Football: Champions League still tops English agenda

Football: Champions League still tops English agenda

LONDON - After a chastening fortnight in the Champions League, the tussle to qualify for next season's tournament takes priority in the Premier League this weekend, with Manchester United's trip to Liverpool topping the bill.

Manchester City's 1-0 loss at Barcelona on Wednesday ended English interest in this season's Champions League and the champions are one of six clubs now apparently vying for three berths in the 2015-16 competition.

Leaders Chelsea, six points clear of second-place City with a game in hand, already appear guaranteed to qualify, but Manuel Pellegrini's side's place in the top four is no longer as secure.

Consecutive away defeats to Liverpool and Burnley have seen City's lead over third-placed Arsenal eroded to a single point, with United a point further back in fourth place and Liverpool two points further back in fifth.

Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, are only six points below the top four, and with home games against strugglers Burnley and bottom club Leicester City respectively on their agendas this weekend, will be confident of making up ground on the teams above them.

Three days after a defeat at Camp Nou marked by Lionel Messi's brilliance and Joe Hart's heroics in the visitors' goal, City return to league action with a lunchtime game at home to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

City captain Vincent Kompany is wary about ruling his side out of the title race, but he acknowledges that he and his team-mates owe the club's supporters a rousing run of performances.

"Forget about Chelsea. We owe it to ourselves, to our fans to have a good end to this campaign," said the Belgium centre-back.

"Then again, if we finish this campaign as good as we can, maybe there is still something in it. We will have to see.

"It is not in our hands by any means, but we just have to go back and work hard and improve." Chelsea visit Hull City on Sunday, in need of a spark after following up their Champions League elimination at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain with a 1-1 draw at home to Southampton last weekend.

Twists and turns

Arsenal travel to Newcastle United, where they will be bidding to record a sixth consecutive league victory.

Arsene Wenger's side tumbled out of the Champions League in the last 16 despite winning 2-0 at Monaco on Tuesday, but they have been in fine form, with the 3-1 first-leg loss to Leonardo Jardim's side the only time they have failed to win in their last nine matches.

No team, however, can match Liverpool's current form, with Brendan Rodgers's side approaching Sunday's showdown against old foes United on the back of a 13-game unbeaten run in the league.

United were the last team to beat Liverpool, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford in mid-December, but Rodgers's men have rediscovered their swagger in the three months since then, and will leapfrog their rivals if they win at Anfield.

"Psychologically, it's massive for us, because if we win, we go above United and we get a foot in the top four," Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana told talkSPORT radio.

"But it's not all decisive on this game. There are still another eight games after.

"There are constantly going to be twists and turns, I'm sure. Tottenham and Southampton are still in and around the fight as well, so they are going to want to be picking up points to make it almost three teams out of six getting into the top four."

After weeks of patchy performances, United blew off the cobwebs by beating Tottenham 3-0 last Sunday and winger Ashley Young has encouraged his team-mates to put Liverpool on the back foot.

"We will go there looking for the three points," he said.

"We are going there to win. You don't go to a place to try and draw. The performance against Tottenham was brilliant, but we have a tough game coming up at Liverpool."

Dick Advocaat begins his tenure as Sunderland manager with a trip to West Ham United, as the experienced Dutchman looks to increase the one-point gap that currently separates the north-east club from the relegation zone.

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