EPL Week 31 Predictions: Players Sure to Land in All-EPL Team for Week's Clash
There was no English Premier League action this past week, but World Cup qualifiers from all corners of the globe gave fans their weekly football fix.
The world's best players scattered across the planet to play for their countries and are now returning to England for a full set of fixtures.
With many clubs having just nine league matches remaining, the final stretch of this season is rapidly approaching, and every team will be hoping their stars will return from international duty in fine form.
Given some of the excellent performances in the qualifiers, there will be several quality outings in this week's games. Here are the players who will stand out.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan, Aston Villa
It could have been a disastrous few days for the United States, but Brad Guzan was a rock in between the posts.
The Aston Villa keeper is currently in incredible form, and he could not be hitting his stride at a better time for his club and his country.
He kept a clean sheet in blizzard-like conditions against Costa Rica and then managed to record another shutout against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. These were two impressive performances from the 28-year-old.
Now that he is back with Villa, he will have to help them keep their slim three-point lead over 18th-place Wigan. His fantastic stretch with continue, and Villa will earn at least a point when they host Liverpool.
Left-Back: Nacho Monreal, Arsenal
Spain delivered a dud in a 1-1 draw to Finland, but in its next UEFA 2014 World Cup qualifier, it earned an important three points with a 1-0 victory over France.
La Roja kept pressing and pressing against the French, but it wasn't until Nacho Monreal delivered a fantastic cross to Pedro that the team was able to break through.
The winter signing has been a delight since arriving at the Emirates, and fifth-place Arsenal will need him to continue creating danger down the left flank if it hopes to climb into the top four before the end of its campaign.
Monreal will be facing an undisciplined Reading defense that gets stretched out far too easily, and he will be able to set up another goal for the Gunners this weekend.
Centre-Back: Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham
Every game Jan Vertonghen plays for Tottenham provides more reasons why he will be a star in the Premier League for many years.
He has the height, pace and strength to be a defensive enforcer at centre-back, but he also has the touch and vision to set up his attacking players and execute Andre Villas-Boas' brand of football.
Vertonghen will be returning from his duties with Belgium after helping the team to successive clean sheets, albeit against Macedonia in both matches.
The Tottenham centre-back will continue his superb campaign this weekend as Tottenham clings to fourth place with a victory over Swansea City.
Centre-Back: Gareth McAuley, West Bromwich Albion
Gareth McAuley's country did not produce an impressive performance in a 2-0 loss to Israel, but it's hard to fault the veteran centre-back for the result.
Northern Ireland is not known as one of the European powerhouses, and he will surely be glad to return to his club. However, West Bromwich Albion has slowly slid down the table after the incredible start to the season, and now the team is no longer in position to earn a spot in next year's Europa League.
The Baggies sit one point behind seventh-place Liverpool and will have to capitalize on every opportunity to put pressure on the Reds.
While no away match in the Premier League is easy, McAuley's fine defensive performance will give West Brom a chance to earn points against West Ham this Saturday.
Right-Back: Sascha Riether, Fulham
Unfortunately for Sascha Riether, an international appearance for Germany is highly unlikely as long as Philipp Lahm is around, and he will have to continue making his club.
He has been impressive in both of his matches for Fulham in March and has a goal and an assist this month.
Fulham is midtable right now and cannot afford to drop points in matches against teams toward the bottom.
Martin Jol will receive another fine performance from Riether, and Fulham will not falter against Queens Park Rangers.
Left Midfielder: Eden Hazard, Chelsea
While Jan Vertonghen helped Belgium to two clean sheets during the international break, the team's attack did not produce an impressive amount of goals in these matches.
That being said, Eden Hazard put his name on the scoresheet in both games.
The talented midfielder has been a delight during his first season with Chelsea, and he is a player who will be a superstar for several years to come, both for club and country.
The Blues are in a dogfight for a Champions League spot right now, and Hazard will ensure that his team does not drop points to Southampton.
Central Midfielder: Yaya Toure, Machester City
Ivory Coast only had one match over the break, and its contest against Gambia went as expected. The team won 3-0, and Yaya Toure scored a goal.
The Manchester City central midfielder is a uniquely gifted player who can single-handedly dominate huge areas of the pitch.
Roberto Mancini will need him at his best for the rest of the season. City's primary worry is no longer catching Manchester United but holding onto second place.
Toure will ensure that his club returns to the pitch in good form, and he will lead a victory over Newcastle this weekend.
Central Midfielder: Marouane Fellaini, Everton
While Marouane Fellaini did not stand out for Belgium with his play, he did a fantastic job of helping Everton to a victory over Manchester City before the international break.
Those unexpected points have the Toffees in excellent position to reach the Europa League, and David Moyes' team has a legitimate shot at cracking the top four. But the team will need Fellaini to play a major part in the attack.
He poses unique challenges for a defense, as players at his position are usual small and crafty with the ball. Fellaini, in contrast, is an enforcer who dominates in the air and finishes like a centre-forward in the box.
Stoke City will make it difficult for him to score, but the Potters will not be able to contain him for the entire match and he will be one of the star performers in another Everton victory.
Right Midfielder: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal
Reading's defense is not up to the challenge of keeping Arsenal's attack in check, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has the opportunity to deliver his finest match of the season.
The Royals have the Premier League's worst back line and are susceptible to through balls. Oxlade-Chamberlain has more than enough pace to get in behind the Reading defenders.
But the 19-year-old is an excellent replacement, and he was able to get a goal and an assist against San Marino during the international break. Expect to see Oxlade-Chamberlain feature prominently in the highlights from this match.
Striker: Arouna Kone, Wigan
While Arouna Kone played only a minor role for Ivory Coast in the win over Gambia, he will playing a major role for Wigan for the remainder of the season.
As usual, Roberto Martinez has work to do if he hopes to avoid relegation, but the Latics have proved capable of making a late surge in past seasons.
The club's escape act has become routine at the end of the season, and Kone will be a vital part of the team's hope to survive for another year.
Wigan has a home match against Norwich City set for Saturday, and the Latics are not going to receive many better opportunities to earn points. Kone will ensure that his side capitalizes on this chance.
Striker: Robin Van Persie, Manchester United
Robin van Persie has been everything Manchester United hoped he would be this season, and he is the biggest reason the club will likely cruise to the league title.
But the Dutchman has not scored for United in his last six matches, and the incredible confidence in front of goal that was evident at the start of his campaign has waned in February and March.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping that the three goals in two games for van Persie's country will lead to the end of this goalscoring drought.
Sunderland can be stingy at the back, but the Black Cats do not have the defensive talent to contain an in-form van Persie. He will get a goal in a United victory this weekend.