Manchester United’s bid to win the Premier League for the first time in eight years will face a major test when the leaders face champions Liverpool on Sunday.
After unexpectedly gate-crashing the title race with nine wins during an 11-match unbeaten run, Manchester United head to Anfield knowing they have a golden opportunity to open up a potentially priceless six-point lead over Jurgen Klopp’s men.
They hold a three-point cushion over second-placed Liverpool after Tuesday’s success at Burnley — a far cry from the 30-point gap the Reds had opened up over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side when they last met in January 2020.
For the first time since Alex Ferguson’s title-winning farewell season in 2012-13, United are top of the table at this stage of the campaign.
But Solskjaer, who appeared in danger of the sack, deserves credit for dragging United back into contention and a first win against Liverpool since 2018 would be the perfect way to show their challenge is more than a flash in the pan.
“They’re champions by right and we’re looking forward to it and it’s a great test of where we’re at against a good team,” Solskjaer said.
CITY BACK IN THE HUNT
Hampered by Sergio Aguero’s prolonged absence with a variety of injuries and forced to deal with a debilitating coronavirus outbreak among his squad, Pep Guardiola has somehow steered Manchester City back into the title race.
With City hosting Crystal Palace on Sunday before taking on Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and Burnley in their next league games, the time is now for Guardiola’s men to make their move.
City’s lack of goals this season — they have scored fewer than any other team in the top nine — could have been fatal to their title hopes, but Guardiola’s oft-maligned defence has come to the rescue.
Fortified by the arrival of Ruben Dias from Benfica and John Stones’ recent revival, City are much improved from the back four that was routinely criticised last season and now boast the league’s best defensive record.
Touted as genuine title contenders after a £200 million close-season spending spree, Chelsea looked capable of justifying the hype when a stylish win against Leeds took them top of the table in December.
But the Blues’ ambitions are more modest now after a woeful run of four defeats in their last six league games.
Amid talk that former Chelsea boss Avram Grant could be drafted in to ‘assist’, Lampard must find a winning formula soon, but Saturday’s west London derby at improving Fulham is another potential landmine.
Saturday (5PM GMT+2 unless stated)