Match Coverage

Battle of the North-West set to go right to the wire – but Thursday could be crucial

Despite two of the best FA Cup Semi Finals in recent times, the weekend’s Premier League results provided an injection of adrenaline to the race for the Top 4. United’s comprehensive win over a poor Burnley side was perhaps expected, but it was also necessary for them to keep in touch with Liverpool and City. Moreover, Liverpool’s bizarre habit of losing to teams in the bottom half of the table came back with a bang later in the afternoon. Just as City’s players were dusting themselves after the hard slog of extra time at Wembley, Liverpool were somehow going down to Crystal Palace at Anfield. Two goals from Benteke sealed the win for Palace and blew the race for the Top 4 wide open.

The defeat means that this is now certainly a three-way race for the Top 4, make no mistake about it. Liverpool and City should still be regarded as favourites as they have the easier run ins, but United cannot be ruled out at this stage. Yes, they are decimated with injuries. And yes, they must travel to the Etihad, White Hart Lane and the Emirates. Yes, they have the Europa League on their minds. But if they keep grinding out results, and they seem to have a lot of momentum, they will be ousting either City or Liverpool from one of the final spots.

In saying that, the feeling is that one loss would completely stall the momentum of United. Is there any better place to do that than the Etihad? Mourinho would have relished seeing the fatigued City players trudging off after 120 minutes at Wembley. No doubt there will be some form of ‘mind games’ before the Manchester Derby on Thursday. No doubt either that Mourinho will try and hit City early, perhaps using the pace of Rashford and Martial to expose Kompany and Otamendi. City may miss the guile of David Silva, but surely Aguero, Sterling and Sané will relish playing against United’s patched up defence?

The fact that United have crept up to within one point of City gives an extra edge to the game. The atmosphere will be electric in the stadium and the crowd should lift a City side that looked quite weary as the clock ticked down on Sunday. If City deliver a knock-out punch on Thursday, United will still be able to qualify for the Top 4, but Mourinho will surely begin to prioritise the Europa League. A Derby win could be pivotal for either side, but you feel that Mourinho especially would be happy with the draw. Perhaps Liverpool will be the biggest winners of the Derby, watching on as Manchester’s two heavyweights pummel each other to submission.

Thursday’s game is just one part of what could yet prove to be a thrilling run-in to conclude the Premier League season. You can get updated on the latest Premier League News at William Hill and find the latest odds for the Top 4 race and more.

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