Champions League places up for grabs

by Back Page Football

With the title race now down to the two Manchester clubs the battle for the remaining two Champions League places heats up this weekend.

3 Tottenham Hotspur, 53 points
4 Arsenal, 49 points
5 Chelsea, 46 points
6 Newcastle United, 44 points
7 Liverpool, 39 points

Fixtures

Saturday March 10th
15:00 Chelsea v Stoke
15:00 Sunderland v Liverpool (Live on Setanta Ireland)
17:30 Everton v Tottenham Hotspur (Live on ESPN)
Monday March 12th
20:00 Arsenal v Newcastle (Live on Sky Sports 1)

Spurs are big favourites to take one of the two available spots but with only 2 wins from their last 6 games and another tough fixture at Goodison Park this weekend they have allowed the chasing pack to gain some ground. Harry Redknapp has done an amazing job at White Hart Lane; they were bottom of the league when he took over, but all this talk of him getting the England job definitely seems to have unsettled his side.

It looks like the season could be over for defender Michael Dawson after he was stretchered off in Wednesday’s win over Stevenage in the Fa Cup. Aaron Lennon is a doubt for this weekend after coming off early in midweek with a hamstring injury but Spurs will be boosted by the return from suspension of Scott Parker who missed last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United and Gareth Bale who missed that game through illness.

Jermain Defoe could earn a start after 3 goals in his last 2 games while Louis Saha is a doubt to face his former club who are unbeaten in their last 6 league games, their last defeat coming against Spurs at White Hart Lane in January. Included in those 6 games are two home wins against league leaders Manchester City and Chelsea so Redknapp`s side will have to be on top form to get a much needed 3 points at a ground where they haven’t won in their last four visits.

For Everton, Steven Pienaar is ineligible to face his parent club while Darron Gibson is out with a knee injury. Jack Rodwell, Victor Anichebe and Leon Osman are all in line for a return after playing for the reserves in midweek.

It’s third v fifth on Sky’s Monday Night Football with Arsenal v Newcastle at The Emirates. The Gunners go into this game on the back of four league wins in a row scoring 16 goals in the process which has seen them close the gap on North London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur to four points. Arsene Wenger’s side also came close to pulling off a remarkable recovery in the Champions League in midweek against Ac Milan. After trailing 4-0 from the first leg at the San Siro The Gunners led 3-0 at half time in the second leg but just couldn’t find that all important fourth goal. It will be interesting to see how much that will take out of the players as they put in a huge effort on Tuesday night and Wenger will be glad this game has been moved to Monday night.

Both Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey are expected to be back for the Gunners on Monday night who will once again be looking to Robin Van Persie for goals with the striker already having netted 25 Premier League goals this season.

Newcastle are without a win in three games including a 5-0 defeat on their visit to North London against Spurs in February. They also conceded 5 at Fulham in January so they will be hoping for a better time in London on Monday night. There is no doubting the job Alan Pardew has done in the North East which has the Magpies only five points off a Champions League place and a win on Monday night will set them up for a big push for 4th spot and it’s a win they need to get back on track following some poor results of late.

Chelsea captain John Terry could return for their home game against Stoke in Roberto Di Matteo`s first league game in charge of the Blues following the sacking of Andre Villas Boas. Di Matteo took charge of Chelsea’s 2-0 midweek Fa Cup win over Birmingham, a game in which he decided to start Fernando Torres ahead of Didier Drogba with Frank Lampard also starting on the bench. Ashley Cole could also be back after missing the Fa Cup game on Tuesday night.

Stoke will check on the fitness of Andy Wilkinsion and Rory Delap with both players struggling with hamstring injuries. Wilkinson had to come off early in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Norwich while Delap missed that game. The Potters face into a tough couple of weeks with games against Spurs and Manchester City coming up after this weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool will be hoping to gain some ground on the top four this week as they travel to Sunderland on Saturday before the rescheduled Merseyside Derby at Anfield on Tuesday night. The Reds go into this weekend ten points behind 4th placed Arsenal and on the back of only one league win in seven. Kenny Dalglish is hopeful of having Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard back to bolster his side ahead of the run in. When Liverpool and Sunderland met at the start of the season the game ended in a 1-1 draw, one of eight home draws from thirteen home games for Liverpool this season.

Martin O Neill’s side go into this game without a league win since there visit to Stoke on the 4th of February but a win this weekend will bring them within two points of the Merseyside club. The Black Cats will be without suspended duo Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole after both players were sent off in last weekend’s Tyne-Wear Derby which ended 1-1.

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