Premier League Weekend Previews

Shane MurrayFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

Premier League Weekend Previews

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    Bogdan Maran

    With just six games to go for most teams, things are beginning to take shape with the finishing line in sight.

    With a full programme over the three days, the battle for survival is to the fore on Saturday with four direct, head-to-head clashes between sides who could still go down.

    Chelsea can go top if they beat Stoke City in Saturday’s evening kick-off, while the game of the weekend has to be Arsenal’s trip to Goodison Park to face Everton, who harbour realistic ambitions of pipping the Gunners to the fourth and final Champions League spot.

    Leaders Liverpool can reclaim top spot, should they lose it, away to West Ham United on Sunday, while Tottenham host Sunderland on Monday.

    Read on for a game-by-game breakdown of this weekend’s fixtures.

     

    All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com and BBC.co.uk.

Manchester City vs. Southampton

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    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    Where: Etihad Stadium

    When: Saturday, April 5, 12:45 p.m. GMT

    City can overtake Chelsea and climb to second in the table with a win over Southampton in the early-afternoon kick-off.

    Manager Manuel Pellegrini will be anxious to maintain City’s title-charge, although last week’s draw at Arsenal means leaders Liverpool have their destiny in their own hands with just six games to go.

    The Saints leapfrogged Newcastle United into eighth with a resounding 4-0 win over the Magpies last time out, and their impressive form and ability to boss possession suggests they could cause City problems, just as they did in the 1-1 draw at St Mary’s in December.

     

    Form

    City have gone six games unbeaten since losing 1-0 to Chelsea in early February, although draws with Norwich City and Arsenal have undermined their pursuit of the leaders.

    The 2012 Premier League winners began February with realistic ambitions of claiming an unprecedented quadruple but after winning the League Cup against Sunderland only one trophy remains in their grasp after disappointing exits in the FA Cup and Champions League.

    The Saints have battled their own inconsistencies of late, with just five wins in their last 10 games and with just six victories on their travels this season, it is hard to see them leaving Etihad Stadium with all three points.

     

    Key Battles

    With Sergio Ageuro still out, City have seen their efficiency in front of goal decrease, with free-scoring Liverpool comfortably overtaking them in the "goals for" column.

    Although Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and David Silva have all contributed, Yaya Toure has been City’s main man, and if Southampton can restrict his influence on the game they might have a chance of leaving with something.

    The task of curbing Toure should fall to French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, while City’s handling of in-form English trio Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert should also be an interesting feature of the game.  

     

    Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Southampton

Aston Villa vs. Fulham

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    Sang Tan

    Where: Villa Park

    When: Saturday, April 5, 3 p.m. GMT

    With plenty of points still to play for, Aston Villa remain firmly in the relegation mix despite their 12th place position with seven games to play.

    Such is the intensity of competition in the Premier League this year that everyone from West Ham United in 11th could still go down, while bottom-placed Fulham still live in hope of survival, with safety currently five points away.

    Which makes this clash an unlikely six-pointer and with the recently appointed Felix Magath’s position already coming under pressure, victory is vital to the Cottagers if they are to maintain any hope of beating the drop.

     

    Form

    Five defeats, three wins and two draws from their last 10 illustrates vividly why Villa are still in the mire and although there have been encouraging performances and results, most notably the 1-0 win over Chelsea, the Villa Park faithful fully acknowledge that Paul Lambert’s team is far from the finished article, especially after last week’s 4-1 humbling at Manchester United.

    Fulham, on the other hand, are fighting for their lives with just one win in 10 games, and defeat on Saturday could see them cut adrift from their relegation rivals with games running out.

     

    Key Battles

    I predict this game will be won and lost depending on how Fulham’s defence copes with the occasionally devastating Villa forward line.

    Given that Fulham lay claim to the division’s most porous defence, it seems unlikely they can arrest their slide into the Championship. With Fabian Delph, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor pulling the strings, it looks like the visiting defence will have their work cut out yet again.

     

    Prediction: Aston Villa 2-1 Fulham

Cardiff City vs. Crystal Palace

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    Sang Tan

    Where: City of Cardiff Stadium

    When: Saturday, April 5, 3 p.m. GMT

    Another two sides desperate for three points, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace have both changed managers in pursuit of improved results.

