Title contenders Liverpool and Manchester City return to action this weekend. The Reds are in desperate need of a return to form ahead of Bournemouth’s visit to Anfield on Saturday.
Rivals Manchester City returned to the Premier League summit with a 2-0 win at Goodison Park and now feature in the pick of the weekend’s fixtures.
City are searching for revenge on a Chelsea side ended their unbeaten run in the league at Stamford Bridge in December.
Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur – a wildcard pick for those who fancy a three-horse race – face Leicester City. The Foxes have taken points off both Manchester City and Liverpool this season, so a Kane-less Spurs face a tough afternoon at Wembley.
Liverpool’s new year struggles
The Reds have endured a torrid start to 2019, picking up only two wins from six games.
A first league defeat of the season was administered at the Etihad before Wolves dumped a weakened XI out of the FA Cup.
Following narrow wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace, Liverpool dropped their first points of the season against non-top-six teams. Consecutive 1-1 draws against Leicester City and West Ham United have seen the gap at the top closed.
Injuries to key defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez have seen the Reds’ defensive record suffer. However, the Alexander-Arnold could return to the side for the first time since the win over Brighton on 12 January.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson have also face late fitness tests as Jurgen Klopp’s options are replenished.
A win over mid-table Bournemouth would return the Reds to the top of the table, at least until City play on Sunday.
Nathaniel Clyne is ineligible to face his parent club whilst on loan, but Dominic Solanke could appear following his January transfer.
Manchester City’s recovery from St James’ shock
Rafa Benitez’s side stunned the champions with a 2-1 win at the end of January. However, City have produced back-to-back victories over Arsenal and Everton in their last two games.
Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne could be recalled to the starting XI as Guardiola rotates his men through a busy fixture schedule.
They will need to be wary of new Chelsea loan signing Gonzalo Higuain after he opened his Blues account against Huddersfield.
Manchester City will almost certain to remain top if they win even if Liverpool are also victorious. Their superior goal difference of 48 compared to the Reds’ 41 could be important in the title run in.
A decisive weekend?
As it stands, the Sky Blues are ahead on goal difference. This weekend’s fixtures could have a pronounced effect on the title race should one of the top two drop points.
The 5th round of the FA Cup precedes a crunch week for Liverpool. They face a Champions League first-leg with Bayern Munich before the derby at Manchester United.
The Merseyside club travels to Manchester to play their game in hand on City. The Reds have not won in the league at Old Trafford since the 2013/14 season. They cannot afford to brood over more dropped points over a weekend off and a tough European fixture.
Meanwhile, Manchester City face remarkable cup minnows Newport County before a trip to Schalke in the Champions League. Another game against Chelsea follows, with a League Cup final on 24 February as Pep Guardiola looks to claim the first silverware of the season.