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Key games left in Premier League season

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With just seven games left for the majority of Premier League teams, crunch time has arrived in the 2018-19 season.

Clubs across the PL are readying themselves for a crucial final few weeks of the season, with so much still on the line. It is tough to know what to focus on, right?

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Of course, you’ll be soaking up every single Premier League game you can, but now seems like a good time to help you focus on the games you simply cannot miss between now and the end of the season on May 12.

Below we take a look at eight clashes which will have a huge say in deciding the title race, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation.


Brighton v. Southampton – March 30
A South Coast derby with just three points separating the two teams. Brighton and Saints have had many battles in the lower leagues in recent seasons, and there is a genuine rivalry bubbling up here. Saints are almost better away from home than they are at home under Ralph Hasenhuttl, and their fast breaks will cause Brighton problems. Expect a tight, tense game as both teams are desperate to pull further clear of Cardiff City who occupy the final relegation place.


Liverpool v. Tottenham – March 31
A few weeks ago this seemed like being a battle between two teams who were battling for the title. How quickly things change. Spurs’ dismal recent run has seen them drop out of the title race, and now they need the points to stay in the top four hunt. Liverpool need the points to keep their title bid going, and this is the toughest game remaining (on paper) for Jurgen Klopp‘s side to negotiate. The fiery 2-2 draw between these two teams last season was a classic, and Harry Kane has been in thorn in Liverpool’s side in recent seasons. Kane’s battle with Virgil Van Dijk promises to be epic, and it could have a huge say in the title race.


Burnley v. Cardiff City – April 13
Not one for the purists this, but it is likely to be an enthralling encounter between two committed teams who sit just one place from each other in the table. Cardiff are in 18th place and in the final relegation spot, but they are just two points behind Burnley who are really struggling after an upturn in results around the New Year’s period. Sean Dyche and Neil Warnock have built hard-working teams on limited resources, and Cardiff have nothing to lose in many regards as everyone expected them to be relegated this season. The new boys have a chance with eight games to go, and this is a massive chance to gain ground on a team around them.


Liverpool v. Chelsea – April 14
Memories of April 2014 will come flooding back to Liverpool fans, as Steven Gerrard‘s costly slip against Chelsea handed the Premier League title to Manchester City. Surely lightning won’t strike twice as Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield late in the season once again… Klopp’s side must negotiate the home games against Spurs and Chelsea, but Anfield is a fortress and they haven’t lost at home all season in the Premier League. However, the only team to win at Anfield in any competition this season was Chelsea, as Eden Hazard inspired a League Cup victory way back in September. This will be Liverpool’s last major hurdle in the title race.


Man City v. Tottenham – April 20
This game will be played in the middle of three games between City and Spurs after they were drawn against one another in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. That should complicate things, as the two sets of players will be so used to the tactics of the other and it will be a lot tighter than most expect. City beat Spurs 1-0 at Wembley earlier this season, and have only lost one of their last eight home games against Tottenham. Pep Guardiola has more options than Mauricio Pochettino to rotate his team, and that could be key with three matches between these PL clubs in just 11 days.


Man United v. Man City – April 24
A Manchester Derby that will surely decide the season for both clubs. If City win, they will take a big step towards the title. If United win they will not only scupper City’s title chance but also significantly boost their top four hopes. If everything goes to plan between now and late April for both clubs, they could also be in the midst of being in the Champions League semifinals too. United will sit back and soak up pressure and then try to launch devastating counters. That worked very well against PSG, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, but City are a different beast. What an atmosphere it should be inside Old Trafford for this one.


Man United v. Chelsea – April 28
Both teams should be bang in the top four battle going into the final two weeks of the season, and this game will be massive in deciding who will qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Just one point separates the two teams right now, with United in fifth and Chelsea in sixth. United have already knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup this season and pushed them all the way in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge when Jose Mourinho was boss. The clash of styles sets up an intriguing tactical battle. United’s counter attacks and direct style is totally opposite to Sarri-ball. Both teams will have expected to be in the title battle at the start of the season, and this game may well present itself as their final chance to shore up a spot in the top four. It is unlikely both will finish in the top four this season. Something has to give.


