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No joking around as Premier League enters crunch period

No joking around as Premier League enters crunch period

FOOTBALL: The resumption of the Premier League today (Apr 1) after the recent international break may well coincide with April Fool’s Day but it is serious business for every single team in the division, with much still to play for as the season enters the final straight.

By Ben Tirebuck

Saturday 1 April 2023, 10:00AM

Title-chasers Arsenal and Manchester City meet on Apr 27. Photo: AFP

Title-chasers Arsenal and Manchester City meet on Apr 27. Photo: AFP

The action kicks off with a blockbuster as second-placed Manchester City host Liverpool later today knowing that nothing less than three points is required to keep the pressure on current leaders Arsenal.

Many observers consider Pep Guardiola’s team to possess a distinct advantage, having won the title in four of the past five seasons – indeed the only time they faltered was in 2019/20 when tomorrow’s opponents powered to the title.

The Citizens therefore have the crucial experience of handling the pressure when things get white hot at the top, as they certainly will with just 10 games remaining.

They proved they are hitting form at just the right time after scoring an incredible 13 goals in their last two games: a 7-0 drubbing of RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Mar 14 and a 6-0 demolition of Burnley in the FA Cup four days later.

Arsenal are eight points clear of City, having played a game more, and also suggested their form is ripe with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Crystal Palace in their final game before the break.

Mikel Arteta’s side may be young and relatively inexperienced, with this season’s title charge unexpected to most, but they play with such a freedom and exuberence that surely only an implosion of confidence of the highest order will stop the club from securing its first title since 2003/4. They resume action with a home game against Leeds United later today.

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Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Brentford and Tottenham, who parted ways with manager Antonio Conte on Monday (Mar 26), are all contesting the European places, with only eight points separating third from eighth. Chelsea, Fulham and Aston Villa are close behind.

The relegation battle is truly captivating with just four points separating bottom-placed Southampton and 11th placed Crystal Palace, with the latter appointing former boss Roy Hodgson during the break in the hopes of steadying the ship.

Expect the teams within that nine position cluster to frequently swap and change from now until season’s end, with only a brave pundit speculating which three will ultimately end up marooned in the dreaded relegation spots come May 28.

April Fool’s Day or not, none of the nine teams involved in that relegation scrap will be joking around. The Palace versus Leicester City and Nottingham Forest against Wolves fixtures later today will be especially nervy affairs that will no doubt set the tone for the weeks ahead and hint at their potential top-flight livelihoods.

Let play recommence...

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