By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester City have a one-point advantage over rivals Liverpool going into the final six games of the Premier League season but a tougher set of fixtures means Pep Guardiola’s side will have to be at their very best to defend their title.
Liverpool’s home game with Chelsea on April 14 is their only meeting with a top-six team during the run-in and half of their games are against sides in the bottom five of the league, starting with a trip to 16th-placed Southampton on Friday.
Should City, who have won their last eight games in the league, extend that run until the end of the season they will win the title again.
Yet two of their fixtures stand out as absolutely crucial to deciding the outcome of what promises to be a thrilling battle.
City, who play four of their last six away from home, host Spurs at the Etihad on April 20 — a game which comes after a two-legged Champions League quarter-final between the pair.
Then the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on April 24 offers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United side the chance to ruin the ambitions of their local rivals.
It is such a tight race that even a normally acceptable result — a draw at Manchester United — could be enough to tip the balance in favour of Juergen Klopp’s side.
Yet there have rarely been title run-ins without some surprises.
There is an argument that playing against teams scrapping desperately against relegation is tougher, at this stage of the campaign, than taking on mid-table sides with little to motivate them.
Teams such as Leicester, who City host in the penultimate game and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are at Anfield on the final day, have shown they are capable of upsetting the big boys.
Another factor is the Champions League — both clubs are in the quarter-finals and if one were to be eliminated their workload would ease.
Whatever happens, there will be no shortage of drama between now and May 12.
April 14: Crystal Palace (a)
April 20: Tottenham (h)
April 24: Man Utd (a)
April 28: Burnley (a)
May 4: Leicester (h)
May 12: Brighton (a)
April 5: Southampton (a)
April 14: Chelsea (h)
April 21: Cardiff (a)
April 26: Huddersfield (h)
May 4: Newcastle (a)
May 12: Wolves (h)
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)