Cardiff City v. Crystal Palace – May 4
With Palace having to play plenty of big boys in the next few weeks, it is likely their battle against relegation will go down to the wire. Cardiff will also be up against it with their schedule, so this game represents a good chance of three points for both. If Cardiff are still in with a shout of staying up, this encounter, their final home game of the season, will see an incredible atmosphere generated in the Welsh capital. Just five points separate the Eagles and Bluebirds right now, and their direct, counter-attacking styles of play should set things up very nicely for an end-to-end encounter.

Klopp: Liverpool’s defeat of Fulham ‘a brilliant afternoon’

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Jurgen Klopp wasn’t grasping for positivity after Liverpool escaped Craven Cottage with a 2-1 defeat of Fulham and a place atop the Premier League table.

As a matter of fact, he felt great about his team’s performance in the win even after a colossal misunderstanding between Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker nearly cost the side all three points through an equalizer from ex-Reds forward Ryan Babel.

[ RECAP: Fulham 1-2 Liverpool ]

Fortunately for Liverpool, Sadio Mane won a penalty and James Milner converted it to give the Reds their win.

“It is clear at 1-0 if you don’t kill it off that can happen,” Klopp said. “Babel was there that is how football is. They deserved a goal but we deserved three points. A brilliant afternoon I have to say.”

Klopp said his side was hampered by its midweek Champions League defeat of Bayern Munich, and that he is not worried about them moving forward in pursuit of a Premier League title.

“I am not the most experienced manager and I have similar problems after Champions League games,” Klopp said, later adding, “I am not in any doubt about my players nerves. It is about intensity. We go for perfection but it is rare that you get it. Burnley, Munich, Fulham – you have to adapt. People will say we need to be more convincing, but we are at the start of a development, not the end.”

As for the mishap that had the score line at 1-1, both Milner and Van Dijk weren’t looking for excuses. Milner butchered a clearing attempt that put Van Dijk on the hook, and the Dutch defender’s pass back to Alisson was poor.

At the time, it had more than a hint of Steven Gerrard‘s infamous slip a few years back, one of the players of the season succumbing to misfortune.

At least Milner had a sense of humor about it.

“The gaffer told me to come on and calm it down and the first thing I do is slice it and put Virgil under pressure which wasn’t ideal,” Milner said.

“I am not giving excuses,” Van Dijk said. “I should have handled it better. They scored but so did we and we have three points and move back to the top of the table. … We knew it would be tough. We made it difficult for ourselves. We weren’t calm on the ball. We got the three points though and we can now focus on the national teams.”

Liverpool has a two-point lead on Man City, who has played one fewer match but that match is currently the Manchester Derby.

Klopp dismisses Bayern talk from Beckenbauer

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We don’t often talk about Jurgen Klopp‘s future at Liverpool, but it isn’t a huge surprise that the former Borussia Dortmund man’s elimination of Bayern Munich from the UEFA Champions League have eyes opened wide in Germany.

[ LISTEN: Martino on PL clubs’ UCL success ]

This is so much so that Franz Beckenbauer, who played 567 times for Bayern, said it would be a “highlight” for the club to hire Klopp, crediting the manager with teaching “Germans how to play quickly.”

In response, Klopp does a pretty majestic job of giving Beckenbauer, Bayern, and Germany their due without opening the door to anything other than Anfield.

“There is no bigger legend in Germany than Franz Beckenbauer,” said Klopp. “It feels great he speaks positively about me. It is just like the king with his sword calling a man ‘sir’.”

But that’s where the flirtation ends.

From SkySports.com:

“So far, it has worked out, and hopefully it will last a lot longer. That would be cool. We are very happy about the situation and very positive about the future. We are fine with what we’ve done so far, but now we have to finish the season the best way possible.

“It is a big opportunity. We have improved a lot, but people judge it only on winning titles. We know that, but we can change it in the future.”

