There are important matches in Europe for a few Premier League clubs to look forward to this week, but the focus of all others will be on the weekend’s action as the EPL season enters its final stretch.
With nine games left for most sides, we enter a crucial period, if not for the title race, then for several other mini-competitions: top three, top four, top seven, top half and, of course, the relegation fight.
Let’s now look ahead at six key battles we’re most excited to watch this weekend in the Premier League. Enjoy, and let us know what your picks for the weekend are in the comments below.
There is a lot at stake for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger at the moment.
Wednesday night holds the possibility of a heroic turnaround of a two-goal deficit at Bayern Munich but more than likely will see the Gunners return to London with only the Premier League to look forward to.
And on Saturday, a team that has shown more than shades of Arsenal’s passing brilliance will welcome Wenger’s under-fire charges to south Wales in a truly exciting encounter.
A lot has been made of Swansea City’s magnificent rise from the brink of exiting the Football League to their first ever major trophy this season, and their astute appointment of the impressive Michael Laudrup last summer brought them prestige and even more purpose to their attack.
Having already beaten Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this year, Swansea will go into this tie knowing they have all the tools to send their opponents home with nothing.
This match has the potential to reshape both the top-four and top-seven races, and it may even define Arsene Wenger’s legacy with Arsenal Football Club.
Both managers have a similar, high-energy, pressing- and passing-oriented football philosophy; the difference is that the in-form Liverpool are inching ever closer to a European finish, while Southampton are nearing the dangerous drop zone.
While Liverpool have a relatively comfortable fixture list to finish off their season, they will know the importance of getting all three points in their climb up the table, while Southampton will need all the fight and luck they can get to secure at least a point against the rampant Reds.
There is also the small matter of Philippe Coutinho facing his reported January suitors—Southampton were rumored to be interested in the Brazilian winger before Liverpool won the race to bring him to England from Internazionale (Daily Mail). Saturday would be a good time for him to show Pochettino and the Saints fans what he missed out on.
Everton, who are finding themselves below Liverpool in the league table for the first time this season, are aiming for a European finish and a strong performance in the league to rid themselves of their Wigan nightmare in the FA Cup last weekend. Meanwhile, City are hoping to gain some ground on Manchester United in an increasingly ambitious bid to retain their title.
The in-form man to watch in this game will be Carlos Tevez once again. Fresh from a hat-trick against Barnsley in the FA Cup on Saturday, Tevez has hit a rich vein of form, with six goals in his past four games in all competitions—this despite not completing all 90 minutes in any of them.
Everton have their danger men as well, of course, with Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar proving a handful for many an opponent this season and Kevin Mirallas back from injury, but holding off Tevez might be their first priority.
Another test for an in-form striker this weekend will be Romelu Lukaku’s against Stoke City.
West Bromwich Albion completed an important win over Swansea last weekend, with the on-loan Lukaku a key component in the victory, in a generally impressive debut season for both manager Steve Clarke and the 19-year-old striker himself.
Having been labeled as the successor to Didier Drogba, Lukaku has won rave reviews for his powerful goalscoring displays leading the West Brom line, and there won’t be a better test for his abilities than a trip to the Britannia Stadium against the Premier League’s infamously physical team.
In the context of the races for the top seven and the top half: If Everton lose against City and West Brom get all three points, the Baggies will take their position in seventh. A win for Stoke would lift them up to 10th—at least temporarily, before Tottenham Hotspur face current incumbents Fulham on Sunday.
Speaking of Tottenham vs. Fulham, White Hart Lane on Sunday will see a battle between two of the Premier League’s classiest footballers: Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen and Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov.
Since arriving at Spurs from Ajax last summer, Vertonghen has proved to be an inspired acquisition by Andre Villas-Boas and has displayed composure, anticipation and comfort on the ball both in the center of defence and as a stand-in left-back.
There’s no need to expound on the effortless beauty that Berbatov brings to the game; the White Hart Lane faithful will know all about the danger he poses from his fruitful time in North London a few years ago.
Fulham might find it difficult to hold back a midfield bursting with energy in the likes of Gareth Bale and Mousa Dembele, but an individual battle between Vertonghen and Berbatov could be one of the best on offer.
Rounding off our list is beleaguered Chelsea, who just can’t seem to string a useful bunch of wins together of late. And their opponent on Sunday, West Ham, already prevailed in the reverse fixture in December.
The key to the Hammers’ win at Upton Park was powerhouse midfielder Mohamed Diame, who followed up his man-of-the-match performance a week later against Liverpool.
Following Diame’s exploits in December, there is no doubt Rafa Benitez and his Chelsea team will be keeping an eye on the midfielder on Sunday.
A few months ago, it was Diame who denied Benitez a first win as Chelsea manager. This weekend, he could deny him a chance to see the season out. Would the Blues fans at Stamford Bridge really be the winners in the end?
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