Sat, May 4, 3:13am by Kevin Pitstock
Chelsea have reason to celebrate, as they advanced to the Europa League yesterday – booking their trip to Amsterdam to play Benfica for the UEFA Europa League by mowing down FC Basel on a 5.2 aggregate scoreline. Rafa Benitez and his side are excited about the possibilities of becoming back-to-back Cup winners in Europe but before they do so, they will surely focus on their domestic efforts. This weekend, Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to face the Premier League Champions. When Chelsea and Manchester United faced one another earlier in the season, it was a very heated match, which featured flaring tempers (Ivanovic and Torres were sent off) and a 3-2 United win.
Whilst United look to tighten things up for Chelsea in the race for a top 4 finish, things remain tight at the bottom of the table. Reading and QPR are certain to play in the Championship next season, as their draw in week 35 sealed their fate in relegation. Norwich and Aston Villa meet up this weekend at Carrow Road. Norwich are in 14th place, but they are not yet out of danger. If the visiting Villains, fresh off their six-goal effort against Sunderland, manage to beat Norwich – the Canaries will find themselves slipping into a downward spiral that could also spell relegation for them.
Wigan are currently in 17th spot on 32 points – five below Newcastle, Villa, and Sunderland. Wigan look to make an outside move at extending their stay in the top flight by taking on West Bromwich Albion. Sunderland host Stoke City on the Monday evening match, whilst Newcastle travel to London to take on West Ham United.
These two sides played to a 3-3 result in week 9 of the EPL season. In this reverse fixture, Fulham are troubled by injuries and suspensions. Maden Petric is out with an injured hamstring. Dimitar Berbatov is suffering from a calf strain. Whilst he has been declared available, it would be a stretch to call him “fit”. Steve Sidwell is still on a suspension, thanks to his red from the Fulham-Arsenal match. Also out for Fulham are Mahamadou Diarra, Simon Davies, and Ashkan Dejagah.
Reading are playing for pride, as their relegation from the top flight was assured when they played QPR to a bore draw in week 35. Jimmy Kebe and Jason Roberts are out for Reading, whilst their #1 goalkeeper, Adam Federici, is expected to return from the treatment room to the pitch.
This match could go either way, but Fulham have the edge playing at home. Reading have dropped five straight on the road with their last away win coming at Newcastle. Fulham have dropped two straight at home, but it is worth noting that they lost to both Chelsea and Arsenal at home. Prior to drawing two top 4 clubs in succession, they beat Stoke and QPR on their own grounds.
Prediction: Fulham 2 – Reading 1
These two clubs played to a 1-1 earlier in the season. Villa is trying to close strong down the home stretch, as they have two wins and a draw in their last four matches. Cristian Benteke bagged a treble on Monday’s six goal stomping of Sunderland and Villa manager Paul Lambert has tipped Benteke is far from done producing for them.
Norwich gets a boost with John Ruddy ready to reclaim his starting spot after being out for five months with an injured thigh.
Last year at Carrow Road, Norwich held on for a 2-nil win. Simeon Jackson and Grant Holt both made the score sheet for the Canaries. Whilst Norwich held at home last season, they were playing much better football than they are this season. Norwich look unorganized and sloppy at times and Villa will be ready to make Norwich pay if they demonstrate such qualities in this fixture.
Look for Benteke to score and Villa to take three from Norwich on the road.
City beat Swansea 1-0 in Manchester when they played in week 9. Swansea are in a free-fall, as they have not won in their last six outings. City come into this match with a fully fit squad, whilst Michael Laudrup has injury concerns about Chico Flores, who picked up a knock in training this week.
City are assured a top 4 finish, but they surely want second place, as they cannot catch up with United at the top. Look for Swansea’s woes to continue as City control this match.
Prediction: Swansea 1 – City 3
The Spurs took down Southampton 2-1 in their first meeting of the season.
Mousa Dembele is nursing a sore hamstring and will be a match day decision for the Spurs. Sandro, Gallas, and Kaboul are still out for Tottenham, whilst Adebayor and Jake Livermore are ready to play after sitting last week with injuries. However, it is unlikely that Adebayor will make the starting XI, as Jermain Defoe is fit and playing well. Southampton are without Danny Fox and Gaston Ramerez, as they were both sent off in their loss to West Brom last weekend.
Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe, and Clint Dempsey are going to be too much for Southampton to handle, especially with Tottenham trying to break into the top 4. They are two behind Arsenal and hold a game in hand over them. Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas will surely urge his side to win out.
Prediction: Look for Bale and Defoe to score and Tottenham to get all three. Tottenham 3 – Southampton nil.
Wigan are playing for their future, as they must win when they travel to The Hawthorns. Wigan got the best of West Brom in their week 9 meeting, claiming a 2-1 victory.
