Liverpool host Manchester City on Sunday with the result likely to be a key factor in who wins the Premier League title.
The leaders have enjoyed a remarkable season, based largely on a stellar attacking unit, while City have been just as impressive, despite their fall to third due to their commitments in various cup competitions.
Despite having two games in hand on Brendan Rodgers’s men, the gap of four points between the sides means that City can ill afford defeat at Anfield.
With Chelsea lurking in second, two points off the top and hoping for slips-up from both their rivals, Liverpool know that a 10th straight Premier League win would put them very much in the driving seat for a first title since 1990. However, Rodgers insists that this game is not necessarily crucial in deciding the destination of the trophy, calling on his players to relish the run-in.
“It’s a significant game. It’s two teams who have done extremely well this season but still have a lot of work to do after it,” he told the press.
“It’s vitally important we stay calm. We showed that at West Ham (in a hard-fought 2-1 victory] last weekend. People talk about pressure but, for us, it’s excitement.”
Strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have been integral to Liverpool’s title tilt, contributing 49 of the club’s 90 top-flight goals this term.
Indeed, Suarez needs just three more to overtake the record of 31 goals in a 38-game Premier League season, which is held jointly by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Uruguayan’s efforts have helped Liverpool eclipse City’s own impressive goal tally, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side having plundered 84 in their 31 outings.
Sergio Aguero has accounted for 15 of those and Pellegrini has been boosted by the news the Argentine is fit to play at Anfield following a four-week lay-off with a hamstring problem.
City’s Pablo Zabaleta spoke this week of the importance of his compatriot returning to the fold but the defender also warns that Liverpool’s prolific strikeforce will require close attention.
“Liverpool score a lot of goals – we know they have great players in front with Suarez, [Raheem] Sterling and Sturridge. They are in a great, great moment,” Zabaleta told City’s official website.
“I think we must work really hard not to concede any goa but we have defended well for a few weeks – not conceding many goals – so we have to be confident.”
Indeed, City have conceded just twice in their last seven Premier League games and are unbeaten on the road since a shock 1-0 reverse at Sunderland in November. Liverpool, though, have lost just once at Anfield this season and, if they can make it six home wins in a row on Sunday, the destiny of the title would remain in their hands.
Both managers have only one major absentee apiece with which to deal, as Liverpool’s Jose Enrique and City’s Matija Nastasic (both knee) remain sidelined.