There’s some debate over whether or not the Tyne-Tees Derby is actually a derby, as Newcastle fans point to the annual matches with Sunderland as the more important derby.
There’s no doubt, however, that Monday’s clash between the Toon Army and Middlesbrough at St. James’ Park is absolutely massive to the hopes of both teams’ Premiership survival.
Both teams are on 31 points, three back of Hull City, which is clinging to safety in 17th place. So, three points would be huge for either side.
History lesson – The two teams played to a scoreless draw back in November, and that result has been fairly common in recent matches between the two clubs. In fact, Boro has snatched a point in each of its last four trips to Newcastle.
Now or never? – West Brom may not be mathematically relegated yet, but Newcastle and Middlesbrough still have a good chance of overtaking Hull or Sunderland in the final weeks. But the Magpies host Fulham and finish away at Aston Villa while Boro will host the Villans before finishing up at West Ham. It certainly looks like a must-win game for either side.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea
I wonder how the Blues will react after being gutted in stoppage time at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona in mid-week Champions League play. They won’t get much time to fret over it, as they have to visit the Emirates on Sunday.
Locked in - It’s possible for Chelsea to finish second. It’s also possible for Arsenal to overtake the Blues and finish third. Neither seems very likely, and you have to wonder what the team sheets might look like in this one.
Recent meetings – Arsenal won at the Bridge, 2-1, on Nov. 30 and Chelsea reversed that scoreline at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinals last month.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City
United still owns a three-point lead with a game in hand over Liverpool, so the Red Devils – fresh off securing a place in Rome for the Champions League final in mid week – will have their eyes on the prize Sunday against their city rivals.
Recent meeting – United took a 1-0 win at City on Nov. 30. Last year in this fixture, City broke a 34-year drought at Old Trafford with a 1-0 win.
Not looking ahead - “We haven’t won anything this season,” Rio Ferdinand told the team Web site. “It’ll be a tough game. They’ve won their last couple of matches and are on a bit of a roll, so they’ll feel they can come and do a job on us. It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
West Ham United vs. Liverpool
The Reds, still chasing Man U, will visit Upton Park Saturday, hoping to keep the pressure on the Red Devils.
Chasing Europa - West Ham is on 48 points, which would be good enough to get them into to next year’s Europa League. Three teams are a single point behind, so the pressure is on for both sides in this one.
Goals this time? – These two sides played to a 0-0 draw at Anfield back in December.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Wigan
If the Baggies want to keep their flickering Premier League hopes alive, three points at home against Wigan on Saturday are an absolute must.
Last time – Wigan doubled up West Brom, 2-1, on Nov. 29.
An outside shot – With a game in hand on their nearest rivals, Wigan has a chance to get back into the race for a European spot. The fact that the game in hand is against front-running United makes the chance seem a bit smaller.
Hull City vs. Stoke City
Another massive game on the schedule. If the Tigers can grab three points at home against Stoke on Saturday, West Brom will be all-but relegated while things will grow even darker in Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
Back in November – The teams played to a 1-1 draw on Nov. 29 at the Britannia with Ricardo Fuller saving a point for the hosts on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute.
Potters looking safe – Stoke City is on 39 points in 13th place. That point total may be enough, but the Potters can clinch survival with a win.
Fulham vs. Aston Villa
The Villans invade Craven Cottage for a date with Fulham Saturday, hoping to hold off hard-charging Everton for fifth place in the final weeks.
Nothing doing - The teams played to a scoreless draw in their November 29 meeting.
Europe dreams – Fulham needs points to join Villa in the Europa League next season, as it sits one point back of West Ham for the final spot.
Everton vs. Tottenham
No team has fallen as hard, then risen as high as have Spurs this season. They’ll hope to keep that up Saturday at Goodison Park against Everton.
Last time – Everton grabbed all three points at White Hart Lane with a 1-0 win back in November.
In the mix – Spurs are hoping to play in the Europa League with Everton next season. They are on 47 points and still very much in the hunt.
Bolton vs. Sunderland
Two teams in the relegation scrum will look to climb out on Saturday at the Reebok Stadium.
Recent history – Bolton crushed Sunderland, 4-1, at the Stadium of Light in November.
In a tailspin – The Black Cats need to snap a two-game skid if they want to pull away from Newcastle and Middlesbrough, who are just four points behind. The Wanderers are winless in their last four, which has also left them within shouting distance of the bottom three.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Portsmouth
It’s another matchup of two teams trying to make reservations for next year’s Premiership as Pompey visits Blackburn Saturday.
Last time - Portsmouth took a 3-2 win over Blackburn back in November.
Safety first - A draw would likely suit both sides, as Blackburn and Portsmouth are six and seven points, respectively, ahead of the bottom three.