Manchester City and Liverpool are showing no signs of letting up in their thrilling Premier League title race but their flawless form contrasts sharply with the struggles of the teams chasing a top-four finish.
Manchester United host Chelsea on Sunday hoping to arrest an alarming slide of seven defeats in nine games in all competitions.
But it is only thanks to the poor form of Maurizio Sarri’s men and Arsenal, who have suffered back-to-back defeats against Crystal Palace and Wolves, that United remain in the hunt for Champions League football next season, just three points off the top four.
United’s latest defeat to City on Wednesday lifted the defending champions one point ahead of Liverpool with three games left for both sides.
That stretched City’s winning streak in the league to 11 games, with the last slip-up by either of the title contenders remarkably now nearly two months ago, when Liverpool were held at Everton.
Liverpool have already surpassed their club-record points tally in the Premier League era, with 88, and Jurgen Klopp’s side are expected to retake top spot when already relegated Huddersfield visit Anfield on Friday.
“Now it’s clear we are one point behind City and we knew for a long time if we win our next two games then the decision will be made in the last matchday, and that’s quite special,” said Klopp on Thursday.
City are not in action until Sunday, when they travel to Burnley, and manager Pep Guardiola is wary of his side getting too over-excited at clearing what was expected to be the toughest hurdle left at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
“I know people are going to talk about how beautiful we are, how handsome we are,” said Guardiola. “But now we have to go to Burnley -- and in my two previous seasons going to Burnley was incredibly tough.”
City, who amassed a record haul of 100 points last season, still dropped two at Turf Moor in a 1-1 draw.
Behind the top two, Tottenham look well set to secure a fourth straight season of Champions League football, opening up a four-point gap on fifth-placed Arsenal thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday.
Spurs can widen that lead over their north London rivals even further when West Ham travel to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday hoping to become the first visiting team to score at the fifth time of asking in the club’s new home.
(1400 GMT unless stated)
Tottenham v West Ham (1130), Crystal Palace v Everton, Fulham v Cardiff, Southampton v Bournemouth, Watford v Wolves, Brighton v Newcastle (1630)
Leicester v Arsenal (1100), Burnley v Manchester City (1305), Manchester United v Chelsea (1530)