The Premier League returns on Saturday, with a Merseyside derby at Anfield between Liverpool and Everton signalling the start of the final straight in the race for Champions League qualification.
It seems as though the battle for fourth place will be a seismic struggle between Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal, so what are the key matches ahead and who will end up with their passport stamped for the Champions League?
April 1: Liverpool vs. Everton
Everton have not won a league game at Anfield this century, with Kevin Campbell’s goal in a 1-0 victory in Sept. 1999 the last winning strike by an Evertonian in front of the Kop. This is a must-win for seventh-placed Everton, but a game Liverpool cannot afford to lose and Jurgen Klopp’s men are likely to have the edge.
April 2: Arsenal vs. Manchester City
Arsenal are in freefall and in danger of missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, but City are inconsistent and unpredictable. This game is win-or-bust for Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger’s team have the attacking quality to get a result and keep their top-four hopes alive.
April 4: Manchester United vs. Everton
Having finally escaped sixth place with their recent win at Middlesbrough, Manchester United are closing in on fourth, but their home record is distinctly average, with seven draws at Old Trafford costing Jose Mourinho’s team dearly. Everton are awkward opponents capable of adding to United’s problems and this could be a costly draw for both sides.
April 8: Stoke vs. Liverpool
Liverpool’s struggles this season have come against teams they would expect to beat and Stoke are one of those opponents who can prove to be genuine obstacles. Memories of Liverpool’s 6-1 defeat at Stoke in May 2015 will motivate the home side, who could inflict a damaging defeat on Klopp’s team.
April 10: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal
Arsenal simply cannot afford further slipups, but the trip to Selhurst Park will ask serious questions of Wenger’s players. Palace manager Sam Allardyce will turn this match into a physical battle and with the hosts needing points to stay up, Arsenal must ensure their superior quality nullifies Palace’s determination.
April 16: Manchester United vs. Chelsea
At their current rate of progress, Chelsea will be close to securing the Premier League title by the time they visit Old Trafford, but Mourinho will want United to halt his former club’s march to the championship and that extra motivation, combined with a noisy crowd, could see the home team gain a crucial three points.
April 23: Burnley vs. Manchester United
United have failed to score on their two previous Premier League visits to Turf Moor, so with Sean Dyche’s team impressing at home all season and Mourinho’s men playing just three days after the Europa League clash against Anderlecht, there is a real danger of the wheels falling off for United at Burnley.
April 27: Manchester City vs. Manchester United
By the time they visit the Etihad Stadium, United could be out of the race for the top four due to their demanding fixture list, and it does not get any easier with a local derby against Pep Guardiola’s team. If they are to win, United will need City’s defence to have another bad day.
April 30: Everton vs. Chelsea
If Everton are still in the hunt for the top four, their encounter with Chelsea could be decisive. Goodison Park has been a difficult venue for Chelsea in recent seasons and if they have a genuine hope of the top four, Ronald Koeman’s team can rely on a raucous home support to urge them onto victory in this one.
April 30: Tottenham vs. Arsenal
This could be a rehearsal for the FA Cup final, but even without that additional factor, Arsenal’s trip to White Hart Lane for the final time will be a huge occasion for both clubs and Wenger. Will this be his final Premier League North London derby, at the venue where his Invincibles were crowned champions in 2004? There will be so much riding on this game, which could mark a shift in the balance of power between the two teams.
May 6: Arsenal vs. Manchester United
A game neither team can afford to lose and one that Mourinho has never lost in the Premier League. The United manager has always enjoyed the upper hand against Wenger in competitive fixtures, so this would be a bad time to start losing.
May 13: Tottenham vs. Manchester United
On current form, Tottenham should be assured of a top-three finish by the time this game comes around, so United’s greater need for points could be a pivotal factor. But how many games will the visitors have in their legs by then and can they win at one of the most difficult away venues in the Premier League?
May 21: Arsenal vs. Everton
A final-day decider, or a scrap to find out which of them ends up with an unwanted Europa League qualifier at the end of July. Everton’s poor record at the Emirates does not bode well and this might yet be Wenger’s last game as Arsenal manager.
5. Manchester United
United may have games in hand, but points in the bag are what counts at this stage of the season and a combination of United’s workload and their difficult run-in should give Liverpool the edge. Klopp’s team will edge United out, with Arsenal and Everton trailing in their wake in sixth and seventh.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_