The Premier League heads for its dramatic conclusion with teams scrapping for crucial points to assist in their title pursuit or their escape from relegation
Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his Man United side can win Saturday and keep up the pressure on league leaders Chelsea. AFP
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp will look for a third successive win against a top three team Saturday at Old Trafford. AFP
WITH most teams only having just three league fixtures remaining, the pressure has already caused a few cracks to appear after last Saturday’s thrillers in both Manchester and London. The same two cities take centre stage once again as the Premiership reaches fever pitch.
The weekend starts at Old Trafford, with United hosting an on form Tottenham desperate to finish in the top four. Sir Alex would have been cheering Spurs on as they defeated both Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of four days last week.
Spurs have a dismal record at United’s Theater of Dreams, and history would tell you this will be a home win. Redknapp has worked wonders at Tottenham, and despite all the injuries, the team is playing better than ever. Ferguson will be making plans for sure.
Gareth Bale is presently carving apart right backs and United will most likely drop an ageing Neville and play Valencia wide right, so he can utilise his pace to track back and prevent the marauding Bale from gliding past a naive Rafael. Modric may be tiny but he has been bossing the centre of midfield and orchestrating Spurs’ neat passing game.
Fletcher is the heart beat of the United side, and he will look to suffocate Modric. Even if Rooney plays, he is unlikely to be 100 percent fit. Berbatov still has a point to prove, and he would like nothing more than to get one over his former side.
All the pressure is on the Red Devils as Spurs are expected to lose. Last weekend, Scholes provided the magic touch and even though United aren’t in top gear, you just expect a moment of class from a side full of experience that should give them a vital three points in the title race.
Arsene Wenger will be glad to be back at the Emirates after Arsenal’s title hopes vanished with two away defeats. The nature of the Gunners capitulation against Wigan would have hurt their expectant fans.
At home to Man City, only three points will do to avoid a bitter end to a long campaign. City didn’t show enough imagination and guile in the Manchester derby and deservedly lost.
Arsenal are certainly fragile right now because of injuries and form. If City have thoughts of joining the elite of English Football, they must get something from this game. Van Persie will start and I expect him to be the catalysis to bring a spark back to his disheartened side. Tevez and Bellamy will be a threat on the counter attack, but City shouldn’t get enough of the ball to hurt their opponents.
The current doom and gloom around Anfield, on and off the pitch, must be pushing all Liverpool fans panic buttons. They travel to Burnley in a game that they should normally breeze through. Burnley are so woeful that even without Torres and Ngog up top, you still fancy the Reds to win.
Liverpool need to boost their goal difference and should look to hit a disorganised Clarets side hard, with Gerrard, Kuyt and Benayoun licking their lips in anticipation. Liverpool will stroll through this game and cling on to their faint top four hopes.
Chelsea, minus the suspended John Terry, will have a point to prove after they buckled under the pressure at White Hart Lane last weekend.
Drogba had perhaps his worst game of the season and he, along with his teammates, should have enough fire in their bellies not to drop any more points. Stoke will always be a handful, but I expect Ancelotti to recall Anelka and play two up front, which should be too much for Tony Pulis’ team and allow Chelsea a comfortable home win.
Aston Villa host city rivals Birmingham in what should be an easy win for Martin O’Neil’s side as they chase their European dreams. Birmingham’s season ended a month or so back, and they are stuck contentedly in mid table. Villa draw a lot of home games, but with Carew and Agbonlahor looking good up front and the endless crosses from the flanks, Birmingham keeper Joe Hart should be in for a busy day of picking the ball out of the net.
Everton’s season is likely to be one of disappointment after only hitting their stride after Christmas. The second half of their season has been breathtaking at times, and with an emptier treatment room they should feel optimistic about next season.
Fulham proved against Liverpool they are no pushover’s. If Everton can get an early goal, this could be a breeze for them, but the longer the game goes on the more impatient the fans will become. Arteta and Pienaar will offer the creativity and Saha should bring the finishing touch to a hard fought home win.
Wigan almost guaranteed survival after an amazing comeback against Arsenal last week. They travel to Upton Park in what is a must win for Zola’s Hammers.
West Ham lacked belief and energy on Monday night against Liverpool. Zola will demand a response in front of a desperate home crowd. Both teams are poor, but I fancy West Ham to sneak it with Carlton Cole finally ending his goal drought in a fixture devoid of any real quality.
Portsmouth travel to Bolton in a fixture that doesn’t look good on paper. Bolton are safe and Pompey are relegated but have one eye on the FA Cup final. Bolton will look to build on their recent form which has been decent. Bolton’s Klasnic, Taylor and Davis will pose the biggest threat to David James’ goal, and I can see Pompey getting blown apart.
Wolves welcome Blackburn in a tie they will look to pick up three points from to confirm Premiership status for another season. Sam Allardyce’s side don’t travel well and Mick McCarthy’s team should be fully pumped up, knowing what a victory will bring. Doyle and Jarvis link up well and should give a sluggish Blackburn defence a torrid time.
Hull didn’t stay up last season because they were any good, rather three other sides were even worse. Anything can happen in 90 minutes of football and despite Sunderland’s shocking away form, I can’t see Hull getting anything more than a point at home. Altidore looks lively in attack, but he is missing an end product which certainly can’t be said of Darren Bent. Steve Bruce’s Sunderland have finally found their feet and should send Hull further into the wilderness.