After starting the week with a loss to relegation-threatened Wigan, Liverpool will be looking to rebound against last-place Portsmouth on Monday in the Premier League.
Liverpool, which also lost 1-0 to Lille in the first leg of the Europa League’s last 16, is sixth in the league and its hopes of qualifying for the Champions League by finishing in the top four are fading.
“For every top side, especially when you are not having a good season, every game is important,” Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said. “We have to be ready for Monday’s Premier League match against Portsmouth and to win and then be ready for 90 minutes in the Europa League (on Thursday).”
While financially stricken Portsmouth is at the bottom of the standings, Liverpool will be wary after having lost at Fratton Park in December.
And Portsmouth’s players aren’t accepting that they are doomed to relegation, despite facing a nine-point deduction for entering financial administration — a form of bankruptcy protection. Had the Premier League board already validated the penalty, Portsmouth would have been 14 points adrift of Hull.
“Out of the four teams that are down there, we’re probably playing the best football and looking the most threatening,” Portsmouth midfielder Jamie O’Hara said.
In the title race, Manchester United is two points ahead of Chelsea but has played an extra game.
Confidence is high at United, which beat AC Milan 4-0 on Wednesday, and the defending champions host a Fulham side on Sunday that has won only one of its last 14 games on the road. United manager Alex Ferguson is still worried, however.
“Fulham has been a remarkable story. Roy (Hodgson) has brought his experience and authority to the club,” Ferguson said of his counterpart. “He has formed a team that no one likes to play against. They are very well organized and they play with great discipline. That is down to the manager.
“Two years ago when Roy went there, they were third bottom of the league. Now they are playing European football. He has turned the whole club round.”
Also in the relegation zone, Hull is hosting third-place Arsenal and Burnley is playing Wolverhampton, which is only out of the bottom-three thanks to its superior goal difference. Bolton and Wigan are also trying to avoid the drop.
Arsenal remains a threat to United’s hopes of a fourth straight title, having bounced back from successive losses to Man U and Chelsea by putting together a run of four successive league victories to go within two points of the top.
Even without captain Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal went one better than United in the Champions League this week by routing FC Porto 5-0 as the Gunners reached the quarter-finals.
“The most important thing, that we keep our humility, work hard for each other and then we have a chance,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “In the Premier League every game is as dangerous. We have to make sure we prepare well for Hull.
“We are where we are because we have shown a strong mental attitude and a good solidarity within our squad. Let’s take care of that because that is very fragile and goes very quickly.”
When second-place Chelsea hosts West Ham, it will be hard for the Blues not to be distracted by the second leg of its Champions League meeting with Inter Milan on Tuesday, when it must overturn a 2-1 deficit.
Chelsea is without its top two goalkeepers with Henrique Hilario joining Peter Cech on the sidelines with an injury to an abductor muscle. Ross Turnbull will take Hilario’s place.
Tottenham is in fourth place going into Saturday’s match against Blackburn, and Manchester City is level on 49 points having played a game less. City, which has had a two-week break since claiming a morale-boosting win against Chelsea, is at Sunderland on Sunday.
“We’re right in there and have got a great chance,” Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said. “But Manchester City are the team to watch out for.”
One of them, though, could have to settle with a spot in the Europa League. Birmingham and Everton are also chasing spots in Europe’s second-tier competition and meet at St. Andrew’s on Saturday, when Aston Villa — the team above them in seventh — plays at Stoke.