    And while that worked for Palace after the appointment of Tony Pulis, City have not fared so well since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival in January. Both remain firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and three points on Saturday could go a long way to deciding who stays up and who goes down.

     

    Form

    Six defeats in 10 games have left Cardiff with just eight points from a possible 30 and with rivals Sunderland, Palace and West Bromwich Albion all possessing games in hand, these are worrying times for the Welsh club.

    Palace have fared only marginally better of late after the initial impetus that came following Pulis’ arrival. With four defeats in 10, their safety is far from guaranteed despite sitting a potential eight points above their hosts with victory on Saturday.

     

    Key Battles

    With just 59 goals between them in 63 games, don’t expect this one to be a high-scoring affair. Goals have been in short supply for both sides, hence their lowly positions but with the likes of Jordan Mutch and Fraizer Campbell at their disposal, Cardiff always carry a threat.

    Defensively, Palace have been pretty stubborn under Pulis’ stewardship, with Julian Speroni in particularly fine form between the posts. If he and his defence can maintain their solidity, then Palace could escape with at least a point.

     

    Prediction: Cardiff City 2-1 Crystal Palace

Hull City vs. Swansea City

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    Where: KC Stadium

    When: Saturday, April 5, 3 p.m. GMT

    With both sides level on 33 points after 32 games, this is another of the weekend’s key relegation battles. While Swansea are in slightly better form, neither side has managed to put a consistent run together despite some sporadically encouraging results.

    The signings of strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic by Hull manager Steve Bruce have breathed fresh life into his side, while Swansea have not experienced a dramatic shift in fortune since replacing manager Michael Laudrup with Garry Monk.

     

    Form

    Despite the impressive showings of Long and Jelavic, the Tigers have still struggled to find the net with just 11 goals in the last 10 games and 12 given up. That translates to just three wins in 10 and with Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton on the horizon, Steve Bruce will be looking for maximum points against fellow relegation candidates City, Fulham and Aston Villa.

    Four defeats in 10 paints a similar picture for the Swans, although they have been somewhat more prolific in front of goal with a return of 18 scored, while the concession of 15 has hurt them at the other end. With Chelsea and Southampton the toughest names on their run-in the three points may not be quite as vital for Swansea this weekend.

     

    Key Battles

    This is a game which could be decided by the smallest of margins, a defensive lapse, a moment of genius or a poor refereeing decision. With midfields evenly matched and both defences finely balanced, this is another game that could be decided by a striker in form.

    Jelavic has four league goals since his arrival and Long three, while Wilfried Bony (11) and Jonjo Shelvey (five) carry the greatest goal threat for the visitors.

     

    Prediction: Hull City 1-2 Swansea City

Newcastle United vs. Manchester United

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Where: St James' Park

    When: Saturday, April 5, 3 p.m. GMT

    Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has managed to survive his headbutting incident with David Meyler, and he returns to the dressing room for the first time when the under-fire David Moyes brings his faltering stars to St James’ Park on Saturday.

    The Magpies have lost two of the three games of Pardew’s stadium ban, and he will hope his return to the dressing room can inspire an upturn in his side’s fortunes.

    Tuesday’s heroic 1-1 draw with European champions Bayern Munich may have given Manchester United a badly needed shot of confidence, but this is another potential banana skin in a season of unheralded slip-ups for the Old Trafford outfit.

     

    Form

    The hosts have been a model of inconsistency this season yet are only 10 points off an automatic Europa League spot. However, a return of just 10 points from 30 suggests they will not provide a late challenge to the likes of the Red Devils, Southampton and Tottenham in the race for sixth spot, even with the return of Pardew.

    In a season of significant disappointment and despair, the Red Devils surprisingly top the away form table, with 30 points from 16 games. Five wins from 10 overall but four wins from the last six suggests Moyes may be spearheading a resurgence with the season reaching its climax. In reality, though, it looks like it’s too little too late.

     

    Key Battles

    Keep 15-goal Wayne Rooney quiet and in general you can keep Manchester United quiet. Pardew will charge Fabricio Coloccini or Mike Williamson with keeping the England man in check, but with Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and even Ashley Young or Javier Hernandez in support, the visitors’ attacking threat is substantial.

