Premier League Preview

by Damien O Grady

With the FA Cup quarter finals taking place this weekend the Premier League schedule is a bit of a mess with only two games on Saturday and Sunday with the remaining games to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

It does however offer Manchester United the chance to go four points clear at the top of the league if only until Manchester City entertain Chelsea at the Etihad on Wednesday night in a game that could see the return of Carlos Tevez. Can United take advantage when they travel to Molineux on Sunday to face Wolves and put pressure on City?

At the bottom of the table Wigan have the chance to climb out of the bottom three when they welcome West Brom to the DW Stadium on Saturday. Wolves, as mentioned above face league leaders Manchester United while on Tuesday night Bolton travel to Villa Park and Blackburn play Sunderland at Ewood Park. Fellow relegation battlers QPR welcome Liverpool to Loftus Road on Wednesday night.

Fulham v Swansea- 15:00 Saturday (Live on Setanta Ireland)

Only goal difference separates these sides with Fulham in tenth and Swansea in eleventh but with only four points between Sunderland in eighth on 37 points and Aston Villa in fifteenth on 33 a win for either side could see them jump up the table while a loss could see them slip down to just above the relegation battle.

Fulham will be looking to return to winning ways following their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa last weekend when they welcome Swansea to Craven Cottage on Saturday. The home side will be looking to continue their impressive record at the Cottage where they are unbeaten since Manchester United came to town on December 21st to record a 5-0 win. In the five home games since then Martin Jol’s side have scored fifteen goals including a 5-2 win over Newcastle and a 5-0 win over Wolves. Danny Murphy is in line to start after he was replaced at half time at Villa Park following a nasty collision with Stephen Ireland and Fulham will be looking to Pavel Pogrebnyak for goals with the Russian having scored five goals in his four games for the club.

Swansea won the reverse fixture in December 2-0 with goals from Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham while Clint Dempsey had an 86th minute penalty saved by Michel Vorm with the score at 1-0. Brendan Rodgers side will enter the game high on confidence after beating Manchester City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium last Sunday to follow up their 2-0 win away at Wigan the previous week. That win at the DW was only the Swans third away win of the season but all three of those wins have came in 2012. Nathan Dyer misses out as he serves the second game of his suspension while Kemy Aguestien is still out with an ankle injury.

Wigan v West Brom- 15:00 Saturday

Bottom side Wigan can climb out of the bottom three with a win when they face West Brom at the DW Stadium on Saturday. The home side earned what could turn out to be a vital point come the end of the season when they came from behind against Norwich to draw 1-1 last Sunday. West Brom will be looking to rediscover the form which saw them win three games in a row before losing at Manchester United last weekend.

It’s wins that the Latics need if they are to stay in the Premier League but they have only one win since their 2-1 victory in the reverse victory over the Baggies on December 10th. Fourteen games later and the only three points Wigan have picked up was away at Bolton in February and with only one home win all season which was all the way back in August it is easy to see why Wigan are bottom. With games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to come Roberto Martinez will know he has to get three points this weekend. Albert Crusat and Hugo Rodallega are doubts for the home side while David Jones is still out with a knee injury.

Despite last weekend loss at Old Trafford Roy Hodgson’s side can boast the third best away record in the league with only five defeats away from home which came against Chelsea, Swansea, Arsenal, Spurs and United. That form leaves the Baggies thirteen points clear of the relegation zone and only two points behind Sunderland in 8th. Peter Odemwingie is one of a number of doubts for West Brom with Keith Andrews and Jerome Thomas also struggling while Steven Reid and Zolton Gera are out with long term injuries. Defender Jonas Olsson is also out following his red card at Old Trafford last weekend.

Wolves v Manchester United- 13:30 Sunday (Live on Sky Sports 1)

With Manchester United unbeaten in their last eight league games the last thing Terry Connor and his players needed was a visit from the Champions to Molinuex but that is what they will get on Sunday. While United have been in title winning form Wolves have been in relegation form with only one win in fourteen. The home side will be hoping for a better result than they got when they went to Old Trafford in December and suffered a 4-1 loss with two goals each for Nani and Rooney with Steven Fletcher netting a consolation goal for Wolves. In fact that game was played just days after United had been knocked out of the Champions League and with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side exiting the Europa League this week Terry Connor will be hoping we don’t see a similar backlash from the Champions this weekend.

Wolves will look back at last season’s corresponding fixture, when they were bottom of the league while United were top, but the home side recorded a 2-1 win with goals from Kevin Doyle and George Elokobi to cancel out Nani’s early goal for the Red Devils. It is hard to see how the home side will pick up a similar result this time around but Molineux can be a difficult place to go if the crowd get behind Terry Connor’s side. Karl Henry looks like missing out with a hamstring strain while Connor also has doubts over Sebastien Bassong, Stephen Hunt and Nenad Milijas as Wolves look to bounce back following last weekend’s 2-0 home defeat against relegation rivals Blackburn.

Manchester United go into this game on the back of yet another poor European performance after they were outplayed by Athletic Bilbao on Thursday and it’s fair to say a 2-1 defeat flattered Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. While United have been poor in Europe it is hard to fault their recent league form and following recent away wins at Arsenal, Norwich and Spurs they will go into this game looking to go four points clear of neighbours Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. Antonio Valencia could return but Anderson has been ruled out for up to five weeks with hamstring injury. Phil Jones and Nani are also doubtful for United who will be hoping Wayne Rooney can continue his rich vein of form which has seen him score seven goals in his last four league games.

Newcastle v Norwich- 16:00 Sunday (Live on Sky Sports 1)

Newcastle’s recent form looks to have cost them any chance of a top four spot after picking up just two points from the last four games. Norwich have also hit a poor run of form; since losing to Leicester in the Fa cup they have picked up just one point in their three league games. The Canaries did however pick up three points when these two sides met at Carrow Road in December witha 4-2 win with Grant Holt netting a brace and Wes Hoolahan and Steve Morrison bagging the other two while Demba Ba scored twice for Newcastle.

Alan Pardew will be hoping his side can recover from their recent blip and they came within seconds of earning a point at Arsenal on Monday night before Thomas Vermaelen scored in the fifth minute of injury time. Cheick Tiote came off early in that game but is expected to be fit to face the Canaries as is Danny Simpson but Ryan Taylor remains a doubt after missing Monday’s defeat with a calf injury.

Norwich could move up to 8th with a win on Sunday but Newcastle have only lost twice at home this season which goes to show how difficult it will be for the Canaries. Paul Lambert will again be without Marc Tierney (groin) and Daniel Ayala (hamstring) but will be boosted by the return of Jonny Howson who missed last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Wigan through illness. The Canaries led in that game through Wes Hoolahan’s 10th minute opener but eventually Wigan’s pressure told and Victor Moses levelled with just over twenty minutes to play. Lambert will be hoping that if they do score first this weekend that they will be able to keep only their third clean sheet of the season and hold onto three vital points.

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