Premier League Preview – April 24-25
Tottenham is pushing hard for a Champions League spot, but on Saturday, a title-hunting Manchester United squad is poised to push back.
That’s the key matchup this weekend, but there is plenty of other intrigue up and down the table as well.
Can Hull City or Burnley gain some ground on West Ham? How will the Manchester City/Arsenal match play out at the Emirates?
We could be in for a fun weekend.
Here’s a glance at the table:
Manchester United and Spurs have the 7:45 a.m. ESPN game this week, and the stakes could hardly be higher for either side.
The title holders could move into first place for at least a day with a win Saturday, as current leaders Chelsea don’t face Stoke City until Sunday.
United midfielder Darren Fletcher told The Sun, “Chelsea are the team leading the league and all the pressure is on them. We are just taking care of ourselves. They were in a situation where they might have felt they could have pulled away and be in a real strong position but they are not.”
Of course, Spurs are eying fourth place and a spot in next year’s Champions League.
Spurs’ midfielder Tom Huddlestone told the team’s Web site, “the games don’t get any easier and now it’s Man United away. They did us a favor last weekend by beating City but it’s going to be a hard place to go to and our record up there isn’t great. We’ve just got to go into it with the confidence we’ve shown over the last two games and hopefully we can get something out of it.”
Bolton Wanderers vs. Portsmouth
Portsmouth will have to try avoid looking ahead to the FA Cup final and not dwell on the fact that it can’t play Europa League football next season as it visits Bolton.
A win would guarantee the Trotters a place in the Premier League next season, and Bolton manager Owen Coyle isn’t taking Pompey lightly.
“In adversity, Portsmouth have shown strength and none more so than reaching the FA Cup final,” he told Click Lancashire. “They knocked out a Tottenham Hotspur side that has subsequently gone on to beat Arsenal and Chelsea, so that tells you how dangerous they are.”
Hull City vs. Sunderland
The Tigers are running out of chances to stay in the top flight, pushing Saturday’s game with Sunderland into must-win territory.
Hull are three points back of West Ham with three matches to play, and with a 21-goal deficit in goal difference, it might as well be four.
“Of course I still believe,” Hull manager Iain Dowie told the team’s Web site. “I believe we must put three points on the board on Saturday. That’s what I must believe and that is what we must deliver.”
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has his sights set a bit higher – 10th place.
“I never gave up hope that we could reach 10th place as I knew we could string some results together,” Bruce told the team’s Web site. “It’s still a long shot, but it’s all to play for and if we win this weekend then who knows?”
West Ham vs. Wigan Athletic
West Ham will be fighting to keep hold of 17th place while Wigan will try to pick up a win, and enough points to assure a spot in the top flight for next season.
“It’s clear now that another three points would guarantee us another season in the Premier League which would be a huge achievement,” Wigan manager Roberto Martinez told the team’s Web site. “Now more than ever we have to remain focused and prepare in the right way for what will be a very demanding game this weekend.”
U.S. international Jonathan Spector also knows the importance of this fixture for his West Ham side.
“It’s must-win and that’s certainly what we’ll be looking to do from the first minute to the very end. All our minds will be focused on is winning the game,” he told the Daily Mail. “No matter how they did, I think we’d be looking for a way to turn things round for our benefit. It’s about how we approach the game that matters.”
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Blackburn Rovers
Wolves need just three points to reach the current magic number of 37, but getting them against a stingy Blackburn side will be a stiff challenge.
They are one of the teams that could break into the top 10. They have also got capable footballers like all of Sam’s teams, like all of Mick McCarthy’s teams,” Wolves’ manager Mick McCarthy said. “They will work hard and compete and put their foot and if they don’t, they probably won’t be in the team – just like my team.”
Speaking of Sam Allardyce, he’s hoping to inch closer to the top 10.
