Premier League Preview – Feb. 20-21
Until the Premier League institutes a playoff for the fourth Champions League, we’ll have to settle for matches like Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City to decide the fate of the league’s final golden ticket into Europe’s glamour competition.
City is a point ahead of the Reds with a game in hand – and it’s playing at home – so if this is truly to be the year that someone cracks the big four, this match is an opportunity to strike a blow.
The match is yours on Sunday at 10 a.m. EST on Fox Soccer Channel, and here’s the complete TV schedule.
Table watch: Manchester City is in fourth place with 45 points while Liverpool is one spot back with 44 points.
A four-horse race: There are four teams – the two playing, plus Spurs and Aston Villa – within three points of the coveted fourth spot. Think of it as a quasi-playoff.
Mind games: City defender Joleon Lescott is trying to switch the pressure over to the Reds, telling the Mirror, “At the start of the season we wanted to get into the Champions League and we still believe we can do that. But personally I believe all the pressure will be on Liverpool.
“We’re a point ahead with a game in hand and we play Liverpool on Sunday. If we can win that game then it really will stand us in good stead for the rest of the season. Liverpool are hitting a bit of form at just the right time for them, but we’re confident because we’re at home and because it’s in our own hands now, so we have to push on. We don’t want to let them back in.”
Nine other games dot the schedule. Let’s hit them, too.
Everton vs. Manchester United
United will look to keep the pressure on Chelsea as it visits Goodison Park for the first match of the weekend.
Table watch: Everton is in ninth place on 35 points while Manchester United is holding down second with 57 points.
Missing in the middle: Everton will be without Marouane Fellani and may also have to do without Tim Cahill. Of course, unless the Red Devil midfield picks up its form from the showing it had in the Champions League match with AC Milan, it may not matter.
Arsenal vs. Sunderland
After a comedy of errors in Portugal in mid-week, Arsenal hopes a home date with slumping Sunderland will direct the laughter in another direction.
Table watch: Arsenal is in third place with 52 points while the Black Cats are in 13th place on 26 points.
Irony alert: Sunderland is winless in its last 12 games – since a win over Arsenal at the Stadium of Light back in November.
West Ham United vs. Hull City
Two teams north of the relegation scrum will be trying to stay there as the Hammers host Hull City Saturday.
Table watch: West Ham is in 15th place on 24 points, ahead of the Tigers by two spots on goal difference.
No place like home: Hull City is winless in its last 18 road games.
From the “I’ll believe it when I see it” department: Hull midfielder Jimmy Bullard is working towards a return from a lengthy injury, according to multiple reports.
Yeah, sure he is.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea
A trip to Molineux awaits front-running Chelsea this week.
Table watch: Wolves are in 16th place on 24 points while the Blues show the way with 58 points.
A troubling trend: Chelsea has just one win in its last six road games – not the sort of form that dots the resume of title-winning sides.
An eye on the Golden Boot: Chelsea striker Didier Drogba will be looking to add to his league-leading total of 17 goals this week. He’s found the net in eight of his last nine league matches.
Portsmouth vs. Stoke City
There is still a match on the schedule at Fratton Park this week as Stoke City heads down to the south coast.
Table watch: Pompey is in 20th place on 16 points while the Potters hold down 11th spot on 31 points.
Staying focused: England international David James is trying to fix Pompey’s on-field woes, as the financial house around the club wobbles.
“The games are in short supply now. There are 13 matches left and we need to win a lot of them,” he told the team’s Web site.
“Basically, Stoke is a must-win. Essentially, we have to look at every game as a win, regardless of who it’s against. We have Liverpool and Tottenham coming up – which are very, very difficult games – but we have to go out with the mentality we have to win.”
Blackburn Rovers vs. Bolton Wanderers
Blackburn will try to defend its home turf against drop-zone-residing Bolton on Sunday morning.
Table watch: Blackburn is in 12th place on 31 points while Bolton is in 18th place on 23 points.
More options: Blackburn could have midfielders Vince Grella and Yildiray Basturk in the lineup this week, according to the BBC. Grella has been suffering from a thigh injury, while Basturk has yet to debut after his transfer from Stuttgart.
Aston Villa vs. Burnley
Villa will try to stay near the top four when the Clarets come calling on Sunday.
Table watch: Aston Villa is in seventh place on 42 points while Burnley is in 19th spot on 23 points.
Match facts: Courtesy of our friends from Eurosport – Burnley have the worst away record in Premier League history after 13 matches of a season, just one point and a goal difference of -30. … The only other team to pick up just one point from their first 13 away games in the Premier League was Bolton in 1995-96. They went on to win their 14th, 15th and 16th matches on the road that season. … Aston Villa have scored 11 headed goals, more than any other side in the Premier League.
Fulham vs. Birmingham
The Whites will try to keep their strong run at Craven Cottage going as Birmingham provides the opposition.
Table watch: Fulham is in 10th place on 34 points while Birmingham is in eighth place on 37 points.
Doing the laundry: Fulham has kept a clean sheet in three straight league matches.
Missing the magic: Birmingham has lost the form that saw it win five matches on the trot in November and December. The Second City side has one win in its last five matches.
Wigan Athletic vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The Latics will try to inch away from the bottom three when hot-and-cold Tottenham come calling on Sunday.
Table watch: Wigan is in 14th spot on 25 points while Spurs are in sixth on 43 points.
Starting strong a must: Spurs haven’t won a match since August in which they’ve failed to score a first-half goal.
History lesson: Wigan has only won win in nine meetings with Spurs in all competitions.