Premier League Preview – April 3-4
Wayne Rooney’s on crutches and Cesc Fabregas has a broken leg.
Without kicking a ball, Chelsea has received an Easter basket full of good news in its quest to dethrone Manchester United this week when the two most important players on its two biggest rivals went down with injuries in mid-week Champions League action.
Chelsea visits Old Trafford for a game with United on Saturday with just one point separating the sides atop the table.
Didier Drogba is expected to feature for the Blues, but even a Rooney-less United will be tough to crack at the Theatre of Dreams.
United dealt Chelsea a 3-0 loss in this fixture last season, but this one figures to be a tad closer.
Still, with 12 goals in two EPL matches since its untimely exit from the Champions League, the Blues are in fine form.
“Saturday is very important because we play against a fantastic team, top of the list now,” Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti told the Guardian. “I think we’ll have a very good chance. Now our moment is good. We’re fit and confidence has improved after Portsmouth (who were beaten 5-0) and Aston Villa (7-1). It’ll be a very important game. We want to do our best (and) have the possibility to do this. Our moment now is good. But nothing will be decided.”
“Wayne is unbelievable, he is one of the best in the world, but we have shown we play as a team this season,” United defender Nemanja Vidic told the Times. “At Bolton on Saturday, Berbatov showed what he could do. He had a great game and is a great footballer. We need to believe in ourselves and each other.”
Arsenal vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
By the time the Gunners walk out on the pitch at the Emirates Saturday, they’ll know how many points they sit off the top of the Premier League table.
It’s difficult to find a stat that suggests anything but three points for Arsenal in this one.
The Gunners have won five straight in all competitions against Wolves and Arsenal has tallied at least three goals in every league encounter with Wolverhampton.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Aston Villa
Aston Villa will try to pick up the pieces from a 7-1 thrashing against Chelsea when it visits the Reebok Stadium.
Villa is seven points off of fourth place with just seven games left, so picking up three points here is almost a must.
Not that Bolton is planning on making things easy.
Former Villa and current Bolton defender Zat Knight told the Lancashire Telegraph, “They battered us at their place, so hopefully we can get three points on Saturday and even things up for me a little bit. There are a few of us in there who feel the same way.”
Portsmouth vs. Blackburn Rovers
Pompey will be playing for pride while Blackburn tries to crack the top 10 as these two sides clash at Fratton Park.
Portsmouth’s troubles are well documented, and lately it has looked like a side doomed to the trap door with one win in its last 14 league games.
To make matters worse, the injury list is ever-growing and the club could be mathematically eliminated this weekend with a loss and a Hull victory.
Other than that, things are going really well on the south coast…
Stoke City vs. Hull City
Hull City is one spot below West Ham for 17th place, but the Tigers will try to jump over the Hammers with a result at Stoke.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis lashed out at the bigger clubs, and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini in particular, for failing to recognize his side’s quality. So it wouldn’t be shocking if the Potters come out and try to back up their gaffer’s words against a team struggling to avoid relegation.
Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs are still hanging on to fourth place, but they’ll need to get a result at the Stadium of Light to stay a step ahead of the pack chasing them for that elusive final Champions League slot.
The two teams played to a 1-1 draw back in this fixture last season, with Robbie Keane salvaging a point for Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Burnley vs. Manchester City
City, hot on Tottenham’s heels for that fourth spot, needs to put the pressure on with a win at relegation-threatened Burnley.
Whatever problems Burnley may be having this season, Mancini isn’t taking them lightly.
“I have known games such as this in Italy and they can be tough,” he told the Guardian. “If you go into it believing you will win because you are a big team with big players, you might be in trouble. We must concentrate properly and play 100% if we are to win this game. I think Burnley will play this game at 200% because they want to win to stay in the Premier League and to win to beat City. That’s a lot of motivation.”
Birmingham vs. Liverpool
For all of the turmoil and the unusually high loss total for Liverpool this season, the Reds are still within shouting distance of fourth place as they visit Birmingham.
Birmingham is solid at home, though, as it has not lost in its last dozen home league games. Liverpool can take solace in the fact that six of those matches have been draws.
Liverpool had to play in Portugal on Thursday, so fatigue could also play a role in this one.
Fulham vs. Wigan Athletic
Another team with Europa League duty, Fulham, welcomes in Wigan to Craven Cottage.
Goals might be a problem, with only nine goals resulting in the first 11 league matches between these two sides, and five of the last six meetings have ended in a deadlock.
Everton vs. West Ham United
Gianfranco Zola is hanging on by a thread at West Ham, and so too is his team to its spot in the Premier League.
Right now, the Irons are safe on goal difference. But recent form suggests that situation is tenuous at best.
Everton, on the other hand, is trying to complete a remarkable in-season turnaround that has seen the Toffees rise from the drop zone to the fringe of the Europa League race.