Sat, Apr 6, 10:30pm by Kevin Pitstock
The Barclay’s Premier League features a full set of fixtures and the matchups will clear up some questions, whilst posing a few more of its own. For Reading and QPR, they have an opportunity to climb off the bottom at the expense of clubs who are attempting to ensure their future. Will they raise the floor and fight against relegation or will they concede their future lies beneath in the Championship Division of English Football?
In the dogfight for a top-4 finish, Everton and Tottenham go head to head. One side is missing their heroes due to suspension, whilst the other is short from injury. Is a Bale-less Tottenham able to overcome a Felanni-less Everton side? Also battling for the final European spots are Chelsea and Arsenal, as the Blues face injury and scandal plagued Sunderland. Will Chelsea and their hectic schedule over the past week be able to handle business against a Sunderland side who is struggling with fitness, morale, and a new manager or will all this attention inspire Sunderland to rise up and answer the whistle? Meanwhile, the Gunners take to the road to take on West Bromwich Albion. An Arsenal loss could find them scrambling with merely weeks to go.
To close out the match week, we have the battle of Manchester. Fifteen points separate the two Manchester Clubs, as United’s lead is all but guaranteeing a twentieth League title. However, pride is also on the line, as United will certainly want a win over City at home to go along with their league title. Will the noisy neighbours bring a match to United or will City be silenced?
New Reading manager Nigel Adkins hosts his former club as Southampton travel to the Madejski. Adkins has a fully fit squad, with the exception of Jimmy Kebe. For Reading, Goalkeepers Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy are both fit and looking to get the start in the number 1 spot. New Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino expects a tough match and is thankful to have Arthur Boruc and Adam Lallana back in the Starting XI.
Southampton is the stronger side in this match-up. The last time these two clubs played was in their reverse fixture at St. Mary’s Stadium, where Southampton shut down Reading and a single Jason Puncheon goal was all it took. These two sides are quite familiar with one another, as they both spent the last season in the Championship.
A Southampton win will serve to assure the Saints that they will remain in the top flight, as they will be on 79 points and move into 11th place. Reading, on the other hand, must win, as they reside in last place on 23 points. Currently, Aston Villa at 30 points represents the top of the bottom and it is clear the Rangers have a big ladder to climb. Look for Reading to press and take chances against Southampton, but to no avail.
Both Norwich and Swansea are struggling to find an earlier version of themselves. After recovering from a beginning of the season slump that saw Norwich at the bottom of the table, they have hit another rough patch, as they have found a lone win in their last six outings. Swansea have mustered two wins in their last six, which is one better than the Canaries. However, the Swans have dropped four of those six matches, whilst Norwich have lost two and drawn in three of their last six. In Swansea’s last four defeats, they have scored two goals, whilst scoring five in their two wins. Norwich (on 34 points and in 14th place) have scored four times in their last six outings.
Whilst Swansea are clear of danger, Norwich are only four clear of the relegation zone. They must string a few wins together to close the season in order to avoid the dangers of being sent down. The home side gets a boost, as their backup net minder, Mark Bunn returns to the Starting XI after missing out due to a red card received against Sunderland. Preferred number 1 John Ruddy is scheduled to return to training on Monday and is still a week or two away from being able to feature. Midfielder Anthony Pilkington is also set to miss this fixture, as he is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
For Swansea, centre-back Chico Flores and right back Angel Rangel are fit after missing out due to an ankle knock and calf strain respectively. Michu has lacked the killer instinct he has demonstrated for the majority of his maiden Premier League voyage and the Spanish striker will need to regain this form in order to boost his side to victory.
Aston Villa sit atop the drop zone on thirty points, level with Wigan Athletic. Villa have won three of their last six. Villa striker Christian Benteke has helped his struggling side build a case for why they should remain in the top flight. He is likely to receive help from veteran English striker Darren Bent, as Bent is recovered from injuries that have plagued his season.
Stoke’s defence was virtually unplayable in the start of the 2012-13 campaign and has proven they are merely mortal after all. Stoke have dropped four of their last six matches, with a win and a draw to accompany their four losses. Stoke may find Villa to be too hungry to contain, despite playing at home.
The home side must make due without the services of Congo International Youssouf Mulumbu due to a red card ban that cost him three matches. Thus, out goes Mulumbu and back comes James Morrison, as he has overcome his hamstring issues. For the Gunners, Arsene Winger’s side may receive a boost from Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott, as they have both made the trip and have begun training. These two suffered from injuries sustained in International duties and if even one of the two feature in the Starting XI, it will be a bonus to the Gunners. Captain Thomas Vermaelen should also be available for selection for the visitors, however, Abou Diaby’s knee injury rules him out for the balance of the season.
