazard, but both defences will be tested. It also be a game won in the full-back areas and this for me is where Liverpool will have enough to get would could yet be a massive win – with Manchester City having played in the capital earlier this afternoon.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea
Niall’s One to Watch: Burnley vs Cardiff City (Saturday, 15:00)
Burnley versus Cardiff City might not be the marquee game of the weekend, but it is one of the most important and impactful matches of the gameweek. Cardiff are in real danger of heading back down to the Championship, and if results do not go their way here then they could end up eight points off safety and that will likely see the end of the Welsh club’s Premier League tenure.
Conversely, Burnley could all but seal their Premier League status for another season if they win on Saturday. The Clarets were excellent when they beat AFC Bournemouth last week, and their overall form since the turn of the year has improved after a poor first half of the season.
Both sides play direct football, but the chances of seeing a open game are quite likely with the stakes so high. It will be a gritty and hard-hitting clash as both sides try to unlock the opposition defence. Burnley are in the better form and have more quality in their side than Cardiff, so I am picking the Clarets to seal their survival for another season with a win here.
Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Cardiff City
Neil’s One to Watch: Crystal Palace vs Manchester City (Sunday, 14:05)
With Liverpool locking horns with Chelsea also on Sunday, it feels like this weekend could be a big moment in the title race. City fell rather short against Spurs in the UEFA Champions League in midweek and with another trip to London here, could we see further consternation for Pep Guardiola‘s men in the space of a few days?
Crystal Palace are once again in hugely inconsistent form having lost to Brighton & Hove Albion, whilst taking the scalp of both Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United in recent weeks. What is sure however, has been the boost the arrival of Michy Batshuayi have given the Eagles in attack and both he and Wilfried Zaha could give the Citizens a big headache here.
For City it feels a little like the gas tanks are running low, but the visitors are for the most part doing the bare minimum to get the job done right now. Selhurst Park proved to be the end of Liverpool’s title challenge five years ago, and I wonder if the same could become of City, after what has been a relatively poor week for them.
Indeed, City have struggled for wins in recent season here but I have the sense that the likes of Kun Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne will ensure the victory. It would appear the title race could be going down to the wire.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City
Premier League Game of the Week sees Liverpool entertain Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday
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