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Title destiny in Man. City’s hands as Villa make European push

Manchester City defender John Stones (right) celebrates scoring against Arsenal on Wednesday. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP

Reigning champions Manchester City will go top of the Premier League table this weekend with victory over Fulham, building on their midweek demolition of title rivals Arsenal. 

Manchester United are six points clear of Tottenham in the quest for a place in next season’s Champions League, following the clubs’ midweek draw, but Aston Villa could yet force their way into a place among Europe’s elite.

At the bottom of the table, Southampton look increasingly doomed.

AFP Sport looks at some of the key talking points ahead of the action:

Man. City eye top spot

After seizing control of the title race with their crucial 4-1 rout of leaders Arsenal, red-hot Manchester City can move into top spot if they win at Fulham on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola’s side made it seven successive league victories as they crushed the Gunners at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, with Erling Haaland rounding off an emphatic win with his 33rd Premier League goal of the season, a rate of 1.14 per match.

Second-placed City are now only two points behind Arsenal, with their two games in hand making them favourites to be crowned champions for a fifth time in six seasons.

Having played catch-up for much of the season, City finally have the momentum and a victory at Craven Cottage would move them above Arsenal into pole position.

While Arsenal’s young side have choked during four successive games without a win, battle-hardened City’s 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions has underlined why they were champions for the last two years.

“Absolutely I prefer my position because now it’s in our hands,” Guardiola said.

“They’re still top, I know it sounds naive what I’m saying but we are still behind.

“I would love that these two games are six points but you have to win them, but I prefer it because it depends on us.”

Villa aim to extend unbeaten run

Aston Villa will look to make it 11 successive games without defeat in the Premier League when they travel to Manchester United on Sunday.

Having finished a modest 14th in the table last season, the Birmingham club have made significant progress since Unai Emery replaced Steven Gerrard just five months ago.

They are now level on points with fifth-placed Spurs but six adrift of United, having played two more games, with Villa likely needing a win at Old Trafford to maintain their hopes of a top-four finish.

It is more than a decade since Villa, the 1982 European Cup winners, last featured in continental competition. 

“I think the dreams, they are here — OK, it is good I think for everybody, and we can share with our supporters,” said Emery.  

Liverpool, the beaten Champions League finalists last season, will also try to maintain their late charge to qualify for that competition by making it four wins in a row when they face Spurs on Sunday.

Daunting trip for Southampton

Southampton, four points adrift at the bottom of the table with five games to play, are away to in-form Newcastle on Sunday.

Few will give much for their chances following Newcastle’s 4-1 win over Everton, one of the Saints’ fellow relegation candidates.

Thursday’s 1-0 loss to south coast rivals Bournemouth left Southampton firmly at the foot of the standings.

“I know it’s only five games to play,” said Saints boss Ruben Selles. “But we are professionals and we will fight until the very last point.”

Leicester and Everton, also in the bottom three, meet in a ‘six-pointer’ at Goodison Park on Monday.

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