The Premier League title race is reaching boiling point with the battle between Liverpool and Manchester City set to go down to the wire.
They have been engaged in a nip and tuck chase for most of the season, with the leadership swapping hands on several occasions.
On Sunday, Liverpool held their nerve to beat Chelsea 2-0 and re-take first place after City had won 3-1 at Crystal Palace a few hours earlier.
City still retain a game in hand – but that is a tricky proposition, a visit to Old Trafford to take on rivals Manchester United.
We take a look at 10 key questions as the season reaches its thrilling climax.
The thrilling Premier League title race is going down to the wire with Jurgen Klopp’s (left) Liverpool neck and neck with Pep Guardiola’s (right) Manchester City
Liverpool are two points ahead but Man City retain a game in hand over their title rivals
WHO HAS THE EASIER SET OF FIXTURES?
Liverpool have arguably overcome their biggest challenge in defeating Chelsea on Sunday.
They were the last top six opponent they had to face this season and their remaining fixtures appear to be eminently winnable.
Jurgen Klopp’s team travel to Cardiff City on Sunday before a home fixture against Huddersfield Town the following Friday night.
They then travel to Newcastle United on Sunday May 5 before rounding off their Premier League campaign at home to Wolves on May 12.
Liverpool celebrate Mohamed Salah’s stunning goal against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon
Manchester City celebrate the second of Raheem Sterling’s goal against Crystal Palace
April 21 Cardiff City (A)
April 26 Huddersfield Town (H)
May 5 Newcastle United (A)
May 12 Wolves (H)
Man City run-in
April 20 Tottenham (H)
April 24 Manchester United (A)
April 28 Burnley (A)
May 4 Leicester City (H)
May 12 Brighton (A)
By contrast, City’s remaining games appear – on paper – to be tougher but of course they have five of them to Liverpool’s four.
They host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday lunchtime before that all-important visit to Old Trafford on April 24.
From there, it’s a trip to Burnley on Sunday April 28, a home game against Leicester City on May 4 and a trip to Brighton on the final afternoon.
So even though Liverpool have a two-point lead, Pep Guardiola’s team still have their destiny in their own hands.
WILL THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PROVE A DISTRACTION?
It’s difficult to see how it won’t. After their wins on Sunday, both teams need to immediately refocus for looming Champions League quarter-final, second leg ties this midweek.
Both play on Wednesday night, with Liverpool taking a two-goal first-leg lead to Porto and City trying to overcome a one-goal first-leg deficit at home to Tottenham.
If they progress, Liverpool will face either Barcelona or Manchester United, while City would play the winner of Juventus vs Ajax.
City suffered a rare slip-up in the Champions League last week as they lost to Tottenham
Roberto Firmino celebrates with his Liverpool team-mates in their 2-0 win over Porto last week
The first legs of the semi-final are scheduled for either April 30 or May 1 – so for Liverpool, this would be between their games with Huddersfield and Newcastle. For City, it’s between the trip to Burnley and the Leicester home game.
The return legs would be a week later.
Given the calibre of their potential semi-final opposition, such titanic duels wedged between must-win league games is bound to take its toll.
And then, imagine if City and Liverpool both got through to the Madrid final on June 1. What an extraordinary finale to the season that would be.
WILL CITY BUCKLE UNDER WEIGHT OF THE QUADRUPLE?
Another factor adding spice to the situation is the fact City are currently performing a football tightrope act as they chase an historic Quadruple of trophies this season.
No English club has ever achieved the clean sweep of Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Champions League in a single season but Guardiola’s side are now tantalisingly close.
The EFL Cup is already in the bag (and the Community Shield) and there are three more cups to win to trump Man United’s Treble triumph in 1999.
However, despite the enviable depth in City’s squad, they are going to be stretched to the limit by the intense fixture schedule between now and June 1.
City are aiming to win the Quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Champions League this season, eclipsing Man United’s famous Treble back in 1999
City already have one trophy in the bag after beating Chelsea in February’s EFL Cup final
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF GAMES CITY CAN PLAY
38 x Premier League
6 x FA Cup
6 x EFL Cup
13 x Champions League
1 x Community Shield
As well as the Premier League and Champions League games, they have the FA Cup final against Watford at Wembley on May 18 to think about.
If they reach all the finals, City will have played 64 competitive matches during the course of the campaign.
And with a squad full of internationals, some will have well over 70 games for club and country in their legs by the summer.
The physical and psychological pressure hasn’t shown too often, though City didn’t look themselves against Spurs last week, and Guardiola has repeatedly told his players they can rest when they retire.
But there’s every chance the cracks will start to show at some point and Liverpool stand ready to profit.
HOW MOTIVATED WILL MAN UNITED BE TO WIN AGAINST CITY?
It really is a terrible state of affairs for Man United when they entertain City on April 24.
If they win they gain bragging rights but could easily hand the title to their bitterest rivals Liverpool for the first time in nearly 30 years.
If they lose, it will probably mean that City go on to retain the title – becoming the first team to do so since United won in 2009.
Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring in City’s 3-1 win over United at the Etihad in November
And it would also nudge them a little closer to a possible Quadruple, which would eclipse United’s amazing Treble achievement 20 years ago.
Perhaps Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United fans can wish for an honorable draw with Liverpool dropping points elsewhere to hand City the title.
WHO WILL WIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR BETWEEN VAN DIJK AND STERLING?
