London (AFP) – Liverpool and Manchester City resume their quest for historic trophy hauls on Saturday at the start of a season-defining month for both Premier League title contenders.
City, chasing a treble, are one point clear at the top of the table but Liverpool, with an unprecedented quadruple in their sights, are the form team after narrowing a 14-point gap between the sides in recent weeks.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will face off twice this month, first in a potential title decider at the Etihad on April 10 before an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley the following week.
Watford’s visit to Anfield and City’s trip to Burnley should on paper be gentle openers to a week that includes Champions League quarter-final action for both sides.
“In the years that I have been involved in football, I never had a month so exciting like this with such important and exciting matches every three days,” said Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara, formerly a Champions League winner with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “It will be amazing.”
However, Watford and Burnley are also desperately in need of points as they try to climb out of the relegation zone.
Liverpool boss Klopp has a difficult balancing act after an emotionally exhausting week for many his stars involved in World Cup qualifying.
Sadio Mane again got the better of Mohamed Salah as Senegal beat Egypt on penalties to reach the tournament in Qatar after winning the Africa Cup of Nations final on spot-kicks just two months ago.
There were also contrasting fortunes for two of the German manager’s other players. Diogo Jota helped Portugal qualify but Luis Diaz’s Colombia missed out.
An early kick-off gives Liverpool the chance to climb to the top of the table for the first time since October.
But City will be confident of reclaiming top spot even if they are displaced for a few hours after a run of nine consecutive wins in all competitions against Burnley.
– Everton at a loss –
Sean Dyche’s men may have one eye on Wednesday’s huge clash at home to Everton in the battle to beat the drop.
Everton have a three-point advantage over the bottom three and the pressure is on to maintain their 68-year run in the top flight after their balance sheet took another big hit.
The Toffees have lost a combined £372 million ($488 million) over the past three years and are in the process of building a new £500 million stadium, set to open in 2024.
Frank Lampard took the risk of questioning the character of his players after they slipped to a chastening 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup quarter-finals before the international break.
Lampard will hope his words have an impact when Everton visit West Ham, who could already be looking ahead to their Europa League quarter-final against Lyon.
– Champions League chase –
Arsenal are in control of the race to join Liverpool, City and Chelsea in next season’s Champions League, with a three-point lead and a game in hand over fifth-placed Tottenham.
The Gunners are not in action until Monday, when they travel to Crystal Palace, giving Spurs the chance to go fourth should they beat Newcastle by two or more goals.
Manchester United are still in contention for the top four but need to show a consistent run of form they have failed to produce all season, starting with Leicester’s trip to Old Trafford.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Liverpool v Watford (1130), Leeds v Southampton, Chelsea v Brentford, Burnley v Manchester City, Brighton v Norwich, Wolves v Aston Villa, Manchester United v Leicester (1630)
West Ham v Everton (1300), Tottenham v Newcastle (1530)
Crystal Palace v Arsenal (1900)
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