Saturday, April 21, 2012

EPL PREVIEW: WHAT TO EXPECT



The first team could be relegated from the Premier League this season on a weekend where matters at the top and bottom of the table will move closer to a denouement. 

Wolves are currently rock bottom and eight points adrift of safety going into Sunday's game with Manchester City, who themselves are looking to close the gap on Manchester United who host Everton earlier in the afternoon.

If Wolves lose or draw then their fate will depend on QPR's result against Tottenham and the outcome of Bolton's home tie with Swansea. Either way, Terry Connor needs a miracle if his side are to avoid dropping into the Championship - be it on Sunday or in the coming weeks.

As the race for the title continues, so does the chase for a top-four finish with Chelsea, buoyed by their victory over Barcelona in midweek, taking on Arsenal in Saturday's early kick-off.

Everything has turned from gold to dust for Wolves as they head into a daunting fixture with Manchester City on Sunday. Connor remains defiant that his side can avoid relegation but defeat at home to City would almost certainly be the end of a dismal campaign at Molineux. QPR and Bolton both have home fixtures on Saturday and if they get points from their respective games then Wolves would head into their match knowing a result is imperative.

This may certainly spice things up but you would be a brave soul to back them against Roberto Mancini's City following their demolition of Norwich. The Blues are still five points behind Manchester United but will be desperate to not see that margin increase ahead of the crucial upcoming derby at Eastlands.

Manchester United will have other ideas about that gap at the top, however, and the champions host Everton on Sunday before City take to the field. United demolished Aston Villa last time out but were perhaps given a helping hand by the decision to award a penalty after Ashley Young went down in the box with relative ease. Everton could still be licking their wounds after a bitter defeat in the FA Cup semi-final to rivals Liverpool at Wembley. 

With little else to play for, that result may well have signalled the end of the campaign for David Moyes's side.Wayne Ronney has been in fine form of late and will be keen to get on the scoresheet against his boyhood club as United close in on another league title.

The first match of a busy weekend sees London rivals Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates. It was a fantastic result for Roberto Di Matteo and co on Wednesday following their 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the Champions League, giving them a fighting chance of progression ahead of the return leg at Camp Nou. There may be some heavy legs in the squad, though, as they make the short trip North for a game that could decide if they will be playing in Europe's elite club competition next season.

Of course, if Chelsea win the Champions League they will qualify next year, but they are still in with a shout of fourth spot in the league. Tottenham only hold a two-point lead over Chelsea and if the Blues can win at Arsenal then they will trail Arsene Wenger's outfit by just four points with a game in hand. Wenger watched his side fall to Wigan at home on Monday night and will want a much-improved performance.

Tottenham were well beaten at Wembley by Chelsea and know that their season now risks being a huge disappointment if they are unable to finish in the top four. But another capital derby at Queens Park Rangers is not going to be a walk in the park, that's for sure. Rangers are fighting for their lives and sit two points clear of the bottom three, although they have played two more games than Bolton in 18th. Their home form of late has been much better than away and Mark Hughes will be calling on his side's supporters to vociferously back the Hoops to a much-needed victory. Their last three matches at Loftus Roads have yielded respective wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Swansea. Spurs should in no way take them lightly.

Owen Coyle has revealed that Fabrice Muamba may yet play for the club again following his cardiac arrest earlier in the year, which will no doubt boost everyone involved with Bolton Wanderers. Yet Coyle must focus his attention towards Saturday's encounter with Swansea City at the Reebok Stadium - a must-win as Bolton have fallen to successive league defeats, conceding five and failing to score. With games in hand, though, one feels they have the chance to claw themselves out of trouble, but victories need to come soon. Swansea bounced back from three losses to thrash Blackburn last time out and are a dangerous proposition if they get their passing game going.

Many had written off Wigan's chances of staying in the Premier League a month ago but some phenomenal results have transformed their fortunes. Victories over Liverpool, Manchester United and most recently Arsenal leave Roberto Martinez's Latics five points above Bolton, having played two games more. It has been a remarkable transformation and one that looked extremely unlikely not so long ago. This weekend they play Fulham at Craven Cottage knowing a win would edge them closer to the 40-point mark. Martin Jol's Cottagers have produced some excellent performances at home this season, though, and on their day can beat anyone.

The other side embroiled in the relegation dogfight are Blackburn Rovers and they are in dire straits. Steve Kean had seen an improvement in March but five successive defeats leaves Rovers well and truly stuck in the mire. Anything less than a win at home to Norwich and things are beginning to look desperate. The Canaries will be hoping for a response following their humbling by Manchester City to consolidate their impressive campaign in mid-table.

Who would have predicted at this stage of the campaign that Newcastle would be in with a shout of finishing in the top four? But there they are, level on points with Tottenham with five matches remaining. Alan Pardew has come out to say that Chelsea's run in Europe may make Arsenal and Spurs nervous, with a Blues triumph in the Champions League meaning only the top three teams in the league would qualify for next year's competition. Newcastle will hope to capitalise on any stutters in North London when they host Stoke. The Potters may have one eye on their summer vacations, although Tony Pulis will be making sure they fight until the last second of the season.

Aston Villa are not out of the woods just yet and have been in woeful form this year. Alex McLeish was at the helm of Birmingham City when they collapsed last term, and if the same thing happens then he would be advised to never step foot in the second city again. This weekend Villa play Sunderland, having accrued 35 points from 33 games and six points above the drop zone. Sunderland have only managed three points from four games so Villa have a great opportunity to put an end to their sorry run.

Finally, two sides with nothing to play for in the league this year lock horns at Anfield when Liverpool take on West Brom. This game is not meaningless, however, with Roy Hodgson returning to Merseyside after his doomed spell with Liverpool last season. Kenny Dalglish claims Hodgson will receive a 'warm reception' despite the bad feeling that lingered during his ill-fated Reds tenure.

Courtesy of SKYSPORTS





 

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