6 Key Premier League Battles to Watch This Weekend
After FA Cup duty last week, there's a full card of Premier League fixtures this weekend.
The biggest news to come out of the Premier League over the last few days has been the sacking of former Reading manager Brian McDermott.
Despite having remarkable success at Reading over the last three years, McDermott paid the price for a series of poor recent results with his job.
It's a stark reminder to everyone that the game of football is a fickle beast.
There are lots of important fixtures in the Premier League this weekend as we head toward the business end of the season.
Join me to take a look at the six key fixtures that you should keep an eye on this weekend.
As usual, my predictions for each game will come at the end of each slide.
Note: This article was written before Thursday's Europa League ties involving Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham.
Saturday: Everton vs. Manchester City (12:45 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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Both of these sides were in FA Cup action last weekend, with different results.
Everton crashed out of the cup after a shock 3-0 defeat by Wigan.
Manager David Moyes was rightfully furious at his team's performance, as relayed by BBC Sport shortly after the game:
We were not good enough. We haven't had too many of these days this season, or since before January last year, but this was one of them. It was one of those days when it didn't go well at all. We just didn't perform and never gave ourselves any opportunity
It was a frank and fair assessment of his team's abject performance.
This looked like it could be the season where, finally, Everton could win a trophy, but sadly it wasn't meant to be, and they only have themselves to blame.
Everton can't afford to feel sorry for themselves for too long though, because they have the defending Premier League champions coming to Goodison on Saturday.
In contrast to Everton's inept performance last week, Manchester City produced a slick, professional display, as they swept Barnsley aside 5-0.
Although a cup run and a visit to Wembley are nice, City will want to close the gap between themselves and Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.
Goodison is a tough place to go, though, and they won't have it all their own way.
Roberto Mancini and his side will have to be at their best to take something from the game.
Everton have a knack of performing well in important matches, which will continue this Saturday, but City should just shade this one to keep up with United.
Prediction: Manchester City win
Saturday: Aston Villa vs. QPR (3 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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There's another huge game at the bottom of the table this weekend when Aston Villa host QPR.
In a season that has been filled with despair, inept performances and cup exits at the hands of lower-league opposition, Aston Villa look like they might just have enough fighting spirit to avoid relegation.
They beat Reading 2-1 at the Madejski last week in a result that I certainly didn't see coming.
With just one win in their previous 11 before last weekend, Villa earned a much-needed win through Gabriel Agbonlahor's goal on the stroke of halftime.
Villa will need to show the same kind of fighting spirit again this weekend when they go head-to-head with QPR in yet another relegation battle.
If Villa's win last weekend was a surprise, so was QPR's victory over Sunderland at Loftus Road.
Before last week, QPR had only won one league game at home all season, but they put Sunderland away by a 3-1 scoreline.
It looks as if Harry Redknapp has waved his magic wand once again.
QPR have managed to haul in the teams above them with a series of disciplined, hard-working displays, sprinkled with that bit of luck that you need when you're at the bottom of the table.
Andros Townsend scored a spectacular volley against Sunderland, and he can be a key player for Rangers.
This is a really tough match to call.
Although Villa and QPR earned good wins last weekend, their form over the last few months, collectively, has been shocking.
Ultimately, experience will tell here, and QPR will travel south with all three points.
Prediction: QPR win
Saturday: Manchester United vs. Reading (5:30 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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The late kickoff on Saturday comes at Old Trafford when Reading visit Manchester United.
United have had a tough couple of weeks lately.
First of all, they lost the second leg of their Champions League encounter 2-1 to Real Madrid, which may or may not have been down to Nani's disputed red card.
Then last weekend, they surrendered a two-goal lead to Chelsea in their FA Cup quarterfinal clash to draw the game 2-2.
The speculation over Wayne Rooney's future seems to have died down, and he scored their second goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup.
United haven't played badly in those games.
It's just their concentration levels seem to drop at stages of a match, which you can't afford to do when you're playing against the best teams in the league, or in Europe.
It would be fair to expect Sir Alex Ferguson and his team to make a statement this weekend at Reading's expense.
You have to feel sorry for the Royals and their former manager.
McDermott came across as a calm, cool and collected customer in the media, and he did a fantastic job just getting Reading back to the Premier League.
Despite some of the stunning results the Berkshire side had at the start of the year, their form has dipped of late, and McDermott paid the price with his job.
