By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Liverpool will smash the 90-point barrier in the Premier League for the first time unless already-relegated Huddersfield Town produce the biggest shock of the season and avoid defeat at Anfield on Friday.
Victory will also put Liverpool back on top of the table with two games remaining, although the recurring pattern of this most extraordinary title race will likely mean that Manchester City take it back two days later at Burnley.
A seventh successive win for Liverpool would put them on 91 points, five more than their best Premier League haul and a higher total than that of 20 previous title winners since 1992.
Yet the growing fear on Anfield is that they could accumulate 97 — more than any other side in Premier League history apart from Manchester City last season — and still be waiting for their first league title since 1990.
City boss Pep Guardiola said on Wednesday after their 2-0 win at Manchester United, an 11th successive victory, that both clubs deserve to win the title and few people would disagree.
The harsh reality is that only one will have that honour and the pendulum has swung towards City.
Liverpool, who face a two-legged Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in the midst of the titanic battle with City, visit Newcastle United in their penultimate league game before finishing at home to a dangerous Wolverhampton Wanderers side.
After the trip to Burnley on Sunday, City, knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals by Tottenham Hotspur, host Leicester City eight days later and finish at Brighton & Hove Albion.
When City scaled the trickiest hurdle in their run-in at Old Trafford there were no mass celebrations by the players, nor Guardiola who knows his team will almost certainly have to win their last three games to retain the title.
“We are on 89 points and Liverpool 88 points and it’s tough because there are still three games to play, it is incredible,” the Spaniard said. “We still need to win our remaining games, starting on Sunday at Turf Moor.”
While the title battle rages on, the scrap for third and fourth spots which bring Champions League plces next season is equally absorbing — mainly because the four protagonists have been throwing away points like confetti.
Tottenham’s last-gasp 1-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday left them in the driving seat and they will host West Ham United on Saturday three points above Chelsea, who travel to sixth-placed Manchester United knowing victory would almost certainly knock Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side out of the equation.
Fifth-placed Arsenal, one point behind Chelsea and reeling after consecutive defeats at home to Crystal Palace and on the road at Wolverhampton Wanderers, travel to Leicester City.
In the fight to avoid relegation, Cardiff City will regard a trip to already-demoted Fulham as an opportunity to crank up the pressure on a Brighton side whose season has hit the buffers.
Victory for 18th-placed Cardiff on Saturday would put them level on points with Brighton who host Newcastle United later.
Brighton also have a greatly superior goal difference but have gone six games without scoring, losing five of them, and after Newcastle they visit Arsenal and host Manchester City.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton knows a clash against the north-east club he formerly managed could be crucial, saying: “We have to get a result, whichever way we do it.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)