Premier League, Week 34 preview: Liverpool and Manchester City contest a potential title decider

Mike Hewitt

Fulham face a must-win at home while Liverpool host Manchester City in what could be the biggest match of the season.

As a special note, all of the games that would normally kick off at 3 p.m. local time will kick off at 3:07 p.m. local time as part of a Hillsborough anniversary memorial. The FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was stopped at 3:06 p.m. on the day of the disaster. Liverpool will do something similar on Sunday, starting their match seven minutes after the regularly scheduled kickoff time.

This week is also short on games because of the FA Cup semifinals, which include Arsenal and Hull City.

Crystal Palace vs. Aston Villa

Selhurst Park; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

After spending the majority of the season in what appeared to be a comfortable mid-table position, Aston Villa suddenly find themselves without the services of their best player and in real danger of being pulled back into the relegation fight. It wouldn't take much for Villa to secure safety, with just one more win likely doing the trick. But given the way they've played the past three weeks, it wouldn't be all that much of a shock if they didn't manage to get even that over their final six games. Crystal Palace are in a near-identical position in terms of the table with just three goals separating the two, but coming off of two wins and playing some of their best football of the season, the feeling is much more optimistic; in truth, both of these sides will probably end up safe. But if one were to actually put money on one or the other going down, at this point it would likely be Paul Lambert's side.

Fulham vs. Norwich City

Villa Park; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

Fulham took full advantage of Aston Villa's struggles last weekend, notching a huge three points and moving off the bottom of the table thanks to Hugo Rodallega's late winner. With five points between themselves and 17th place the Cottagers still have a bit of a hill to climb, so it's rather fortuitous that they'll have a chance to erase three points from that gap with a win over the Canaries. Norwich are clearly hoping that the "new manager bump" is in fact a real phenomenon, with youth-team manager Neil Adams taking charge of the first-team for the first time since Chris Hughton's dismissal; like all teams outside of the bottom three, the Canaries aren't far off from all but clinching another year in the Premier League. But with such uninspiring performances of late, it's difficult to feel anything approaching optimistic until their safety is confirmed

Southampton vs. Cardiff City

St. Mary's Stadium; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

Winless since early March and having taken just a single point from their last 4 games, it's getting pretty desperate for Cardiff. It's not just the points gap (though making up 6 in 4 games is going to be difficult) it's the fact that at least two other teams that are already pretty bad likely need to play even worse over the next month, while Cardiff need to play at a level well above what they've maintained so far this season. It could easily happen, but it really needs to start happening pretty much immediately or else time will run out. Speaking of time running out, that would probably be a welcome development for Southampton; they've been playing for little other than pride and perhaps momentum heading into next season for several months now. It's definitely a better place to be than where they were this time last year, but one has to think it might be just a bit tedious at this point.

Stoke City vs. Newcastle City

Britannia Stadium ; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

Stoke spent much of the season fighting it out near the bottom of the table, while Newcastle looked for a few months to be legitimate contenders for a Europa League place; now, Newcastle look a great deal like the side that barely escaped relegation last season, while Stoke have been one of the league's better (non-elite) teams since February. Despite the fact that Newcastle have more points than the Potters (for now) it's difficult to see them as being the club with the more promising near-term future; this is pretty much par for the course in the Alan Pardew era, with Stoke feel much more like a side that's finally beginning to gel and play to their full potential under a manager with a much different approach than his predecessor. That doesn't mean that Stoke are on the verge of surpassing Newcastle in a bigger-picture sort of way, but which set of fans do you think are most looking forward to next year?

Sunderland vs. Everton

Stadium of Light; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

The good news for Sunderland is that they have two games in hand on their most direct relegation rivals. The bad news for Sunderland is that those games will be played against Premier League teams. Difficult to feel too optimistic about the Black Cats' chances whenever that's the case.

With Arsenal in the FA Cup this weekend, Everton need only a point to overtake them in the standings, and given the Toffees' game-in-hand, it needn't come with an asterisk. Even if Everton don't manage a top-4 finish, there's no way to see Roberto Martinez's first season in charge as anything but an unqualified success.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Tottenham Hotspur

The Hawthorns; Saturday, 15:07 GMT/10:07 AM ET

Absolutely no one cares, right? I mean yeah, Spurs could still potentially overtake Everton and/or Arsenal, but that's probably not happening. And West Brom could still potentially be relegated, but that's not happening either. And the only way this game is interesting is if West Brom win, which means the more interesting bigger-picture scenarios above become less likely. So, moving on, agreed?

Ok, cool.

Liverpool vs. Manchester City

Anfield; Sunday, 13:37 GMT/8:37 AM ET

This is clearly the game of the week, but in terms of the stakes it could potentially be the game of the season thus-far. As it stands, Manchester City are likely very slight title favorites, given that they have two games-in-hand over the rest of the top 3 and they tend to win most of their games. But Liverpool's stunning run of 9 straight wins-which is part of a 14-game unbeaten run that began on January 1st-has left little doubt as to who the Premier League's best team is right now. A Liverpool win put their destiny in their own hands, as even spotting City the 6 points wouldn't make up the gap between themselves and the Reds. But any result for City is a positive for them, with a point still keeping them in control of their own destiny and putting an end to Liverpool's momentum -- even if the concept of momentum only exists in the context of narratives, it's not like that could be a bad thing.

These games almost never live up fully to the hype, but that's because the impulse to hype them up to absurd levels is so immense; the title could ultimately be decided in this game! These teams are both insanely good! Even if you hate both of these teams (and the odds are pretty good that you do) that's exciting stuff. This sport is pretty cool, guys.

Swansea City vs. Chelsea

Liberty Stadium; Sunday, 16:07 GMT/11:07 AM ET

Chelsea are also still in the title race, and it's not as though their odds are terrible; they're only 2 points off the leaders with 5 games to play (one of which is against said leaders) and aside from the trip to Anfield the remainder of their schedule is quite favorable, with three games against bottom-5 teams. But with Swansea not providing the most compelling opposition and so much at stake in the game immediately preceding this one, it's difficult to get too wrapped up in Chelsea this weekend. Forgive us, Blues. You'll be back in the spotlight in about two weeks.

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