Weekend Review: Red surge
Our football panel reflect on another action-packed weekend of football and discuss Liverpool's title chances.
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Will Liverpool win the title having gone top over the weekend?
Tom McDermott: I can't see Brendan Rodgers's team beating both Manchester City and Chelsea at Anfield. Jose Mourinho has slipped up one or two times recently but he rarely gets it wrong in the big games. The match against City is likely to come down to who can defend better on the night and if Vincent Kompany remains fit I expect Manuel Pellegrini's men to leave with at least a point. Liverpool's aim at the start of the season was to secure a Champions League place and that they'll do. But, if they finish above City or Chelsea then it will have been a quite remarkable season. Champions League qualification means they will be able to attract better players to the club in the summer so don't bet against them clinching the title next season instead of this one.
Matt Brocklebank: Liverpool certainly have the momentum following another impressive home success but them being top of the pile is partly down to the fact Manchester City have still only played 30 games. Brendan Rodgers has his team flying at the moment and the freshness angle, having not been involved in the Champions League, is serving them well. However, Tottenham gifted the Reds an early lead on Sunday so their mettle wasn't properly tested and City and Chelsea will make things considerably tougher in the coming weeks. I'm still with City to claim the title by a narrow margin.
Dave Tickner: They've every chance now. Hard to imagine they'll get a better one any time soon; there will surely never be another season where Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all starting anew under a new manager. Right now, Liverpool look less likely to slip up in the 'easy' games than either Chelsea or City. Four points from the two games against their rivals, and they'll win it.
Can Everton beat Arsenal to a Champions League place?
TM: How important was Arsenal's point against Man City? Coming off the back of a 6-0 hammering at Chelsea and looking lost for large periods of the first-half against City, Arsene Wenger's side should take great confidence from their second-half showing. Wenger regularly receives criticism but I expect them to hang on to fourth spot and win the FA Cup. Everton have performed almost as well as their Merseyside neighbours but I think they will run out of games this season and will have to settle for fifth.
MB: This is becoming a fascinating battle as while Arsenal are still four points ahead of Everton, Roberto Martinez's team have a game in hand and also welcome the Gunners to Goodison next Sunday. That result will be pivotal but on the whole Arsenal's run-in looks a little easier, with the Toffees still to play both Manchester sides, and I expect Arsene Wenger to secure yet another top-four finish.
DT: Everton deserve huge credit for turning it into a legitimate contest after Manchester United's woes and Tottenham's self-inflicted nonsense had left the top four looking done and dusted some weeks ago. That said, I still fancy Arsenal to get that fourth spot come the final reckoning. It's what they do. What Everton have secured at least is the bittersweetness of a Europa League spot. Either Spurs or United will join them. Whether any of those sides will be happy about that is another matter.
Did Crystal Palace produce the performance of the weekend and what bearing will the result have on the battle to beat the drop?
TM: Tony Pulis is my manager of the season even if Rodgers goes on to lead Liverpool to the title. Palace were written off by most people, including me, when Pulis took over earlier in the season but he has transformed the club and I expect them to have Premier League football to look forward to next campaign. Along with Fulham and Cardiff, I think the loser of the Norwich v West Brom game next weekend will join them in the Championship. West Brom should have secured all three points against Cardiff on Saturday but Norwich looked utterly clueless during their 3-0 defeat to Swansea. Chris Hughton has done a great job at Carrow Road but I just wonder if he has enough talent at his disposal to help Norwich beat the drop.
MB: I'd probably say Palace did produce the performance of the season as it wasn't as if there was any fluke about the result at all. Jose Mourinho admitted his players weren't up to the challenge, which shows just how much Tony Pulis got right tactically on the day, and the win should give Palace a much-needed shot in the arm just when things were starting to look dicey again. A team which is that organised and play in such a disciplined manner, whilst also possessing some attacking threat at home, shouldn't be slipping out of the league and it really has developed into one of the 'great escapes' given where they were when Ian Holloway stepped aside.
DT: Absolutely. They look good for survival now and, as Tom says, that's an achievement every bit as extraordinary as Liverpool winning the league would be given where Palace were when Pulis took charge. As for relegation scrap, you have to fear for Norwich at the moment.
What is your best bet ahead of the Champions League later this week?
TM: Surely Manchester United have one big performance in them before the season ends? It's highly unlikely David Moyes's side will progress to the semi-final over the two legs but a score draw against the German giants on Tuesday might provide them with hope. It's been a horrendous first season in charge for Moyes but if they can pinch the first goal from a set piece you never know what might happen on the night. With the likes of Robin van Persie out injured and the experienced Patrice Evra suspended everything points to two Bayern wins. However, Chelsea proved a couple of years ago that despite a poor showing domestically their star players were capable of big performances in the Champions League. 2-2 draw.
MB: I can't have Man United on my mind and expect Bayern to have the tie just about wrapped up after Tuesday, so I'm going to be concentrating on Barcelona's home leg against Atletico Madrid. Atleti top La Liga following the weekend's results and it's worth remembering they held Barca to a 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon on the only occasion they've met in the league so far this term. Things won't be easy at the Nou Camp this week but I expect Diego Simeone's men to stifle the home side. The odds don't quite stack up to me, with Barca 4/11 to go through, and the 2/1 for Atletico to qualify across the two legs looks well worth an interest.
DT: Like Matt, I'm not sure Barcelona are sure things to dispose of Atleti. They've played three times this season (including the Spanish Super Cup) and all three matches have ended in draws. The 100/30 for another stalemate looks perfectly acceptable. And two of those three draws this season have been goalless; it could look very silly very quickly given the attacking quality on show, but the 14/1 for no goalscorer could be nice business too. Atletico have seven clean sheets in their last 10.