Liverpool out, Man United in?
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
The reversal in fortunes of England's two most successful clubs could be underlined this weekend as Manchester United look to secure a return to the Champions League and end Liverpool's brief stay in Europe's top competition.
A turbulent first season at United for Louis van Gaal is ending with a late-season wobble, with the team losing three straight league games for the first time in 14 years. But beating Crystal Palace tomorrow could still seal a top-four finish for United, if Liverpool lose at newly crowned champions Chelsea on Sunday.
Regaining their Champions League status is crucial for United, both financially and in terms of the prestige it brings to the club. A year out of Europe's elite hasn't harmed their pulling power - United still managed to lure Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao last summer - but a continued exile may start making the world's biggest stars think twice about moving to Old Trafford.
Liverpool, though, do not have the same revenues, and may find it harder to quickly bounce back. Dropping out of the Champions League will be a major blow to manager Brendan Rodgers' hopes of building a team capable of challenging for a first English league title since 1990. Keeping hold of their top names, like Raheem Sterling, may also prove difficult without the attraction of the Champions League.
Much depends on this weekend's games as United then finish with a tough home match against Arsenal and a trip to a Hull side that is fighting for survival. Liverpool are four points behind fourth-place United.
"It's not over yet," Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana said. "We can still finish in the top four, but we need to take maximum points now. United have some tough games to play and I am sure they will drop more points."
Liverpool will give Chelsea's players a guard of honour before the match, a week after JosÈ Mourinho's team clinched the title with three games spare.
José Mourinho may already be planning for next season, but his Chelsea team has a few loose ends to tie up first.
By winning their last three games, Chelsea can reach 92 points, which would be the second-highest total in the 23-year history of the Premier League - and only three off the record set by Mourinho's Chelsea team from 2004-05.
The Blues have an unbeaten home record to protect, and Diego Costa is still in contention to finish as the league's top scorer in his first season in England. The Spain striker is on 19 goals and three behind Manchester City's Sergio Aguero.
Potentially, however, Costa may not be risked for the final games, to allow him to fully recover from his nagging hamstring problems that have sidelined him since April 4.
Burnley and Queens Park Rangers will be relegated this weekend if they lose away games at Hull and Manchester City, respectively. Draws might not be enough to stay in the top division either.
Many have already written them off, leaving one of five teams to join them. Sunderland, on 33 points, occupy the final relegation spot and play Everton away tomorrow. Hull and Leicester are on 34, and Aston Villa and Newcastle have 35.