The end of an enthralling Premier League campaign is drawing ever closer as the majority of teams have just three games remaining. It’s at this juncture where heroes and legends can be anointed as team’s battle it out for survival, for European football and for Premier League glory.
After Week 35 was packed of high drama and remarkable quality, expect no let-up as we move swiftly into Week 36. Liverpool look all but set to claim their first league title in 24 years, and they know if they can conquer Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea team at Anfield on Sunday, then the title is effectively theirs.
At the very bottom, Sunderland are a team that have given themselves a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League. The Black Cats looked doomed after losing to Everton in Week 34, but they’ve taken four points from games at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge since.
Now, they’re just three points behind Norwich City, who are in 17th position; the Black Cats have a game in hand, too. Manager Gus Poyet believes his side can take advantage after a couple of remarkable performances, per BBC Sport:
As soon as I said we needed a miracle, things changed.
The players kept believing. We needed something special and it happened in the last four or five days.
I'm a believer, I am committed and I know what we can do. With results like today you can expect anything from us. We looked dead on Wednesday afternoon and now we look a totally different team.
Sunderland take on Cardiff in Week 36, with the Welsh outfit also scrapping for their lives down at the bottom.
Elsewhere, Everton can move into fourth place if they triumph over Southampton on Saturday. Roberto Martinez’s men are still firmly in the hunt for Champions League football after their win over Manchester United, and they’ll be looking to put pressure on Arsenal, who face Newcastle United on Monday.
What twists and turns await us in Week 36? Here’s your full list of fixtures ahead of the games and some key players who are set to make the difference in some of this weekend's crucial fixtures:
|Southampton vs. Everton||26 April 2014||12:45 p.m.||0-2|
|Fulham vs. Hull||26 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-0|
|Stoke vs. Tottenham||26 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-1|
|Swansea vs. Aston Villa||26 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-0|
|West Brom vs. West Ham||26 April 2014||3 p.m.||1-1|
|Manchester United vs Norwich||26 April 2014||5:30 p.m.||2-0|
|Sunderland vs. Cardiff||27 April 2014||12 p.m.||1-0|
|Liverpool vs. Chelsea||27 April 2014||2:05 p.m.||3-1|
|Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City||27 April 2014||4:10 p.m.||0-1|
|Arsenal vs. Newcastle||28 April 2014||8 p.m.||3-0|
Sunderland vs. Cardiff City
Getting four points from games at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge is a great achievement for any side. But for Sunderland, the team propping up the Premier League table, it's something of a miracle.
A "miracle" is what Poyet said his team needed to stay up after they lost, 5-1, against Tottenham on 8 April, per BBC Sport, but his team have responded in stellar fashion.
The Sunderland fans are clearly starting to believe their team can pull off a miraculous escape, too, as illustrated by this banner at Stamford Bridge on Saturday:
The banner from the sunderland fans at the bridge today. pic.twitter.com/4LgOUtSpw0— Kelechi Nkoro (@K1Says) April 19, 2014
The Mackems host Cardiff City at the Stadium of Light on Sunday in a proverbial relegation six-pointer. The Bluebirds are another side immersed in this gripping battle to beat the drop, and you feel as though the loser of this one will surely be consigned to the Championship next season.
Key Player - Fabio Borini
The man on loan from Liverpool has developed something of a patent for scoring big goals for his temporary employers. He notched the opener in the derby at Newcastle, a goal in both the League Cup semi-final and final and, most recently of course, the winning goal in that remarkable win at Stamford Bridge.
Poyet will be looking for his big-game player to shine again here. Unlike their recent jaunts to Manchester City and Chelsea, the onus will be on Sunderland to come out and attack in front of their own supporters in this one.
Borini has been a central figure in the Black Cats’ most promising attacking football this campaign, and the creative burden will fall squarely on his shoulders again on Sunday.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
One hand on the trophy? It certainly seems that way after Liverpool raced into a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table in Week 35. If they can beat Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday, it may as well be two hands on the cup.
Jose Mourinho takes his side to Anfield knowing only a win will do if they are to stoke any lingering title ambitions. But at this juncture, you suspect the Champions League will take priority; the two semi-final ties against Atletico Madrid sandwich the clash on Merseyside.
The Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman doesn’t think the Atletico game will have much bearing on Mourinho’s team selection, though:
It remains to be seen whether or not Mourinho will rest players in this one, but regardless of the team the Portuguese decides to field, it’ll be some ask if they are to halt Brendan Rodgers’ runaway red train.
Key Player - Nemanja Matic
If Chelsea are to stand any chance up on Merseyside, Matic needs have a stormer in midfield. Since Chelsea re-signed the player from Benfica in January for £21 million, per BBC Sport, he has been outstanding in the centre of the park.
He’ll need to be at his dominant best to wrestle control of the game away from the likes of Steven Gerrard and give Chesea a formidable platform to build from in central areas. The Serbian also needs to be defensively alert, especially when it comes to picking up those scintillating runs from deep by Raheem Sterling.
It’ll be intriguing to see how the sleight figures of Philippe Coutinho and Sterling cope with the physicality of Matic, and that’ll be a vital battle in determining the result of this game.
Arsenal vs. Newcastle
Things are looking up for the Gunners: a comfortable win over Hull City in Week 35, the return of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, and an FA Cup final on the horizon. Are they set for their most prosperous season in years?
Finishing fourth looked a difficult ask at one point, but they have regained the upper hand in their battle with Everton. A quick glance at their remaining fixtures, and you have to fancy the Gunners to win out the rest of the season.
Their next game is arguably the most idyllic prospect in the Premier League at the moment, as a Newcastle team in deplorable form rock up at the Emirates. Toon boss Alan Pardew will be allowed back on the touchline for this one, per Simon Bird of The Mirror, and his team are in dire need of some leadership and direction after losing their last five consecutive games, per WhoScored.com
Key Player - Aaron Ramsey
If only the Welshman could have stayed fit for the entire campaign. Ramsey was vital in Arsenal’s charge to the top of the Premier League table in the early part of the season, and he’s looking back to his best after a virtuoso display against Hull City.
His ability to drive forward with the ball, make incisive passes in tight areas and finish off chances has been sorely missed by the Gunners, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping that Ramsey’s return can galvanise his team to a strong finish to the season.