Normality resumes this weekend as once again we have a full offering of fixtures to keep fans (and Neil Sherwin’s fantasy football team) happy. We take a closer look at some of this weekend’s more interesting games below.
Last weekend’s FA cup commitments meant that Chelsea had to sit back and watch as their position at the top was first matched and then overtaken. The current situation at the summit of the league promises for one of the most interesting title run-ins in years: Manchester United are the present holders of pole position, two points ahead of both Chelsea and Arsenal, although the Blues have a game in hand on both their rivals. This weekend sees the top three in action against teams where three points would be fully expected but with the nature of this season’s league, it is impossible to confidently forecast that all three will come through unscathed.
Chelsea are the first team of the three in action as they kick off at 3pm on Saturday against West Ham. Despite last weekend’s comfortable win against Stoke City in the FA Cup, the minds of a lot of Chelsea supporters will still be focusing on the 4-2 defeat to Manchester City two weeks ago and Carlo Ancelotti will be eager for his team to get back to winning ways in this game, especially since they face a tough showdown against Inter Milan in the Champions League this coming week. The Chelsea bosses mind may be looking somewhat forward to that game but he can ill-afford to rest any regulars given the level of competition there is at the top end of the Premier League. Last year’s corresponding fixture resulted in a 1-1 draw, a result that would be huge success for the Hammers this time round but a disaster for the boys from Knights Road.
Chelsea have already been dealt a massive blow in losing Petr Cech to injury two weeks ago, but to lose his replacement this week was particularly unfortunate. Portuguese stand in Hilario was a long way from inspiring confidence to the Chelsea team but now that third choice keeper Ross Turnbull, signed on a free transfer from Middlesbrough in the summer, is set to come in, it will be interesting to see how they cope. Added to Cech and Hilario on the treatment table are Ricardho carvalho, Michael Essien, Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole. For the Hammers, danny Gabbidon and Benni McCarthy are both fit to return if needed. Mark Noble, Herita Ilunga and Zavon Hines are still out.
Arsenal face into a late kick-off on Saturday evening as they travel to nineteenth place Hull City. There is no love lost between these sides or their respective managers with last season’s on-pitch fracas where Cesc Fabregas was accused of spitting at a Hull coach after walking on to the field at the end of the game (pictured left) despite being injured still strongly in the minds of many at both clubs. Both clubs were also fined for failing to control their players in the game at the Emirates held just before Christmas also. Fabregas is a major doubt to take part in this game however following the hamstring injury picked up last in last weekend’s win over Burnley.
Aside from their precarious position in the league, Hull had other problems this week as Jimmy Bullard and local boy Nicky Barmby squared up to each other during a “light” training session in midweek. Hull boss Phil Brown it is already water under the bridge and that there are no divisons in his squad but this was far from ideal preparation for a game against an Arsenal side in top form having humiliated Porto 5-0 on Tuesday night. Arsene Wenger will be fearing typical rough tactics that his side have come to expect when facing league strugglers and will be keen to put the game to bed early if at all possible. Like Chelsea, Arsenal have a host if injury concerns – as mentioned captain Cesc Fabregas looks set to miss out, as does William Gallas (calf) and Bakary Sagna (ankle). Centre-half Thomas Vermaelen faces a late fitness test. Long term absentees still include Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Johan Djorou. Alex Song is suspended. For Hull, Andy Dawson is welcomed back while Stephen Hunt is a doubt.
Manchester United are the last of the top three to go into action and may wel be looking to jump back from third place to top spot with a win against Fulham. United will have a score to settle after falling to a 3-0 loss against the Cottagers before Christmas. United were forced to play with Michael Carrick and darren Fletcher in defense that day, but will have almost a full squad to pick from this time around. Both clubs had differing fortunes in Europe this week, United battered AC Milan 4-0 while Fulham slumped to a 3-1 defeat in Turin against Juventus. Fulham have gone undefeated in their last five Premier League outings and despite their poor away record, will still represent a big challenge for the Red Devils.
United are set to replace Paul Scholes with Michael Carrick, who sat out the midweek game due to suspension. Ryan Giggs and Owen Hargreaves are both back in training but most likely will not feature quite yet. Fulham face a worry over midfielder Danny Murphy, so often the scourge of United in the Past. He will face a late fitness test on a groin injury while Clint Dempsey may come back after two months on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Equally as exciting as the race for top spot is the battle going on to take fourth. Liverpool‘s slip-up against Wigan on Monday night was a big blow to their hopes, especially with rivals Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham in such good form. Pool host bottom side Portsmouth on Monday night as they try to hang in with a shout. Spurs play Blackburn early on Saturday, while Man City must travel to the Stadium of Light to take on a Sunderland side fresh from their first win in fourteen attempts following a comprehensive win over Bolton in midweek. Aston Villa, who have played three games less than Liverpool, two less than City and one less than Spurs set about clearing their backlog with two games this week. The first sees them take on Stoke at the Brittania stadium followed by a tough trip to the DW Stadium to face Wigan in midweek. Interesting times.
There are two particularly interesting ties at the bottom this weekend as Bolton host Wigan and Wolves travel to Burnley. Following some decent results of late, Wigan and Bolton are able to breathe a little more comfortably than the rest of their fellow strugglers but nether side will be keen to see what effect a defeat in their clash will have on their subsequent league position. Wolves and Burnley sit either side of the elegation spots despite both being locked on 24 points. Wolves sit outside the relegation spots only by virtue of having a better goal difference although they have played a game more. A win for either side will be essential to their hopes of survival. Burnley hold the edge in this one given their strong home form and Wolves’ dismal run of results on their travels.
This week’s fixture list in full:
Saturday 13th March
12:45 Tottenham vs Blackburn
15:00 Birmingham vs Everton
15:00 Bolton vs Wigan
15:00 Burnley vs Wolverhampton
15:00 Chelsea vs West Ham
15:00 Stoke vs Aston Villa
17:30 Hull vs Arsenal
Sunday 14th March
13:30 Man Utd vs Fulham
16:00 Sunderland vs Man City
Monday 15th March 20:00
Liverpool vs Portsmouth
Tuesday 16th March
19:45 Wigan vs Aston Villa