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The battle for fourth place

The top clash this weekend sees Man City face Liverpool in what could be the deciding factor in the race for fourth place and a Champions League berth

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Man City striker Carlos Tevez will look to continue his current strong form against fourth place rivals Liverpool Sunday. AFP
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will hope to lead his team to victory against Man City Sunday in their crucial Premiership clash. AFP

THIS season, perhaps more than any in the last decade or so of the Premiership, seems to be bringing up countless twists and turns that make predicting results almost impossible. Chelsea losing to Everton and Arsenal’s victory over Liverpool has tightened things up at the top of the table, while the battle for survival and the lucrative fourth spot couldn’t be much closer. This weekend is another round of ties that could go either way, and placing your bets is definitely a tricky business.

The early kick off Saturday sees the champions travel to Goodison Park to visit a resurgent Everton. Everton’s start to the season was hampered by injuries and the speculation surrounding Lescott’s inevitable move to Manchester City.

Against Chelsea, the Toffees proved that they can be a match for any side on their day, especially when playing at home. Saha has recently signed a new contract, and he’ll be desperate to get one over his former club and keep up his goal scoring form. Everton can often huff and puff, but fail to find the back of the net, and this is precisely why an injury-free Saha is priceless.

Both teams are coming off midweek victories in Europe, but Everton’s Fellaini has been ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. United have a fantastic record against Everton and with striker Rooney in the form of his life, you just have the feeling Sir Alex’s players will find a way to squeeze out the vital three points that they desperately need to keep the pressure firmly on Chelsea.

Everton will be no pushover, but the battle in midfield should be crucial. Fletcher and Carrick should boss the midpark and allow United’s superior class to make the difference. Rooney is unlikely to be asked to play upfront on his own for the second time in a week, so Berbatov should get the nod to join him and start paying off United’s multi-million dollar investment.

Chelsea might be on top of the pile in the Premiership, but Ancelotti must be kicking himself, as they should be more than just a point ahead of United. They visit Wolves Saturday, who will be full of confidence after beating Tottenham in their last home game.

Wolves are only one point off the relegation zone, and it’s going to take another Spartan-like performance if they are going to expect to take some points off of Chelsea.

Drogba is going to be the Blues danger man as usual. His attributes sum up his team perfectly. He has the skill and talent when needed, but he also has the brute force that most teams simply can’t handle. The injured Ashley Cole will be a big loss, but between Lampard, Joe Cole, Anelka and Ballack to bolster Drogba going forwards, it seems almost impossible to envisage a clean sheet for Mick McCarthy’s team. I expect Chelsea to be heading home south still on top of the table.

Man City v Liverpool is definitely the standout fixture of the round. Moneybags City are aiming to dismantle a Liverpool side by finishing fourth and potentially send the Red’s even further in the red.

If Mancini’s side win, they’ll be four points clear of Benitez’s boys with a game in hand. City, however, still need to find the right balance between attacking and defending.

Benitez will likely play a five-man midfield and look to suffocate the service to the Sky Blues strikers. This game has the potential to be a classic, especially if there is an early goal, but it might need a piece of magic from either Gerrard or the likes of Tevez. These kinds of games, though, inevitably seem to be won by the narrowest of margins.

Arsenal at home to Sunderland and Aston Villa at home to Burnley seem like easy calls. Sunderland are in free fall and Burnley have the worst away record in the league. Nothing is a gimme in the Premiership but these two games are about as close to a guaranteed home win as you’ll get this weekend.

At the wrong end of the table, Portsmouth must surely have to turn the corner soon or it could all end in tears. Stoke will be tough opponents for Pompey, but if the Fratton Park faithful can lift the roof of the stands as they’ve done in the past, it might signal the start of the great escape.

Wigan are swimming in deep water and are struggling to find the back of the net. They welcome Spurs who hit nine goals past them earlier in the season. Both teams need a win to kick start the rest of their seasons. Defoe put five past the Latics at White Hart Lane, and I fancy him to show the Wigan players just how it’s done in a low-scoring game to finish off the weekend.

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