    How the home defence copes with the Red Devils’ forward line will dictate the outcome of this tie but having conceded 47 thus far, their chances do not appear too good.

     

    Prediction: Newcastle United 2-2 Manchester United

Norwich City vs. West Bromwich Albion

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    Where: Carrow Road

    When: Saturday, April 5, 3 p.m. GMT

    With so many teams involved in the relegation picture, this year’s battle is expected to go right to the wire.

    Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion are both very much in the mix and with both Chris Hughton and Pepe Mel under pressure in the respective hot seats this could be a pivotal game.

    The Canaries fell to a heavy 3-0 defeat to Swansea City last time out, while West Brom were denied a dramatic late win over Cardiff City when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men struck an equalizer with the last kick of the game.

     

    Form

    As you would expect from teams so close to the trap door, both sides have endured difficult campaigns, City sticking by the under-fire Hughton and West Brom replacing Steve Clarke with veteran Mel.

    And although City have stood by Hughton admirably, two wins in 10 has not helped his case despite victories over Tottenham and Sunderland and a draw with Manchester City in the same period.

    West Brom have also enjoyed moments of promise, with recent 1-1 draws against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea showing they can live with the best when they want to. However, those performances have been rare, and, given their failure to beat basement rivals Palace, Fulham, Hull and Cardiff, the signs look ominous for the embattled Baggies.

     

    Key Battles    

    Statistically, West Brom have scored more and conceded fewer than their hosts, yet trail City by three points, albeit they do have a game in hand. However, points on the board is what counts and both goalkeepers have played their parts for their teams this season.

    Expect both ’keepers to be busy as England World Cup hopefuls John Ruddy and Ben Foster square off, but with four clean sheets in his last 10 games, together with Norwich’s decent home form (three wins, three draws in last six games), you’d expect the former to come out on top.

     

    Prediction: Norwich City 2-0 West Bromwich Albion

Chelsea vs. Stoke City

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    Sang Tan

    Where: Stamford Bridge

    When: Saturday, April 5, 5:30 p.m. GMT

    The evening kick-off sees Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea attempt to bounce back from their midweek Champions League defeat to Paris St. Germain against Mark Hughes’ rejuvenated side, who are now unbeaten in five games.

    With leaders Liverpool playing on Sunday, Chelsea could go top with a win as they seek to avenge their defeat at the Britannia Stadium earlier in the season.

    The Potters sit comfortably in 10th position following their best run of the season, but, given Chelsea’s spectacular home form (unbeaten in 25 league games at Stamford Bridge), City know the enormity of the task ahead of them.

     

    Form

    Three defeats in four games in all competitions suggest the wheels are coming off the Chelsea juggernaut entering this critical phase of the season, and Mourinho will be anxious to restore some confidence to his side, who have impressed in recent wins over Arsenal (6-0), Tottenham (4-0) and Manchester City (0-1).

    Surprising away defeats to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace illustrate the competitiveness of the Premier League, and Stoke are capable of ruffling some feathers themselves.

    Victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa have helped City escape the relegation struggle earlier than expected but getting something from the fortress that is Stamford Bridge is unlikely, despite Chelsea’s poor recent form.

     

    Key Battles

    Stoke were renowned for their defensive strength under former boss Tony Pulis, and Hughes has continued that himself while also adding an extra dimension to their play.

    Up front, Chelsea have struggled to extract goals on a consistent basis from Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba, with the supporting cast of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle and Frank Lampard coming up with some key goals to propel the Blues to the top.

    How Stoke’s defensive unit copes with the all-action play of the above will determine City’s chances of success, but given the Blues' dominance at the Bridge, Stoke's chances look slim.

     

    Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City

Everton vs. Arsenal

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    Where: Goodison Park

    When: Sunday, April 6, 1:30 p.m. GMT

    The undoubted clash of the weekend takes place at Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon as Roberto Martinez’s Everton host Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in a game that could decide who takes fourth place and the final Champions League spot.

    The Toffees can close the gap to a single point with victory here, while the Gunners will be looking to put seven between the two in their pursuit of maintaining their presence at European football’s top table for an amazing 17th consecutive season.

