Arsenal and Tottenham set for Champions League play-off as title race goes all the way4 min read
With the final international break of the season complete, it’s now a sprint to the finish as the Premier League nears a thrilling conclusion.
It’s all to play for at both ends of the table, while the fight for European football is also still very much alive with what looks to be a pivotal north London derby yet to be rescheduled.
We’ve taken a look at the key moments that could shape how the season plays out in the final few weeks.
Race to be Champions
Title decider awaits as battle is set to go down to wire again
The last time Manchester City and Liverpool were neck and neck in the title race, the difference between success and failure came down to 11 millimetres.
Just 11mm and the desperate lunge of John Stones to hook Sadio Mane’s goal-bound effort from virtually behind the line separated the two greatest managers of their generation. So it is impossible to overstate the importance of their showdown at the Etihad in nine days.
It is a title decider in every sense of the term. Whichever team walks off the pitch after 90 minutes with the advantage will almost certainly go on to be crowned champions.
That is how fine the margin for error is in a race that looked all but run at the turn of the year.
Huge credit must go to Liverpool for even making it a contest, because when Rodri’s 93rd-minute goal secured a 2-1 win against Arsenal on January 1, City moved 11 points clear at the top and were already being declared champions.
Pep Guardiola’s side simply do not let such leads slip, so it is remarkable that Jurgen Klopp has managed to move within a point of the reigning champions, let alone have realistic ambitions of winning an unprecedented quadruple.
But the German will know that anything other than victory when the two sides meet could see his title hopes go up in smoke.
City have the easier run-in, with a trip to West Ham in the penultimate game of the season their trickiest fixture on paper. Liverpool, meanwhile, have emotion-fuelled clashes with Manchester United and Everton, as well as a home game against Tottenham.
But the point is, both City and Liverpool are perfectly capable of securing maximum points between now and the end of the season, which is why their head-to-head is so critical.
Battle for fourth spot
North London derby now a Champions League play-off
The battle for fourth could come down to the yet-to-be-rearranged north London derby, which is shaping up to be a play-off for Champions League football.
Arsenal and hosts Tottenham expect the game to be rescheduled for the penultimate week of the season and it promises to be a titanic clash, with the Gunners currently three points clear of their neighbours with a game in hand.
Mikel Arteta’s side are building momentum at the right time, with players such as Bukayo Saka hitting top form, and they have been more fluid and consistent than Spurs since the turn of the year. Spurs’ up-and-down form bordered on farcical but they are clearly improving.
Both sides face tricky returns to action, with Spurs hosting Newcastle, one of their bogey teams, and Arsenal at Crystal Palace, managed by Gunners legend Patrick Vieira. On paper, Spurs have the easier run-in, with Arsenal at Chelsea for their game in hand and Manchester United and West Ham still to come.
While the Hammers are surely too far back to break into the top four, Manchester United could yet ruin the party.
Watford pin survival hopes on Everton’s tough run-in
After posting losses of more than £110million for the third straight season, Everton will not want to think about the prospect of life in the Championship.
They remain on a solid footing, thanks to the support of their owner Farhad Moshiri, but relegation from the Premier League would only worsen their financial woes after battling with the impact of Covid-19.
Everton are currently sat 17th, three points ahead of Watford in 18th, and with two games in hand. Burnley have played the same number of games as the Toffees, but are four points adrift in 19th. Norwich, sat rock bottom on 17 points, look dead and buried.
Everton are safe for now but manager Frank Lampard will know the run-in looks incredibly difficult, as they have matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester (twice), Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham. Next Wednesday’s clash against Burnley looks vital.
Everton’s tough games will give Watford hope they can stay up. Roy Hodgson is a survival expert and the return to fitness of Ismaila Sarr is a timely boost. If Emmanuel Dennis can rediscover the form he showed at the start of the season, the Hornets could be in business.
Brentford look like they are out of the relegation fight, as they currently sit 15th, with 30 points.
However, a few poor results after this international break could see them sucked back in. Leeds, one place below Brentford, are in the same boat.
But for Burnley, Everton and Watford, the race to survive is well and truly on — and only one of them looks like they will be celebrating come May.