Liverpool close to title if weak Chelsea torpedo Man City
The Reds are within striking distance but the title remains agonisingly out of reach
AS THE Premier League season heads for a thrilling climax all eyes will be on the team fielded by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in the top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool on Sunday, and it could go a long way towards settling the title race.
The Reds may be five points clear of the Blues in second place, but the title remains agonisingly out of reach, mainly because third-placed Man City still have a game in hand.
The bottom line is that nothing will be decided this weekend because Brendan Rodgers' side still need another seven points to take the title. It means that even if City win their final four matches Liverpool can afford to draw one of their final three games, as long as they win the other two. And even a win for Liverpool and a surprise defeat from City this weekend would still leave the Reds short of the tape.
If the excitement at Anfield isn't enough there is also the prospect of watching Ryan Giggs take charge of Man United for the first time, and then on Sunday Sunderland face Cardiff in what looks like a straight relegation shoot-out.
Here's the best of the weekend's action:
Liverpool v Chelsea
What is Jose Mournino up to? We won't find out until he names his team for this massive game at Anfield, but the Chelsea boss has publicly stated that he will field an under-strength side in order to maximise his chances of winning the Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Whether or not that turns out to be a bluff remains to be seen. On the one hand Chelsea's chances of overhauling Liverpool look slim: even if they do win on Sunday they will still trail Liverpool by two points. But, on the other, Mourinho is a master of mindgames and may be trying to lull Rodgers, who worked under him at Chelsea, into a false sense of security. Whatever happens, Chelsea will be without Petr Cech and John Terry at the back. Liverpool will try to ignore the furore over Chelsea's selection policy and concentrate on their own game. And, having won 11 games on the trot, a run that stretches back to February, why would they worry about the opposition? A draw might not be out of the question, but another win for Liverpool looks on the cards.
Crystal Palace v Man City
The team with most to lose from Mourinho's selection choices is Man City, who will be praying that the Blues pull off a shock win on Sunday. If that happens and they overcome Palace, then City will become favourites for the title. It's a long shot and there are no guarantees that Manuel Pellegrini's side will overcome a Palace side who are second only to Liverpool in the form table, with five straight wins under their belt. This game kicks off after the Liverpool match has finished so by that time City will know the result, and that could have a huge impact on how this game pans out. Yaya Toure could be in line for an unexpected return after limping out of the game against Liverpool two weeks ago, but David Silva will not make it.
Man Utd v Norwich
The main attraction on Saturday is the match at Old Trafford, where Ryan Giggs will take his bow as manager of the Red Devils following the sacking of David Moyes earlier in the week. The big losers here will are Norwich, who must be cursing their luck. Last week they faced Liverpool, and with games against Chelsea and Arsenal to end the season they must have had this clash against stuttering United as their best chance of a point in the run in. That looks unlikely now. There will be a febrile atmosphere inside Old Trafford after a traumatic week for the club, and surely United will turn it on for legend Giggs, who will be joined on the touchline by other former stars Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt. Giggs's team selection and tactics will be illuminating, but whatever he decides it looks like lights out for the Canaries.
Sunderland v Cardiff
Never mind first versus second, this bottom versus third-from-bottom clash will be a no-holds-barred blockbuster with the loser surely condemned to relegation. Both these clubs have been written off many times this season only to rise again like the Terminator. Sunderland's resurrection is the most impressive: last time out they stunned Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and before that earned a hard-fought draw with Man City. As for Cardiff, they have beaten Southampton and Stoke in their last two outings, but this could be a bridge too far against a Black Cats outfit with greater momentum. Both goalkeepers have been in stunning form recently, and they could decide this one.
Southampton v Everton
In the race for fourth Everton can pile the pressure back onto Arsenal, who do not play until Monday, by overcoming Southampton on Saturday. Having delivered the coup de grace to former manager David Moyes by beating Man United last time out the Toffees appear to be back on track after their shock defeat to Crystal Palace, which handed the Gunners the advantage in the Champions League race. Southampton are secure for another season and the transfer speculation surrounding some of their youngsters may start to become a distraction in the final weeks of the season. The Toffees will fancy their chances.
The weekend's other fixtures:
Fulham v Hull
Stoke v Tottenham
Swansea v Aston Villa
West Brom v West Ham
Arsenal v Newcastle