Manchester City lead charge as title race nears climax


LONDON: The closest English top-flight title race in 33 years speeds towards its conclusion this weekend, with Manchester City carrying the advantage ahead of a thorny trip to Everton on Saturday (today). Leaders Liverpool's 2-0 loss at home to second-place Chelsea last weekend means that City will probably be assured of a second title in three seasons if they win their three remaining matches.
City trail Liverpool by three points but have a game in hand and a superior goal difference (+58 to +50), and yet with the teams so tightly bunched, the race is far from run. Not since 1981 have the top three been so close together at this stage of the season and only twice in the Premier League era (1999 and 2008) have three teams been in mathematical title contention at this point. With Chelsea not hosting Norwich City until Sunday and Liverpool visiting Crystal Palace on Monday, City can take over at the top by prevailing at Goodison Park.
However, while Everton now trail Arsenal by four points in the race for the fourth and final Champions League place, they have lost at home only twice this season. Chelsea saw their hopes of a trophy double dashed last Wednesday when they lost 3-1 at home to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals. Two points off the summit, Jose Mourinho's side need both Liverpool and City to slip up if they are to claim the title, but goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer says that they have no option but to keep on fighting.
'We are still alive': Having stretched their lead over Everton with a breezy 3-0 success against Newcastle United on Monday, Arsenal can rubber-stamp a top-four finish if they win at home to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Manchester United's Champions League ambitions have long faded, but they will look to build on last weekend's 4-0 win over Norwich in interim manager Ryan Giggs's first game in charge when they host Sunderland.
Sunderland, however, are on a run of back-to-back victories that have lifted them out of the bottom three, and having already beaten both City and Chelsea this season, they have pedigree against the top sides. While Sunderland also have a game in hand to fulfil, at home to West Brom on Wednesday, time is running out for bottom club Cardiff City, who are two points from safety ahead of Saturday's trip to Newcastle.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side could be relegated this weekend if results go against them, while Fulham are also in a perilous position, just a point better off and facing a trip to Stoke City. With an away game at Palace awaiting on the season's final day, Fulham manager Felix Magath has urged his players to take responsibility for their destiny by winning their last two matches.
Fixtures
Saturday (today): Aston Villa v Hull City, Everton v Manchester City, Manchester United v Sunderland, Newcastle United v Cardiff City, Stoke City v Fulham, Swansea City v Southampton, West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday: Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea v Norwich City 
Monday: Crystal Palace v Liverpool. 

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