After yet another series of entertaining Premiership and Champions league matches which contained more shocks, thrills and spills, we turn our attention to the upcoming weekend of Premiership football. With four teams battling it out for the top spot, the relegation battle heating up and the mind games in full flow, the upcoming fixtures have taken on added importance. The title deciders and relegation six pointers are coming thick and fast. It truly is “squeaky bum time.” Here are five games to watch this weekend.
Stoke vs Arsenal:
The Potters are currently 15th in the table, just three points above the drop zone. Many feel that they were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Man City after a good performance last weekend. Stoke recently beat Man United 2-1 at the Britannia but haven’t won in the three games since. Manager Mark Hughes will want his side to make the Britannia a fortress in the last few games of the season but with Arsenal set to visit this Saturday that is easier said than done.
The Gunners are second in the league and battling it out with Man City and Liverpool to topple leaders Chelsea. With just a point between his side and Chelsea, Arsenal boss Wenger knows that his side can’t afford to slip up at this stage of the season. Any mistakes could lead to the Gunners being overtaken by fellow title chasers City and Liverpool and finishing in fourth, which is not acceptable for Arsenal this season.
If they are to win the title, the Gunners will have to be able to grind out wins away from home, even against tough opposition like Stoke. Stoke have proved tough opposition for the top four sides this season, especially at the Britannia. Chelsea were beaten 3-2 by the Potters, while Liverpool barely scraped a 5-3 win. Stoke are just three points outside the drop zone and will be desperate for points. The Gunners will go to Stoke expecting to take home all three points but they face a tough test.
Fulham vs Chelsea:
Top versus bottom in this clash that could decide the fates of both clubs. Fulham haven’t been performing lately while Chelsea drew with Galatasaray in midweek so both sides will be looking to bounce back. Fulham drew 1-1 against West Brom last weekend after a good display. New boss Felix Magath will know that Fulham’s home form will have to improve if the Cottagers are to stay in the Premiership.
Chelsea are a point ahead of Arsenal and nicked all three points last weekend against Everton after a late goal sealed a 1-0 win. Mourinho will be wary of the threat from title chasers Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool and he will want all three points this weekend. The Blues still have to face Liverpool away and Arsenal at home in games that could decide the title.
Fulham have conceded the most goals in the Premier League this season so it is hard to see them keeping a clean sheet against the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian. Mourinho’s men should have too much class for Magath’s struggling Fulham side. Yet this is the Premiership, where surprises happen every weekend. With so much at stake, will the Blues be able to hold their nerve or will Fulham’s desire to stay up allow the underdogs to nick the win.
Southampton vs Liverpool:
The Saints are sitting 9th in the table and look destined to finish in the top ten while visitors Liverpool are currently fourth, just four points off the top spot. Southampton have only lost 3 games at St Marys stadium and they beat the Reds at Anfield so Pochettino’s side should be confident going into this tie.
Liverpool are flying high and, even though Rodgers maintains they cannot win the league, the Reds will want to make a late charge for the title. Suarez and Sturridge have been in devastating form of late while Jordan Henderson has also proved his worth with two goals against Swansea. If the Reds are to make a serious title challenge, a win at St Marys is vital. If the Southampton defence fail to deal with Liverpool’s attacking threats, then the Reds could overwhelm the Saints.
However, Liverpool have had their fair share of defensive problems as well. The Reds have conceded the most goals out of anyone in the top seven and Kolo Toure recently said that they must improve at the back. The Liverpool defence will have to deal with the attack minded Adam Lallana who has been in the form of his career this season. With so much attacking talent on both sides, expect plenty of goals in this tie. With the title to play for, Liverpool should be well up for this one but Southampton will provide a tough test for the Reds, particularly at a packed St Marys.
Man United vs Man City: (postponed)
The Manchester derby, a fierce and feisty encounter, is always worth a watch. This year, however, things will be a little different. United were the big club in Manchester for years but since Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the tables have turned. That is not to say that it hasn’t been on the cards for a while. United have been left with an average squad while City have been buying top class talent from around the globe since they won the league two years ago.
Man United are currently seventh in the league while City are just three points off the top spot but have a game in hand over league leaders Chelsea. Pellegrini will demand that his side take all three points at Old Trafford, something that has become a lot easier these days. Years ago, if your side went to the fabled “Theatre of Dreams” and didn’t get completely annihilated, you were happy enough. This season however, there is a weakness about United and teams sense that they are there for the taking, even at home. The Red Devils lost 2-0 at Olympiacos in midweek and looked very average in their performance. City will know that they should beat their long term rivals.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho will be fuming at the fact that this game had to be pushed back to Tuesday because of City’s Capital One Cup final on Sunday. Pellegrini will get to watch his fellow title rivals play and by the time City kick off on Tuesday, they will have two games in hand over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. City will surely look to use this to their advantage. With their own fate in their hands, the blue side of Manchester can’t afford any slip ups. They go to Old Trafford next Tuesday knowing that a draw is not good enough.
Prediction: Man City
Sunderland vs West Brom:
This game has also been pushed back by a few days because of Sunderland’s involvement in the Capital One Cup final. Both the Black Cats and West Brom are deep inside the relegation battle with just a point separating the two sides. Sunderland are just three points off the bottom of the table and both sides will be treating this tie as a real six pointer. The Baggies drew with Fulham last weekend and manager Pepe Mel will want his side to nick a point at the Stadium of Light.
The appointment of Gus Poyet at Sunderland has had a positive effect on the Black Cats but they are still desperate for points. Sunderland winger Adam Johnson has been in great form of late and Poyet will look to him to lead the attack next week. Both managers will be treating every game from now to the end of the season as a cup final. In a league where one slip up or one piece of magic could be the difference relegation and survival, both sides know that every game is vital.
With their Premiership status at stake, this clash at the Stadium of Light should be a real battle. The result could determine who stays up and who goes down come the end of the season. The relegation battle is so tight that 3 points could make all the difference so expect both sides to go for the jugular.
Prediction: West Brom
With title deciders, crunching derbies and relegation battles to look forward to, what other reason do you need to watch the Premiership this weekend. This is the time where titles are won and lost in the blink of an eye and survival depends on who wants it the most. It truly is “squeaky bum time,” the most wonderful time of the year.
Pundit Arena, Darragh Bermingham.
Featured Image By Jon Candy from Cardiff, Wales (DSC06340) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.