EPL Week 26 Predictions: Players Sure to Land on All-EPL Team for Week's Clash
The end of the English Premier League season is not nearly as far away as many teams would like it to be, and the points up for grabs in this week's slate of matches may prove to be extremely important.
Manchester United is growing increasingly more confident about their chances to win the league title, while Manchester City can only hope that the distraction of European play will cause the league leaders to slip up.
The battles for the remaining Champions League spots and the fight to stay in the Premiership are all heating up, and now is the time for England's top players to start leaving their mark on this campaign.
Here are the stars who will shine brightest in this week's games.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart, Manchester City
Manchester City has allowed the fewest goals in the Premier League this season. While much of the credit for this goes to the back line, Joe Hart has had a significant part to play in City's league-leading defense.
He has provided stability and consistency between the posts, and with his club nine points out of first place, he will need to be flawless going forward.
It will take a massive amount of luck for City to catch Manchester United, but it will also take strong performances from the entire squad.
This will start with Hart, and he will deliver Saturday by ensuring that Southampton's pesky attack will be shut down.
Left-Back: Patrice Evra, Manchester United
Heading into this season, there were considerable doubts about how much longer Patrice Evra's tenure at Old Trafford would last.
But the veteran left-back has had an incredible campaign at both ends of the pitch. His four league goals in this season are twice as many as he has scored in seven previous campaigns with United.
His defensive contributions have also been important, although the Red Devils' back line has failed to impress at times during this season.
Evra will continue playing at a high level and will help his club avenge its earlier loss to Everton Saturday.
Centre-Back: Daniel Agger, Liverpool
At the start of the season, Liverpool fans had little reason to celebrate, while West Bromwich Albion supporters were on cloud nine.
But the excitement has dropped off for the Baggies after failing to win a league match in their last six attempts. In contrast, Liverpool has been in fine form and a Europa League berth is looking increasingly likely for the Reds.
With young players all over the pitch, the future is bright at Anfield, but the veteran players will still play an important role. Daniel Agger—one of those experienced players—will be charged with leading the back line.
He will put out a fantastic effort Monday, and due to his performance, West Brom will struggle once again.
Centre-Back: Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal
Arsenal's defense has had its ups and downs in this campaign, but if the team hopes to finish in the top four this season, it will need Thomas Vermaelen to play consistently.
Vermaelen is the most talented centre-back on the Gunners' roster and he will be vital to the team's ability to make a late-season surge.
Arsene Wenger is not used to being in this much danger of missing out on a Champions League spot and he will be expecting the leaders of his squad to perform at an extremely high level.
Vermaelen will keep the confidence of his manager with a fine performance Saturday against Sunderland.
Right-Back: Davide Santon, Newcastle
Newcastle has been waiting for a performance to spark a resurgence, and if last weekend's 3-2 victory over Chelsea is not it, there is little hope for the Magpies.
Moussa Sissoko provided two goals, but Davide Santon also stood out with two assists.
The right-back has given quality outings throughout the season, and there is little reason to doubt that he will continue this trend.
Newcastle faces a difficult match against Tottenham Saturday, and although more than just one outstanding player will be needed, Santon will ensure that he does everything he can to help his team to victory.
Left Midfielder: Gareth Bale, Tottenham
There are few players more capable of impacting a match more than Gareth Bale.
The winger is a dominant attacking force, and if not for his presence, Tottenham would not have earned three points last weekend. Spurs struggled to crack West Bromwich Albion's defense before Bale finally broke through with a fantastic strike.
It was his 11th league goal of this season. The Welsh star is continuing to solidify his standing as one of the top young talents in the world.
This will not change when he leads Tottenham to a victory Saturday over Newcastle.
Central Midfielder: Steven Gerrard, Liverpool
Last weekend had a throwback feel due to several spectacular moments from aging players.
One of the instances came when Steven Gerrard's long-distance strike landed directly in the bottom corner of Joe Hart's net.
It was the type of goal that made Gerrard a superstar earlier in his career. Although he has had difficulties adjusting to Brendan Rodgers' tactics this season, he has looked extremely comfortable in recent matches.
He will continue to lead a young Liverpool team to fine performances, and his presence in the midfield will be one of the key components in a win over West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Central Midfielder: Frank Lampard, Chelsea
One of the more startling statistics in this year's Premier League season is that Frank Lampard has 10 goals.
Although several of these have come from the penalty spot, this is still a remarkable total for a player who has had to miss significant time due to injury.
Lampard's presence in the midfield has helped Chelsea give several strong performances, although last week's result was disappointing.
The veteran will continue to play at a high level against a struggling Wigan team Saturday, and he will continue to make his goal-scoring record more impressive.
Right Midfielder: Jimmy Kebe, Reading
Reading moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over Sunderland and the team owes that positive result to Jimmy Kebe.
The winger scored within 10 minutes of the opening whistle, then netted another in the 85th minute to lead his team to victory. After a performance like that, Brian McDermott will surely keep him in the lineup.
The Royals will have the difficult task of breaking down Stoke City's defense at home, but the Potters have not won a league match in their last six fixtures.
With Stoke struggling and Kebe bursting with confidence, Reading will end up with another positive result.
Striker: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Robin van Persie may have a comfortable lead as Manchester United's top goal scorer, but Wayne Rooney proved last week that he is still the team's talisman.
His late goal against Fulham gave the Red Devils a 1-0 victory when they seemed doomed to a disappointing result.
Rooney has 10 goals and seven assists in league matches for United. He has excelled as both a goal scorer and a distributor, and he will continue to do whatever is needed to help his side win.
Everton will not have an answer for him Sunday, and he will continue his fine campaign by orchestrating more goals.
Striker: Christian Benteke, Aston Villa
Christian Benteke has been one of the surprise stars of this season, with the excitement surrounding the 22-year-old will continue growing this weekend.
Aston Villa is now in danger of relegation, and it cannot afford to drop points in matches against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Paul Lambert's job may depend on Villa's ability to finish above the bottom three, and Benteke will be his key to positive results.
The budding star will improve upon his 10 league goals this season while helping his side to a victory Sunday over the Hammers.