The international break is over (yay!) and the Premier League is back in action as teams gear up for the stretch run of the domestic season. With seven or eight matches left to play in the league campaign, we’re treated to vicious battles up and down the table.
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There’s a wide open fight for the title with Liverpool and Manchester City going punch for punch, while Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea battle for the final Champions League slot. At the bottom of the table, Fulham looks for a miracle escape while Cardiff City, Southampton, and Burnley fight for Premier League survival.
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Liverpool fights to keep top spot
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Tottenham – NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Liverpool leads the Premier League at the moment, but just by the hair of their chinny chin chins. The Reds currently hold a slim two point lead, but Manchester City holds a game in hand, leaving Liverpool’s margin for error at essentially nil. They take on a Tottenham side that is no longer battling for the title, but instead battling for their Champions League lives, not with just a one-point lead over fourth-placed Arsenal.
The Reds may even be trailing in the title race when the game kicks off as Manchester City plays Fulham the day before, with a City win pushing them into the lead. Tottenham has lost three of the last four, leaving them vulnerable amidst the top four race, and that will give Mauricio Pochettino and his squad a sense of urgency coming into this match.
On Thursday, Manchester United officially tabbed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the permanent manager, a fierce statement of support for the Norwegian to sign him now instead of waiting until the summer to make his position permanent. While there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding Solskjaer’s start to his Manchester United career, Saturday’s match is a critical juncture in his managerial career. After running an incredible 12 matches unbeaten to start his Premier League tenure, the club has lost two straight matches – a big 2-0 defeat to Arsenal to fall out of fourth in the table, followed by a 2-1 defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals. How Solskjaer bounces back – or doesn’t – amidst his first bout with adversity as Manchester United boss could very well define the rest of his career. The Red Devils’ boss is in relatively new territory, and Saturday’s game will be just as much a statement as his new position.
Relegation six-pointer sees Brighton host Southampton
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Southampton – CNBC [ STREAM ]
Rarely at this point in the season are we treated to such critical relegation battles. 15th placed Brighton matches up with 16th placed Southampton with both sides desperately needing a win. While the Seagulls still have a bit of room for error sitting on 33 points, five above the relegation zone, Southampton is in a much more dire situation. The Saints are on 30 points, level with 17th placed Burnley and just two clear of the drop.
Brighton went seven matches without a win, but have crucially found victory in their last two. Southampton is in good form as well, having won two of their last three, having scored at least two goals in all three of those games as well. This should prove to be a fun one if both teams come out swinging.
Fulham faces daunting task against Manchester City
Saturday, 8:30 a.m. ET: Fulham v. Manchester City – NBCSN [ STREAM ]
The Whites come out of the international break needing a miracle, with fans hoping the club can conjure up shades of 2008 when they beat Manchester City in April to begin a stretch that is generally known as the Great Escape, with USMNT great Brian McBride at the top of the attack. This weekend’s task proves much more difficult, with Pep Guardiola at the helm of a Citizens side that can go top of the table with a win.
Fulham, meanwhile, has shown no signs of improving at the back, and now Scott Parker is in charge hoping to inject some kind of life into a defensive unit that has conceded a whopping 70 goals in 31 matches. The Whites have lost 10 of their last 11 to bump them into 19th, 13 points back of Premier League survival – insanely, Fulham has conceded at least two goals in every single match over that stretch. Manchester City, meanwhile, has conceded just one goal over its last five league matches and will be motivated to put more pressure on Liverpool.