LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 22 – Liverpool travel to Manchester United on Sunday facing the toughest assignment of their Premier League run-in on paper as Tottenham seek to sneak back into the heart of the title race.
The trip to Old Trafford is effectively Jurgen Klopp’s team’s game in hand as they bid to open up a three-point lead over Manchester City, who play Chelsea in the League Cup final on the same day.
Liverpool thumped United 3-1 at Anfield in the last match of Jose Mourinho’s reign on December but they are transformed under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and are back in the top four.
If Spurs beat Burnley and Liverpool slip up, Mauricio Pochettino’s men will be just two points behind City and Liverpool, with all three clubs having played 27 matches.
AFP Sport picks out some of the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.
Wary Liverpool face Old Trafford litmus test
Liverpool know that a win at Old Trafford — where they have won just twice in the league since 2004 — would be a huge statement of intent as they hunt their first English top-flight title since 1990.
Klopp’s men are 14 points clear of United but they will be facing a different team from the one they demolished in December, courtesy of a goal from Sadio Mane and two from Xherdan Shaqiri.
“Since the new manager came in there is a new flow, they played good games and have won a lot and that is building confidence in the team,” said Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
“It’s also a home game for them so they will have a lot of confidence as they don’t have the problems they had before.”
Solskjaer’s tough side
Solskjaer has lifted his side into the Champions League places and knows any chance he has of becoming the next permanent manager probably hinges on staying there.
But defender Luke Shaw says the interim boss, known for his sunny demeanour, is capable of showing some steel.
“You know, Ole does it at the right time (shows another side),” Shaw told MUTV. “He knows how good we can be and, if we’re not up to his standards or the standards of Manchester United, he will certainly let you know.
“We’ve had a few moments like that where we might have been comfortable in a game but got a bit sloppy. He’s the manager and he tells the players what he wants. It’s good and what we need sometimes, a kick up the backside from the manager, if we’re getting too comfortable.”
Spurs stealth attack
Despite showing incredible tenacity to stay on the edge of the Premier League title race, Tottenham have gone under the radar, with Manchester City and Liverpool the constant focus.
But four straight league victories have kept Spurs in the hunt for their first English top-flight title since 1961 — and they are getting ready to welcome talisman Harry Kane back into the fold.
“He is doing very well and maybe he is going to be available at Burnley (on Saturday),” said Pochettino.
“Harry is an animal and wants to be ready as soon as possible. In the last 10 days he has been fantastic and having him back available is a fantastic boost for everyone.”
Golden oldie Hodgson is record-breaker
Roy Hodgson will become the oldest manager in Premier League history when Crystal Palace take on Leicester.
The former Liverpool and England boss will break Bobby Robson’s record for the Premier League era, which has stood since Robson’s final game at Newcastle in August 2004.
He will be 71 years and 199 days old on Saturday.
The pair are among four managers to take charge of a Premier League game in their 70s, with former United boss Alex Ferguson and Cardiff’s Neil Warnock also part of the exclusive club.
Fixtures (6pm unless stated)
Cardiff v Watford, West Ham v Fulham (10:45pm)
Burnley v Spurs (3:30pm), Bournemouth v Wolves, Newcastle v Huddersfield, Leicester v Crystal Palace (8:30pm)
Arsenal v Southampton, Manchester United v Liverpool (5:05pm)