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Top-four battle heats up for Premier League’s big spenders

London, United Kingdom | AFP | The intensifying battle for Champions League places takes centre stage in the Premier League this weekend as Liverpool host Tottenham, while Manchester United and Chelsea seek to recover from damaging defeats.

Just five points now separate United in second from Spurs in fifth, with the riches and prestige of a place in the Champions League for next season fuelling a record £430 million ($611 million, 492 million euros) splurge in the January transfer window.

Arsenal sit a distant sixth, six points behind their north London rivals, provoking an uncharacteristically busy window of comings and goings at the Emirates.

Top four contenders at a crossroads

Philippe Coutinho’s 160-million-euro move to Barcelona meant Liverpool ended January in the black despite splashing out a world-record £75 million for a defender on Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk.

Despite holding their own in this season’s Champions League and domestically, Liverpool and Spurs are not even in the top 10 for net spend on transfers in the Premier League this season.

However, the steady progress achieved by both clubs under Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will be threatened if they miss out on next season’s Champions League, making Sunday’s clash at Anfield all the more vital.

A dominant 2-0 victory over Manchester United on Wednesday underlined Spurs’ return to form and a win at Anfield would move them ahead of their hosts in the table.

Back-to-back defeats to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion raised questions over Liverpool’s decision not to invest in a direct replacement for Coutinho but they bounced back to see off Huddersfield 3-0 in midweek and remain unbeaten in the league at Anfield this season.

Aubameyang’s bow

A forward line partnering new recruits Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with Mesut Ozil, who has signed a new long-term deal, means the pessimism of a damaging 3-1 defeat at Swansea on Tuesday was quickly forgotten.

However, with Spurs and City to follow Everton’s visit to the Emirates, Arsene Wenger will need to former Dortmund duo to quickly re-establish their partnership to keep in touch with the other challengers.

The Gunners could also quickly come to rue their winter clearout as Theo Walcott returns to the Emirates fresh from scoring twice to secure Everton’s first win of 2018 against Leicester on Wednesday.

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