Johannesburg - Liverpool would love to end an exhilarating week by qualifying for the 2018/19 Champions League.
Jürgen Klopp’s gut-busting, all-action Reds swept past AS Roma for the honour of appearing in this year’s European final, where they will face tournament holders Real Madrid.
But they still need a point from their last two games of the Premier League – away to Chelsea today or at home against Chris Hughton’s Brighton & Hove Albion on the final day of the season – to secure a top-four placing.
Their only other route to next season’s elite competition is to defeat Zinedine Zidane’s side in Kiev on May 26.
Liverpool’s league form certainly dropped off with the distraction of their Champions League campaign, as Klopp rested some of his key players. This allowed Antonio Conte’s Blues, as well as Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham to sneak within striking distance of the Reds.
Third place is the best Klopp can realistically hope for, although it remains mathematically possible, with Manchester United in second seemingly out of reach, five points clear with a game in hand.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are just six adrift of their opponents this weekend and also with an extra game to play. They face Liverpool, Huddersfield and Newcastle in their final three league games. And they come into this eagerly-awaited clash on the back of a solid run of three league wins, and a defeat of Southampton to earn a FA Cup final match-up with fierce rivals United.
In the lead up to Sunday’s clash, Liverpool’s German mentor called the game “another Champions League semi-final”.
He opined: “It’s not like we can say ‘now we are qualified for the Champions League’. Chelsea at the weekend is an unbelievably important game for us. We recover tomorrow and then we go to Chelsea. They have the knife between the teeth again and will fight for everything.”
In the day’s other games, champions Manchester City host a 16th-placed Huddersfield Town side – in a desperate fight for their Premier League survival.
Promoted via the Championship play-offs last season, David Wagner’s team have probably the hardest run-in of any side, with their final two games of a long season against Chelsea and Arsenal. They are just three points clear of the drop zone, but may fancy their chances against a City side with nothing to play for.
And finally, Arsène Wenger’s Gunners may well struggle to find their focus against Burnley at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon following their tepid exit from the Europa League at the hand of Atlético Madrid on Thursday.
Champions League football is now an impossibility for Wenger and his side, who come into this tie in sixth, three points clear of the Europa League-bound Clarets in seventh place.
Wenger was eager to end his 22-year-long Arsenal reign with some European silverware, but will have to be content with finishing his last season at the club without anything to show for his efforts – and the ignominy of ending behind fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur on the league standings for the second year running. –TEAMtalk Media