Premier League, Week 36 preview: Liverpool can just about clinch the title

Julian Finney

Liverpool have their chance to all but clinch the league this weekend, and Chelsea may hand it to them.

Southampton vs. Everton

St. Mary's Stadium; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

Everton's Champions League hopes remain alive, with eight wins in their last 10 games keeping them very much in the hunt. The Toffees will hope that Southampton -- having little of tangible value to play for -- will be lacking in motivation, because the Saints at their best are a challenge for anyone. Everton's loss to Crystal Palace a couple weeks back took control of their own destiny away from them, but on recent form it's tempting to still consider them favorites to claim a top-four spot over Arsenal; still, it's preferable to be ahead than behind, and with next season's outlook so dependent upon the financial boost that accompanies a Champions League spot, the pressure on Roberto Martinez's side is immense.

Fulham vs. Hull City

Craven Cottage; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

On the subject of immense pressure, Fulham have performed well enough down the stretch to keep a glimmer of hope alive.They still face an uphill battle, but with several sides ahead of them seemingly faltering, there's enough of an opening to make what once looked to be a lost cause seem something less dire. Hull City have impressed in their first season back in the Premier League, establishing themselves as a team likely to stay up quite early on and turning in enough statement performances later in the year to keep themselves relevant, but they're a side Fulham are capable of beating; three points for the Cottagers doesn't guarantee safety, but it may well make them a favorite to get there.

Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Britannia Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

There's not much tangible reason, outside of partisan interest, to pay much attention to this game. Neither side is going anywhere different in a big-picture sense as a result of this game, and with so much else of significant consequence going on elsewhere, it's easy for this one to get lost in the shuffle. But in pure football terms, this has some potential to be a pretty fun game. Spurs are enormously talented but hilariously flawed, which makes them a great deal of fun to watch from a neutral perspective. And while Stoke are quite a bit less talented, they're capable of playing some very entertaining football -- I can't believe it either -- and match up against Spurs in a way that could make this game quite a bit of fun to watch.

Swansea City vs. Aston Villa

Liberty Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

This game, on the other hand. Paul Lambert appears to have been possessed by the ghost of Alex McLeish these past few months, as a Villa side that were once a great deal of fun to watch are now so clearly playing for a point every time out that it's circled back around to being funny several times over. Swansea are a bit more interesting, but in a way that doesn't lend itself to making any game involving Villa worth watching. There's a great deal at stake; if either side takes three points, they're all but safe and even a draw pushes both sides even closer to another year of Premier League football, which is obviously hugely important. But the odds of the actual game being any more entertaining than just glancing at the score and the table are slim to none.

West Bromwich Albion vs. West Ham United

The Hawthorns; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

See, the thing about the relegation battle is this: yeah, there's tension, and that in and of itself makes things more entertaining. And you'll occasionally see heroic, leave-it-all-on-the-field performances that you'll remember for a lifetime. But the fact remains that the teams involved in the relegation battle are almost always really, really bad, which means that they're generally not a whole lot of fun to watch. Neither of these teams is any exception.

Manchester United vs. Norwich City

Old Trafford; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

The Era of King Giggs, First of His Name, Long May He Reign begins, and there's just really no way this isn't an absolute blowout in United's favor, is there? Norwich look to have all but given up, the evidence that United's squad had very little in the way of affection or respect for David Moyes continues to mount, and for God's sake, Ryan Giggs is in charge. The narrative is so powerful it could keep the Old Trafford lights running all season long.

Sunderland vs. Cardiff City

Stadium of Light; Sunday, 12:00 GMT/7:00 AM ET

Whichever of these teams doesn't take three points from this game will be relegated. That still applies in the event that neither side takes three points. That's about all that's worth mentioning, because the odds of this game being anything approaching memorable outside of its impact on the final table are slim to none.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea

Anfield; Sunday, 14:05 GMT/9:05 AM ET

Liverpool seem to be involved in a lot of "Game of the Season" situations this year, thanks to a pretty remarkable winning streak and a fairly backloaded schedule. A win for the home side all but confirms their first league title since 1990, while a win for Chelsea isn't all that likely to do much to alter their fortunes thanks to Manchester City's game in hand and favorable run-in. A cynic might expect Chelsea to play a weakened side in deference to the Champions League and hope to grind out a shock win, but A) there are far worse things to watch and B) Liverpool are good enough going forward that the odds of this game being pretty entertaining are high no matter what. If Chelsea show up and throw caution to the wind, there's likely not a more entertaining two hours to be had all weekend.

Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City

Selhurst Park; Sunday, 16:10 GMT/11:10 AM ET

Teams that aren't involved in the relegation battle or any of the various races for Europe/the title at the top tend to talk quite a bit about "playing the spoiler" towards the end of the season, and given that professional athletes are largely at least tilting towards the sociopath side of the equation, it's reasonable to think that's a genuine motivation. And depending on how things turn out in the game just prior, Palace could be doing just that; Liverpool can't win the title this weekend thanks to City's game in hand, but if the Reds pick up the win and City don't, it's probably safe to reserve the open-top buses.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium; Monday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

Arsenal have had quite a few "up-and-down" seasons in recent years, but it's hard to imagine that any were more painful than this one; a poor start coupled with inactivity in the transfer market was forgotten thanks to a record-breaking move for Mesut Özil and a charge to the top of the table. But thanks to a slow erosion and an unlikely run by Everton, what once looked like a potential title-winning season for the Gunners is now a battle to meet the most minimum of expectations. Still, Arsenal fans should take heart; at least Alan Pardew is not contracted to be their manager for the next 7,397 seasons.

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