Arsenal have won five of their last six as they begin their sprint down the home stretch in the battle for a top 4 spot. West Brom have dropped off in form since building an argument at the beginning of the season on why they should be taken seriously as a top 4 side. They now find themselves in eight place on 44 points, whilst Arsenal sit in 5th with 53 points.
This match features a return to Anfield of Andy Carroll, as he is on loan from Liverpool to West Ham. The English striker has been on a tear in his last two matches, as he scored twice in last week’s West Ham victory over West Brom. However, whilst Carroll has come home, he will feature from the stands, as he cannot play in this match. Thus, West Ham will rely upon Carlton Cole or Marouane Chamakh (on loan from Arsenal). Speaking of Cole’s, former Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole will also miss out due to injury. The same is the case for Mark Noble and George McCartney, as West Ham nurse several key injuries.
Liverpool have a full squad to draw from in first team selection with the exception of Raheem Sterling, Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, and Martin Kelly. Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Stephen Gerrard represent imminent threats for Liverpool and West Ham will struggle to keep up.
In the fight for fourth, Tottenham’s on fire, unplayable Gareth Bale will be absent from the side, as he sustained an ankle injury against FC Basle (Europa League) that will keep him out for at least a week. Fellow winger Aaron Lennon and Tottenham defender William Gallas also picked up injuries against the Swiss side and are a match day decision. Sando, Defoe, and Kaboul are not available for this match.
Tottenham are not the only ones with selection struggles in this match, as David Moyes is without Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, as they are both amidst a two-match suspension due to accumulations of yellow cards. Kevin Mirallas is also doubtful for duty, as he picked up a groin injury after firing in his match winner last week against Stoke City.
Both sides have plenty at risk and a lot to gain by emerging victorious in this match. Everton are on big wins against Reading, Manchester City, and Stoke City after dropping two straight. Tottenham have won four of their last six and recovered from dropping two straight against Liverpool and Fulham.
A draw might be the most logical outcome, as both sides want to win but neither wishes to lose. Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor will be key to Tottenham’s success. Will he step up and play to his full potential or will he blend in and look ordinary. If he heats up, it could be game over. However, if he fails to catch pace, Tottenham will struggle.
Chelsea are on the backside of their extra busy schedule, as they had a successful FA Cup replay in addition to their Premier League matches and participation in the Europa League. Chelsea’s league form has been sluggish. However, Chelsea have won four of their last six at home with a draw and a loss at the beginning of their home streak.
Sunderland have managed two points in their last six and have lost three straight away matches. Paolo Di Canio, a suspected Fascist and real “character” has been introduced as the new Sunderland boss and he hopes to lead the Cats into remaining in the top flight. Sunderland goal scorer Stephen Fletcher is missing for the season. However, Danny Graham steps in to take his place. Connor Wickham could get a look, as he has built an argument on why he should feature if his U21 England matches have anything to say about it.
Chelsea have virtually a full squad from which to choose. Demba Ba will likely start over a masked Fernando Torres. Look for Chelsea to dominate this match and put the Cats to bed.
Dimitar Berbatov has been virtually unplayable, as he scored twice last week. Alan Pardew has injury problems, as Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote are both doubtful for this Sunday afternoon match. For Fulham, Steve Sidwell is suspended, as he was sent off against QPR. Additionally, Martin Jol is without Ashkan Dejagah and Mladen Petric. This means Brian Ruiz will feature up top, playing in behind Berbatov.
QPR simply must win this match. A loss or a draw does not help Harry Redknapp’s cause, as Wigan sit just above the horizon of the relegation zone on 30 points. A draw means that escape is still seven or more points away for QPR.
The biggest match of the week is saved for last, as the Manchester Derby plays out on a Monday night. United have won 25 of their thirty matches this season in the Premier League and they have set an absolutely relentless pace that finds City 15 points back.
Wayne Rooney has missed the last few matches due to a groin injury picked up in International duty. Left back Rafael De Silva also returns to availability as he too picked up a groin injury. However, Sir Alex faces fitness issues in the centre of the defence, as Vidic and Johnny Evans are to be match day decisions.
Roberto Mancini looks to build an argument on why his side is a bit more than merely noisy neighbours. Maicon and Micah Richards will not be able to assist their boss in building that argument though, as they are both treating for knee injuries. David Silva and Samir Nasri are both recovered from their knocks and will be able to make the big match.
Look for both sides to field a very strong line-up, as both pride and points are on the line here. Expect a hard fought match and do not be surprised to see a red card issued by Mike Dean.
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