With all of the Premier League clubs now knocked out of the Champions League – and Liverpool and Fulham’s stays in the Europa League are still up in the air at press time – all eyes now focus on the two remaining pieces of silverware to be won this season.
The FA Cup and the Barclays Premier League title.
Because it’s FA Cup semifinal weekend, the EPL schedule is a little different than usual.
There are actually three matches next Wednesday, including a North London Derby between Spurs and Arsenal. They’re not featured here, though, because six days is a long time in the world of football.
And here’s the current table:
Hull City vs. Burnley
If the Clarets are serious about playing in the top flight next season, their trip to Hull City on Saturday is the most important game of the the season.
Both would be relegated if the season ended today, but Hull has a game in hand against everyone else in the relegation scrum. A home win may not guarantee its safety, but it would put Hull City in a better position.
Kevin McDonald is expected to make the trip for the visitors, and perhaps he’ll stick around for the whole match this time.
Hull boss Iain Dowie is focused on keeping the Tigers up, telling Sky Sports that “nothing would give me greater pleasure than to keep Hull in the Premier League – that would be a fantastic achievement. Whoever else goes down, I don’t care.”
West Ham vs. Sunderland
With Hull and Burnley looming rather large in the rear-view mirror, West Ham would like a home win against Sunderland to push farther away from the trap door.
Former West Ham and current Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand will take no pity on his former club.
“I am a professional, I’m going there to do a job. West Ham fans understand that,” Ferdinand told the BBC.
“The Sunderland fans are travelling there in vast numbers and I owe it to them to play my heart out.”
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Stoke City
Mick McCarthy’s side is in 14th place at the moment, but a home result against Stoke City would edge Wolves even closer to safety.
Wolves’ defender Joey Craddock likes the remaining stretch of games, telling the Express and Star that “if you’re going to pick teams to play, you would pick those in the middle of the table. I suppose if we’re playing teams with little to play for, then they will be more relaxed.
“But if they’re relaxed, they’ll be playing with confidence, so I don’t know how it might work. Hopefully they’ll be too relaxed and they have an off-day.”
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United
Wednesday night’s Champions League ouster and last weekend’s loss to Chelsea have been a pair of bitter pills for the Red Devils in recent days – a fact they’ll look to reverse when they visit Blackburn.
United midfielder Darron Gibson is urging his teammates on in the wake of that disappointment.
“We cannot lie down and let the whole season go. It is either that or we stand up and fight and go for the championship,” Gibson told the Times. “I cannot describe the disappointment but we have to pick ourselves up for Blackburn Rovers on Sunday. We are still in the race for the title.
“We have the experience in the dressing room to stand up and fight back. There are lads in there who have been in this position before and done it before. We have the characters and experienced players to pick ourselves up and I think we will be all right.”
Wayne Rooney is an injury doubt with his growing-more-famous-by-the-minute ankle, and whether or not he takes part is anyone’s guess.
A win would take United back to the top of the table – at least until Chelsea plays on Tuesday.
Liverpool vs. Fulham
The Reds are four points off of fourth-place Manchester City, and the “nouveau riche” have a game in hand.
So to say that Liverpool needs a win against Fulham at Anfield is an understatement.
Both teams were busy with Europa League competition in mid-week, but Liverpool played their match at home while the Cottagers had to visit Germany on Thursday night.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard put it well when he told the team’s Web site, “it’s all right saying we will be fine if we go and win our last five games, but we have to go on the pitch and win them rather than talk about it.”
Manchester City vs. Birmingham
Speaking of Manchester City, Roberto Mancini’s side will try to solidify their tenuous hold on the final Champions League slot with a home result against Birmingham.
If the table positioning wasn’t enough, Birmingham keeper Joe Hart, on loan from Manchester City, makes for a nice subplot as well.
Hart, of course, won’t play against his parent club on Sunday.
Chelsea vs. Bolton Wanderers
Chelsea will be a tad busy with FA Cup action this weekend before welcoming Bolton to the Bridge on Tuesday.
Should United win on Saturday, the Blues will need a win to regain the lead atop the EPL table.
Considering that Chelsea has dropped only five points at home this season, you’d have to make them a favorite – even on short rest.