With only seven matches left in the 2008-2009 campaign – or eight if you’re Pompey or United – it’s time for some to make the move for European glory. For others, it’s a chance to move away from the trap door.
It’s a full weekend of fixtures, so let’s get started (all times eastern):
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Blackburn Rovers at Liverpool (7:45am Saturday, Setanta Sports) – The Reds, no doubt still reeling from a shockingly bad effort at home against Chelsea on Tuesday in Champions League play, welcome Blackburn to Anfield for the first contest of the weekend.
Think Liverpool is placing a bit of importance on this game?
“In the 13 years I have been involved in the first team this will be the biggest league game I’ve played in – it really is that important,” defender Jamie Carragher told the club’s Web site.
Steven Gerrard is expected in the squad, but not in the starting 11 as he battles a groin injury.
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce’s club will try to build on last week’s 2-1 win over Spurs.
“We are on the up at the moment, not just in terms of our form, but also our points total is getting better as time goes on,” he told the team’s Web site.
Hull City at Middlesbrough (8:30pm Saturday [tape delay], Setanta Sports) – A relegation six-pointer looms at The Riverside Stadium and it’s surely must-win time for Boro.
Neither team is playing well, as the squads have combined for just two wins in the last 34 matches. Boro has only a win at Anfield in its last 19 tries while the Tigers’ late 2-1 win at Fulham is their only triumph in their last 15 games.
“In terms of momentum, the affect it can have on the rest of the bottom of the table, on Hull and ourselves, we need the win and we’ve got to give a performance that shows the pride and passion we have for staying in this division,” Middlesbrough gaffer Gareth Southgate told the team’s Web site.
Hull City boss Phil Brown, on the other hand, isn’t focusing on the drop zone.
“Instead of everybody looking down, let’s start looking up again. The only way to do that is by literally getting our heads up on the field and off it,” he told the team’s Web site.
West Bromwich Albion at Portsmouth (10am Saturday, not televised) – The Baggies, rooted to the bottom of the table on 24 points, seemed doomed to life in the Championship next season.
Pompey, on the other hand, can tack three points on to their season total of 33 and move away a bit from the relegation scrum.
Manchester United at Sunderland (10am Saturday, Setanta Sports) – After a stunning 2-2 draw at home to FC Porto in mid-week Champions League action, the Red Devils will visit The Stadium of Light ahead of next week’s journey to Portugal for the return leg.
It will be interesting to see who Sir Alex Ferguson chooses for the team sheet for this one, as injuries have been riddling the back line.
West Ham United at Tottenham Hotspur (10am Saturday, Setanta Xtra) – It’s a mid-table battle at White Hart Lane as the Hammers come calling.
West Ham United is seven points back of Everton, so a Europa Cup spot is still mathematically possible. Spurs will be looking to bounce back from last week’s disappointing 2-1 loss to Blackburn.
Arsenal at Wigan (Saturday midnight [tape delay], Fox Soccer Channel) – The Gunners roll in to the JJB Stadium looking to further cement its place in the top four with a win over Wigan.
The Latics were drilled 4-0 by Everton last week, probably ending their Europa Cup hopes. How will they respond against an in-form Arsenal side, which may be resting some players ahead of their clash with Villarreal at the Emirates next week?
Bolton at Chelsea (Saturday 10am, Fox Soccer Channel) – The Blues are riding high after trouncing Liverpool in mid-week, and they’ll look to keep the good times rolling against the Wanderers on Saturday.
Bolton is sitting 12th, but only eight points above the drop zone. A Chelsea win might throw them back into the scrum down at the bottom.
Newcastle United at Stoke City (Saturday 12:30pm, Fox Soccer Channel) – A simply massive game for both sides.
The teams played to a 2-2 draw earlier this season at St. James’ Park and, to inspire his side to snap out of its current run of a single win in its last 15 matches, Toon Army boss Alan Shearer held an open training session in front of 7,000 fans this week.
A win would go a long way towards helping Newcastle keep its head above water.
The Potters, on 35 points in 13th place, can possibly bid farewell to the relegation scrum with a win in this tea-time fixture.
Everton at Aston Villa (9am Sunday, Setanta Xtra) – It’s hard to lose in a more heartbreaking fashion than Villa did last week, falling 3-2 to United in injury time.
Now, the Villans – six points back of a Champions League spot – are just one point ahead of Everton, which just keeps quietly piling up points and moving up the table.
“The fans are just as frustrated as us with our home form. We haven’t won as many games as we’d like at Villa Park but a victory over a top team like Everton would lift everyone’s spirits – the manager, the players and the fans,” Gareth Barry told the team’s Web site.
American international Tim Howard is expected to start in goal for the Toffees on Sunday.
Fulham at Manchester City (Sunday 11am, Fox Soccer Channel) – City follows a 3-1 loss in hamburg in UEFA Cup action on Thursday with a Sunday meeting at home against Fulham.
City boasts a solid home record with six straight wins at Eastlands while the Whites have won only once away from Craven Cottage this season.
Fulham did salvage its season last year with a thrilling 3-2 win at City.
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