By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Having reeled Liverpool in, champions Manchester City have a chance to start turning the screw on Juergen Klopp’s side as they host Watford on Saturday, a day before their stuttering title rivals play Burnley.
Only a few weeks ago Liverpool appeared firmly in the driving seat with a first English title since 1990 tantalisingly within reach, but four draws in their last six matches opened the door for Pep Guardiola’s side.
City have not been shy in barging through it and five successive league victories have taken them a point clear with both sides having nine games left to play.
Victory over a Watford side smashed 5-0 by Klopp’s side on their last away outing would give them some daylight and heap pressure on Liverpool to get all three points against a Burnley side scrapping to stay clear of the relegation zone.
Klopp was defiant after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Everton left City above them for the first time since December with both teams having played the same number of games.
“We are positive — how couldn’t we be positive?” Klopp told the club’s website this week.
“There is a lot to come and a lot of games to play. The dynamic (at the top of the table) changed a little bit — now we are second, they are first.
“The season is not over and we will not give up.”
With Liverpool’s fabled attacking trident of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Robero Firmino struggling to click, the Anfield faithful will be encouraged by the news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is nearing full fitness.
The England midfielder, who has been sidelined for nearly a year with a knee injury, could feature for the under 23s this week and his return would be a huge boost in the run-in.
While the title race looks set to go to the wire, the battle for third and fourth and Champions League qualification is equally exciting with Manchester United’s stunning revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer upsetting the apple cart.
The former Norway striker appears to have arrived toting a magic wand and his spell in charge reached new levels of wonder on Wednesday when United beat Paris St Germain 3-1 away to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
One of the most stunning victories in their fabled European history will send fourth-placed United to fifth-placed Arsenal in great heart for a match that has the feel of a six-pointer.
United have won every away game since Solskjaer took charge in December and if they continue that record on Sunday they would move four points ahead of Arsenal.
Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur will also be buoyant after they also reached the Champions League quarter-finals this week by completing a 4-0 rout of Borussia Dortmund.
They have the advantage of playing on Saturday at struggling Southampton where victory would take them six points clear of United, seven ahead of Arsenal and eight ahead of Chelsea, who host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
Tottenham, who have managed only one point from their last three Premier League games, will have to do without their manager Maurico Pochettino on the sidelines, though.
The former Southampton manager was given a two-match touchline ban following his row with referee Mike Dean at Burnley last month.
With Huddersfield Town and Fulham apparently condemned to relegation, the battle to avoid finishing 18th looks set to be just as ferocious as the one to secure a top-four spot.
Cardiff City, currently third-from-bottom, appear to have run out of steam just at the wrong time and host West Ham United on Saturday trying to snap a three-match losing run.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Nick Mulvenney)