Sat, Apr 13, 10:26pm by Kevin Pitstock
The gap at the top of the Barclays English Premier League is now twelve points, as Manchester City took down the Manchester Derby by a 2-1 margin. Sergio Aguero came off the bench to beat four United defenders before putting a screaming strike past United goalkeeper David De Gea. This match featured exciting back and forth action and a near on pitch brawl between the two rivals. Near the end of regulation with United pressing in an effort to equalize, City midfielder David Silva went to the ground behind the play at midfield. City called for the ball to be kicked out. However, United played on. When the ball finally went out of play, Aguero and United defender Rio Ferdinand exchanged words, which led to a bit of a shoving match. Both sides joined in. Fired up Gareth Barry received a yellow card for his part in the argument.
Despite the increase in intensity to close the match, City held on with strikes from Aguero and an opener from James Milner. Milner buried a Samir Nasri pass from the edge of the box after Ryan Giggs made a rare schoolboy error by trying a fancy back heel pass that ended up on YaYa Toure’s foot. United levelled as Robin Van Persie blasted a free kick into the box, finding the head of Phil Jones. Jones headed the ball back, playing the ball off Vincent Kompany and Kompany inadvertently deflected the ball into the net for an own goal. The match remained level until Aguero roofed it in the 79th minute.
With City now twelve behind United and eighteen points left in play, United’s magic number to capture their record twentieth Premier League Championship sits at six points. United do not have the title mathematically wrapped up yet, but the fight for first is just about won for the Red Devils. Chelsea and Tottenham are in third and fourth respectively – both with 58 points. Chelsea have a game in hand over the Spurs. In match week 22, Chelsea defeated Sunderland 2-1, whilst the Spurs battled back to draw with Everton.
Arsenal make a late season bid for a European spot, as they sit in fifth place on 56 points. Just like Chelsea, they too have a game in hand over the Spurs. Thanks to a Per Mertesacker red card, the ten-man Gunners used two Tomas Rosicky goals to best West Bromwich Albion by a one-goal margin in their 2-1 victory at the Hawthorns.
Reading now sit at the bottom of the table with 23 points, as they were shut out at home by Southampton (winners of four straight). QPR picked up a point against Wigan. However, they remain in the danger zone on 24 points. Wigan Athletic rounds out the drop zone on 31 points. However, Wigan have a game in hand over 17th place Sunderland (also on 31 points), Aston Villa (33 points), and Stoke (34 points). A Wigan shock result at the Etihad against Manchester City can push Wigan into 16th place and place Sunderland into danger if Sunderland and Villa find themselves on the losing end of the results along with a Wigan win. Norwich and Newcastle, 34 and 35 points respectively, are not yet clear from danger, whilst Newcastle (36 points), West Ham United, and Southampton (37 points each) are nearly cemented in the top flight for next season.
Week 33 features a split schedule with seven weekend matches and four mid-week fixtures. Of the EPL sides, only Chelsea are still playing in a European competition. The 2012 UEFA Champions League winners find themselves in the semi-finals in the Europa League, where they meet up with FC Basel in the last four. Speaking of cup play and semi-finals, Chelsea and Manchester City are set to lock up on Sunday in the last four of the FA Cup, whilst relegation threatened Wigan take on Millwall. Both matches take place this weekend, which partially contributes to the split fixture.
Arsenal have won four of their last five at home, whilst Norwich have picked up a mere two points in their away efforts over a similar timeframe. The Gunners get a boost, as England International standouts Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshire passed their fitness tests and are back from injury. Thomas Vermaelen also returns to the starting XI, as he provides coverage during Mertesacker’s suspension.
Norwich continue to make due without their number 1 keeper John Ruddy. Ruddy did play a full match with the reserves, but is not yet ready for a top flight match. Either Mark Bunn or Lee Camp will start between the sticks for the Canaries, with the preferred Bunn uncertain to start due to a groin injury. Anthony Pilkington returns to fitness after an injury spell caused by a hamstring pull.
Last season, these two sides played to a 3-3 draw at the Emirates. In their past meetings at the Emirates, Arsenal have taken points in each of their four meetings (won two, drew two). These two sides are going in opposite directions and considering their respective forms, Arsenal’s boost in the midfield presents little reason for an outcome other than the obvious.
Both Villa and Fulham have been playing with purpose as of late and this match should prove to be an interesting one. Villa have won three of their last four to see themselves out of the drop zone but not yet out of danger. Fulham have secured points in five of their last six matches, winning three and drawing two.
For Villa, Darren Bent saw action last weekend, as he came off the bench as a sub to close out the match in Villa’s 3-1 win over Stoke. Ciaran Clark has also returned to training after picking up a shoulder injury during the International break. However, Marc Albrighton, Chris Herd, and Richard Dunne are still unavailable for the Villains.
For Fulham, Steve Sidwell is suspended, whilst midfielder Eyong Enoh is a match time decision. Midfielders Ashkan Dejagah and Mahamadou Diarra are unavailable due to injuries for Fulham.
