Man City bearing down on title as Premier League returns

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Manchester City’s German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan (3rd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring his second goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Basel and Manchester City at the Saint Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel on February 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN BOZON

The Premier League roars back into action this weekend for the season’s home straight after a two-week hiatus for the final international break of the campaign.

With a maximum of eight games left, AFP Sport looks at what is still to be decided at both ends of the table.

City’s title to lose
Manchester City travel to Everton on Saturday looking to take the penultimate step towards a first Premier League title under Pep Guardiola and kick off a huge week in City’s season in style.

City lost 4-0 on their last visit to Goodison during a hugely disappointing first year under Guardiola but are a team transformed under the Catalan this season as they storm towards the title at a record-breaking pace.

The runaway league leaders boast a 16-point lead over Manchester United and could seal the league in the sweetest fashion against their local rivals at the Etihad next weekend.

However, Guardiola could have a daunting return to Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on his mind.

City’s only league defeat of the campaign so far came on Merseyside, when Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller 4-3 in January.

Chelsea out in the cold
Behind City, the race for three remaining Champions League places will leave one of United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea disappointed.

Spurs travel to Chelsea this weekend seeking to end a 28-year wait to win a league match at Stamford Bridge.

Should they shake off the absence of the injured Harry Kane to do so, they could end Chelsea’s realistic hopes of a top-four finish. Antonio Conte’s men already trail fourth-placed Spurs by five points.

Liverpool are two points further ahead in third having played a game more and second-placed United are even more secure of a return to the Champions League, holding a nine-point lead over Chelsea.

Arsenal appear resigned to having to win the Europa League if they are to return to the Champions League next season as they trail Spurs by 13 points down in sixth.

Relegation roulette
Rock-bottom West Brom seem doomed on the back of eight straight defeats in all competitions but the battle to avoid joining them in the Championship next season is very much alive with eight teams separated by just seven points between 12th and 19th.

West Ham, just one place and two points above the drop zone, are calling on their fans to play their part in lifting the team during Saturday’s six-pointer at home to Southampton.

An extra security banner will be erected near the directors’ box while extra policing and stewarding will be in place at the London Stadium.

The measures are aimed at avoiding a repeat of shocking scenes when fans invaded the pitch while insults and missiles were thrown at joint owners David Sullivan and David Gold during a 3-0 home defeat to Burnley on March 10.

“Negativity can undoubtedly affect players’ concentration and confidence, as I believe it did in the second half against Burnley,” said West Ham captain Mark Noble.

Southampton will be hoping to deepen the Hammers’ crisis with a new manager bounce as Mark Hughes takes charge of the Saints for the first time in the Premier League after overseeing an FA Cup quarter-final win over Wigan.

Newcastle and Huddersfield also have a big chance to move further clear of the bottom three when they meet at St James’ Park, with Crystal Palace, Swansea and Stoke facing much tougher tests against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Fixtures

Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated)

Crystal Palace v Liverpool (1130), Brighton v Leicester, Manchester United v Swansea, Newcastle v Huddersfield, Watford v Bournemouth, West Brom v Burnley, West Ham v Southampton, Everton v Manchester City (1630)

Sunday

Arsenal v Stoke (1230), Chelsea v Tottenham (1500)