Weekend Wanderings: Crunch time for City and Liverpool

Midweek action only heightened the pressure as the season’s close comes ever nearer. This weekend is another pivotal two days with crunch title race matches and numerous semi-finals. Here are the fixtures you should be keeping an eye on this weekend.

1. Can Manchester City get their rhythm back at a crucial time?

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In the words of a Manchester City-supporting friend of mine who went to the FA Cup semi-final against Brighton – and watched the Champions League tie against Tottenham with me in the pub – the last two city performances have been the poorest he has seen for some time.

Amid claims of nervousness that saw City come unstuck against Tottenham in their first leg defeat, several City fans will be hoping this patch of form isn’t coming along at the wrong time.

With Liverpool back on top of the Premier League and City still having a game in hand, maintaining that winning feeling will be all important.

This Sunday, Pep Guardiola’s team come up against a team who have a habit of playing their part in title races – Crystal Palace.

Obviously the most striking example was their comeback against Liverpool when the Reds were last challenging for the league title, but you only have to look back to earlier this season when City fell to The Eagles in December (the one with that thunderous Andros Townsend strike).

Roy Hodgson could potentially do Liverpool another favour by getting a league double over Manchester City, particularly if the Blues aren’t at the top of their game.

2. Will Liverpool rise to the challenge of a revitalised Chelsea?

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No doubt the biggest Premier League fixture this weekend is probably the game at Anfield where Liverpool face Chelsea immediately after Manchester City’s game against Palace.

The prospect facing Liverpool is also arguably tougher than it would have been had this game taken place a few weeks ago.

The doom and gloom that surrounded Chelsea under the Maurizio Sarri reign has lifted, albeit temporarily, with the club now third in the table after three successive wins.

If Eden Hazard plays in a similar fashion to how he did against West Ham on Monday it could be a tricky task for that Liverpool back line.

Of course, the Reds remain favourites for this game and the fact they are having to battle for every result could be a blessing in disguise.

What’s certain is this sure to be another vitally important encounter.

3. Can West Ham make their first major final as a WSL team?

It’s no secret just how far West Ham Women have come after they were granted a WSL, jumping two divisions in one season.

With a virtually new team, a season floating around midtable should be considered a relative success.

The hiring of Matt Beard as boss was a real masterstroke but what would really put the icing on the cake would be a major final appearance in their first season as a professional club.

That is exactly what is on the line when the team travel to face Reading, the team who are just a point and a place above them in the league.

Of course, Reading have a number of talented individuals in their ranks, such as Jade Moore and Remi Allen, plus experience in the form of Fara Williams – invaluable on and off the pitch.

This semi-final is certain to be a closely-fought affair.

4. Who will make the FA Cup final from the battle of the heavyweights?

While Reading and West Ham are largely unfamiliar with fighting for silverware, two teams who are very used to it recently go up against each other in the other semi-final.

Manchester City host travelling Chelsea in the later semi-final on Sunday and, with Arsenal currently in the driving seat for the WSL title, this represents the best chance for both clubs to grab domestic silverware this season.

Nick Cushing’s side already tasted success in the Continental Tyres Cup in February, while Emma Hayes’ team still have the Champions League to fight for, but both are built to win.

With that in mind, and the players on show, whoever advances will instantly become the favourites. The team that loses will rue it as an opportunity missed.

5. Who will advance to fight for the Scottish Cup at the end of the season?

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Along with the FA Cup semi-finals in the women’s game in England, north of the border it is also semi-final time.

The Scottish Cup semi-finals take place at Hampden Park with Hearts taking on Inverness on the Saturday and Aberdeen facing reigning champions Celtic on Sunday.

An Aberdeen v Celtic fixture at Hampden has a rather familiar feel to it, but every time the Dons have come unstuck.

As Celtic seem almost certain to win the league again, a Scottish Cup would surely guarantee Neil Lennon the management job, if it hasn’t been decided already.

The other semi-final sees Hearts face Scottish Championship side Inverness who won the trophy in 2015.

After a hugely positive start to the season, things have fallen away somewhat for Hearts and Craig Levein and they are in danger of dropping out of the top six.

A loss to Inverness and suddenly a campaign that promised so much ultimately failed to materialise.

We will see just how things pan out in Glasgow this weekend.

You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992

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