LONDON – Liverpool must lift themselves after being floored by a Lionel Messi masterclass in Barcelona if they are to take the Premier League title race against a relentless Manchester City into the final weekend of the season.
Jurgen Klopp’s men face a tricky trip to Newcastle on Saturday, two days before Pep Guardiola’s City host Leicester, with just one point separating the pair.
Below them, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United remain in the hunt to secure the remaining two top-four places despite stuttering form.
And at the bottom of the table, Cardiff’s Premier League future is hanging by a thread as they prepare to host Crystal Palace.
AFP Sports looks at the state of play in the Premier League ahead of the penultimate weekend of the competition.
The title race
It is advantage City in arguably the greatest Premier League title race in history with neither side having dropped points for two months.
Defending champions City, after 12 straight wins, are on 92 points, one clear of relentless Liverpool, who have lost just once in the league all season.
Defeat for Liverpool at Newcastle, managed by former Reds’ boss Rafael Benitez, would give City the chance to wrap up the title on Monday.
But a win would put Liverpool back on top for at least 48 hours and put the pressure back on Guardiola’s team, who take on a Leicester side chasing European football and fresh from thrashing Arsenal 3-0 last weekend.
“I think mentally we shouldn’t be affected,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said after his side’s valiant performance in Barcelona was ruined by two late Messi goals to seal a 3-0 Champions League semi-final, first leg win for the Spanish champions.
“I won’t be. It was a tough game but we have a big game at the weekend and we are still in the race. We want the same performance without conceding the goals.”
The race for the remaining two slots in the Premier League top four, which gives entry to next season’s Champions League, is the one nobody apparently wants to win.
None of the challengers managed a win last weekend, meaning Tottenham still lead the way on 70 points, two head of Chelsea.
Arsenal, who have lost their past three league games, are on 66 points, with Manchester United, still in the race despite a woeful run of form, a further point behind.
Fifth and sixth spot offers the consolation of Europa League football, but so too could seventh if City beat Watford in the FA Cup final next month.
Wolves are in the driving seat to be the best of the rest outside the top six in their first season back in the top flight with 54 points, three ahead of Leicester and four clear of Everton and Watford.
Fulham and Huddersfield have already fallen through the relegation trap door and Cardiff could join them this weekend.
Neil Warnock’s side are on 31 points, four adrift of Brighton in 17th spot and with a significantly poorer goal difference.
However, the Seagulls have to face Arsenal and Manchester City in their final two games, offering Warnock hope.
“We’ve got Palace and Man United, and we’ll just go and try and do our best,” Warnock said after last week’s defeat at Fulham. “We’re not out of it yet. You just don’t know in football.”
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Everton v Burnley (1900)
Bournemouth v Tottenham (1130), West Ham v Southampton, Wolves v Fulham, Cardiff v Crystal Palace (1630), Newcastle v Liverpool (1845)
Chelsea v Watford (1300), Huddersfield v Manchester United (1300), Arsenal v Brighton (1530)
Manchester City v Leicester (1900)
Agence France-Presse (AFP)