Growing up in the 1980s, Liverpool were the first team I remember being dominant, as they won six of the ten league titles that decade, alongside lifting the European Cup and F.A. Cup on two occasions each, plus the League Cup four times. Even in the years they failed to win the championship, they seemed to only just miss out, like on 26th May 1989, when they ended up second on goal difference due to Michael Thomas’ last minute strike for Arsenal in the final match of the season – a game that had been postponed in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster the month before. However, since 1990 Liverpool have failed to add to their 18 league titles and they have not even been able to finish inside the top five in any of the last four seasons, as their days as the pre-eminent team in English football appeared to be behind them. Nevertheless, the installation of Brendan Rodgers as manager in the summer of 2012 has proven to be a master stroke as he has transformed the Reds to the most entertaining team in the Premiership, with the results matching the style of the performances. Last Saturday, score lines in other matches conspired to put Liverpool into an enviable position: win all of their remaining fixtures and they will be champions of England once again.
It started at Selhurst Park at 3pm (local time), where Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were unable to break down the highly organized Crystal Palace team that has been rejuvenated under Tony Pulis and the Eagles were full value for their 1-0 victory over the Blues, who had gone into the weekend as the league leaders. Then, in the evening kick-off at the Emirates, Arsenal held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw – a result that means that the Gunners, who have struggled away from home against the top three, have gone unbeaten against that triumvirate at home – as Matthieu Flamini’s second-half goal canceled out David Silva’s toe-poked opener. With all of their direct rivals dropping points, the onus went onto Liverpool to take advantage of the situation and move to the top of the Premiership by beating Tottenham – a task that did not prove to be too difficult as Younes Kaboul opened the scoring by putting the ball into his own net within the first 75 seconds, with Luis Suarez, Phillip Coutinho and Jordan Henderson also scoring as Rodgers side won 4-0.
As Liverpool set their sights on winning the Premier League for the first time, across Stanley Park Everton remain in the race to finish to qualify for next season’s Champions League, as they moved to within four points of fourth place Arsenal with a 3-1 victory away at Fulham, their fifth Premiership win in succession. The Toffees have a game in hand on the Gunners and the pair meet at Goodison Park this weekend, but after that fixture, it is Arsenal who have the easier run-in. In fact, of the top five only Chelsea do not have their fate in their own hands in terms of their various ambitions – this is how things stand heading into the final six weeks:
Liverpool – Remaining Fixtures: West Ham (A); Manchester CIty (H); Norwich (A) Chelsea (H); Crystal Palace (A); Newcastle (H). If they win them all they will finish: First
Manchester City – Remaining Fixtures: Southampton (H); Liverpool (A); Sunderland (H); West Brom (H); Crystal Palace (A); Everton (A); Aston Villa (H); West Ham (H). If they win them all they will finish: First
Chelsea – Remaining Fixtures: Stoke (H); Swansea (A); Sunderland (H); Liverpool (A); Norwich (H); Cardiff (A). If they win them all they will finish: Guaranteed at least second, if City drop five points then top (if City were to drop four points – two draws – then Chelsea would require 15 goal swing to pip them on goal difference).
Arsenal – Remaining Fixtures: Everton (A); West Ham (H); Hull (A); Newcastle (H); West Brom (H); Norwich (A). If they win them all they will finish: At least fourth.
Everton – Remaining Fixtures: Arsenal (H); Sunderland (A); Crystal Palace (H); Manchester United (H); Southampton (A); Manchester City (H); Hull (A). If the win them all they will finish: At least fourth.
There is one other team who could still qualify for the Champions League and who could take the final place away from Arsenal or Everton – I’m talking of course about
Tottenham Manchester United – who would usurp either the fourth place finishers to compete in next season’s competition if they can lift the trophy this season. Although United winning the Champions League seems very unlikely given their poor form this season, they did record an impressive 1-1 draw against the reigning European Champions, Bayern Munich on Tuesday and head into the second leg of their quarter-final knowing that any victory in the Allianz arena – or a high scoring draw – will put them into the semi-finals. The other English club left in the competition, Chelsea, have a harder task in progressing, as they were beaten 3-1 by Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital, although they will not have to face Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the second leg as the Swedish striker has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. If there is any manager who knows how to eek out the required 2-0 result in a Champions League tie, it is Jose Mourinho, so do not rule the 2012 champions from making the next round just yet.
At the other end of the table, it is starting to look ominous for the bottom three as Fulham, Cardiff and Sunderland are all struggling to make up ground on the teams just above them in the relegation battle. It could have been worse for the trio had West Brom held on to beat Cardiff last Saturday, as they had raced into an early 2-0 lead inside the first ten minutes, only to be pulled back by the Welsh side who got back on level terms through goals from Jordon Mutch and Steven Caulker. Nevertheless, in the third of four additional minutes at the end of the 90, the Baggies retook the lead through Bifouma, but Cardiff would not give up and somehow found another equalizer, this time courtesy of Matts Moller Daehli. The Black Cats remain in the strongest position of the teams in the relegation zone despite their 2-1 home defeat at the hands of West Ham on Monday, as they still have games in hand on all of the sides around them in the table, but their next four matches are all against clubs that currently sit in the top six.
Elsewhere last weekend in the lower echelons of the Premership, Swansea eased their own relegation worries with a 3-0 home victory over Norwich, which moved the Welsh club above the Canaries and seven points above the drop zone; and Hull will probably be safe despite their 1-0 reverse at the hands of Stoke, who cemented their position in the top half. The other games saw Manchester United beat Aston Villa 4-1 at Old Trafford; while Southampton routed Newcastle 4-0 at St. Mary’s, a result that lifted the Saints above the Magpies in the race for 8th place as there is a six point gap on either side of those two teams who are competing in their own mid-table mini-league.
This weekend, Manchester City and Chelsea can put pressure on Liverpool as they both play at home on Saturday – against Southampton and Stoke respectively – while the Reds are at West Ham the following day. Also on Sunday, Everton take on Arsenal in the battle for fourth place; while tomorrow there is a must-win game for Cardiff as they host Crystal Palace; Fulham also need all three points from their trip to Aston Villa; West Brom travel to Norwich, who have only conceded one league goal at home in 2014 – and that was from the penalty spot; plus Hull and Swansea meet at the KC Stadium, with victory for either side all but assuring them of Premiership football next season. A once glamorous fixture is now a mid-table affair between Newcastle and Manchester United, while on Monday night Sunderland will have the opportunity to make up ground on the teams around them as they head to White Hart Lane to beat Tottenham.
Last week, 6-4; Season, 159-157
Home teams listed first
Manchester City vs Southampton – Home win
Aston Villa vs Fulham – Draw
Cardiff vs Crystal Palace – Home win
Hull vs Swansea – Draw
Newcastle vs Manchester United – Away win
Norwich vs West Brom – Home win
Chelsea vs Stoke – Home win
Everton vs Arsenal – Away win
West Ham vs Liverpool – Away win
Tottenham vs Sunderland – Away win