On a weekend where the first silverware of the season is set to be handed out, all eyes would be expected to be focused on Wembley on Sunday afternoon when Manchester United and Aston Villa square up in the Carling Cup decider. Instead early on Saturday, the eyes of the footballing world will be gazing upon two players and in particular their hands. Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford bridge in what is the first time Wayne Bridge and Mr. England John Terry will physically cross paths since those allegations. In what is otherwise a relatively dull fixture list, there is no doubt what game gets top billing.
As if this game was not going to receive enough of the media spotlight, the decision taken by Bridge this week to resign himself from selction for the England squad with immediate effect will have further reignited the interest in this clash. Talk has been raging all week whether the two will shake hands and I’ll be completely honest in saying I’m extremely interested in how it’s going to play out, pathetic and all as that may be. Will Terry offer his hand? Will Bridge snub it? I’ll be watching closely.
Even though entertainment is guaranteed without a ball having to be kicked, the actual business of the match itself also has plenty riding on it. Chelsea will be feeling the breath of Manchester United on their necks once more as the Red Devils pulled back to within a point of them with their win over West Ham in midweek, while City, fresh from being knocked out of the FA Cup, will be eager to ensure that their season does not spiral out of control and maintain their march towards fourth spot. Chelsea will be strong favourites, althought the Londoners were defeated by Inter on Wednesday night, their general play was solid and their home form in the Premier League is unmatched having won twelve and drawn one of their thirteen encounters.
The form book compounds the task that City have on their hands. It’s been over ten hours since they’ve even managed a goal at the Bridge. Indeed, Roberto Mancini’s men have managed only three goals in their last four league ties so a vast improvement is needed if they want to take the three points back North with them on. The absence of Petr Cech from the Chelsea goal may assist them in their task however. Hilario is not a complete newcomer in terms of deputising for the Blue’s number one but there is no doubting that there is a big quality gap there that City will be hoping to capitalise on. Also missing from the Chelsea selction are Yuri Zhirkov, Jose Bosingwa, Deco and Michael Essien.
If City are to break their duck against this weekend’s opponents, they must do so without Emmanuel Adebayor after the Togolese striker picked up a four game ban for violent conduct in their FA Cup clash with Stoke in Midweek. The return of Carloz Tevez from Argentina following the premature birth of his daughter will be a big boost to them however. Craig Bellamy is also back to fitness while Patrick Viera welcomes Adebayor to the suspension list.
The other most interesting game of the top half of the table comes on Sunday when Everton, returning from a disappointing trip to Portugal which saw them eliminated from the Europa Cup, travel to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham. Spurs are still well in the hunt for a top four finish while Everton, whose recent charge up the table sees them lying in eigth place ,will be aiming for re-entry into Europe next season for another crack at the Europa Cup. Any advantage Spurs would have had in playing a team likely to be fatigued and downbeat was eradicated earlier this week when a virus struck the club which saw them forced to close all training facilities but their pitches. Vedran Corluka and Wilson Palacios are big doubts as a result of the virus while Jermain Defoe is a doubt with an injured hamstring and Peter Crouch struggles with an ankle injury. In form Roman Pavlechenko will be hoping to continue his recent run of appearances and goals. The Russian has taken the chance to rebuild his Spurs career handed to him by Harry Redknapp with aplomb.
For Everton, Phil Jagielka is once again a contendor for a starting berth after his injury nightmares over the past year. Tim Cahill and Phillippe Senderos are doubts while Tony Hibbert and Marrouane Fellaini are certainly out.
Completing the list of the League’s more ambitous clubs, Arsenal travel to the Brittania stadium to face a Stoke side who are unbeaten in 2010 and will be bouyed by their victory over Man City in midweek. Arsene Wenger will be looking forward to this one like a trip to the dentist. Its often said his side don’t like mixing it against the more physical teams and that’s exactly what Stoke are, however to be fair they have some real qulaity in their ranks also. Furthermore, The thoughts of Rory Delap’s missile throws raining down on Manuel Almunia is enough to terrify any Arsenal fan. Liverpool welcome Blackburn to Anfield on Sunday in what will not be an easy game for the Reds given their trip to/from Romania just a few days ago. Blackburn are second in the League’s form table however their successes on the road are few and far between, having taken three from the last possible eighteen. Liverpool should have enough to win this win, but will have to do so without the freshly injured Martin Skrtel.
As usual, its a big weekend for each of the Premier League’s strugglers. For Burnley, the opportunity to welcome the now certain-to-be-relegated Portsmouth to Turf Moor will be relished by all fans of the club. If the Clarets are to have any hope of staying up, their home form must continue to be as solid as it has been all season. They have lost just twice on their home patch all season, compared to one draw and thirteen losses on the road. Portsmouth will be an interesting club to watch as the season comes to its conclusion. The docking of nine points due to their administration has all but ended their dreams of top-flight survival but they may well begin to play without fear and do have enough quality in their ranks to have a say in who goes down with them.
Elsewhere in the releagation myre, Bolton take on Wolves in this week’s example of a certified six-pointer. Owen Coyles arrival to the club has failed to inspire any drastic upturn in form. The Lancashire side have managed just one win in the eight games since his arrival and have not scored for seven hours. Their chances for a much needed victory this weekend look a little better than usual however given the fact that Wolves have lost three of their last four away games and have not won outside if Molineaux in 2010 and once all season.
This weekend’s fixtures in full:
Saturday (3 p.m. unless otherwise stated)
Chelsea v Man City (12.45)
Birmingham v Wigan
Bolton v Wolves
Burnley v Portsmouth
Stoke City v Arsenal
Tottenham v Everton (13.00)
Liverpool v Blackburn (15.00)
Sunderland v Fulham (15.00)