Tom Burchill assesses the fixtures this weekend and what it means for the final standings of the 2016/17 Premier League table.
Let’s not beat around the bush, this weekend is the most important weekend of football so far this season. We’ve seen bigger fixtures and we’ve seen better fixtures but this is well and truly it. This weekend will decide who plays in the Champions League next year.
Which fixtures am I talking about?
West Ham vs. Liverpool, Stoke City vs. Arsenal and Manchester City vs. Leicester.
Three teams. Two seats on the plane. One weekend.
Manchester City vs Leicester
Man City and Leicester have met each other a total of 112 times in their history. Overall, City comes out on top with 53 wins, 30 draws and 29 losses. That being said it has not been smooth sailing for the Sky Blues recently, with their last three fixtures resulting in DLL.
Leicester have become a somewhat bogey team for City over the past two seasons, battering them 4-2 at the King Power in December despite their tragic form. Fast forward to now and the Foxes are on the up with 22 points from their last 10 games. If they can beat City when they are out of form who is to say they won’t be able to do it again? It is the early fixture after all – well known for its upset.
Manchester City go into the game off the back of a 5-0 demolishing of Crystal Palace. The Eagles, as I’m sure we have not forgotten, had been giant killing their way to safety. They beat Chelsea, they beat Arsenal and they beat us. However, a setback against Tottenham saw them lose Sakho, their (our) best defender, and City was quick to take advantage of their weak defence.
This looks like their toughest remaining fixture and the only place they’ll drop points. Five different scorers last time out shows that Man City aren’t messing around as the season comes to a close. To make matters worse Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero are both back from injury.
Here’s hoping that Theresa May is the only one with an appetite for fox hunting this week.
Stoke City vs Arsenal
Stoke and Arsenal have met one another 105 times. As expected, Arsenal has got the better of the Potters with 55 wins, 25 draws and 25 losses. The shining light here for Liverpool fans is Stoke’s impressive home form against the Gunners who have not won at the Britannia Stadium since 2010.
Let’s put that into perspective. The last time that Arsenal won away at Stoke, Rafael Benitez was still our manager, Bournemouth was in League 2 and Toy Story 3 had not yet been released.
That being said, Arsenal has already proven they’ve overcome their troubles on the road by winning 2-0 midweek against Southampton. We couldn’t even do that at home. Has Wenger turned it around?
Stoke’s recent form have seen them draw their last two. Liverpool fans everywhere will be hoping it’s true what they say and three is a magic number. With Stoke already having surpassed the 40 point guarantee of safety it’s only their impressive record against the north London side that is on the line.
All we can do is hope that Mark Hughes’ players aren’t already on the beach. Joe Allen could do with helping out his old club and failing that, it might be down to our noisy neighbours on the last day of the season.
West Ham vs. Liverpool
Last but not least it’s our own fixture against the Irons. When 2.15pm rolls around this Sunday either the pressure will be off or it will be the most important game of Klopp’s era since the 3-1 defeat to Sevilla in Basel last summer.
In our history, we have played West Ham a whopping 135 times. In those fixtures, we’ve won 70, drawn 37 and lost 28. Unfortunately, just like the two teams we’re competing against, we have not had much luck in recent years.
Rewind to 2015. Liverpool have just bombed out of the Champions League under Brendan Rodgers and is drawn against Besiktas in the round of 32 in the Europa League. A 1-0 win at home isn’t enough and over in Turkey the score is matched. A penalty shootout sees Dejan Lovren fire over the crossbar and Liverpool leaves Europe early for the second time that season.
Their manager that day? Slaven Bilic.
At the end of that season, Bilic packed his bags and flew over to England to start a new life as the manager of West Ham.
With him, he brought pain and misery for the Reds, leading West Ham to do the league double over Liverpool for the first time since the 1963-64 season. In that same season, Bilic’s Hammers put the nail in Liverpool’s coffin when Ogbonna’s late header in the 120th put our FA Cup dreams to rest. You’d think by now we’d have learnt to deal with set pieces.
In the return fixture, this season, goals from Michail Antonio and Dmitri Payet prevented a win at Anfield. Can Liverpool overcome them this time round?
Our performance last weekend and our failure to break down yet another 10 man defence will give West Ham hope.
We should not forget that in the same game week they managed to beat an in-form Tottenham and ruined their title challenge. The only positive from that result is now they are mathematically safe they have nothing to play for.
Are West Ham done with upsets? Can Klopp overcome Bilic? Will it even matter come lunchtime on Sunday?
There’s only one way to find out. Roll on game week 37.