Emotion will run high for big match at Anfield
On a day of mourning at Anfield, Liverpool will be playing in one of its biggest matches this century.
The mood on Sunday (local time) will be somber as the country pauses to remember the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago. But once the football gets going, the Premier League title will be up for grabs with Liverpool and Manchester City jostling for supremacy.
"If Liverpool get the result, it will be a great day for the club and the city and also the 96 and their families," former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said. "It's a big day for them as well and we should never forget that."
Liverpool, looking to win the league title for the first time in 24 years, is chasing its 10th consecutive victory. With more tricky hurdles to overcome by the end of the season for both teams, their face-off is not decisive but the winner will be the favorite in the title race.
Liverpool won its 18th and last league title in 1990, a year after some the team's fans were crushed in an overcrowded standing-only section at Hillsborough ahead of the FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest.
But after years in the shadow of bitter rival Manchester United, Liverpool fans believe the time has come to write a new chapter of the club's glorious history.
Having played superb attacking football for the whole season, Liverpool has been rewarded by a string of nine consecutive wins that have lifted the club to the top of the table with only five matches remaining.
Liverpool goes into the game four points ahead of City but their Manchester rivals have two games in hand. Chelsea is second, two points off the pace, and will travel to Anfield on April 27.
With so much on the line on such a solemn day, emotions will be high at kick-off, which is scheduled for seven minutes later than usual as a mark of respect.
"I know there are 96 people in the sky who will always be supporting this team," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "We want to do this for the great support and football family of Liverpool and if we are to achieve anything this year the 96 in the sky will always be in our thoughts, and their families."
Pitting two of the best teams in England, the game is the biggest in the Premier League so far this season. Liverpool is unbeaten in the league since a loss at Chelsea last December, while City has not lost since a home match against Jose Mourinho's side in February.
"Anfield is never an easy place to go at the best of times and they are top of the table and really playing well, scoring lots of goals and playing great football," City midfielder James Milner said. "We know that if we win all our remaining games, we would win the title, and the same applies to Liverpool, so it's definitely one of the biggest games of the season."
Liverpool's great run of form over the past two months can be linked to Luiz Suarez and Steven Gerrard's recent displays. The Uruguay striker, the league's player of the month for March along with Gerrard, has scored 29 goals in 28 matches, while the veteran England captain seems rejuvenated with 16 goals to his name in 41 matches this season.
"He has been really consistent throughout the course of the season, with his goals, but his playmaking ability from behind really gives the team a different dimension," Rodgers said of Gerrard.
The atmosphere at Anfield will be tough on the visitors, but City manager Manuel Pellegrini said he won't adopt a cautious approach.
"If you play to draw you will lose, so we are going to play to win," Pellegrini said. "Of course after the game if we couldn't win the game and we draw, it's a good result, but we are not going to play against Liverpool thinking we must draw. We don't know how to play in that way."