European action in midweek has had a knock on effect in terms of this weekends fixture list with five games on Saturday and five more on Sunday. Below we take a look into some of the more interesting games this weekend as many fans’ attention turns back to the league following FA Cup and European distractions.
Two of the clubs who were both in action during the week kick proceedings off early on Saturday when Everton host Manchester United in what is sure to be a tricky tie for the champions. Its a strange decision from the Premier League fixtures panel to schedule the game at this time and I can’t imagine either David Moyes or Alex Ferguson being too happy about it, especially the United boss whose side played one of the biggest games of their season in Milan just a handful of days beforehand while Everton at least didn’t have to travel away from Merseyside. All eyes will be on Wayne Rooney in this one, the twenty-four year old is currently enjoying the form of his life and is relishing his position as an out and out striker. Rooney has bagged ten goals in his last eight games and is 11/8 (at best) to get his name on the scoresheet again this weekend. His reception on his return to Goodison Park on Saturday certainly won’t be warm but its hard to see this affecting him.His record against his former club is far from his best however, having scored just twice in encounters between the two clubs in the six seasons since he left his boyhood club. Then again, rarely has Rooney been so devastatingly prolific as he is at the moment.
Everton, fresh from victory over Sporting Lisbon in midweek, have recently accounted for Chelsea on their home patch and will be looking to add the champions scalp to their impressive list of recent results, hoewever history would suggest they face an uphill challenge. The Toffees have lost seven and drawn two of the previous nine battles with United. Both clubs face a severe European hangover, but one would feel that United have the more experience and quality to overcome it. Major injury worries for the blues come in the form of Tim Cahill who strained his calf against Sporting. Marrouane Fellaini ruled himself out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury picked up against Liverpool, potentially leaving Moyes with a selection headache for his midfield. For United, Nemanja Vidic looks set to return to the squad but it is not yet clear whether he will start or not.
Although tv bosses seemingly don’t think so, possibly the most important game of the weekend takes place on Sunday when Liverpool visit the City of Manchester Stadium to take on Manchester City in a game that both will see as vital in terms of their hopes of procuring fourth place come the end of the season. Neither manager will fail to acknowledge the importance of the game, both in terms of league position and also their future hopes of continued employment. City are arguably the main contenders to take the final Champions League spot and victory over Liverpool, who laboured to victory against Unirea Urziceni in Europa League action on Thursday night, will be seen as a “massive, massive” boost to their credentials.
City themselves are not in top form however with some fans beginning to crtiticize Roberto Mancini’s defensive and “boring” play. Its indicative of the fickle nature of supporters these days when a club who not so long ago faced Gillingham to come up from the Third Divison are being criticized regarding the manner in which they go about attempting to qualify for the biggest club tournament on the planet. If City are to take three points, they must do so without Carlos Tevez who stays in Argentina on compassionate leave. Craig Bellamy is a possible replacement as his knee injury improves. Patrick Viera starts a three match ban following his kick out at Glenn Whelan, while Vincent Kompany is a doubt and Martin Petrov also ruled out. For Liverpool, Fernando Torres continues rehabilitation while Yossi Benayoun is a doubt. This match holds extra importance in that both Aston Villa and Spurs, the two other clubs also strongly in the hunt for fourth spot, will be strong favourites both to pick up three points themselves as they face Burnley and Wigan respectively.
While those below them do battle, Arsenal and Chelsea face games against lower half opposition. Arsenal will hope to overcome the freak goals conceeded against Porto on Wednesday night when they take on a Sunderland side in terrible form. The Black Cats have slowly slid down the table since their good start to the season and their current position of thirteenth has seen the heat being turned up on Steve Bruce. Arsenal may force Manuel Almunia to take pain killing injections in order to take the shellshocked Lukasz Fabianski out of the firing line following his midweek blunders. Sunderland look set to name a team from a squad missing up to six of their top midfielders unavailable while Anton Ferdinand is also a doubt.
Chelsea face a trip to the Molineaux to take on Wolves and will look to begin improving the away form that threatens to compromise their title attempt. The Blues have won only one of their last six on the road but will still be huge favourites for this one. With United facing a tricky tie against Everton they will know that a win will see them have a good chance of increasing their lead in the league.
Nearer the bottom of the table, crisis club Portsmouth welcome Stoke to what may be the last game to be played in Fratton Park if the tax man gets his way. Fresh from a victory over their south coast rivals Southampton last weekend, Portsmouth know that the best cure for woe is continued on field success. Meanwhile seventeenth place Hull travel to fifteenth placed West Ham. Both sides sit on 24 points and this game is almost the definition of a six pointer.
The full list of this weekend’s fixtures are as follows:
Saturday 20th February (3pm unless otherwise stated):
Everton v Man Utd (12.45)
Arsenal v Sunderland
West Ham v Hull City
Wolves v Chelsea
Portsmouth v Stoke City (17.30)
Sunday 21st February:
Blackburn v Bolton (12.00)
Aston Villa v Burnley (14.00)
Fulham v Birmingham (15.00)
Man City v Liverpool (15.00)
Wigan v Tottenham (16.15)