FA Cup weekend gives league leaders a pause before Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City sprint to a frantic finish

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Has everyone caught their breath after last weekend?

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The Manchester City game at Liverpool didn’t disappoint, ending in a 1-1 draw, but seeing both teams with enough chances to win it, both teams being courageous rather than cautious, and both teams finishing the game behind Arsenal in the table by a razor-thin margin.

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Now we wait. Arsenal and Liverpool are level at the top, with Arsenal ahead on goal difference. City are a single point behind.

City and Liverpool have FA Cup quarterfinals this weekend (Liverpool knocked Arsenal out of the competition in January), and next week is an international break.

When full league play kicks off again on the last weekend in March, we get Arsenal travelling to Manchester City in the last meeting between the three teams at the top. A City win or a draw and a Liverpool win versus Brighton would put Liverpool back on top. If Liverpool drop points and City win, they’ll be in the lead, and history tells us when City have a lead with 10 games to go, they don’t slip. Arsenal win that match and they’ll be in great shape as their lead in goal difference is seven, not easy to claw back for Liverpool.

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How the teams manage their other competitions will be massive. Arsenal get this weekend off, but are in the quarter finals of the Champions League, as are Manchester City.

Liverpool are in the quarterfinals of the Europa League and if they beat Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday move into the semi-finals. Navigating your way through these cup competitions and using all your squad is crucial, but give the wrong players a breather in one of these competitions can see you get knocked out, and rest the wrong players in a league match, and you can drop points.

City have the more talented squad of the three, but Liverpool have shown faith in their younger, untested players throughout an injury crisis and haven’t missed a beat. Arsenal have used the same players more than the other two, will fatigue come into play for them down the road?

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There hasn’t been a three-team horserace this late in the season for a long time and it makes multiple games must-watch every weekend.

Will Spurs be the deciding factor?

In a fascinating three-game stretch, the last two weeks of April and the first week of May, Spurs host Arsenal, then Manchester City, then go to Liverpool. How those results stack up will have a lot to say in who wins the title.

Spurs v. Arsenal is as bitter a rivalry as it comes. Tottenham have beaten City the last three times they’ve visited Tottenham Stadium, and Spurs have won 3 of the last 4 league meetings. Spurs are also one of only two teams to beat Liverpool this season (Arsenal are the other) but did so under controversy where Liverpool finished with nine men, had a perfectly good goal ruled out down to a massive VAR error and received a league apology because of it.

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What will be fascinating is Spurs themselves are fighting for the last Champions League spot. They took a big step towards that, beating Aston Villa 4-0 last weekend to pull within two points of fourth-placed Villa and they have a game in hand.

Both clubs have league matches this weekend, Fulham host Tottenham in the FUBO Game of the Week, while Villa go to West Ham.

Traditionally this has been a tough matchup for Fulham, Spurs have won 14 of their last 16 against Fulham, including the last seven at Craven Cottage.

Spurs’ fortunes have hung on Son Heung-min who has scored 14 and had eight assists in his last 21 games.

Can Aston Villa get back on track and hang on to the last Champions League spot?

Villa have been a wonderful story all season but there’s no doubt they’ll be kicking themselves getting thrashed last weekend by Spurs. A win would have put some real distance between them and Tottenham, especially with the game coming at home. They’ll need to get over that in a hurry.

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West Ham have had a tumultuous season. They are in seventh, but they are 10 points back of Spurs, 12 back of Villa. After three straight wins, following an awful patch where they were spanked by Arsenal 5-0, they fell behind early 2-0 against relegation fodder Burnley before fighting back to earn a point in a 2-2 draw. Villa simply can’t afford to drop points here, especially against a West Ham squad who had to deal with the Europa League on Thursday while they were resting at home.

Are Luton unlucky or just poor?

Having watched Luton all season, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their level of play.

They’ve scored 41 goals this season, that’s two more than Manchester United. But they’ve given up 59, which is 20 more than United.

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On Wednesday they were up 3-0 at Bournemouth, then collapsed to lose 4-3.

On one hand you have to give them credit for being adventurous, attacking, and playing an entertaining style.

Burnley and Sheffield United, who are all but mathematically relegated already, haven’t looked competitive at all. Whereas Luton have looked like they can play with anyone for patches, including getting a draw against Liverpool earlier this season.

They are three points off safety, just behind Nottingham Forest, whom they play this weekend. If they want to stay up, this is a must win for the Hatters and given how much fun they are to watch, I have to say I hope they do it.

League:

SATURDAY: Burnley v. Brentford; Luton v. Nottingham Forest; Fulham v. Tottenham.
SUNDAY: West Ham v. Aston Villa.
FA Cup:

QUARTER-FINALS

SATURDAY: Wolves v. Coventry; Manchester City v. Newcastle.
SUNDAY: Chelsea v. Leicester; Manchester United v. Liverpool.

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