London: With Chelsea having sewn up the title, attention in the Premier League this weekend switches to the grim battle for survival and the scrap for European places.
Queens Park Rangers and Burnley are both in danger of falling out of the division, while Manchester United and Liverpool are among the teams vying for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Currently four points below United, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League berth, Liverpool visit Chelsea, who set the seal on a season of dominance last weekend after winning 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace.
With Arsenal and Manchester City virtually assured of top-four places — nine points above Liverpool with vastly superior goal differences — United are the only team Brendan Rodgers’ side can realistically overhaul.
But failure to win at Stamford Bridge, coupled with victory for United at Palace on Saturday, would effectively end Liverpool’s hopes of a place at Europe’s top table in 2015-16.
Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet is on course for the Golden Glove award, which is awarded to the goalkeeper who keeps the most clean sheets, and he hopes another shut-out against Chelsea will help nudge his side closer to the top four.
“I know from experience that in the Premier League anything is possible and everything can twist and turn,” the Belgium international, who has 14 clean sheets to his name, told the Liverpool website.
“That is why we have to focus on our own jobs and make sure we win as many games as we can. We defend as a team and hopefully winning that award could also see us get into the top four.”
Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of QPR last weekend was only their second victory in six league games and United are also limping towards the finish line.
Louis van Gaal’s side have lost their last three games to Chelsea, Everton and West Bromwich Albion, and having announced the capture of Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven on Thursday, thoughts are already turning to next season.
The mood is slightly sunnier across town at outgoing champions City, who have rekindled their challenge for a second-place finish thanks to a run of three consecutive wins.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team host second-bottom QPR on Sunday in a game that recalls the unforgettable final-day fixture between the sides in 2012 that saw Sergio Aguero give City the title with an injury-time goal.
QPR survived relegation despite losing that day, but with seven points separating the west London club from safety, a repeat result this weekend would condemn them to the Championship.
A point below QPR at the foot of the table, Burnley are also dangling above the precipice ahead of a crunch clash at Hull City, who are a point above the bottom three.
“Margins are tight,” admits Burnley manager Sean Dyche. “It has frustrated me that we are not in a better position than we are in, but we are still alive.”
Sunderland, a point from safety, retain a game in hand on the teams around them, but with that fixture a trip to Arsenal on May 20, they may need to take maximum points from Saturday’s lunchtime game at 11th-place Everton.
Leicester City’s stunning burst of five wins in six games has left Nigel Pearson’s side level on points with Hull and they will be confident of victory at home to seventh-place Southampton, who are without a win in three outings.
Newcastle United have been dragged into the relegation picture after a run of eight straight defeats and welcome West Brom to St James’ Park with just two points separating them from the drop zone.
Newcastle manager John Carver has urged fans to put aside their anger with owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley, saying: “Forget about what you think of Mike and Lee and everybody.
“Get behind the football club, because we want to be in the Premier League next year.”
West Brom look assured of survival on 40 points, but FA Cup finalists Aston Villa, five points below them, remain at risk ahead of Saturday’s home game with mid-table West Ham United.