MANCHESTER, England (AP) — It’s nothing new for a game between Manchester City and Liverpool to have significant implications on the Premier League title race.
On Saturday, however, the meeting between English football’s two most dominant teams in recent years takes on a different complexion.
For current champion City, anything other than a win at Etihad Stadium would give Premier League leader Arsenal the chance to extend their lead and move ever closer to their first league title in 19 years. Arsenal lead City by eight points heading into the final stretch of the season, having played one game more.
For Liverpool, any hopes of challenging at the top disappeared long ago in a troubled campaign, blighted by injuries and inconsistent form. But the team coached by Jurgen Klopp can still have a major say on the title race in its games against City this weekend and Arsenal next month.
The priority for the Merseyside club, however, is to secure a top-four finish and, with it, qualification for next season’s Champions League. That’s why the stakes are so high on Saturday. A win is vital to both sides — even if they are not going head-to-head for the title.
The two teams have shared the last five league titles between them, with City winning four to Liverpool’s one.
While Man City have undoubtedly had the better of the rivalry, in two of those title victories they beat Liverpool by only one point. The most recent of those was last season, which is why Liverpool’s decline has come as such a surprise.
If Liverpool doesn’t qualify for the Champions League, their place outside the title picture could be extended because they would miss out on the revenue that comes with playing in European football’s top club competition.
That could impact Klopp’s offseason transfer plans, with at least one top midfielder needed to improve an ageing area of the team.
Jude Bellingham, one of the most sought after players in Europe, has been linked with a move to Anfield from German club Borussia Dortmund. But the chances of signing him could be gone if Liverpool cannot offer Champions League football.
Liverpool are seven points behind fourth-place Tottenham with two games in hand. But they are also five points behind fifth-place Newcastle, having played the same number of games.
A team that competed for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last year is battling to salvage what’s left of this season, with Champions League qualification the best it can hope for.
It’s a different story for City, which can still win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. But time is running out to close the gap on Arsenal.
Victory over Liverpool would certainly be a boost — especially with a game in hand on Arsenal and a home match against the leaders to come next month.
City are showing signs that they are set for a powerful finish to the season, losing only once in their last 14 games in all competitions. They have won their last six, but are about to embark on a critical period of games.
After Liverpool, City face Bayern Munich over two legs in the Champions League quarterfinals, Sheffield United in the FA Cup semifinals and Arsenal in the league — all before the end of April.
In among that sequence are games against Southampton and Leicester in the league.