Anfield's Biggest League Match In 25 Years

Liverpool's most important league match in 25 years and a season-defining game for Arsenal. Chuck in a relegation battle and it's a bloody Big Weekend...

Last Updated: 11/04/14 at 09:24 Post Comment

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Liverpool
Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers, captain and manager at Anfield, have tried so gamely to keep players and supporters calm, but there is no fooling anyone now - if Liverpool win their 14th home game out of 15 and their tenth consecutive Premier League match, these will be your title favourites across the board. Draw and Liverpool must hope that City slip up; lose and all momentum and belief will be lost in the course of one afternoon.

On the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, this is surely the most important league match that Liverpool will have played since that awful, hideous year. Anfield will be a place of incredible emotion on Sunday, but harness that spirit and they may just get one hand on their first Premier League trophy.

Liverpool may not be everyone's personal preference to win the title, but beat Manchester City and it would be damn difficult to say that they don't deserve it.


Arsene Wenger
Big like you wouldn't believe. Following the dismantling of his side by Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and now Everton this season, there is a growing feeling that this may be it for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, a concern that the time has come to usher him out of a side door before things truly begin to sour beyond redemption.

Those in the opposite camp will point to Arsenal still being favourites to take fourth spot (Everton have a game in hand but must also face Manchester City), but the majority of their argument is that, finally, Wenger looks able to provide the trophy that has been missing for nine arid years.

The worry is that we have been here before. As Nick Miller mentioned in his profile on Ivan Gazidis, the most frustrating aspect of Arsenal's season is that they (again) made their fans believe that this truly could be their year. It's the hope that kills you, and the club's ignominious displays against the rest of the top four were each like a body blow to a footballing soul left exposed to the elements.

In the cups too, Saturday's opportunity is nothing new. 2013 was Bradford and Blackburn, 2012 was Sunderland, 2011 Birmingham, 2010 Stoke and 2009 Burnley, each year the club managing to find another tortuous way to disassemble the hope of fans against an inferior opposition.

This time, we may finally be at the crossroads, the 'do or die' for Arsene at Arsenal. If his side throw away the opportunity for FA Cup success against Championship Wigan with Hull or Sheffield Untied waiting in the final (with no disrespect to any of them intended), this truly would feel like the last days of Rome.


Santi Cazorla
"I want titles and that is why I came to Arsenal," Cazorla said rather crassly this week. "Every football player wants to win titles. We've gone many years without winning one. And if not, what I'll look for in my next destination is to have the chance to win. I don't want to close doors. When I'm turning 31 I'll evaluate myself and I'll choose the best option. In which case, I would be delighted to come back [to Spain]."

As pointed out by more than several commenters on our news story containing the quotes above, Cazorla's words would be a great deal easier to take had his form not trailed off this season when it looked like Arsenal may have a chance of being champions in May.

Whatever Cazorla's aspirations, this weekend can't win him a title but could take him one step closer to his only domestic trophy as a player since the Intertoto Cup with Villarreal in 2004. Time to turn up then, Santi.


Hull City
Their first FA Cup semi-final in 84 years. In 1930 Hull were defeated by Arsenal after a replay; on Sunday they will play League One Sheffield United for a potential chance at the most long-standing of revenges against the same opponent. They say it's a dish best served cold.

It has been a week of great joy for Hull City fans, with confirmation that the Football Association rejected the club's proposal to change its name to Hull Tigers. On Sunday they will journey to Wembley to sing "City 'til I die" louder and with more feeling than they have done so before. They may not have an owner with ideas of which they can be proud but, in their eyes, their club stands taller than ever.


Steve Bruce
After numerous visits as a player and captain with both Norwich and Manchester United, Steve Bruce leads out a team as a manager for the first time at Wembley Stadium, and does so against the side that gave him his big break in management.

"Sheffield United gave me my chance in management a long time ago at a difficult time for the club," Bruce said this week. "I'm just delighted for us. I saw the scenes at Bramall Lane, a big full house and a big Yorkshire derby to look forward to at Wembley. It will be a terrific occasion for everyone."

In fact, Hull's manager has been very chatty indeed of late, also giving his thoughts on the club's name change, comments unlikely to be taken entirely positively by Hull supporters. "He [Assem Allam] honestly believes the name change will have a positive impact and we have to respect that. I never thought the FA Cup would be called the Budweiser FA Cup. Things change and we have to embrace that change. That's my philosophy."

Quite whether that philosophy would change if Allam was not paying Bruce's wages is a different question, but such words do leave a sour taste in the mouth, particularly given the manager's comments in the build-up to the final made to the Hull Daily Mail. "The people who you're happy for is the supporters. Let's enjoy it. For the fans, I'm delighted. The people who have supported the club year after year." Whether anyone pointed out to Bruce that those fans have supported Hull City rather than Hull Tigers is unclear.