Villa won their meeting at Villa Park last season, as an Andreas Weimann stoppage time goal, gave the home side a 1-nil win. In their four meetings at Villa Park, the home side has won twice and the two teams played to a draw two times. Fulham have not booked a win in their four trips to Villa Park. However, this is the first time Dimitar Berbatov will feature for the travelling side here. The partnership of Berbatov and Ruiz will be one to watch, as these two are in top form. Villa’s striker Christian Benteke is also playing spectacular football, as he looks to propel his side to victory.
6th place Everton play host to 19th place QPR, as both sides look to state their respective cases. Everton are hoping to close strongly to secure a spot in Europe, whilst QPR are hoping to play themselves into another season in the top flight.
The home side benefit from Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar’s return from suspension. Both players missed the last two matches due to an accumulation of yellow cards. QPR will make due without Bobby Zamora, as he was sent off against Wigan and is consequently suspended for the next three matches.
QPR picked up the shock result last season at Goodison Park, defeating Everton 1-nil via a 31st minute Tommy Smith goal. In fact, QPR hold the edge in this series at Goodison, as they have left with points in four of their last five trips here (3 wins, 1 draw). In October, these two played to a 1-1 draw. Two own goals and a Pienaar red card tainted their reverse fixture.
In the reverse fixture, Liverpool used a sole Raheem Sterling Strike to hand Reading defeat. The last time these two clubs met at the Madejski was in 2007, as Reading bagged three compared to Liverpool’s 1. Steven Gerrard scored for the Reds, whilst Stephen Hunt scored for the Royals. Both could feature in today’s run-in. However, Jimmy Kebe will not feature for the home side, as he struggles with a groin injury. Midfielder Hope Akpan misses this fixture due to a troublesome ankle. The visitors will miss Raheem Sterling, Fabio Borini, and Joe Allen whilst Stewart Downing is deemed fit for duty.
Southampton have silently secured points in each of their last four matches, as well as in five of their last six home outings. West Ham’s form has improved slightly since Andy Carroll has returned to fitness. Carroll missed out last week, as the Hammers played to a bore draw with Liverpool. Carroll was ineligible to play, as the Reds are his parent club. The visiting side likely make due without midfielders Joe Cole and Mark Noble, as well as without defenders Winston Reid and George McCartney. Southampton miss Jason Puncheon, Jay Rodriguez, and Luck Shaw. The trio all picked up a virus and are unlikely to feature for the home side.
A win for either Southampton or West Ham will see them through to safety, as the magic number to avoid relegation is 40 points. When these two clubs met early in the season, West Ham handed the Saints their backsides. Mark Noble netted a brace, whilst Kevin Nolan and Maiga each scored for the Hammers in a 4-1 dismantling of Southampton at Upton Park. These two clubs were promoted from the Championship together at the close of last season. Thus, they are no strangers to one another. The home side has held the edge in this fixture, as the visitors have blocked the home side from taking points in only one of their last ten meetings.
Long-term absentee Hatem Ben Arfa is set to make his return to the Newcastle starting XI, as he featured from the bench in Newcastle’s mid-week Europa League match against Benifica. However, Alan Pardew will make due without Fabricio Coloccini. Mathieu Debuchy, Cheick Tiote, and Yoan Gouffran are all match time decisions for the 13th place home side.
Sunderland find themselves in a battle over their future, as a slip up could find them in the bottom three by the end of the week. Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner picked up his tenth yellow card of the season in a losing effort against Chelsea last week. As a result, Gardner is suspended for this match. The Cats also face fitness issues at the top of their formation, as Stephen Fletcher is done for the season, whilst Danny Graham and Connor Wickham find themselves in the treatment room. Graham did train this week with the first team. However, Wickham is a doubt after he was injured following the Chelsea match.
Sunderland remain in a downward spiral, as they have picked up a mere two points in their last six matches. Only Reading (zero in their last six) and Stoke (1 point in their last six) have done worse during the same period. In their last six away matches, Sunderland have averaged 1 goal per match, whilst conceding 14 in their previous six. Newcastle have won four straight at home and they show little reason why it will not be five straight after this match.
A draw against West Ham United at home is the only point Stoke have to show for themselves in their last six matches. Stoke had demonstrated disciplined football at the Britannia in the early parts of the season but they have struggled since the holiday no matter where they play.
United come off a loss to Manchester City and a goals drought of their own. In their last two matches, they have scored via own goals. You can be quite certain that Sir Alex Ferguson is looking to score early and often in his efforts to secure the League Title. For the Red Devils, Ashley Young suffered a knee injury in the Manchester Derby. Defenders Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic both missed the Derby but have since returned to training.
Stoke may gain a boost from a return to fitness of Matthew Ethrington, Glenn Whelan, and Marc Wilson. Despite their fitness boost, United have won three of four at the Britannia and they have not left a Stoke match without at least a point. In their nine top flight meetings, United have outscored Stoke 23-5.
We will be back over the weekend to preview the mid-week EPL fixtures for week 33 of the English Premier League to give you betting tips you can use at Australia’s best online betting sites.
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