It’s hard to look at the table and see a “9” in the “played” column and call the next match on the schedule a must-win.
But that may just be the case for Liverpool on Sunday when Manchester United visits Anfield.
The Reds are already seven points adrift of table-topping United, so going 10 down with 10 games in the books is not the stuff of which title-winning dreams are made.
Factor in a 2-1 loss to Lyon on Wednesday in Champions League play and things aren’t looking rosy on that front, either.
So, at the risk of using an incredibly bad pun, the Red Devils can “bounce” Liverpool out of the title race on Sunday. And with two of the remaining three group stage fixtures on the road, advancing in Europe won’t be easy.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Liverpool’s team shop has sold out of beach balls this week.
Or maybe it isn’t.
The injury woes are piling up for Liverpool, as Glen Johnson, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are all doubts for the crucial clash.
Think you’ve got the winner pegged? Try your hand at the EPL Talk Predictor.
Of course, there are other games this week.
And here are some previews:
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Aston Villa
Wolves will look to improve their home record as Aston Villa comes calling Saturday.
Table watch: Wolves are in 16th place on eight points while the Villans are in sixth place on 16 points.
Staying the course: Aston Villa is flying high after last week’s win over Chelsea, but manager Martin O’Neill is looking for his side to stay focused on Wolves.
“We will be up for the game. We can still lose the match, but we will be right for the game,” he told Sky Sports.
“The players have gained a lot of confidence from the Manchester City and Chelsea matches.
“We’re ready for it. I’ve already said to the players how difficult the game is going to be. They will be as ready for the game as we possibly can. That might not be good enough on the day – but they will be ready for it.”
Birmingham vs. Sunderland
The Black Cats may have to do without the beach ball at St. Andrew’s this weekend when they visit Birmingham.
Table watch: Birmingham is in 17th spot on seven points while Sunderland is in seventh place on 16 points.
Drumming up support: Birmingham boss Alex McLeish is hoping for a loud crowd this weekend.
“I am delighted with the enthusiasm that has been generated this last week or so and the fans are buzzing,” he told the UKPA. “People are looking forward with anticipation. It is a new era. I personally would love to see the packed houses at St Andrews, and see the Birmingham fans getting back to their support of a few years ago.”
It’s no fluke: Sunderland gaffer Steve Bruce told the team’s Web site this week, “We’ve produced two wonderful performances against recent weeks against Manchester United and Liverpool, but speak to me again in six months and I’ll tell you what kind of progress has been made. I’m purring inside and things are going along nicely but I will never get carried away. Football has a habit of coming back to kick you.”
Burnley vs. Wigan Athletic
Turf Moor is the scene for two teams with designs on a spot in the top 10 this weekend.
Table watch: Burnley is in 10th place on a dozen points while Wigan is two points behind them in 14th position.
They said it: “Games against Burnley are bigger for us than ones against Manchester City. I say that because those are the games that we sometimes lose our focus on, and we need to show more respect to those kinds of opponents.” – Latics skipper Mario Melchiot, to Click Lancashire
Hull City vs. Portsmouth
It’s early days, but this match has the looks of a relegation six-pointer.
Table watch: The Tigers are in 18th place on seven points while Pompey are rooted to the bottom of the table with three points.
Put me in, coach: Hull’s Jimmy Bullard, who came on as a sub against Fulham last week, says he’s ready for a full run out after his longterm knee injury.
“I’m ready for 90 minutes, otherwise I wouldn’t have made myself available,” he told the Daily Mail. “I’ve been waiting for my first start for a long time and especially with it being a home game too, I can’t wait. I just want to get out there and show people what I can do and help the team really.”
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City
Spurs will look to keep the pressure on the top two as they entertain Stoke City on Saturday.
Table watch: Spurs are in third place on 19 points while the Potters are in ninth place on 12 points.
Match facts: From our friends at Eurosport, Tottenham have won five and lost only one of their last seven league meetings with Stoke City. … Stoke have not won away at Spurs since February 1975 – suffering eight defeats in 11 visits since. … Stoke have scored just 20 goals in 27 away league games at Tottenham, failing to score in 13 of those matches. … Tottenham have won nine of their last 10 home games in the league.
Chelsea vs. Blackburn Rovers
Stamford Bridge may be more hostile than usual for visitors after the Blues fell from first place in the standings last week.
Table watch: Chelsea is in second place on 21 points while the Rovers have 10 points, good for 13th spot.
Turning the tide: After falling to Aston Villa last week, the Blues responded with a 4-0 drubbing of Atletico Madrid in mid-week Champions League action.
He said it: Rovers striker and on-loan Chelsea man Franco di Santo hopes his current club can defeat the Blues. “I hope Blackburn win on Saturday,” he told The Guardian. “Now I play for them and want to do my best for them. When I go back to Chelsea, I will want the best for them. Now Blackburn are paying my wages so I want a Blackburn win. I will go to the game because I have a lot of friends at Chelsea and my contract is still with them. I want to go to watch.”
Bolton Wanderers vs. Everton
Bolton will be looking to pick up three points as the Toffees drop in for a Sunday visit.
Table watch: Bolton is in 15th place on eight points while Everton is in 11th place with as many points.
Fixture congestion: The Toffees are busy. A Thursday match in Portugal against Benfica (which didn’t go well) preceeded this match and a Carling Cup tie against Tottenham on Tuesday at White Hart Lane will follow.
Manchester City vs. Fulham
City will try to climb back into the top four when it hosts Fulham on Sunday.
Table watch: City is in fifth place on 17 points while Fulham jumped five spots in the table last week to 12th on 10 points.
They said it: “Carlos (Tevez) missed all of pre-season, which was a blow to him and a blow to us. He’s still playing catch-up, but every game he plays he’s getting back towards those energy levels.” – City boss Mark Hughes, to the team’s Web site.
They said it, part two: “Unfortunately Danny got injured during our game against Hull on Monday evening. We’re still assessing the injury and hoping it isn’t extremely serious but it’s serious enough to keep him out of Thursday’s game and the game at the weekend and maybe longer but we’re hoping the tendon that was damaged is still attached and that there will be no need for an operation.” – Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, on injured skipper Danny Murphy, to the team’s Web site.
West Ham United vs. Arsenal
The Hammers need a spark, and they’ll hope a friendly Upton Park atmosphere can help them get one against Arsenal in the final game of the weekend.
Table watch: West Ham is in 19th place on five points while Arsenal is in fourth place on 18 points.
Injured Gunners report: “Rosicky (knee) and Bendtner (groin) are 50-50 but Eduardo (thigh) should be back,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the team’s Web site. “I would say only Walcott is definitely out.”
On the move: After getting swept against the Manchester clubs, Arsenal has won four straight league games. The Hammers aren’t faring quite as well as they are winless since opening day.