Premier League Preview

Now that their place in the Champions League final is secured, albeit after one almighty scare, Liverpool can concentrate fully on getting back into next year’s edition of the tournament by boxing off their place in the top four. That mission will face a serious test on Sunday, though, as the jaded Reds venture to London to take on a Chelsea side in fine form, their own ambitions of gatecrashing the Champions League positions very much alive. Jurgen Klopp has won on both of his previous visits to Stamford Bridge, but Liverpool have looked leggy and nervy in their last couple of games and the midweek assignment in Rome will have taken a lot out of them. They only need a draw to assure themselves of fourth at worst, given their seismic goal difference advantage over the Blues, but even that will be difficult to achieve on the evidence of the teams’ recent form.

Should Chelsea drop points on Sunday, that would secure Tottenham’s place in next season’s Champions League if they beat West Brom at The Hawthorns a day earlier. Spurs weren’t at their best in beating Watford last week, but after a rocky run earlier in April, they now look well set to wrap up another top four finish. While Mauricio Pochettino’s men are on the cusp of the Champions League, the Baggies need to win to avoid being sent down to the Championship. Many thought that they would have been well and truly relegated by now, but their upturn in form under Darren Moore has at least allowed them to finish a dismal season on a high. However, the late surge has surely come too late to save them – even another win here won’t be enough to take the fight to the final day if Swansea win either of their next two games.

Three weeks after being crowned Premier League champions, Manchester City will be presented with the trophy at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon, with Huddersfield being invited to the party. The Terriers won’t be in the mood to enjoy themselves, though, as their top flight future hangs precariously in the balance following last week’s dismal defeat at home to Everton. Their confidence seems to have deserted them at the worst possible time and any hopes of City easing off the gas after wrapping up the title have been extinguished judging by their freewheeling performances in the last fortnight. The champions clawed out a victory in the reverse fixture in November but the likelihood is that Sunday’s match will be far more comfortable for a team with Premier League records in sight.

After being thumped 4-1 at mid-table Southampton in November, Everton looked in real danger of going down. Three days later, Sam Allardyce took charge at Goodison Park and a 4-0 crushing of West Ham was the start of a revival that has seen them rise from 16th to 8th. Indeed, now it is the Saints who are scrapping for their Premier League lives, a fight that looks less daunting after last week’s crucial win over Bournemouth. They will need to show the same character and composure this weekend to take points off an Everton side who are finishing the season strongly, but that still hasn’t been enough for Allardyce to win the fans over. For all the slings and arrows thrust in the ex-England manager’s direction, though, Mark Hughes would surely love to be in his counterpart’s position right now.

Earlier this year, it had looked as if Carlos Carvalhal was guiding Swansea to the comfort of lower mid-table, but their form has dried up in recent weeks and now they are only a point and a place above the relegation zone as they travel to Bournemouth on Saturday. The Cherries are not in Swansea’s good books right now after losing to relegation rivals Southampton last week, so will they antagonise the Welsh side further by directly denting their survival prospects at the Vitality Stadium? Eddie Howe’s men aren’t actually mathematically safe yet, but the probability of them being relegated from here is akin to that of Bournemouth’s stadium being chosen to stage a Champions League final.

Unlike the Cherries, West Ham are in genuine danger of dropping into the bottom three before the season is out. Consecutive 4-1 defeats against Arsenal and Manchester City have dragged the Hammers right back into trouble when they seemed to have done enough to pull clear of the dogfight. However, they have the good fortune of taking on Leicester this weekend, with the Foxes already making it clear that they’re merely fulfilling fixtures at this stage judging by their no-show at Selhurst Park. A win for David Moyes’ side would almost certainly make them absolutely safe, but they need to cut out the comical defensive mishaps that have plagued them in recent games.

Brighton aren’t over the safety line just yet but if they can record a famous win over Manchester United on Friday night, that would guarantee them another season in the Premier League. The Seagulls haven’t won since pulling Arsenal’s pants down at the Amex Stadium two months ago, but a series of spirited draws recently have taken them to the verge of survival. It will take more than sheer determination, though, to get a result against a United team that, despite having nothing to play for in the league since mid-April, show no sign of pulling the handbrake. They might be slightly off it now that they’re assured of Champions League football next season, but Jose Mourinho will want to see his players staking a claim to be included in the teamsheet for the FA Cup final on the 19th of this month.

Despite becoming just the third team in the league to stop Liverpool from scoring at Anfield this season, Stoke remain without a victory since January and they have to win at least one of their remaining two fixtures to avoid relegation. Saturday’s home tie against Crystal Palace looks like being the last Premier League match at the bet365 Stadium for the foreseeable future and if the Potters fail to take all three points, results later that day could seal their unenviable fate. The visitors have no such worries, with last week’s 5-0 romp over Leicester meaning that Palace are safe in everything but name. If they can emerge with another three points from the Potteries, Roy Hodgson will have officially completed a rescue mission that looked nigh-on impossible when he took charge of the Eagles last autumn.

Arsene Wenger’s long goodbye continues this Sunday as he takes charge of Arsenal at the Emirates for the last time. An emotional afternoon is guaranteed at the Gunners’ home ground, with Burnley’s presence almost a sideshow. However, if the visitors were to fulfil the role of farewell party poopers, they would go level on points with their opponents and possibly go into the final day with a chance of finishing sixth, a monumental achievement that would take them directly to the Europa League group stage. That competition will have to suffice for Wenger’s successor next season after Arsenal’s defeat to Atletico Madrid on Thursday ended any hopes of clambering back into the Champions League.

Watford and Newcastle have both had their peaks and troughs this season, but both can enjoy their meeting at Vicarage Road on Saturday in the knowledge that they will reconvene again next term as Premier League equals. The Hornets strolled to a 3-0 win at St James’ Park in November, but haven’t even scored in an away fixture in Javi Gracia’s three months in charge. Their superb start to the campaign ultimately proved their insurance policy against a relegation scrap, while Newcastle can point to their fantastic springtime form as the key to their successful season. They might have lost their last two games, but given the drama of recent years, the Geordies will gladly take an inconsequential defeat or two at the tail end of the campaign.

Liverpool have three matches left to play this season and they need to win just one of them to ensure that will play Champions League football again in 2018/19. Even a draw this weekend would all but guarantee their passage to the tournament that they could possibly win in three weeks’ time. Disappointing draws against the Premier League’s bottom two mean that there is still plenty riding on Sunday’s visit to Chelsea, but at least the Reds have their destiny in their own hands and are riding the crest of a jubilant wave after edging past Roma in midweek.