Sat, Apr 20, 11:45pm by Kevin Pitstock
This weekend’s fixtures see teams battling for their very existence in the Barclays Premier League and fights for a Top 4 finish, as relegation and European play are on the mind. Mathematically speaking, nine teams are candidates for relegation into the nPower Championship for next season. Four of those nine teams go head-to-head this weekend to build their case for survival.
Fourteenth place Norwich (on 35 points) host last place Reading. A win for Norwich places them in a stronger position for survival, whilst a Reading win gives them a slight boost despite remaining in danger. 19th place Queens Park Rangers host struggling Stoke City. QPR are level on points with last place Reading, whilst Stoke sit three points above the drop zone in 16th place. Whilst a Stoke loss will not place them in immediate danger, it could spell disaster, as 18th place Wigan have a game in hand.
Speaking of Wigan, the eighteenth place side have earned points in four of their last six matches and they look to make it five in seven, as they pay West Ham a visit. West Ham are safe with 39 points and they are unbeaten in their last four. Aston Villa have won three of their last five matches and they travel to Old Trafford in hopes of putting some distance between them and the drop zone. Villa currently reside in 17th place on 34 points. A win for the Villains could boost them into 13th place if the cards fall properly for them.
Also on 34 points is 15th place Sunderland. The Black Cats are troubled by injury. However, the injuries were overcome last week when new manager Paolo Di Canio led his side to a shock win at Newcastle last week. This week, Sunderland host David Moyes and his Everton side. Everton are on the opposite end of the spectrum in sixth place, as they battle for a Top 4 finish.
Looking at the top of the BPL Table, Manchester United are six points away from locking up their 20th top-flight trophy. They sit 13 points above second place Manchester City. A United win and a City loss could hand the Red Devils the trophy on Monday. City travel to White Hart Lane to take on Gareth Bale and Tottenham. The Spurs sit in fifth place on 58 points, which is two points below 4th place Arsenal. The Spurs, however, hold a game in hand over the Gunners – who travel to play Martin Jol’s Fulham side.
Both sides face fitness issues going into this match. For Arsenal, they must make due without Tomas Rosicky, as well as About Diaby. Former shaky #1 Wojciech Szczesny will play between the sticks in place of Fabianski, who is out with a cracked rib. Fulham are without Damien Duff, Mahamadou Diarra, and Ashkan Dejagah. However, Steve Sidwell returns from a suspension.
Whilst Arsenal have five matches remaining (including this one), anything short of a full three points in this London Derby could spell disaster for the Gunners. Tottenham are hot on their tales and have a match-in-hand, so Arsenal must not misstep. The Gunners have won their last two away matches and they are unbeaten in their last five overall. Arsenal tied Everton nil-nil in their mid-week match after kicking Norwich’s slammed door down in the closing minutes of their weekend match. Norwich went up 1-nil. Arsenal found the net three times to build their case as to why they should be top 4.
When these two sides met in last year’s London Derby at Craven Cottage, it was Fulham who emerged victorious via two late goals. Arsenal went up 1-nil in the 21st minute. However, they conceded two late goals from Steve Sidwell and Bobby Zamora to go home 2-1 losers.
Norwich could get a boost from the returns of goalkeeper John Ruddy, as well as Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson. Reading must make due without Adam Federici and Hope Akpan. Hal Robson-Kanu and Jimmy Kebe are match-time decisions for Reading.
Pilkington’s availability for the Canaries is a much-needed boost. John Ruddy has proven his fitness by playing two developmental matches after having surgery to repair a thigh injury. Norwich have struggled without these two in their lineup.
Reading did somewhat stop the bleeding last week, as they played Liverpool to a nil-nil draw. Reading’s last win came in their opening match of February against Sunderland. However, Norwich have not exactly been playing up to form themselves. The Canaries have not booked a win since beating Everton via two late goals on 23 February.
Bobby Zamora will miss this important match due to a suspension from his red card earned against Wigan. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andrew Johnson are also set to miss out for QPR due to injury. For Stoke, midfielder Matthew Etherington has been ruled out.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp remains optimistic despite the deck being stacked against him in remaining in the top flight. In his pre-match interview, he claimed “The Dream is still alive”, whilst Stoke manager Tony Pulis urged his side to quit giving away poor goals and wasting chances.