Wigan get a boost, as West Brom are without their captain (Chris Brunt) and must make due without striker Marc-Antoine Fortune and defender Goran Popov. However, West Brom welcome the return of Youssouf Mulumbu, as he is available after serving a ban. For Wigan, they are without Maynor Figueroa, as he is done for the season with an injured groin.
Last week, Wigan fought for a well-deserved 2-2 draw against Tottenham. Wigan’s Emmerson Boyce found himself on both sides of the score sheet, as he scored for his side and was credited with an own goal. Callum McManaman also scored for Wigan at the DW. West Brom come off a loss against Manchester City, which stopped their five match unbeaten run.
Prediction: Wigan need this win, but will settle for a draw at best.
Newcastle’s struggles continue and they sit just above the relegation zone in a three-way tie. Their goal differential, however, makes them 16th place on the table. When these two clubs met at Sports Direct, the result went 1-nil West Ham’s way, thanks to a Kevin Nolan 38th minute strike.
Mark Noble and Joe Cole are ready to resurface to the Starting XI for West Ham, whilst Andy Carroll has been sharp as of late. For Newcastle, they are winless in their last three and have dropped four of their last five on the road. Newcastle are without Mathieu Debuchy, as he sits with a suspension for picking up a soft red. Fabricio Coloccini could get his first start in a while, as his back issues are behind him.
Newcastle are struggling and West Ham are beginning to play with both comfort and confidence. West Ham have dropped only one in their last six and have picked up points in each of their last three home matches. They are going to frustrate Newcastle with their physical defence and relentless crosses.
Prediction: West Ham 2 – Newcastle nil
These two played to a 1-nil conclusion that fell Arsenal’s way in a match where QPR played over their heads and Arsenal played “down” to QPR’s level. Arsenal need to win in order to keep pressure on the other clubs competing for a top 4 finish, so look for the Gunners to put this one to bed nice and early.
Prediction: QPR nil – Arsenal 4
In the first edition of this season’s Mercyside Derby, Everton and Liverpool battled to a 2-2 draw. Both managers have a full squad from which to choose with the exceptions of Luis Suarez, who is banned for the balance of the season. Phil Neville is also due to miss this match for Everton with knee troubles.
Liverpool looked remarkable in their 6-nil win against Newcastle, as they built a case that there is still life without Suarez. Daniel Sturridge scored twice for the Reds, as his role in the Liverpool attack has been enhanced due to playing without his strike partner. Liverpool are on a five match unbeaten run (2 wins, three ties in their last five).
Everton dropped Fulham 1-nil via a Steven Pienaar 16th minute goal. However, they are going to have to rise up to improve on their away form (winless in their last six road matches) if they are to collect anything in the points column.
Prediction: Liverpool 3 – Everton 1
Chelsea are sure to come into this fixture with a huge chip on their shoulder. Fernando Torres got the start for the Blues when they went through to the Europa League finals, as Demba Ba is cup tied in Europe. Ba will likely make the Chelsea Starting XI, whilst Rafa Benitez may mix things up in the midfield. Chelsea are on the back end of their extremely hectic schedule due to cup competitions and Eden Hazard may come off the bench if he is needed in this match to ensure fitness for Tottenham mid-week.
Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted Paul Scholes is ready for inclusion for the first time since January. Danny Welbeck is not an option for Sir Alex. However, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are likely to anchor the back four for the Red Devils.
Expect this match to be absolutely ferocious. United are trying to break the record Chelsea currently hold for the most points in a single Premier League season. Robin Van Persie has scored in each of his last two games (4 goals in his last two) and Wayne Rooney is ready to rise to the occasion.
Chelsea are in third place on the table on 65 points and they hold a game in hand over fourth place Arsenal. Tottenham are on 62 points and also have a match in hand over Arsenal. Chelsea and Tottenham balance out on Wednesday, which means that Chelsea feel the need to get a full three points here. Should they fail to win at Old Trafford, their Champions League spot for next year will be in clear jeopardy.
Expect a hard fought battle from both sides with Chelsea more likely to push for a win that United.
Prediction: United 2 – Chelsea 3
0-0 was the boring result during their first meeting of the season. Stoke finally broke their poor away form with a win two weeks ago in London against QPR. Last week, Stoke shut down Norwich and are now on a two match unbeaten run despite failing to impress.
Sunderland found an initial bounce in form by stringing together two successive wins under their new manager. However, they disappointed last week when they dropped a 6-1 result to Aston Villa.
Sunderland will make due without Stephane Sessegnon for the balance of the season, as he failed in his appeal against a three-match ban for earning a red from fouling Villa’s Yacouba Sylia this past Monday night. Sunderland are also without Connor Wickham, Stephen Fletcher, and Lee Cattermole – all of which are done for the season.
Stoke has health issues in the back once again, as injuries plague their back line. However, Matthew Etherington featured as a substitute and is ready for a return to the Starting XI.
Prediction: Sunderland nil – Stoke City 1
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