“Away results have been our difficulty this year, performances overall have been good, particularly the back half of the season,” he told the team’s Web site. “So lets hope we find this type of finishing quality at Wolves because they’ve had a few good results recently, but they’ve had a struggle at home.”
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
Their title hopes all-but dashed, Arsenal must settle for spoiling Manchester City’s plans for Champions League football in 2010-2011 when they meet in London this weekend.
City captain Kolo Touré is hoping for a less controversial display from his teammate, former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor this time around.
Adebayor drew the FA’s ire after racing across the pitch to celebrate a goal in front of the Arsenal supporters and a three-match ban for a clash with Robin van Persie.
“The game against them last September was really difficult for him but he needs to show more intelligence because we all know that what he did was not the best reaction – and as a friend I’ve told him that,” he told The Guardian. “I’ve told him he must be calm and not do anything (provocative). Ade is a professional player and must just focus on the game and give everything to help the team win.”
Arsenal will have to do without Andrey Arshavin, who is still suffering from calf and groin strains.
“Alas, the latest data says I should fully recover within a week, so on Saturday I won’t be able to enter the pitch,” he told the Daily Mail.
Aston Villa vs. Birmingham
The 116th edition of the Birmingham Derby is set for this weekend at Villa Park.
Aston Villa has 50 wins to Birmingham’s 37 in the all-time series and they’ll be looking to continue it good Premier League form and make it six wins in a row against their Second City neighbors.
Villa boss Martin O’Neill is still holding out hop for a strong finish, telling the Telegraph, “We’re in the mix. We’re going for everything and guaranteed nothing. We’re not even guaranteed to finish eighth in the league at this minute. We’ve gone above Liverpool with three games to go and that’s pretty exceptional. But where I’ve been pleased with the team is they’ve responded fantastically to the defeat at Stamford Bridge.
“We’ve come back and taken 10 out of the last 12 points. I think the team has shown a great deal of character all season and I think that was epitomised.”
Burnley vs. Liverpool
It’s looking pretty bleak for Burnley’s chances to avoid the drop, but a famous win at Anfield would go a long way towards bolstering the Clarets’ hopes.
Midfielder Jack Cork, on loan from Chelsea, told Click Lancashire, “I am enjoying the challenge of playing in the Premier League and fighting in a relegation battle and it would be a massive achievement if we could stay in the league.
“I am just hoping to stay in the team, play really well and show everyone that we can stay in the Premier League. I haven’t got a goal for Burnley and hopefully if I can get a goal and help towards us staying up that would be really good.”
Liverpool, on the other hand, is now sitting in seventh – a Europa League spot – now that Portsmouth has been ruled out of next year’s competition.
The Reds had to travel to Spain and back (the old fashioned way), so a little weariness wouldn’t be totally unexpected.
Everton vs. Fulham
Everton will welcome the Cottagers into Goodison Park Sunday for what will be Fulham’s 58th match this season in all competitions.
Fulham made a 17-hour trip to Hamburg for Thursday’s Europa League match, but was expected to catch a flight home.
“It was 17 hours from leaving our training ground at Motspur Park to arriving in Hamburg. But three hours of that was standing in a queue thanks to a traffic accident on the Autobahn,” Fulham manager Roy Hodgson told the Telegraph. “I’m very pleased with the way the players have accepted the fact it wasn’t easy to get here, something that was beyond everyone’s control and the way they’ve adapted to the situation.”
Chelsea vs. Stoke City
The Blues know that three more wins will give them the title, but step one of that task will have to happen without captain John Terry, who will be serving a ban for being sent off against Spurs last week.
Deco knows the task at hand, telling the team’s Web site, “It is a war, and we need to be prepared but, if you said on the first day of the Premier League in August we would be one point clear with three games to go, two at home and one game away, we would all say okay, I’ll sign!
“This is okay, it could be better if we won or Man U lost, okay, but it didn’t happen, and our moment is this – we have three games, two at home and one away – we need to play well and be together.”