It’s that time of the year when Premier League players put a cross in a box and decide which of their peers deserve to be PFA Player of the Year.
The two front-runners this season are Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and City winger Raheem Sterling and it is likely to be a close-run thing.
The evidence of the past few years is that more attacking players scoop the prize, probably because their stats and moments of magic are more eye-catching and memorable.
Indeed, you have to go back to the 2004-05 campaign to find the last defender to win the PFA award – Chelsea’s John Terry.
Virgil van Dijk has been in imperious form for the whole season in Liverpool’s back line
Raheem Sterling is another strong candidate to win the various player awards this season
So even though Van Dijk has pretty much single-handed fixed Liverpool’s once leaky defence since arriving for £75million from Southampton in January 2018, he may not get the recognition he deserves.
The Dutchman has shown remarkable consistency throughout the season, barely putting a foot wrong as well as showing incredible leadership to take Liverpool to the brink of history.
Sterling, with his 21 goals and 16 assists for City in all competitions, has the kind of noteworthy stats that can sway opinion in such votes.
But he has also matured into a genuinely world-class player for both City and England and would obviously be a deserved winner.
HAS MOHAMED SALAH RETURNED TO FORM AT THE PERFECT MOMENT?
It seems pretty absurd to be talking in such terms about a player who has scored 22 times this season but Salah’s eight-game goal drought in February and March had Liverpool fans worried.
However, the Egyptian returned to scoring form in the win at Southampton and to judge by his absolute thunderbolt against Chelsea, he could be back to his best.
Mohamed Salah scored a thunderbolt to seal Liverpool’s win over Chelsea on Sunday
The top players deliver under the most intense of pressure and Salah certainly did that on Sunday. It bodes well for all the important games coming up.
Last season, Salah scored in crucial games against Man City (both legs) and Roma to take Liverpool to the Champions League final.
If he turns up and delivers in the big Premier League games between now and May 12, they’ll be commissioning a statue of him outside Anfield.
DOES KLOPP HAVE THE NOUS TO GET LIVERPOOL OVER THE LINE?
Klopp made a name for himself by breaking Bayern Munich’s dominance of the German Bundesliga by winning back-to-back titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012.
But in the present context, those successes seem an awful long time ago. The German hasn’t won a major piece of silverware since 2012 but has come within touching distance several times.
Jurgen Klopp with the Bundesliga winners’ shield while Borussia Dortmund manager in 2011
His Dortmund team lost agonisingly in the Champions League final to Bayern in 2013, while Liverpool were runners-up in both the League Cup and Europa League finals in the 2015-16 season – Klopp’s first with the club.
They also lost last season’s Champions League final to Real Madrid, of course.
At the back of his mind, Klopp will remember some of the things he said and did to get Dortmund over the line in those title races. But whether any of that stored-up knowledge is relevant to today is another question.
Guardiola, meanwhile, has been a serial winner and is an expert in sealing league wins – he won three with Barcelona, three with Bayern Munich and last season’s Premier League with City.
It’s very much fresh in his memory and the City dressing room will feel the benefit.
Guardiola lifts the Premier League trophy following City’s record-breaking triumph last year
WHAT’S THE INJURY SITUATION?
With such a high volume of matches ahead, it really is the worst time for our two title protagonists to pick up injuries.
Liverpool suffered a scare on Sunday when captain Jordan Henderson was forced off with an ankle knock. But Klopp said: ‘It’s a bit of pain, no problem, he didn’t twist it.’
So Henderson may be a doubt for the Porto game on Wednesday before returning for the Premier League at the weekend.
They are also set to welcome back Adam Lallana as another option for the run-in after a muscle injury.
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson went off after picking up an injury knock in Sunday’s match
City are without key midfielder Fernandinho following last week’s game with Tottenham but the Brazilian isn’t expected to be sidelined for too much longer.
They could welcome back left back Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has appeared in quite a few games this season, this week.
Otherwise it’s a clean bill of health ahead of the run-in. For now.
WHO WILL WIN THE GOLDEN BOOT?
The race to finish as the Premier League’s leading scorer is almost as exciting as the title race.
As it stands, City’s Sergio Aguero and Liverpool’s Salah lead the standings with 19 goals, closely followed by Sadio Mane on 18 and Sterling on 17.
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also has 17, as does Harry Kane but the Spurs man is injured for the remainder of the season.
Salah edged out Kane last season and could well repeat the trick if he has indeed recovered his form. But to be honest, it’s anyone’s guess.
Sadio Mane boosted his goal tally by heading Liverpool’s first against Chelsea on Sunday
SO WHAT’S THE PRIORITY?
For Liverpool, it’s clear: Winning the league for the first time since 1990 is the priority.
It’s been such a long and agonising wait, with a few near-misses, and the added fact their rivals Man United have dominated during that period.
The league is definitely the priority over the Champions League, though that would be a very nice bonus.
For City, it’s a tricky one. They have so far discovered that the Premier League is significantly harder to retain than it is to win.
Winning it for a second straight year would represent a big breakthrough, signifying that we may be in for a dynasty of City dominance.
But the Champions League remains their holy grail. It has so far eluded them despite a decade of astronomical investment from their Abu Dhabi ownership.
Conquering Europe remains the one frontier City haven’t yet crossed and they’ll be obsessed with it until they achieve that.
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