English Premier League: Latest Rumors, Preview and Predictions for Week 35

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2013

English Premier League: Latest Rumors, Preview and Predictions for Week 35

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    The league title is all but decided. The relegation zone looks as though it has its first two victims. The Champions League race is down to three teams, while Everton's odds of reaching the Europa League now look slim to none.

    We're in the stretch run, folks.

    The most exciting race at this point is the battle for the top four, where Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are separated by just two points. Meanwhile, a battle to remain out of the relegation zone is brewing, as Wigan is trying to get out of 18th with Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke City and Sunderland all fighting to remain in the Premier League.

    There's a lot left on the line, and this week's slate of games will clear up the picture even more. Let's preview this week's EPL action.

Schedule

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    Monday, April 22

    Manchester United vs.  Aston Villa, 3 p.m. ET

     

    Saturday, April 27

    Manchester City vs. West Ham United, 7:45 a.m. ET

    Everton vs. Fulham, 10 a.m. ET

    Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion, 10 a.m. ET

    Stoke City vs. Norwich City, 10 a.m. ET

    Wigan Athletic vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 10 a.m. ET

    Newcastle United vs. Liverpool, 12:30 p.m. ET

     

    Sunday, April 28

    Reading vs. Queens Park Rangers, 8:30 a.m. ET

    Chelsea vs. Swansea City Stamford Bridge. 10 a.m. ET

    Arsenal vs. Manchester United Emirates Stadium, 11 a.m. ET

Preview

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    After a week full of games and more than a few marquee matchups, this week's slate of contests isn't quite as intriguing. Still, there are Champions League spots to be won and the relegation zone to avoid.

    We start with Manchester United, which can wrap up the league title at home on Monday with a win at home against Aston Villa after Manchester City lost to Tottenham on Sunday. You have to imagine Arsenal fans will be rooting for the Red Devils to wrap up the title before the teams meet at the Emirates on Sunday in the game of the week.

    The Gunners have the slimmest of leads in third place, just a point ahead of Chelsea and two points clear of Tottenham (with the latter clubs holding a game in hand). A loss to United would seriously harm the Gunners chances of playing in the Champions League next season, especially with Chelsea and Tottenham each playing winnable games against Swansea City and Wigan, respectively.

    Barring an unforeseen collapse—and surprise loss against West Ham this week—City should be safe in the top four. 

    At this point, both Reading and QPR seem destined for relegation, with just 24 points on the season. The real battle will now be to avoid 18th. Wigan (18th) has a tough test against Chelsea, while Aston Villa (17th) faces Manchester United.

    Newcastle (16th) has a tough test against Liverpool (even if Luis Suarez is out, which he should be), while Stoke City (15th) and Norwich City (13th) face in a key battle. 

    Finally, Everton will hope to make one last push to the Europa League—the Champions League seems out of the question at this point—and should be able to earn three points against Fulham. 

Rumor: Alex Song to Tottenham?

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    Alex Song surprised a lot of people last year when he was courted by Barcelona and eventually joined the Catalan club on a transfer from Arsenal. Might he now shock everyone and join the Gunners' main rival, Tottenham, this summer?

    According to Graeme Yorke of the Daily Mail, it's a possibility if Spurs qualify for the Champions League:

    Tottenham will make an ambitious move for former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song if they qualify for the Champions League next season.

    Song left Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal for Barcelona in a £15 million deal last summer but has found first-team opportunities hard to come by at the Nou Camp.

    The Cameroonian is unlikely to go back to Arsenal having left the club on bad terms and the Sunday People report that Spurs are ready to pounce.

    Song's move to Barcelona was always a head-scratcher, as the team has the deepest and most talented group of midfielders in the world. But he would certainly be a regular at Tottenham and give the team a solid holding midfielder.

    It's a shame his departure from Arsenal wasn't rosy—he's exactly the type of player the Gunners could use.

Rumors: Gareth Bale Won't Come on the Cheap

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    For teams thinking about making a push for superstar Gareth Bale this summer, it's going to take one huge check to bring him aboard.

    From Paul Smith of the Mirror

    It will take a massive £65 million bid to prise superstar Gareth Bale out of Tottenham.

    And Bayern Munich have joined the quartet of European clubs ­chasing Bale’s signature.

    The German ­champions, Barcelona and Real ­Madrid have formally ­declared their ­interest in the Welsh midfielder to the club. Paris Saint ­Germain are ­also monitoring the ­situation.

    Bale has been arguably the Premier League's finest player this season and is unquestionably a world-class talent who might just be worth that price tag. Certainly, Tottenham can't accept any less as replacing Bale would prove to be extremely difficult if not impossible.

Rumors: Juventus Eyeing Javier Hernandez

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    You couldn't blame Javier Hernandez for wanting more playing time. After all, he's been excellent for Manchester United in a limited role this season and clearly has the talent to be the primary striker at a top European club.

    This summer, might he get his wish to be just that?

    From Itailain news outlet Mediaset via The Daily Mirror:

    Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez is attracting interest from Italian champions Juventus.

    The Champions League quarter-finalists are said to be looking at the out-of-favour Mexican, according to Italy's Mediaset, as well as Serie A rivals Fiorentina.

    Hernandez has recently revealed his disappointment at not getting enough game time, and with [Radamel] Falcao and Robert Lewandowski on Sir Alex Ferguson's shortlist there is little chance of him moving up the pecking order.

    Of course, it remains to be seen of United could land a player like Falcao or Lewandowski, so Hernandez might be untouchable. But one imagines he would be perfectly content moving to a team where he would get more playing time. 

Rumors: Gunners Gunning for a Keeper

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    According to Steve Bates and Alan Oliver of The Mirror, Arsenal is interested in landing Brazil international and QPR keeper Julio Cesar. He's not the only keeper Arsenal has eyes for:

    Cesar remains a viable prospect for Wenger who is also keen on Manchester City’s 6ft 8in keeper Costel Pantilimon, understudy to Joe Hart.

    The 26-year-old Romanian has starred in City’s charge to the FA Cup Final and would like regular first-team football.

    Scuppered Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet and Swansea’s Michel Vorm are also being monitored by the Gunners—who have a long-term interest in Liverpool’s Pepe Reina.

    Newcastle keeper Tim Krul, who was on Arsenal’s list of goalkeeping targets, is likely to see any summer move scuppered by a dislocated shoulder.

    After being benched for a month, however, Wojciech Szczesny has posted consecutive shutouts. He was given the nod this week due to Lukasz Fabianski's cracked rib, who had seemingly surpassed Szczesny on the depth chart. 

    It will be interesting to see if Szczesny can reaffirm his status as the future of the club at keeper, or if Arsene Wenger will look to upgrade at the position over the summer. 

Predictions

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    Manchester United is going to win the title on Monday against Aston Villa, which will be very good news for Arsenal, a team that will hope the Red Devils are still celebrating come Sunday. Can the Gunners get a win at home against the soon-to-be league champs?

    Yes, but I think a 1-1 draw is more likely. Arsenal will certainly take the point, but three points in this game with a favorable schedule down the stretch would put the Gunners in the driver's seat for the Champions League. 

    Don't expect to see many upsets, as Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham and Chelsea will all win. One to look for, however, is Newcastle at home against Liverpool, which will certainly be without top player Luis Suarez. 

    Look for Newcastle to earn a vital three points and keep itself out of the relegation zone for another week.

    The relegation chase shouldn't change much either, as Wigan isn't going to get any points against Chelsea, Reading and QPR are dead teams walking and Stoke City and Norwich are destined for a "watching paint dry" scoreless draw.

    After a week of jostling on the table, this week's slate of games should go pretty much as planned.