An Important Weekend in the Premier League

SUNDERLAND, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 17:  Newcastle captain Alan Shearer celebrates after scoring the second goal  during the Barclays Premiership match between Sunderland and Newcastle United at The Stadium of Light on April 17 2006 in Sunderland, England  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jon FeatonbyCorrespondent IApril 3, 2009

The Premier League returns to action after the international break and welcomes a returning hero.

Alan Shearer becomes the fourth manager at Newcastle this year, and the club's all-time leading goalscorer has eight games to save his beloved club from relegation.

With no win in the last five matches and a tough run-in to end the season, Newcastle find themselves  in the bottom three and two points away from safety.

Shearer will begin his managerial campaign against Chelsea at St James' Park on Saturday, who themselves need the three points to keep their title hopes alive. Newcastle will be looking for a "Shearer effect", with the atmosphere likely to be electric, to galvanise a team low on confidence.

Piling on the pressure

Elsewhere on Saturday, Liverpool could go top of the table for 24 hours if they avoid defeat at Fulham in the afternoon's late kick-off.

Both teams are coming off strong performances—Liverpool beat Aston Villa 5-0 while Fulham shocked defending champions Manchester United with a 2-0 victory.

Avoiding the drop

At the bottom of the table, West Brom host Stoke with the home side needing a victory to keep their ever diminishing hopes of staying up alive. After just one victory in 2009 the Baggies are seven points adrift of 17th spot and survival.

Stoke, meanwhile, are coming off an important victory over Middlesbrough thanks to a late Ryan Shawcross goal. And with two home games against fellow strugglers Newcastle and Blackburn to follow, these are important times for the Premier League rookies.

Two other Saturday matches see relegation candidates matched up, as Portsmouth travel to Hull and Bolton face Middlesbrough at the Reebok Stadium.

Portsmouth will seek to continue their recent form and Peter Crouch, who scored for England midweek, is a key to their hopes of staying in the Premiership. He has refound his goal scoring form after not having scored in 2009 before the March 14 draw with Middlesbrough.

Hull have seen their strong start to the season all but fade away and are looking for just their fourth home victory of the season. If other results go against them, they could end the weekend just one spot above the relegation places.

If Bolton return to the form that saw them pull away from the relegation dog fight and beat Middlesbrough it would all but secure their Premiership status for another season.

Gareth Southgate's team will be desperate to stop them, but with only eight goals away from home all season they are looking more and more likely to face the drop.

Injury problems for Big Sam

In the early Saturday kick-off Blackburn host Tottenham with the visitors looking to continue their unlikely drive towards european qualification. After just two points from their first eight games, Spurs have been resurgent in 2009 under Harry Redknapp with Luca Modric and Arron Lennon looking particularly dangerous.

Sam Allardyce will need to utilise all of his management experience to keep Blackburn up, especially with Santa Cruz still missing with a knee problem. David Dunn will also not be available against Spurs, while striker Benni McCarthy withdrew from the South Africa squad after suffering pain in his hamstring.

Lap-dancing the night away

Another team with injury problems up front is West Ham who face Sunderland at Upton Park without Carlton Cole. Cole picked up an injury whilst playing for England last Saturday and will be out of action for six weeks for the Hammers, who still have a shot at European qualification.

After taking just two points from the last five games, Sunderland are only three points clear of relegation and will need Djibril Cisse at his best.

The Senegalese international found himself arrested outside a Newcastle lap-dancing club on Monday night, but manager Ricky Sbragia insists his striker has been focused in training this week.

The captain returns

Arsenal will try to put some further breathing space between themselves and Aston Villa in the fight for fourth spot when they host Manchester City.

After a spluttering February, Arsene Wenger's side have won three consecutive games in the Premiership and new signing Arshavin is starting to settle. The club received a further boost this week as club captain Cesc Fabregas is available after three months out.

Manchester City, who have played some fantastic football at home during this season, have just one win away from Eastlands. All eyes will be on top-scorer Robinho, who has often been accused of disappearing during away trips this. 

Looking to rebound

Sunday sees Manchester United look to banish memories of their defeat to Fulham when Aston Villa come to Old Trafford. They will have to do this without key players Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic (all suspended), and Dimitar Berbatov (ankle).

Rio Ferdinand should be fit, however, after being withdrawn late on during England's 2-1 victory over Ukraine.

Aston Villa will be looking to move on from a winless March and Gabriel Agbonlahor is likely to replace the injured Emile Hesky upfront. Brad Friedel will be able to start in goal after his sending off against Liverpool was rescinded. 

Fighting for Europe

Wigan will be looking to put pressure on Everton in the race for sixth spot when the sides meet at Goodison on Sunday. Amr Zaki is unlikely to feature once again after failing to return from international duty on time for the fourth time this season.

Manager Steve Bruce appears to have lost patience with his top goalscorer and the Egyptian forward's future at the club is now in doubt.

Everton are preparing to be without Tim Cahill in the starting lineup after the Australian was unable to feature for Australia midweek. Louis Saha and January signing Jo are therefore likely to be paired together upfront.

By the end of play Sunday afternoon, we could have a better idea of who will win the title, who will get relegated, as well as who will claim the European spots up for grabs.

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