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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Premier League title race: Who has the best fixtures – Liverpool, Man City or Arsenal?

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Football

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The Premier League is heading for a classic title race, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal set for a three-way battle as the season enters the run-in.

Manchester City, the defending champions, are aiming to win a fourth league title in a row under Pep Guardiola – a feat that has never been achieved in the history of English football. City blew Arsenal away in last year’s run-in, but the Gunners are back in the fight this campaign and showed a newfound resilience to grind out a 0-0 draw at the Etihad on Sunday and remain above the champions with nine games to go.

It leaves Liverpool leading the way as the run-in truly begins, in what are Jurgen Klopp’s final few weeks on Merseyside. After an epic clash between Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s City, as the managerial rivals met in the Premier League for the final time, it means the top three have now all played each other twice, and the fate of the title will be decided elsewhere.

So, as the Premier League title race enters April, which team has the best fixtures and who has the hardest run of games to end the season?

Here’s where the title could be won and lost…

Liverpool

Points: 67

GD: +40

Avg. opponents PpG: 1.37

Difficulty: ★★★1/2

After near misses in 2019 and 2022, Liverpool know they must be close to perfect to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the title race. Perhaps a 1-1 draw against the champions at Anfield was a missed opportunity, but Liverpool were the winners as City and Arsenal played out a goalless stalemate at the Etihad. The title is in Liverpool’s hands with nine games to go.

A second visit to Old Trafford in a matter of weeks stands out for obvious reasons, and Liverpool have an even greater incentive to win now after a dramatic defeat to Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Klopp’s final trip to Goodison Park should also be an emotional occasion, as title-chasing Liverpool face relegation-threatened Everton in a midweek Merseyside derby on Wednesday 24 April.

Apart from that, the key clashes to look out for could be against sides chasing Champions League football, with fixtures against Tottenham at Anfield and a trip to Aston Villa giving Liverpool a tricky final trio of games, when Wolves at home on the final day is also considered.

Having already won the Carabao Cup, Klopp’s side are also going strong in the Europa League and are favourites to reach the Dublin final on 22 May. They will play Atalanta in the quarter-finals, with either Benfica or Marseille awaiting in the semis. The Reds are once again heading for a dramatic final few weeks – could Klopp lift the Premier League in his final season?

Arsenal

Points: 65

GD: +46

Avg. opponents PpG: 1.44

Difficulty: ★★★★

Have Mikel Arteta’s side learnt their lesson from last season? The Gunners won just three of their final nine Premier League games last year, which included a four-game winless run, as they fell away in the title race.

But a 0-0 draw at the Etihad, where they were thrashed 4-1 last season, is a sign that Arsenal are tougher challengers than they were this time last year. The result might have given Liverpool the advantage, but it is a huge boost to Arteta’s men psychologically ahead of April and May.

There, Arsenal will also have to face tricky games against Aston Villa and Tottenham – their trip across north London on Sunday 28 April should be an epic. Visits to Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton and Gary O’Neil’s Wolves could be difficult, too, while Old Trafford looms large on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Arsenal lost the title away from home last season – with defeat at the Etihad and costly dropped points from winning positions at Anfield and the London Stadium. Their fate this season will be determined on the road again.

Participation in the latter stages of the Champions League will also make this season’s title race a different challenge. Arsenal will face Bayern Munich and Harry Kane in their first quarter-final since 2010, with the two legs falling either side of the home clash with Aston Villa on Sunday 14 April.

A result of Arsenal’s stunning attacking form – with eight wins in a row in the Premier League before the City draw – is the Gunners now possess the best goal difference in the Premier League. That could be crucial.

Manchester City

Points: 64

GD: +35

Avg. opponents PpG: 1.35

Difficulty: ★★★

The double treble is still on, but are Manchester City as good as they were last season? Pep Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 20 games but they were unable to beat either Liverpool or Arsenal in their two title showdowns either side of the international break, and it leaves the champions third in the title race.

But City have been here before and their fixtures are looking favourable now Liverpool and Arsenal are out of the equation. Still, they must face the other two members of the top five: Guardiola’s team host Aston Villa on Wednesday, with Unai Emery’s side defeating them at Villa Park earlier this season, while a trip to Tottenham, where City have never won in the Premier League under Guardiola, could now be played late in the season after reaching the FA Cup semi-finals.

Still involved in three competitions, City have the busiest schedule of the Premier League title contenders, although Luton at home in between a Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid, to be played across 9 and 17 April, could have been a lot worse. The timing of that Tottenham trip will be crucial, however.

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