By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - If the Premier League contained only the current top six then Liverpool, not Chelsea, would be heading for the title.
In nine games against those teams this season Liverpool are unbeaten and have taken an impressive 19 points which is why they will travel to third-placed Manchester City on Sunday brimming with confidence.
Victory over City, which would be their sixth in seven against the Sky Blues in the league, would propel Liverpool above Pep Guardiola's side in what has become a five-club battle for second, third and fourth spots behind leaders Chelsea.
The higher calibre the opposition, the better Liverpool have played this season, with notable victories over Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, a double over Arsenal and a narrow home win over City who will also be deflated by their Champions League loss to Monaco.
Juergen Klopp's side laboured to a 2-1 win over woeful travellers Burnley last weekend, when all the sides around them were in FA Cup action, but former Liverpool striker John Aldridge said points, not style, are now the priority.
"It was a crucial three points in terms of pushing for a Champions League spot," Aldridge, who won the title with Liverpool in 1987-88, told the club's website.
"Mentally, it was a big step forward for this Liverpool side. I know we've played two games more than both Arsenal and Manchester United but I'd rather have the points on the board than fixture congestion."
Liverpool, who were neck-and-neck with City at the top of the table after 10 games of the season, are fourth with 55 points from 28 games, one less than City and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, both of whom have played a game fewer.
Significantly, they have a five-point cushion on Arsenal and six over United. What is more, Liverpool can concentrate on their final 10 games without the distractions their top-four rivals must contend with.
While bookmakers have not stopped taking bets on Chelsea winning the title yet, a 10-point lead with 11 games to go makes them overwhelming favourites.
One thing is certain, though, two of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and United will be shut out of the top-four this season.
Tottenham can increase the pressure on City and Liverpool when they host Southampton earlier on Sunday chasing a 10th consecutive home victory in the Premier League, although they will be without injured top scorer Harry Kane.
Manchester United, for whom the top four has remained just out of reach since very early in the season, are away at relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on Sunday in their third game in six days.
Antonio Conte's Chelsea, who beat United on Monday to set up an FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, are away to Stoke City on Saturday looking to open a 13-point gap.
Fifth-placed Arsenal begin the weekend schedule at West Bromwich Albion - a side they have never failed to score against in 21 previous Premier League clashes.
Three defeats in their last four league games, however, mean Arsene Wenger's side have precious little margin for error in their quest for a 21st consecutive top-four finish.
(Editing by Toby Davis)