Stoke’s last win came on 9 Feb, when they beat Reading 2-1. Since their last victory, they have managed a single point when they played West Brom to a bore draw at home. They have lost three straight and have scored in only two of their last six away matches. QPR have taken points in each of their last two home matches and five of their last six.
Sunderland makes due without goalscorer Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole (both done for the season). Connor Wickham is still sidelined with an injury, whilst Craig Gardner is suspended for this match. Everton gets fitness boosts from both Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert returning to availability.
Whilst it is possible that Sunderland build upon their “new manager bounce”, Everton are a far better side than that which they beat over the weekend. The visitors have the better of this fixture, as they have won two and drew three in their last five trips to The Stadium of Light. In their last ten meetings (both home and away), Everton have won seven of the ten meetings and they have captured points in each of the ten matches.
Neil Taylor and Leon Britton are both available for the Swans, as is Jay Rodriguez, Luke Shaw, and Jason Puncheon for the Saints. Southampton are unbeaten in their last five, which gave them eleven points in their climb up the Premier League table. This recent streak has seen the twelfth place Saints increase their season’s points total by nearly 30%.
Swansea have dropped two straight at home, albeit to top 5 sides. In their last six matches, Swansea have scored a mere five goals whilst conceding thirteen (five of which away at Liverpool).
When these two sides met earlier in the season, Nathan Dyer and Morgan Schneiderlin each scored for their respective clubs, giving them a 1-1 result.
Swansea will rely upon Michu to find the goal. He has scored in his last two outings after going four matches without a goal. Southampton’s last defeat came in March, where they dropped a home result to QPR. Since their home loss, they have knocked off Liverpool and Chelsea at home, as well as Reading away. They played both West Ham and Norwich to a draw during their unbeaten run.
Peter Odemwingie will not be making headlines in this fixture, as he is out with an injury. Issy Brown and Youssouf Mulumbu are both set to miss this match for West Brom as well. For Newcastle, #1 Tim Krul is out due to a dislocation of his shoulder. Rob Elliott steps in to fill his void. Neither Ryan Taylor nor David Santon are options for this match, as both will miss out due to injury.
Joe Cole, George McCartney, and James Tomkins are all “no go’s” for the Hammers, whilst Mark Noble is expected to return to the Starting XI for the first time in over a month.
Wigan sit atop the relegation zone on thirty-one points and need to win in order to boost themselves out of the drop zone. A Wigan win will push Villa into the drop zone pending their result on Monday against United. Wigan also have played one less match than the Villains but they will not wish to leave it to chance.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez realises that getting a win away at West Ham is no easy task. West Ham bring a real physical brand of football – especially when playing in front of their home supporters.
Aaron Lennon is expected to make a full return to the Starting XI for the Spurs. Gareth Bale is a match-day decision, though it is expected that he will start in Tottenham’s bid to return to Europe next season via a Top 4 finish. City may have to make due without David Silva and Sergio Kun Aguero, as both are doubts for this match due to injury. Jack Rodwell has looked good in training and he is up for consideration for listing on the team sheet for City.
Historically, this is an intense, physical fixture. When these two sides met in 2011, Eden Dzeko dropped four bombs in a five goal City win.
The Spurs have failed to win as hosts in their last two matches. However, injuries to speedy wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon have troubled the Spurs since the International break. Both Bale and Lennon should return to the Starting XI.
Ashley Cole remains in the treatment room and is doubtful for the Sunday fixture, as is Gary Cahill. Liverpool are missing Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, and Martin Kelly.
Chelsea ended their slump in travels by beating Fulham in convincing fashion 3-nil. Prior to their win, Chelsea had dropped three straight on the road during league play. They have had a hectic schedule as of late, as they are still alive in European play. Liverpool have won four of their previous six at home. However, in order to win on Sunday, they will need productivity from Luis Suarez. Suarez has not found the goal in his last two outings despite assisting in both matches where he did not directly move the scoreboard.
Villa strikers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann have a history of scoring against United, as they combine for six goals against the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney has scored eight himself against Villa. When these two met in the reverse fixture, Weimann scored twice. However, his two goal effort was not enough to overcome an own goal and a Javier Hernandez brace. When these two clubs met at Old Trafford last season, it was Rooney who earned the brace. Danny Welbeck and Luis Nani also contributed to the scoreline, as United won in convincing fashion 4-nil.
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