It’s back to the grind for title chasers Liverpool and Manchester City this weekend when the International break makes way for what should prove a frenetic, decisive April as the 2018/19 season approaches a thrilling climax.
For Liverpool, who hold a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, they will have to negotiate a high wire act to get past defending champions Manchester City – especially with their game in hand. Essentially, they need their title rivals to drop more points than they do to have any chance of winning the title.
City, on the other hand, are still in pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple and remain in control of their own fate. But they will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death – in fixture terms – if the Premier League title is to join the League Cup in the Etihad trophy case at the end of the season.
The fixtures tell the story, and not just with respect to the opponents lined up to face these two fiery adversaries; in particular, the unrelenting, unforgiving schedule this late in the season is certain to stretch even the best of squads. Liverpool play no less than seven times over the next four weeks, but theirs is the easier schedule as Man City play nine games over the same period.
That schedule congestion is largely down to the Champions League quarter finals but the small matter of the top four race – at least the contest for 3rd and 4th place – also throws in a bit of a wrinkle.
Liverpool’s toughest opponents – at least on paper- are 3rd placed Spurs, who visit Anfield on Sunday, and 6th placed Chelsea who come calling two weeks later. Those two sides are separated by just four points and should be motivated to be at their best too. Otherwise, Klopp’s side face Southampton, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves, an interesting mix of the doomed, the desperate and the downright safe.
Tight Rope Walk
|Mar 31||PL||Tottenham (H)|
|Apr 5||PL||Southampton (A)|
|Apr 9||CL||Porto (H)|
|Apr 14||PL||Chelsea (H)|
|Apr 17||CL||Porto (A)|
|Apr 21||PL||Cardiff (A)|
|Apr 26||PL||Huddersfield (H)|
On the face of it, City’s schedule is only a little more challenging. They also face relegation fighting fodder in Fulham and Cardiff, but also two top four contenders in Spurs – who visit Etihad on April 21 – and Man United, whom they play at Old Trafford four days after the Spurs clash.
|Manchester City’s April
Valley of the Shadow of Death
|Mar 30||PL||Fulham (A)|
|Apr 3||PL||Cardiff (A)|
|Apr 9||CL||Tottenham (A)|
|Apr 14||PL||Crystal Palace (A)|
|Apr 17||CL||Tottenham (H)|
|Apr 20||PL||Tottenham (H)|
|Apr 24||PL||Man Utd (A)|
What makes their path especially treacherous is the sequence of those matches. In particular a two week window that starts with a FA Cup semi-final against Brighton on April 6th, takes in three clashes with Spurs – who they also face in the Champions League quarter finals – and a trip to Crystal Palace (who beat them 3-2 at Etihad in December), and ends in a city derby at Old Trafford on April 24th. Indeed, four days after that, they play again – against Burnley away. Six games, eighteen days. Three of them against one of the hardest pressing teams in the league, never mind their recent wobbles, and one an intense city derby against motivated rivals. It’s the valley of the shadow of death; a schedule that will test the limits of even this deepest, most star-studded of Premier League squads.
A win at Fulham on Saturday would put City back on top, but their real test will come in that gruelling three week stretch. If they get through that unscathed, with even just their noses in front – and you wouldn’t put that past the defending champs, a team that can comfortably seat Mahrez, Jesus, Gundogan and Sane on the bench – the title will be returning to Etihad for the fourth time in eight years.
Otherwise, it will be Anfield celebrating a league championship for the first time in 29 years……if Liverpool can keep their balance on that tight rope.