Their last two league defeats have come at home in games against Wigan and Aston Villa, and they have been real body blows to Reading.
Reading are in an unenviable position right now, and I just hope they don't get hammered at Old Trafford.
If they do, then staying up might be a step too far.
Prediction: Manchester United win
Sunday: Tottenham vs. Fulham (3 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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It seems like we can't go a week in the Premier League without a London derby, and this match at White Hart Lane on Sunday is no different.
In fact, it's the first of two London derbies on Sunday.
Tottenham suffered their first league defeat of the year at Anfield last Sunday when they lost a thrilling match 3-2 against Liverpool.
Andre Villas-Boas shouldn't be too concerned about that though.
His players have been sensational lately, and the young manager has shown everyone just how good he is as a coach.
Despite what the British media would have you think, Spurs aren't just all about Gareth Bale.
Yes, he has been in terrific form, but it's unfair to give him all of the credit for Spurs' recent results.
Jan Vertonghen has been one of their unsung heroes this season.
The big defender has been really impressive since moving to London, and he's chipped in with some crucial goals too.
Vertonghen and his fellow defenders will need to be at the top of their game to keep Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov at bay on Sunday.
The Bulgarian striker might look lazy and have a sullen demeanour on the pitch, but he's capable of moments of brilliance, like his volley against Stoke a few weeks ago.
You can watch that goal again here.
When it comes down to it, Spurs should have enough quality to beat Fulham, but their Europa League exertions could see them settle for a draw.
Prediction: Score draw
Sunday: Chelsea vs. West Ham (4 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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The second of Sunday's London derbies comes from Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea take on West Ham.
Chelsea need to win to stay in the race for a Champions League place, and the Hammers need a win to pull away from the drop zone.
After 12 minutes of last Sunday's FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United, Rafael Benitez must have felt the axe swinging above his head.
With Chelsea 2-0 down to Manchester United, his own fans sang "You're just a fat Spanish waiter" to him.
Benitez had to make some brave decisions, and bringing on Eden Hazard shortly after half-time proved to be an inspired move.
The Belgian winger scored a terrific goal to reduce the deficit to 2-1 before Ramires equalised to ensure that both sides will have to go at it again in their quest for a place in the FA Cup semifinals.
Ramires has scored some important goals for Chelsea in the last year or so, notably at the Camp Nou in last season's Champions League.
He's someone who often slips under the radar, but he's a fantastic midfielder with a great engine and an eye for goal.
West Ham will have to work hard to keep him quiet on Sunday.
The best way to describe the Hammers' first season back in the Premier League is inconsistent.
They seem to play well in patches, but they make some awful mistakes sometimes, and if they do that on Sunday against Chelsea, they might well be put to the sword by the current European champions.
West Ham had a good win against Stoke in their last league outing, and Sam Allardyce will demand the same level of effort and commitment this weekend.
They're still without their captain Kevin Nolan, sidelined with a broken toe.
However, Matt Jarvis and Andy Carroll are capable of causing problems for the Chelsea defence, so West Ham have no reason to be fearful ahead of the game.
As far as the result is concerned, Chelsea's Europa League efforts might work against them and see West Ham earn a creditable draw.
Prediction: Score draw
Sunday: Wigan vs. Newcastle (4 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
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OK, so it might be unfashionable to finish the weekend's key fixtures with Wigan, but their match with Newcastle this Sunday has a hell of a lot riding on it.
A defeat for either side could see them dragged further into the relegation mire.
Of course, Wigan are used to being in this situation.
You can say what you want about Wigan, but they play great football and know how to survive.
The whole club will be on a high after earning their first-ever FA Cup semifinal place last week when they beat Everton 3-0.
However, they haven't won a league game at home since November 24, when they beat Reading 3-2.
Roberto Martinez wants to improve that record, and there's no better time to do it than on Saturday.
It will be tough, but they have every chance of doing it against Newcastle.
When you also consider that, much like Tottenham and Chelsea, Newcastle have a massive Europa League game to play—against Anzhi Makhachkala—this week, a win at Wigan might be a step too far.
These teams last met in early December, when Newcastle won the game comfortably, 3-0.
The last time they met at the DW Stadium, Wigan ran out easy winners by 4-0.
Sunday will be different.
It will probably come down to a single goal, with Wigan coming out on top.
But only just.
Prediction: Wigan win