Typically, when Week 35 of the Premier League campaign approaches, plenty is decided already.
Looking back to last season, Manchester United had already been crowned Champions, while Reading and QPR were all but relegated. This year, however, things are a little different.
Is this the most exciting Premier League season ever?
The top, the battle for Europe and bottom of the table are tighter than a clam with lockjaw at this juncture, as players fight it out for glory, prestige and survival in English football's top flight. And, with the games ticking down, we look set for an abundance of high drama in Week 35.
Often, it’s a moment of magic in these high-pressure occasions that can be the difference between despair and delirium. So, on the cusp of the Easter fixtures, I'll highlight a crop of players that can make the difference for their teams this week. In addition, I'll pick out the teams that look in store for a big weekend as curtain call approaches on this Premier League season.
But before we delve into those heroes-in-waiting, here’s a full run down of Week 35 fixtures in the Premier League:
|ixture||Date||Kick-Off Time (BST)||Prediction|
|Tottenham vs. Fulham||19 April 2014||12:45 p.m.||2-0|
|West Ham vs. Crystal Palace||19 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-1|
|Aston Villa vs. Southampton||19 April 2014||3 p.m.||2-2|
|Cardiff City vs. Stoke City||19 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-1|
|Newcastle vs. Swansea City||19 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-1|
|Hull City vs. Arsenal||19 April 2014||5:30 p.m.||1-1|
|Norwich City vs. Liverpool||20 April 2014||12 p.m.||0-4|
|Chelsea vs. Sunderland||20 April 2014||2:05 p.m.||3-0|
|Everton vs. Manchester United||20 April 2014||4:10 p.m.||3-1|
|Manchester City vs. West Brom||21 April 2014||8: p.m.||3-0|
Tottenham vs. Fulham
After consecutive wins against Aston Villa and Norwich City, Fulham have given themselves a great chance of remaining in the league. Rooted to the bottom of the table not so long ago, Felix Magath has manufactured a cohesive, aggressive side that finally seem to have the spirit required for a relegation scrap.
They travel to White Hart Lane on Saturday for the early kick-off, and if they can get a result over an erratic Tottenham outfit it would heap pressure on their relegation rivals, who will all play later in the weekend.
Key Player: Christian Eriksen
If Fulham are going to stand any chance of picking up a result here, then they must find a way of restricting the mercurial Dane. Eriksen has been superb in recent weeks—bagging four goals and three assists in his last four games, per WhoScored.com.
Not only is the former Ajax man making vital contributions, but he is also making them at key times in the game. Eriksen set up Gylfi Sigurdsson’s stoppage-time winner in Tottenham’s recent 3-2 win over Southampton and scored a dramatic equaliser against West Brom in the 94th minute of Spurs’ last outing.
If he starts to pick the ball up in pockets of space, it’ll spell trouble for Fulham. The holding midfield duo of Mahamadou Diarra and Steve Sidwell must be at their diligent best to contain Eriksen and give the Cottagers a strong platform from which to build.
Chelsea vs. Sunderland
Relegation is looking very likely for Sunderland after a Wes Brown own goal gave Everton a 1-0 win over Black Cats in their last outing.
They play Manchester City in midweek ahead of another terribly difficult fixture at Stamford Bridge on Easter Sunday, and it’s difficult to see Sunderland getting out of trouble if they continue to make defensive gaffes on such a regular basis, emphasised here by OptaJoe:
6 - Sunderland have now conceded more own goals than any other Premier League team this season. Blooper.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 12, 2014
Going to Stamford Bridge is never an easy task, but going to a Chelsea side who have a sniff of the Premier League title is even more difficult. Jose Mourinho’s side are just two points off the summit, and despite the Portuguese’s continued protestations that the Premier League table is “fake,” per BBC Sport, deep down he’ll be well aware that his side have a great chance of winning the title.
Key Player: Demba Ba
Two goals in his last two outings for the Senegalese international and suddenly the forgotten man of Chelsea’s forward line is emerging as an unlikely, end-of-season hero. Ba bagged the goal that put Chelsea through to the semi-finals of the Champions League last week and the winner in a 1-0 battle over a stubborn Swansea City side on Sunday.
He’ll continue to lead the line this weekend and will look to capitalise on Sunderland’s previously highlighted defensive deficiencies. The former Newcastle forward is always a physical threat, and he brings an entirely different, considerably more direct dimension to Chelsea’s attacking play.
Some Chelsea supporters clearly feel he deserves his chance over a certain £50 million acquisition:
Last RT in summary: Ba has scored the same number of goals in the PL this season as Torres, in 1,000 fewer minutes.— Russell Saunders (@bridgeviews) April 13, 2014
Being a former Magpie, Ba will cop plenty of stick from the travelling Mackems, but the shaky Sunderland back line will do well to halt a player who looks refreshed and refocused at this late stage of the season.
Everton vs. Manchester United
A trio of wonderful Easter Sunday fixtures will be capped off with what looks set to be a cracker at Goodison Park. Everton will welcome David Moyes back for the first time, and the former Toffees boss is set for a hostile reception following his summer pursuit of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, per Jamie Jackson in The Guardian.
As if that wasn’t enough to stoke the flames, Everton know a win here would be a huge step toward securing Champions League football for next season.
Moyes’ replacement, Roberto Martinez, has done a wonderful job on Merseyside, but the Catalan paid tribute to his players after they secured their seventh win on the bounce against Sunderland, per Matthew Rogerson of Goal.com:
(Staying in the top four is) our objective, we're going into new ground. We're going to take every game with a real excitement.
We've got a group of players who are focused and desperate to play, with good competition for places.
We're just going to take it step by step, but to have 66 points by this stage of the season is a remarkable achievement and the players deserve a lot of credit.
After losing the corresponding fixture 1-0 at Old Trafford, Moyes will have his players fired up for this one. Everton doing the double over his new employers would perhaps be the most damning indictment of a season of stagnation at Old Trafford, and the former Everton boss will be keen to avoid that kind of embarrassment.
Key Player: Juan Mata
With Wayne Rooney likely to miss this one through injury, per Mark Ogden in the The Telegraph, much of the creative burden will fall on the shoulders of the January signing from Chelsea. Mata has just started to find his feet at Old Trafford, and the Toffees will need to be at their absolute best to keep him pinned down.
Mata will operate in his favoured No. 10 position, and as such it’ll be down to Everton’s midfield duo of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry to close off the passing lanes into the Spaniard to stop him from having a big influence on the game. Without Rooney in the XI, if the Toffees can stop Mata it’s difficult to see where United’s ingenuity is coming from.