And, for what it's worth, you'd struggle to find many fans that prefer the 'Budweiser FA Cup' to the FA Cup.


Neil Adams
His first ever game as a manager of a senior team, and Neil Adams will take charge of a side with seven consecutive away defeats in a match which they cannot afford to lose.

Even a draw would be seen as barely positive given the club's run-in. Norwich have conceded 43 goals in their last 15 away matches in all competitions - and Adams must still take them to Manchester United and Chelsea.

Whilst it is easy to see why Chris Hughton was sacked (18 wins in 71 PL games is a rotten record), the timing of the decision was odd, giving a new man so little time to effect a change of fortunes, particularly given the difficulty of the assignments to come.

Even then, such a replacement could be understandable if it was intended as a man with fresh ideas coming in on a short-term project to bring about a sharp shift in tactics or strategy, but Norwich have instead opted for the Under-18s coach, an individual all the players will already be familiar.

Adams may well become a fine manager, but the odds are stacked against a man described by Glenn Roeder as unlikely to ever "manage anything better than an Under-10 team." That's actually a fair description of Ricky van Dogc*ck's performances this season.


Fulham
Given Fulham's shonky goal difference of -41, they really sit five-and-a-half points behind West Brom and Norwich, and therefore need to effect a six-point swing on both teams. That makes Saturday's fixture at home to the Canaries utterly vital if they are to carry out a great escape similar to that of 2008, when Roy Hodgson's side won four of their last five matches to survive on goal difference.

For all the positives provided by the win at Villa Park last weekend, it was still just Fulham's second win since New Year's Day, so this resurgence has not yet broken into jogging pace. Home defeats to Sunderland, Liverpool, Southampton, Chelsea and Everton have come at a cost of more three goals a game conceded on average, and Fulham's defence still looks anything but secure - two clean sheets in 26 Premier League matches tells its own story.

Fulham do at least have a chance. They are almost evens to win a match for the first time since January, and beat Norwich and the gap quickly becomes two (or two-and-a-half) points. Those claiming that having three different managers over the course of a season was a ludicrous way to try and survive the drop may have to rip up their agenda. "This isn't in the rulebook! Who's in charge here?" "Guilty. Get a new rulebook."


Manuel Pellegrini
Draw, and City seize back the initiative in the title race from their unlikely rivals; win and the fat lady may start practising her scales in order to sing Blue Moon. But lose to Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, and Manuel Pellegrini looks set to end his first season in England in relative failure.

City under Pellegrini may have got closer than last year in both the Premier League and Champions League, but he would be foolish to think such a showing would exonerate him from heavy criticism - this becomes Pellegrini's biggest match as City manager.


Chelsea
Tuesday demonstrated that Chelsea under Jose Mourinho are at their best when backs are against the wall, and the same firmly applies in the Premier League too. The odds on Chelsea completing a Premier League and Champions League double have been steadily decreasing since the victory over PSG, as punters begin to get the whiff of something special going on at Stamford Bridge, and it's not the famous pre-match fare in the media centre.

Should Liverpool and City draw on Sunday, and Chelsea beat Swansea, the Blues would be level on points with Liverpool and four ahead of City, who would then have to win both of their games in hand to ensure that they remained in the driving seat. Given that City still have to travel to Goodison in May, it isn't unthinkable that Chelsea could still play a part in this season's wonderful denouement.


Alan Pardew
Chris Hughton got sacked at Norwich after taking 13 points in his last 16 league matches. Newcastle have taken just three more, so throw in an FA Cup home defeat to Cardiff and failing to score in 12 of their last 17 matches and you can see why Newcastle supporters would be happy to wave goodbye to a manager they feel simply encapsulates the acceptance of mediocrity surrounding the club.

It's now an aggregate scoreline of 0-11 over their last three games for a side seemingly on the beach. When you play in front of a set of fans so devoted to their club, that simply is not good enough. Winning at Stoke would be great, but showing some stomach for the fight would be a decent start.


A Mark Of Respect
Whilst the ongoing inquests continue to reveal some of the most abhorrent, ugly and upsetting scenes imaginable within a game described as 'beautiful', every football match in England this weekend will start seven minutes later than usual as a mark of respect to the 96 people that tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives at Hillsborough on April 15th 1989.

At 3.06pm, the same time at which the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was stopped by referee Ray Lewis, English football will stand in silence as a reminder of why promotion, relegation and a place in the FA Cup final doesn't really matter that much.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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