Crunch time for Liverpool as Man City apply the pressure
Premier League preview: title cannot be won this week, but results will determine the favourite
THE penultimate weekend of a thrilling Premier League season is here, and there are still three teams in with a chance of winning the title. Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City are separated by just three points and any one of them could be top of the table when the latest round of games is completed.
So tight is it at the top that whatever happens over the bank holiday weekend, the title will not be decided until next week.
But that only makes this weekend's matches even more critical. How will Liverpool respond to their damaging defeat to Chelsea last weekend? Can Man City make their game in hand count? Do Chelsea still have the stomach for the fight after defeat in Europe?
The answers will become clear over the next few days.
And the drama is not confined to the top of the table. It's just as exciting at the foot of the table where all three teams in the relegation zone are still alive, although that could change this weekend.
Six of the bottom eight, none of which are safe, including all three teams in the drop zone, are playing away from home this weekend, but must go out to win.
Here's the best of the weekend action:
Everton v Man City
This could be the game on which the title hinges, and the result on Saturday will have a direct impact on how Man City's rivals approach their matches later in the weekend. Victory would send City to the top of the table and install them as odds-on favourites to win the title. A slip-up would hand the initiative back to Liverpool and would also give Chelsea renewed hope. Winning at Goodison Park will be no easy task for City as Everton will be keen to maintain the pressure on Arsenal in the race for fourth spot – and will also be looking over their shoulders at Spurs and Man United. However, Roberto Martinez will be without midfield lynchpin Gareth Barry, who is on loan from City and cannot play against his parent club. Kevin Mirallas and Sylvain Distin are also likely to be missing for the Toffees. Meanwhile striker Romelu Lukaku, so devastating early in the season, has managed only five goals in the last five months and has not scored in his last four outings. In contrast City have a host of players on the way back. Yaya Toure proved that he is back to his best last weekend and Sergio Aguero is also looking sharp. Even David Silva is being tipped for a return at Goodison. A win for City looks the most likely outcome.
Chelsea v Norwich It is hard not to feel for Norwich, whose season has collapsed around their ears. They have lost their last five matches, slipped into the bottom three and with games against Chelsea and Arsenal to round off their season look destined for the drop. Certainly Chelsea will be happier to be up against Ricky van Wolfswinkel than they were facing Diego Costa and Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Jose Mourinho will expect a reaction from his troops after defeat in Europe, and now that they are out of the competition the Special One can forget the mindgames and subterfuge and just pick his best XI. His tactics will be interesting. Surely, with the title a possibility and lowly Norwich the visitors, he will not park the bus at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard appeared to criticise his manager's tactics this week so it will be interesting to see if he features on Sunday. The game is also likely to be Fernando Torres's last appearance at Stamford Bridge. Will he sign off with that rarest of things, a goal? The Blues are used to getting by without much of a contribution from the Spanish striker, and they should notch up another win.
Crystal Palace v Liverpool Whatever happens before this Monday night clash at Selhurst Park, Liverpool will approach this game as a must-win. If City have dropped points then victory would all but hand Liverpool the title, if City and Chelsea have won then the Reds will start the match in third place, and will have to win to reclaim the top spot. It won't be an easy task, however: Palace and Liverpool are the two form teams in the division right now. The Eagles had won five on the trot before the visit of Man City last weekend and they gave a decent account of themselves against the Citizens. Tony Pulis's team definitely have the ability to put the wind up Liverpool. But ultimately the outcome of this game hinges on the Reds. Quite how damaged Liverpool were by defeat against Chelsea will only become clear when this game kicks off. But if they are serious about winning the title they will have to prove their mental toughness by bouncing back. This is a game in which the Reds' heavy hitters cannot go missing. It would also help if Luis Suarez, who managed just one goal in April, rediscovered his scoring boots.
Man Utd v Sunderland
Sunderland pulled off the impossible a fortnight ago, inflicting a first ever league defeat at Stamford Bridge on Jose Mourinho, but it will count for naught if the Black Cats end up getting relegated. Victory at Old Trafford would all but guarantee another season in the top flight for Gus Poyet's team, but the chances of that happening look a lot slimmer than they might have done a couple of weeks ago. With David Moyes departed and Ryan Giggs at the helm, United appear to have rediscovered their mojo and the Old Trafford faithful will expect the new regime to deliver on their promise of exciting football. However, United are likely to be without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie up front, while Sunderland's front two of Conor Wickham and Fabio Borini have both come into form in recent weeks. An away win is unlikely but a draw is not out of the question.
Arsenal v West Brom
The Gunners should secure another season of Champions League football this weekend. Even if Everton pull off a major coup and beat Man City on Saturday, a win for Arsenal on Sunday would guarantee them a spot among Europe's elite for a 17th straight season. In a season of ups and downs a fourth-placed finish is neither here nor there for the Gunners, who flirted with the title, before looking as though they might drop out of the top four. With fourth now almost in the bag most fans at the Emirates will be dreaming of the FA Cup final and the chance to get their hands on some silverware for the first time in nine years. As for West Brom, they are not yet safe from relegation mainly thanks to their habit of throwing away commanding leads. They are not in immediate danger, but a point or three would certainly help the fans breathe easier. It seems unlikely that they will get their precious win on Sunday though.
This weekend's other games:
West Ham v Tottenham
Aston Villa v Hull
Newcastle v Cardiff
Stoke v Fulham
Swansea v Southampton