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Spurs, Liverpool fight for fourth

Tottenham travel to Anfield Sunday, with Benitez’ boys eager to relaunch their dismal season


LAST weekend the Premiership stepped aside to make way for FA Cup ties. Not so long ago, Leeds United were title challengers, and despite their spectacular fall from grace in recent times, the League 1 side deservedly humbled their historic rivals Man United at Old Trafford. With three out of the top four on the road, it looks a fair bet that this weekend’s Premier League matches will bring even more drama and tension, as teams look to start 2010 on the right note.

When Torres latched on to a Villa mistake to seal a last-minute winner December 29, some of the doom and gloom over Anfield was temporarily lifted. Liverpool now host Spurs in the biggest game of this weekend.

Benitez is desperate to regain the lucrative fourth spot and knows Spurs offer a clear threat, which could spell disaster for his cash-strapped club. Victory is a must for the Reds, and this tie should be one to remember.

Torres is arguable the only Liverpool player in some kind of form right now. Captain marvel Steven Gerrard has slowly returned from the wilderness and needs to galvanise his troops into a revival and ensure this season doesn’t become their worst in over a decade.

Liverpool will struggle to play their way out of trouble, and should look to knuckle down and fight their way up the league. Former Liverpool lads Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane will be desperate to prove a point, as they never cemented a regular place in Benitez’s starting eleven.

Redknapp’s Tottenham wont be travelling to Anfield in fear, with the likes of Defoe and Lennon able to expose the Red’s sluggish back four with their genuine pace. Liverpool might have history on their side, and home advantage, but they lack consistency and confidence. This match is too tight to call, and it’s likely to be decided by a piece of magic from one of the plethora of international players on display.

At the start of the season, Birmingham looked set for a season of struggle and desperation. McLeish has proved that teamwork and perspiration can override talent, and his side deservedly sits on top of the form league table. They have a mean defence, propped up by the impressive Joe Hart in goal.

Sir Alex was enraged by his side’s FA Cup exit, and will demand a reaction from his players to keep up the pressure on Chelsea. Too many United players have question marks hovering over their heads, especially in attack. Rooney has been magnificent this term, but he needs a settled partner. Nani, Owen, Berbatov, Scholes and Valencia haven’t yet come close to hitting the standards expected of them.

It’s unusual to see Man United losing back-to-back games, and I doubt it will happen this weekend. Ferguson will take no chances with his selection, and you’d expect him to start with Fletcher and Giggs in midfield. I can’t see this being a high-scoring tie and fancy a workman-like United team to narrowly break down Birmingham’s scrooge-like defence in a slender victory.

The early game on Saturday sees Hull City hosting Chelsea in the first match Ancelloti has to cope with the absence of his African quartet. Phil Brown’s Tigers are almost certainly going to be fighting for survival, and they don’t have the quality or determination to defeat a depleted Chelsea.

Drogba on his day can be unplayable, and he will be a massive miss, but Hull shouldn’t offer any real resistance. Anelka and Sturridge upfront will still be a handful and with Lampard offering support from midfield, I find it hard to foresee a Hull clean sheet. John Terry will conduct the Blues defence, and his side should win this fixture at a canter.

Other games of note this weekend see the managerial rollercoaster take centre stage as Bolton and Burnley both have to cope with changes in leader. Both sides will be aiming to clamber up the table, but with Bolton travelling to Sunderland and Burnley welcoming brutish Stoke, they will struggle to find an instant fix.

West Ham play Wolves at Upton Park and, despite the fact we have five months left in the season, this is already a crucial six-pointer. Zola is down to the bare bones, and will yet again have to rely on youth to attempt to dig himself out of the relegation zone.



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