And then there was one: only United survive in Europe. So the distractions from the league are dwindling. Obviously a humongous match on Sunday for Stoke and Bolton at the Reebok, with one heading to Europe next year and a May 14 final at Wembley. United is not likely to falter in the league at this point, so one big race is again the fight for fourth, with City showing extreme vulnerability after being destroyed at Anfield Monday night. Spurs can lick their Madrid wounds this weekend and then prepare for the big derby on Wednesday night at White Hart Lane. And then the relegation scrap, with Blackpool v Wigan the biggest “6-pointer” this week. Wolves and Fulham each get another full week to stew in preparation for their match next Saturday.
****: Must-see. Cancel all other activities. Do not even DVR as even in America you might hear the score!
***: Strong match; worth watching live; DVR a must if you can’t see live
**: Flip through quickly to see the goals, red cards, injuries, and perhaps watch the last 5 minutes + injury time if close
*: Only if you’re a die-hard
Matches shown in chronological order:
Saturday, April 16 (all times EDT)
** West Brom v Chelsea, 10 am, FSC/FD [Probert]
This year’s great escape seems just-about-assured. Hodgson almost deserves manager of the year for how he has converted this awful defensive team over the last few weeks.
*** West Ham v Aston Villa, 10 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv [Oliver]
Almost a must-win now for the on-again, off-again, and decidedly off since the second half of the United game, for the Hammers.
*** Birmingham v Sunderland, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 2 pm (delayed) FS+ [Dowd]
McLeish will want points here, with the Stamford Bridge rescheduled match 3 days later. 3 points and they’ll feel reasonably safe. A loss to the Black Cats and City fans will be nervous about Europe from the Championship.
** Everton v Blackburn, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 9:30 pm (delayed) FSC [Friend]
Still an outside chance for the Toffees to catch their cross-town rivals, but not if Liverpool keep playing the way they did on Monday night. Blackburn still need points.
*** Blackpool v Wigan, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv only [Walton]
The Bloomfield Road fan support is still terrific, but the team: not so much. Neither side has impressed and they may very well both go down. Huge match, though.
*** Man City v Man Utd, FA Cup Semifinal, 12:15 pm, FSC/FD [Dean]
No Rooney, no Tevez takes a bit away from this one, though it’s still a derby, and still pretty meaningful for both sides. Those who have followed this column all year know about my weekly dilemma with how many stars to give for City matches. The usual happened last week when I gave them the extra star for the Liverpool match and they delivered an absolute stinker. So I’m downgrading back to 3-stars and hoping I’m wrong for the 15th straight week!
**** Bonus match: Real Madrid v Barcelona, 4 pm, ESPND & GOLTV & espn3.com
Less scarcity value this year, as we will see these teams face off four more times in quick succession (!), but it will be interesting to see how Jose plays this one after being shellacked at the Camp Nou, and thinking through all of the chess moves ahead. But it’s still must-see TV!
Sunday, April 17
**** Arsenal v Liverpool, 11 am, FSC/FD [Marriner]
Is Liverpool actually back? Andy Carroll was absolutely terrific Monday. And I’m not just talking about the 2 goals, but the movement off the ball, the constant darting runs, the genuine understanding he seems to have already established with Suarez. And the Reds were first to every ball and dominated in every area of the pitch. And this American owner showed Roman how to buy strikers!
**** Bolton v Stoke, FA Cup Semifinal, 11 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv [Webb]
Both teams will go for it, each in their inimitable style, with not much else to play for in the league save a top 10 finish.
Tuesday, April 19
** Newcastle v Man Utd, 2:45 pm, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com [Probert]
United have gotten good at these quick turnaround matches, with the team depth to take maximum points. Newcastle may need another point, but they’ll be fine.
Wednesday, April 20
** Chelsea v Birmingham, 2:45 pm, FSC/FD [Jones]
Ancelotti a clear lame-duck? Chelsea need to finish the season strong and ensure a top 3 (preferably top 2) finish.
**** Tottenham v Arsenal, 2:45 pm, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com [Atkinson]
Both sides have struggled more than you’d have thought to score goals. “Broadway” Danny Rose to start to get another one for Spurs in this one? A pretty challenging run of matches for both sides.
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