A huge Easter weekend of club football beckons when the international break draws to a close, with the Manchester clubs taking on the two from the north-east the pick of the action.
Manchester City v Newcastle
Newcastle United travel to the Etihad looking to avenge their loss at the hands of Manchester City earlier in the season, while the Champions know they must claim three points to allow their slim hopes of retaining the crown live for a little longer.
City boss Roberto Mancini will be hoping both Sergio Aguero and skipper Vincent Kompany will be available for Saturday as they will provide a boost to a squad who produced such a limp display at Goodison Park last time out.
The Magpies will be without Massadio Haidara for their trip to Eastlands - who was on the receiving end of a horrendous tackle from Wigan’s Callum McManaman in their last fixture – but Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will fancy coming away with a result with the attacking talent of Hatem Ben Arfa is back at his disposal.
Sunderland v Manchester United
Sunderland welcome league leaders Manchester United to the Stadium of Light with the Black Cats in need of a positive result. Martin O’Neill’s men have gone seven league games without a win as they hover four points above the drop zone, but the Irishman will take some satisfaction knowing United play a vital game just 48 hours later.
Manchester United will have one eye on their FA Cup replay with Chelsea on Easter Monday as boss Alex Ferguson has reiterated the need to keep his squad fresh. Ferguson is expected to rest his star men for the crunch clash at Stamford Bridge as the majority of them return from international duty – meaning the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes could take the field in Saturday’s early kick off.
Southampton v Chelsea
Chelsea continue their charge for a top-four finish with a tricky trip to the South coast to play Southampton. Rafa Benitez will have the task of juggling his priorities between league and cup success as he too will be mindful of the visit from Manchester United two days later – with many suggesting securing Champions League football is the main focus.
Southampton go into this fixture full of confidence after a sublime performance against Liverpool and will look to snatch maximum points to edge away from the bottom three. The Saints are no strangers to hurting the big teams after disposing of Manchester City last month – and boss Mauricio Pochettino will be relying on top scorers Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez to upset the odds once again.
Arsenal v Reading
Arsenal and Reading lock horns at the Emirates in a game of such importance for both sides - with the Gunners wary of the threat posed by a team lifted by a new manager. Arsene Wenger will lead his team out on Saturday afternoon knowing anything but a home win will see the chance of Champions League football next term slipping through his fingers.
Reading travel to north London with nothing to lose and buoyed by the arrival of new boss Nigel Adkins. After such a spirited display at Old Trafford in the last round of fixtures, the Royals will be confident they could leave with a share of the spoils that could prove so valuable come the seasons end.
Swansea v Tottenham
Swansea entertain Tottenham at the Liberty Stadium in what should prove to be a game full of attacking purpose. Both teams have impressed this season with the Welsh outfit picking up the first piece of silverware on offer and Spurs out-gunning their closest rivals for fourth place so far.
The difference could prove to be which teams star man performs on the day with Michu and Gareth Bale both looking to add to their 15 and 16 league goals respectively. However, Spurs fans will be sweating on news of Bale’s fitness as he returns from International duty with Wales where he appeared to pick up a knock in the game against Scotland.
West Ham v West Brom
West Ham face off against West Bromwich Albion in what could be a tight affair at the Boleyn Ground. Both teams failed to find the back of the net in their last game and they will look to their big target men up front to provide the fire power this weekend.
Baggies boss Steve Clarke should start with Romelu Lukaku spearheading his attack, who has been outstanding for the Baggies in netting 13 league goals this season. Hammers boss Sam Allardyce may turn to Andy Carroll to provide his own aerial threat as they hope to bounce back from their derby defeat to Chelsea.
Wigan Athletic v Norwich City
Chris Houghton’s Norwich City take a trip to the north-west to face a Wigan Athletic side who remain in the bottom three despite their controversial victory over Newcastle. With Wigan set for another end of season relegation duel the Canaries sit fairly comfortably in twelfth position knowing a victory at the DW Stadium will all but guarantee their safety.
Roberto Martinez will be desperate for a win here as his side sit three points adrift of safety with nine games to play.
Depending on results, a defeat could potentially see Wigan finish the weekend six points off seventeenth place and leave them with a mountainous task to climb if they are to pull off another great escape.
Everton v Stoke City
Everton play host to Stoke City in Saturday’s evening match where the Toffees must fancy their chances after all but ending Manchester City’s title defence. David Moyes may welcome back Nikica Jelavic to the starting line-up after coming off the bench to put the game to bed against the current champions.
Stoke have found goals hard to come by this season and won’t take much confidence from drawing a blank at home to West Brom. However whilst lacking a goal threat the Potters still find themselves a respectable eleventh in the table which, despite a late collapse of huge magnitude, should see them guarantee their safety for another season.
Aston Villa v Liverpool
In the only game to be played on Sunday, Liverpool travel to Villa Park to tackle an Aston Villa side who look to have finally turned a corner in another disappointing campaign. Villa came out on top in a pulsating bottom of the table clash against QPR last time round and will take heart from their convincing victory at Anfield in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Brendan Rodgers will need to lift his troops after an uninspiring performance against Southampton which saw them slip below cross-city rivals Everton in the league once more. The Liverpool boss will rely on the league’s top scorer Luis Suarez to shoot his side to victory, and could turn to youngster Raheem Sterling as he seeks retribution for that defeat in December.
Fulham v QPR
To conclude the weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures we head to Craven Cottage on Monday night. Harry Redknapp will take his lowly QPR on the short trip to West London to take on a Fulham side who defied the odds and beat Tottenham last time out.
Things look bleak for Rangers after suffering such heartbreak in their relegation scrap with Aston Villa – but Redknapp will be positive knowing he has a goal scorer in the form of Loic Remy and a game changer in Adel Taarabt who both shone.
Fulham look to continue their good form and will stretch their unbeaten league run to five games if they avoid defeat to the bottom club. Dimitar Berbatov has been the outstanding performer for Martin Jol’s side since his arrival from Manchester United and the Bulgarian will hope to be the match winner just as he proved against Spurs.
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