Premier League Preview: Manchester derby takes centre stage as Liverpool looks to recover

Manchester City and United square off at Old Trafford this weekend, while runaway Premier League leader Liverpool looks to recover from recent slump.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United badly needs a third derby win against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City this season as it battles to qualify for the Champions League.   -  Getty Images

Sadio Mane has urged Liverpool to use the worst week of their season as fuel to power the Premier League leader a step closer to the title when it faces Bournemouth on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp’s side crashed to a stunning 3-0 defeat against struggling Watford last weekend that ended its hopes of going unbeaten through the entire league campaign.

The Reds’ limp display at Vicarage Road was followed by another underwhelming effort on Tuesday as Chelsea knocked it out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 fifth round victory.

- LIVERPOOL DESPERATE TO RECOVER FROM SLUMP -

Klopp was willing to sacrifice the FA Cup to rest several of his players, even if it prolonged Liverpool’s slump. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker were among the stars missing from the starting line-up at Stamford Bridge.

Whether that proves a wise gamble will become clearer over the course of the next week. With Liverpool’s 1-0 Champions League last 16 first leg loss at Atletico Madrid having triggered this unexpected dip, the European champion has now endured three defeats from its last four games in all competitions.

 

 

Even its lone win in that sequence was hardly convincing as it needed a blunder from West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski to spark a come from behind 3-2 success. Liverpool has been so dominant in the league -- winning 18 successive games before the Watford debacle -- that it is understandable if it has lost a little intensity with the title almost in its grasp.

It is 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City and needs just four more wins to end its 30-year wait to be crowned king of English football. Atletico is due at Anfield for the decisive second leg on Wednesday, but Liverpool winger Mane knows it is important to get back on track domestically before turning to its defence of the Champions League.

“We have another important game on Saturday and then on Wednesday, so we will be ready and we will be back again,” Mane said. “This can happen in football and we are used to it. We just have to keep working hard and keep going if we want to be great champions.”

- BOURNEMOUTH BATTLING TO AVOID RELEGATION -

Third-bottom AFC Bournemouth is desperate for the points as it battles to avoid relegation. It will look to exploit a suddenly leaky Liverpool defence that has conceded seven goals in its last three games.

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The absence of injured Jordan Henderson has robbed Liverpool of the midfielder’s energy and leadership, in turn leaving the Reds defence more exposed to the kind of counter-attacks that led to goals for Watford’s Ismaila Sarr and Chelsea’s Ross Barkley.

“It’s little things, but little things make the difference,” Klopp said. “The boys are strong, they have showed a wonderful reaction so many times, and now we have to show that again.”

- MANCHESTER DERBY IN FOCUS -

At Old Trafford, Manchester United badly needs a third derby win against Manchester City this season as it battles to qualify for the Champions League. Fifth-placed United is three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, which hosts Everton on Sunday.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team stumbled when a blunder from keeper David De Gea forced it to settle for a draw at Everton last weekend.

City, in contrast, is on a high after beating Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg, then retaining the League Cup against Aston Villa on Sunday and advancing to the FA Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday. United has defeated City twice already, but was beaten by it at Old Trafford in the League Cup semifinals.

 

“It’s better to go there winning games, being in the FA cup than being out. We’re going to go there to try to win,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who could be without the influential Kevin De Bruyne due to a shoulder injury.

- TOTTENHAM IN CRISIS? -

Tottenham, in seventh place, travels to Burnley hoping the fall-out from Eric Dier’s astonishing row with a fan in the stands after its FA Cup loss to Norwich does not prove a damaging distraction to an increasingly troubled campaign.

- THE WEEKEND FIXTURES -

Saturday: Liverpool v Bournemouth (6 PM IST).

Arsenal v West Ham, Crystal Palace v Watford, Sheffield United v Norwich, Southampton v Newcastle and Wolves v Brighton (8:30 PM IST).

Burnley v Tottenham (11 PM IST).

Sunday: Chelsea v Everton (7:30 PM IST).

Manchester United v Manchester City (10 PM IST).

Tuesday: Leicester v Aston Villa (1:30 AM IST).

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