English Premier League and FA Cup: Five things to know
Five things to know about this weekend's Premier League and FA cup games.
Liverpool's Premier League title ambitions will receive their ultimate test on what is sure to be a poignant weekend for the club as English football pauses to remember the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Britain's worst sporting tragedy, every league and cup game in England will start seven minutes later than initially scheduled and after a minute's silence. That is because the FA Cup semifinal on April 15, 1989, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was called off at 3:06 p.m., with Liverpool fans being crushed in the stands.
It means the emotions will be especially high at Anfield on Sunday, when Liverpool hosts Manchester City in a match that could have a huge bearing on the destination of the Premier League trophy.
The game is likely to overshadow the FA Cup semifinals held over two days at Wembley Stadium, with Arsenal facing second-tier Wigan, which is the holder, and Hull taking on third-tier Sheffield United.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's league and cup games:
Crunch Match At Anfield
The destiny of the Premier League title is currently in the hands of both Liverpool and Man City, but there could be one standout favorite by Sunday night.
Liverpool has won its last nine matches to return to the top of the standings and fuel belief among fans that the league trophy could be on its way back to Anfield for the first time in 24 years.
Even taking into account Manchester United's rapid demise post-Alex Ferguson, Liverpool's revival is the story of the season considering the team finished seventh last term.
And Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knows the club couldn't have chosen a more perfect season for a rebirth.
"I knew coming into the football club that there are 96 people in the sky that will always be supporting this team," Rodgers said. "We want to do it for the great support and the football family of Liverpool and if we are to achieve anything this year, they will always be in our thoughts."
City, which is four points behind Liverpool with two games in hand, remains most pundits' favorites and is unbeaten in its last seven league matches. Top striker Sergio Aguero could be back from a hamstring injury.
Don't Forget Chelsea
By overturning a two-goal deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to reach the Champions League semifinals in midweek, Chelsea showed once again how foolish it is to write them off.
The same applies in the Premier League.
A draw at Anfield, for example, would suit second-place Chelsea and allow Jose Mourinho's team to draw level on points with Liverpool by beating Swansea away hours later.
Chelsea, however, has lost its last three away matches — to PSG in the Champions League and Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in the league — and will probably be without top scorer Eden Hazard because of a calf problem.
Pressure On Arsenal
Arsenal's season is starting to unravel after picking up just two points from its last four league matches, making this weekend a crucial one for Arsene Wenger and his under-pressure team.
The club is within sight of its first trophy in nine years and is easily the biggest team left in the FA Cup. However, Wigan has relished the so-called "David vs. Goliath" matches in the FA Cup over the last two seasons and has already beaten Man City away on its path back to Wembley Stadium for the semifinals.
If Arsenal ends up becoming the fourth Premier League side to be upset by Wigan in this season's competition, it could be a disastrous weekend for Wenger as his team could also lose fourth spot in the league if Everton beats Sunderland earlier Saturday.
Wenger is looking on the bright side, saying on Thursday: "We are in a position where we can still do very well until the end of the season — that is what we want."
Wigan manager Uwe Rosler urged his players to add to the "unrest" at Arsenal, saying: "Expectation there is sky high, the longer we are in the tie the more difficult it will be for Arsenal."
Blades Looking Sharp Under Clough
While Wigan's attempts to retain the FA Cup have added another slice of romance to the world's oldest and most famous domestic cup competition, it may not top Sheffield United's unlikely run to Wembley.
The club nicknamed "The Blades" has been blunt since slipping out of the Premier League in 2007 and can now be found in mid-table in England's third-tier League One.
However, United has looked a different proposition since hiring Nigel Clough — the son of the late managerial great Brian Clough — toward the end of last year. It has since become the first third-tier team to reach the FA Cup's last four since Wycombe in 2001. No club from that lowly level has ever advanced to the final.
Hull has only reached one semifinal, 84 years ago, making it potentially the most unlikely last-four lineup in the competition's history.
Relegation Battle Faces Anticlimax
Fulham, Cardiff and Sunderland have been cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League and will need to do something special to avoid relegation.
Five points now separates third-bottom Fulham from fourth-bottom Norwich and the two teams meet on Saturday in a hugely significant match. Norwich will be under the control of Neil Adams, who replaced the fired Chris Hughton on Sunday after a run of one win in six games.
Last-place Sunderland, which is two points behind Fulham but with two games in hand, hosts Everton and next-to-last Cardiff travels to Southampton.
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Tuchel believes Chelsea still have long-term ground to make up on City but has exhorted his players to close that gap just for 90 minutes in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.
Liverpool went 68 home league matches unbeaten before a defeat to Burnley in January this year precipitated their improbable losing run that later encompassed Brighton, Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea and Fulham.