Klopp and Liverpool face Fulham on Sunday at Craven Cottage, but don’t sleep on the idea of his heading to Bayern at some point. While the Reds recently posted perhaps their most impressive win in his tenure at Anfield, pressure could increase if he fails to hold onto the side’s glorious chance to win the Premier League and finishes short of the UCL title again.

Premier League Preview: Fulham v. Liverpool

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  • Fulham manager Scott Parker could have forward Andre Schurrle (virus) available, but Alfie Mawson and Marcus Bettinelli (both knee) remain sidelined for Fulham.
  • Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is ruled out after sustaining an ankle injury in midweek, although Naby Keita (minor injury) could return. 
  • The Reds are unbeaten in their last 11 PL matches against promoted sides (W10 D1), winning the last eight in a row. They have scored 31 goals and conceded just four in that run since a 2-0 loss at Hull City in February 2017.

Liverpool showed in midweek that they have the quality to make another deep run in the UEFA Champions League. Now, back in Premier League action, Liverpool will look to jump-start major pieces of their attack with a trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham on Sunday (Watch live, 10:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Mo Salah has scored 17 Premier League goals this season, but none in the past five games in all competitions. Likewise, outside of a brace last week against Burnley, Roberto Firmino hasn’t scored in six of seven games played since the start of February. Against Fulham’s struggling defense, those two found find their form in front of goal.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

It’s been a rough season meanwhile for Fulham, which looks incredibly likely to be relegated to the Championship. Fulham hasn’t won since January, is on its third manager of the year, and needs 12 points to survive another season in the Premier League. Against Liverpool, it might be a case of just hoping for a draw, or keeping the score close.

What they’re saying

Fulham coach Scott Parker on facing a title contender: “Hopefully we’ll have an influence on the title race. We’ve got some very good footballers at the club and we need to start getting the best out of them. They have a chance at the weekend in front of the cameras to prove how good they are. If we play the way we want to play, we can cause an upset and we can get points. I’ve seen an upturn daily in the players in the way they’re training. Their standards have gone up tenfold.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp on the impact of beating Bayern: “Last year I think when we came through it was always about a sensational, free-flowing kind of football in a specific way: scoring from all areas, stuff like that. This was, from my point of view, the most mature performance we had so far in all European competitions since I am in and I like that a lot. It was really good. I said after the game, in a game like this it’s pretty rare that one team is shining completely and the other team has a bad hair day or whatever. It doesn’t happen a lot, so you have to work for each yard, for each inch, and that’s what the boys did. In the decisive moments you have to be there defensively and offensively. It was really good, I was really happy and it was not to expect in that way. People spoke about ‘Bayern was not really like Bayern usually is’ – I would say all the credit to my boys because we didn’t let them. That’s all we have to do in game like this.”

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Prediction

Liverpool can go top of the league with a win, and even coming off the emotional high of beating Bayern Munich, they should still have more than enough quality to defeat Fulham. Liverpool 3-0 Fulham

 

Klopp: Defending, experience will help Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp seems to be a bit calmer now that Liverpool has clinched a berth in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

Drawing Porto for its next tie probably didn’t hurt his new vibe.

[ MORE: Analyzing the UCL draw ]

Reflecting on what worked for Liverpool against Bayern and how it needs to translate to the rest of the tournament, Klopp pointed to defense. That may explain why he opted for a midfield of James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Jordan Henderson to start the second leg. From the BBC:

“The last five Champions League games we lost is because we didn’t defend like we wanted to but at Munich we did and from this basis you can win, it’s the experience from last year we get this and it has helped a lot. … If there is a final at the end, good – but we think about that at the end, not now.”

As for this weekend’s Premier League match with Fulham, which gives the Cottagers a chance to go atop the table, Klopp expects the Reds to be ready despite its monumental win over Bayern Munich in Germany.

The Reds’ boss has to quickly turn around his men for Saturday’s visit to Fulham, who are desperate for points and playing a bit better under interim boss Scott Parker.

“We’ve been over it and we have to make sure we are spot on from the opening second to win the game.”