Premier League Preview – March 20-21
Two members of the big four clash Sunday when Liverpool visits Old Trafford for a date with Manchester United.
Manchester United will be trying to stay in first place in the league standings, with Chelsea and Arsenal in hot pursuit. Liverpool, on the other hand, is fighting to stay close to a Champions League slot as the games dwindle away.
There are plenty of off-field plot lines, with United angry that Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard escaped a ban for an elbow on Portsmouth’s Michael Brown earlier this week.
Then there’s Albert Riera’s scathing attackon his manager, Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez, that has earned the player a suspension for the match.
Not that they needed another reason, but the Red Devils will be looking to avenge a 4-1 result in this fixture last season.
Plenty of games on TV this weekend, and here’s the schedule.
Here’s a look at the table:
And here’s the rest of the schedule
Aston Villa vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Villa still has an eye on the Champions League as they entertain Wolves on Saturday.
Striker John Carew told the Daily Star, “We would have dropped off a bit if we hadn’t won against Wigan and there are not many games left. We just have to follow other teams. If they win, we have to win to have any chance. The pressure is on us all the time, but we have that game in hand.
“We have shown that we have taken another step forward and I am just delighted for the team.”
Everton vs. Bolton Wanderers
Life without Landon Donovan begins for the Toffees Saturday at Goodison Park when Bolton comes calling.
Tim Cahill is confident that Everton can continue its climb up the table, telling the Liverpool Echo, “I’m not one to look too far ahead but we know our targets for the next nine games and it starts against Bolton, so the more games we win we’ll definitely have a chance of finishing in a European place.
“We’ve got a strong squad, a strong mentality and we want to kick on. We don’t want to rest on our laurels.”
Portsmouth vs. Hull City
A few days ago, this would have been a relegation six-pointer. But with Pompey doomed to the drop after being docked nine points for entering administration, it’s probably a far bigger game for Hull City.
The Tigers showed manager Phil Brown the door this week, so caretaker Ian Dowie’s job is a simple one:
Stay in the Premier League.
Dowie told the Daily Star, “what I want to do is stop Hull City going downhill, yes. I’d had three skiing lessons and had another planned for Friday, but I would much rather be back in the dugout. I feel more comfortable there. I don’t think I’m a gamble. If you look at my record, it’s fairly productive. You look at my record at Oldham – I took them to the play-offs.”
Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs are hanging on to fourth place for dear life, and a trip to the Britannia for a date with Stoke is hardly an automatic result.
Of course, the Potters are well known for their long throws in the box with Rory Delap, and it’s on the mind of Spurs’ goalkeeping coach Tony Parks.
“It’s a difficult one in terms of where do you pick up? Do you go man to man? And you have the added problem of there being no offsides for throw-ins, so Stoke will do all they can to pen the goalkeeper in,” he told the Hampstead and Highgate Express. “I think referees need to try to be a little bit stronger because goalkeepers can be obstructed from doing their work. I don’t hold with the view that goalkeepers are overprotected. The referees need to work out who’s running to block runners off and things like that.
“It is difficult but I don’t think that you can overplan for it. You have to do your homework on it and then you have to have defenders and goalkeepers who are more committed than the attackers in terms of wanting to be the first contact on the ball.”
Sunderland vs. Birmingham City
Better results of late have lifted Sunderland seven points clear of the bottom three, but Birmingham will try to halt that momentum at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones limped off with a groin injury in last week’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City, but it looks as if he might play, according to multiple reports.
“Kenwyne’s had a scan and thankfully the damage isn’t as bad as we feared initially,” manager Steve Bruce told the Daily Star. “It’s too early to say whether he will make Birmingham, but we’ll give him all the treatment we can.”
Wigan Athletic vs. Burnley
The Latics are four points north of the drop zone while Burnley will be hoping to claw out when the two sides meet at the DW Stadium on Saturday.
Wigan boss Roberto Martinez knows the importance of this game, telling the Manchester Evening News, “Every game we have left from here on in will be massive. Every point we pick up will be extra significant. We have had to regroup again and get ready as a football club for what is an extremely important game.
“We did not deserve to finish with nothing against Villa. The players gave me everything they had and more. It was an even game but we’ve again been left with a very sour taste. I feel for the players because they do not deserve to be feeling how they are feeling right now.”
Arsenal vs. West Ham
Keeping pace at the top of the table is the order of the day for the Gunners as West Ham visits for a London derby.
Arsenal would be heavy favorites at the Emirates without him, but Arsene Wenger’s side will likely have the services of captain Cesc Fabregas for Saturday’s game.
Wenger told the team’s Web site, “Cesc and Tomas (Rosicky) have a final test tomorrow morning. They should be available for Saturday.”
Fulham vs. Manchester City
Craven Cottage is the scene for two teams interested in different paths to Europe on Sunday.
After a mid-week clash with Juventus in Europa League play, the Cottagers will have to fight off fatigue for this one.
Meanwhile, the visitors will try to stay close to Spurs in the battle for fourth place while hanging on to that game in hand.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Chelsea
Home or away, there’s no margin for error as Chelsea try to break Manchester United’s reign atop the table.
The Blues trail the defending champions by two points, but have a game in hand.
Of course, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will have to shake off their shock exit from the Champions League at the hands of Inter Milan and former manager Jose Mourinho.
That couldn’t have felt very good, but perhaps a win at Ewood Park would soften the blow a little.