     

    Form

    It looked like defeats to Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea would derail Everton’s challenge for the European spots, but five wins on the trot have put them firmly back in the mix and breathing down Arsenal’s neck.

    With Romelu Lukaku back from injury and January signing Aiden McGeady impressing from the bench, Everton look well equipped to maintain their improvement and potentially claim a Champions League spot for only the second time in the club’s history.

    Arsenal’s form is less impressive, and three victories in 10 games has seen them fall seven points behind leaders Liverpool and in serious risk of missing out on the Champions League if their current form continues.

     

    Key Battles

    In a clash where both sides place huge significance on possession, midfield supremacy will be key in dictating the rhythm and tempo of the game.

    Everton’s central midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy have impressed this year, especially at home, and their partnership has given the Toffees a solid platform from which to impose their game on opponents.

    Likewise, Arsenal’s central pair—pick any two from Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, Kim Kallstrom or the returning Aaron Ramsey—have the potential to dominate, which makes this particular battle extra intriguing.

     

    Prediction: Everton 1-0 Arsenal  

West Ham United vs. Liverpool

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    Where: Upton Park

    When: Sunday, April 6, 4 p.m. GMT

    Sam Allardyce has continued to deflect criticism from fans despite winning his last two games, but facing the leaders and potential champions-elect will prove a tougher prospect than Hull City and Sunderland.

    Brendan Rodgers brings the Reds to Upton Park on the wave of unbridled optimism, with significant momentum in tow following an outstanding run in 2014.

    With six games to go, Rodgers knows six wins will see his side crowned champions, and just as he has done all season, he will be looking no further than the three points against his next opponent. Watch out, West Ham.

     

    Form

    For all the criticism being leveled at Allardyce, six wins and three defeats in their last 10 games suggests that he is doing something right at Upton Park. It may not be pretty to watch, but there is no doubting its effectiveness as the Hammers currently lie 11 points clear of the relegation zone.

    Liverpool’s 2014 form has been nothing short of spectacular. With 11 wins and two draws from 13 games, it is easy to see why their rise up the table has been so swift and why they are genuinely being talked about as title contenders.

    The scintillating form of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has propelled the Reds to the top, and it is unlikely the Hammers will provide a telling obstacle in their pursuit of a first league title of the Premier League era.

     

    Key Battles

    In any encounter involving Liverpool, the key figures are always Suarez and Sturridge, who have 49 league goals between them. Subdue them and you stand a chance of leaving with something, especially with their not-so-watertight defence.

    However, such is the confidence permeating through Rodgers’ side that they have game-winners all over the pitch, from the obvious sources like Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling to the less obvious threats like Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel.

    On paper, and on current form, Liverpool look like they have too much for their hosts and in the SAS partnership Rodgers looks to have found a winning formula.

     

    Prediction: West Ham United 1-4 Liverpool

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sunderland

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    Scott Heppell

    Where: White Hart Lane

    When: Monday, April 7, 8 p.m. GMT

    Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood knows time is running out if he is to prove to the White Hart Lane hierarchy that he is the man to take the club forward next season.

    Sherwood has failed to arrest the inconsistency that ultimately led to Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal in December, and relegation-threatened Sunderland will pose a difficult test on Monday night.

     

    Form

    With one win in four games and four in 10, Spurs have struggled of late, especially against their top-of-the-table rivals. Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have all overcome the Londoners in recent weeks to undermine their challenge.

    They are now just two points clear of Manchester United in sixth with fourth place and Champions League football realistically out of sight.

    Sunderland have even worse consistency woes at the other end, haven’t won since beating            Newcastle United on February 1 and boast five defeats in six games.

    That is relegation form in anyone’s books, and with just three goals in those six fixtures it is clear to see where their main problems lie.

     

    Key Battles

    Defensively, Sunderland have not been terrible this year, conceding 15 goals in their last 10 to at least give them some hope of beating the drop.

    How John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Co. cope with Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor and Spurs' attack-minded midfield will have a major bearing on the outcome of this tie.

    With the Mackems fighting for their Premier League lives anything is possible, especially with less pressure on Gus Poyet’s men away from the Stadium of Light.

     

    Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Sunderland