No room for error in title race
Manchester City first out of the blocks this weekend with tricky trip to Everton; closest showdown in 33 years as the finishing line approaches
Agence France-Presse in London
The closest English top-flight title race in 33 years speeds towards its conclusion this weekend, with Manchester City carrying the advantage ahead of a thorny trip to Everton on Saturday.
Leaders Liverpool's 2-0 loss at home to second-place Chelsea last weekend means that City will probably be assured of a second title in three seasons if they win their three remaining matches.
City trail Liverpool by three points but have a game in hand and a superior goal difference (+58 to +50), and yet with the teams so tightly bunched, the race is far from run. Not since 1981 have the top three been so close together at this stage of the season and only twice in the Premier League era (1999 and 2008) have three teams been in title contention at this point.
With Chelsea not hosting Norwich City until Sunday and Liverpool visiting Crystal Palace on Monday, City can take over at the top by prevailing at Goodison Park. While Everton now trail Arsenal by four points in the race for the fourth and final Champions League place, they have lost at home only twice this season.
"They are at home in front of their fans, and they are always good at home," City's Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho said. "The atmosphere is also good there, and they will play with a lot of intensity. We have to be ready for that. It will be a tough game."
Chelsea saw their hopes of a trophy double dashed on Wednesday when they lost 3-1 at home to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals.
Two points off the summit, Jose Mourinho's side need both Liverpool and City to slip up if they are to claim the title, but goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer says that they have no option but to keep on fighting.
"We need to put the others under pressure," said the Australian, whose side will go top if they overcome third-bottom Norwich. "We have to pick ourselves up from this disappointment and realise we must keep banging on the door with the game against Norwich on Sunday. We must make sure we pick up three points so we can capitalise on any slip-ups."
Having stretched their lead over Everton with a breezy 3-0 success against Newcastle United on Monday, Arsenal can rubber-stamp a top-four finish if they win at home to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
Manchester United will look to build on last weekend's 4-0 win over Norwich in interim manager Ryan Giggs' first game in charge when they host Sunderland.
Sunderland, however, are on a run of back-to-back wins that has lifted them out of the bottom three, and have beaten both City and Chelsea this season.
"We haven't played to the level that we're capable of this season, but we did that against Norwich," said Giggs. "It can't just be for one game. It has to be for longer than that. Every time you play for Manchester United you have to stay at that level, and they have to keep to these standards against Sunderland."
While Sunderland also have a game in hand to fulfil, at home to West Brom on Wednesday, time is running out for bottom club Cardiff City, who are two points from safety ahead of their trip to Newcastle on Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side could be relegated this weekend if results go against them, while Fulham are also in a perilous position, just a point better off and facing a trip to Stoke City.
Fulham manager Felix Magath has urged his players to take responsibility for their destiny by winning their last two matches. "I still believe two wins will be enough," he said "There is no doubt, we need three points to have the chance to not be relegated."