Liverpool face Chelsea crunch, City aim to stay hot
The weekend’s most eye-catching match-up comes at Anfield, where fifth-placed Liverpool and third-placed Chelsea square off in a bid to hang onto City’s coat-tails.
Defeat for either side could be fatal to their title hopes as Chelsea trail City by nine points and Liverpool are 12 adrift of Pep Guardiola’s pace-setters, who bid to maintain their blistering form at Huddersfield on Sunday.
Liverpool’s morale is at a low ebb after they blew a three-goal half-time lead in a 3-3 draw at Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday.
It was a shocking collapse and Reds midfielder Wijnaldum admits Jurgen Klopp’s team will have to work hard to get the result out of their system before Chelsea arrive on Merseyside.
“I don’t think it is a bad result to get a draw in Seville but the way we gave it up I don’t think is a good sign,” Wijnaldum said.
“It is painful when you look back at the game but we have to go again Saturday.
“We have to speak with each other, lift each other up, put this behind us and concentrate on Chelsea.”
In contrast to Liverpool’s collapse, Chelsea eased into the Champions League knockout stages with a 4-0 rout of Qarabag.
But even that success couldn’t stop Blues boss Antonio Conte complaining about the fixture schedule that sends his team to Anfield just 48 hours after arriving back from their draining 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan.
With Liverpool playing in Sevilla a day earlier than Chelsea’s European fixture, Conte fears the champions could suffer a repeat of their damaging defeat against Manchester City earlier this season — a loss that came in a week when their rivals played a day earlier in the Champions League.
– Showered with praise –
“We had to work during the flight, to prepare the game against Liverpool,” Conte said.
“To have only one day to rest and only one day to prepare this big game is not simple, is not easy. I think also it’s not right.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but this is the reality. Someone has to help us.”
While Conte frets, the biggest problem for City — winners of their last 10 league games — appears to be a battle to guard against complacency.
City extended their unbeaten run to 19 matches in all competitions with a 1-0 Champions League win against Feyenoord on Tuesday.
Guardiola’s side, who hold an eight-point lead over second-placed Manchester United, have been showered with praise for their sensational start to the season, but City midfielder Yaya Toure insists they won’t get carried away.
“It is very important to keep the confidence going. But we have to be careful because in these circumstances we have to keep focused,” he said.
“What I learned, when I was in Barcelona in 2009, was we don’t listen to any newspaper because you could think you are one of the best and after that get a strong team who destroy you.”
United host Brighton on Saturday with Daley Blind confident the return of his team’s walking wounded will help them keep in touch with City.
Beaten 1-0 by Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, Jose Mourinho’s side could take heart from Marcos Rojo’s first appearance since April, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s second substitute role since his knee injury and Paul Pogba’s presence in midfield following his lay-off.
United defender Blind said: “I’m very happy for them. Everyone is ready and wants to play.
“It is good because there is a very busy period coming up so everybody needs to be sharp and ready. We will need everyone.”
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated):
West Ham v Leicester (2000 GMT)
Crystal Palace v Stoke, Manchester United v Brighton, Newcastle v Watford, Swansea v Bournemouth, Tottenham v West Brom, Liverpool v Chelsea (1730 GMT)
Southampton v Everton (1330 GMT), Burnley v Arsenal (1400 GMT), Huddersfield v Manchester City (1600 GMT)
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